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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
G G A B C D E F

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.


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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 Musicianís Bursary, you need to meet all the following criteria:

  • You are a member of the Victoria Bluegrass Association

  • Your age was 25 years or younger as of Dec 31st last year

  • You have not attended the workshop previously

  • You wish to take instruction in a traditional bluegrass instrument

  • You are available to attend next year's workshop

Please email your application to scholarship@victoriabluegrass.ca indicating who you are, and why you think you should be selected. Deadline for application is February 28.