Nashville Numbering System

Key 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
A A B C# D E F# G
B B C# D# E F# G# A
C C D E F G A Bb
D D E F# G A B C
E E F# G# A B C# D
F F G A Bb C D Eb

A simple way to communicate chord changes

The Nashville Numbering System was developed by Nashville studio musicians to create a shorthand for chords changes, regardless of the instrument tuning or the placement of capos etc.

"It's a 1-4-1-5 in Bb with a 2 in the chorus, and the mystery chord is a 3 minor."

The numbers represent the relationship between the Key (1) & the chord. Count up from the root. For example, in the key of C the scale is C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. Counting up from the root, the 4 chord is F and the 5 chord is G.

The chord numbers do not change when you change capo position, or the singer decides to move up a half-step, or someone has a 12-string guitar tuned down a step. By using numbers instead of letters, everyone can easily communicate chord changes.

Common Bluegrass Chord Changes

Bluegrass music most often uses the 1, 4 & 5 Major chords, with sometimes an added 2 or bluesy 7.

Perhaps the most common chord sequence is 1-4-5 or 1-4-1-5.

Songs with minor chords typically use the 6m or 2m, e.g. 1-6m-4-5 or 1-2m-5-1.

If the tune is in a major key, then chord references are (usually) to major chords, unless the person specifically says "minor". Use your ear.

You'll often hear someone say "circle of fifths", which is a reference to a cycle of 1-6-2-5, or possibly 1-3-6-2-5.

Miss Manners - Bluegrass Jam Etiquette

  • Before joining an existing jam, listen to a tune or two in the background. Join in if you think you can keep up. If not, play quietly in the background.

  • Ensure that your instrument is in tune. If you're new to digital tuners, be aware that they should be calibrated to A 440.

  • The purpose of jamming is to make bluegrass music and have fun. It is not to play as loud as you can, as fast as you can, or to show off how good a player you are. Listen to others in the jam, and make sure you blend into the music and/or singing.

  • Don't practise your break (solo) in the jam circle. If you're playing the melody when it's someone else's turn to take a break or when someone's singing, you're stepping on toes. (Note that this is a major difference between bluegrass and Celtic or Old-timey jams.)

  • Don't hog the jam. Give everyone a chance to play. Be supportive.

  • When it's your turn to pick a tune, let everyone know the name of the tune, the key, the form (if it's an instrumental) and if there are any odd or unusual chord progressions, timing or rhythm issues. It's best and most rewarding to do tunes in generally accepted keys. Songs, however, are usually done in the key selected by the singer. But, this being said, it's best to pick a key and tempo that suits the tune and the abilities of the other jam participants.

  • If capos are being put on or taken off between tunes, wait a few seconds for people to recheck their tuning.

  • If you don't want to take a break on a particular tune, make it obvious, such as by stepping back out of the circle, and letting the person on your left know. No one wants to start their break half way through.

  • If you can't hear a break or the words of a song, you are playing too loudly. Tone is every bit as important as volume. If the volume is getting "up there" on a particular tune, don't play. Work on your harmony singing or listening skills.

  • Listen for the rhythm of the tune or song, get in the groove AND STICK WITH IT. If you find you're not in good time, stop playing for a beat or two until you feel the rhythm again. It is next to impossible to pick up the rhythm again, without stopping first.

  • Don't have your eyes glued to your instrument. Look around, communicate with your eyes and body. A lot of communication in a jam is very subtle and you need to be alert to catch the signals.

  • Listen, listen, listen. Listen to the bass and the room as a whole. Don't just listen to your neighbours because they may be leading you astray.

  • Familiarize yourself with the Nashville Numbering System to communicate chord changes to other players.

Policy For Video or Audio Recordings

  • No video or audio recordings are to be made at any Victoria Bluegrass Association event unless specifically authorized in advance by the performer(s) being recorded. It is the responsibility of the performer(s) to make any and all necessary arrangements for the recording, and to advise the Board, or person(s) acting on behalf of the Board with respect to the event, at least 24 hours in advance of the event.

  • A person who has been authorized to record a performer or performers on the Open Stage will not be permitted to record any other performer(s) at that event.

  • The Board will not advise members of the names of any person(s) who may be available for making recordings, or advise any such person(s) of the members who will be performing at any events.

  • Members of the audience at an Open Stage will be permitted to take still photographs of performer(s) for their own personal use. Commercial use or wide distribution of such photographs is not to be made without the permission of the performer(s) and the Board.

  • The taking of still photographs at concerts or features will be at the discretion of the performer(s).

Requests, or more information email:

Young Musician's Bursary

Each year the Victoria Bluegrass Association awards one week of tuition to a young aspiring musician to attend the Nimblefingers Bluegrass Workshop at Sorrento Centre in late August. To qualify for the Young Musician's Bursary, you need to meet all the following criteria:

Email your application to
indicating who you are, and why you think you should be selected.

Deadline for application is February 28.

Guidelines for Grassified Ads

  • Ads are accepted for current, paid-up members only. No charge.

  • Ads are placed on the Grassifieds website page only.

  • No more than 2 ads may be active at once.

  • Non-member Music Teachers can place one ad under Lessons. No charge.

  • Ads run until you tell us to withdraw them, or your membership expires.

  • Ads must relate directly to the member who posts them. No third-party ads.

  • Members with a business: we'll advertise your business but not your wares. Your ad should be general in nature - no specific items or frequent updates.

  • Listings must be brief, and we reserve the right to edit.

  • A single small image is allowed, which we'll place to the left of the ad.

  • Submit the following details :

    • Category

    • Ad title (you are encouraged to include a website link)

    • Ad image (keep it small byte-wise, or we'll crunch it down)

    • Ad text copy

    • Contact name

    • Contact telephone

    • Contact email

  • Once your ad is submitted, we'll do our best to get it on the website quickly. But no promises.

  • The VBA Board has the final arbitrary decision to accept or reject any ad.

Email your ad to: