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Nashville and Roman Numeral Numbering Systems....??

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by boneyguy, Jun 3, 2015.

  1. boneyguy

    boneyguy Doctor of Teleocity

    Age:
    60
    Mar 31, 2007
    victoria b.c. CANADA
    So I'm looking at the current thread about the app. software for writing out Nashville Number charts....looks good. Then I notice that in the example used it's been assigned the key of 'G'....so I immediately think to myself...if you already know the key of the song why do you need a numbering system...just write out the chords.....and furthermore this is software...if you want to transpose it into a different key, which is really the only benefit and application of a numbering system, the software should be able to do that in less than a second anyway. So what's the advantage of this software...it doesn't seem to offer any benefit to me....it makes a simple thing actually more complicated I think.

    And furthermore (again) why is the NN system apparently so popular in Nashville recording studios (or is it?).....how often in the course of a recording session is there a decision to change key.....singers may want a key change for sure.....I'm wondering how typical that is....because, again, that's the only real application of any numbering system...the ease of transposition.

    But these are all studio aces in there aren't they.....I'm no studio ace but I can transpose on the fly pretty well...say a song is written out in 'G' and the singer needs it in 'E' ....I can make that happen without too much problem...shouldn't these studio cats be able to do that too?

    Or am I missing something here.....I have a feeling I must be. I've never questioned this before and now it's got me wondering.

    And if numbering systems are so useful and practical why not have Real Books using numbering systems? That, to me, would be a context that actually makes a lot of sense.

    As verbal short hand on stage I use numbers all the time....they are less ambiguous than calling out letters...which if you notice of the 7 letters used to name chords 5 of them sound very much the same especially on a noisy stage....C-D-E-G-B...(on stage you often only hear the 'ee' sound at the end of the letter).....only F and A sound distinct from the rest.....
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2015

  2. dlew919

    dlew919 Poster Extraordinaire

    Aug 6, 2012
    Sydney
    It's to stop the endless redoing of charts. Also if you don't know what key it's in you can try it in several. So instead of G Em C D and then the singer wants it in F# you just move your hand down a semitone. It's great for pattern work.
     

  3. eclipse

    eclipse Tele-Meister

    245
    Dec 30, 2006
    U.K.
    The Nashville charts can convey more info than just chord changes. And it keeps the entire arrangement on one page of paper.
     

  4. boneyguy

    boneyguy Doctor of Teleocity

    Age:
    60
    Mar 31, 2007
    victoria b.c. CANADA
    I agree, which I acknowledged in my OP that if the potential for several or numerous key changes presents itself then a number system makes a lot of sense.

    So what you're describing is just moving your hand on the guitar in a sort of block bar chord way of navigating....I can see that however I'm not sure that's what's going on in most studio work. If a song is arranged to have open strings for example then even with the number system you have to do a sort of transposition on the fly...rather than a simple robotic 'move your hand down a fret and repeat' kind of approach.

    A chord chart can convey more info than just chords too.

    -----------------------------
    Okay, here me out please (I'm playing a bit of a devils advocate here but not entirely)

    Even when using a numbering system you are still required to do a sort of 'transposition' or at least an interpretation. If a song is in 'G' and you're given a number chart you still have to know what the diatonic chords are that the numbers relate to. So let's say you have a NN chart in 'G' and the arranger/producer says let's move it to 'F#'.....you still have to know what chords those numbers represent....so you're transposing from numbers to chords.

    So what's the significant difference between having a chord chart in 'G' and then being asked to transpose to 'F#'....now you're just transposing from chords to chords instead of from numbers to chords. Most experienced musicians will easily be able to do that without a number system because the number system is already operating in their heads...isn't it?

    When I'm looking at a piece of music I'm always relating the chords to the key in terms of 1-4-6m-5-....etc....that just happens automatically.

    I'd be interested to hear Ken's thoughts....what do charts look like in most west coast studio work? When the Wrecking Crew went to work were they working off numbers or chord symbols?

    I'm just asking an honest question here....if the NN system is widely practiced then there's gotta be a very useful aspect to it beyond what I'm imagining.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2015

  5. P Thought

    P Thought Poster Extraordinaire

    I've been converting all my song sheets, one at a time, to NN charts, developing my own style for charting, which seems to be OK from what I've read.

    It helps me think in terms of intervals--that's not yet as automatic for me as it is for you--and see the song structure in those terms. I'm still working on charting/thinking rhythm patterns, and haven't figured how to note melody. . .can NN do this?
     

  6. guitar dan

    guitar dan Tele-Afflicted

    Nov 19, 2011
    houston
    Here are the advantages as I see it:
    1. The format of NNS is a shorthand. Not the numbers themselves, but they way it is written allows to you keep most charts to one page.
    The are other shorthand symbols, such as an arrow down. (A walk down, as you knight hear from 1 to 6-)

    2. I don't see what you mean about the studio guys transposing letter charts easier. If I were looking at letter chart written in G, but had to transpose to E, for example. It is a lot easier for me to think of the chords of any key by number, than to look at a letter chart and have to play a C#mi chord every time I see an Emi. If I were looking at a letter chart, I would think " ok Emi is the 6- chord in G, so the 6- chord in E is C#mi. To me that is actually an EXTRA step in the thinking process. On the other hand, I can think of the chords in any key pretty quickly it seems more direct to my thinking.

    3. I'm no session musician but I do use number charts on my gigs. I play some of the same songs with different singers, so key changes are common.

    The use of number charts and the app are 2 separate issues. I don't rely on software to transpose. I use number charts on just about every gig and the app just makes writing charts much easier.

    Just my 2 cents.
     

  7. guitar dan

    guitar dan Tele-Afflicted

    Nov 19, 2011
    houston

    Yes. I write out melodies by the interval and put rhythm figures underneath it if desired. If haven't already, check the book "Nashville Number System" by Chas Williams. It has charts written by different session leaders and explains different styles.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2015

  8. P Thought

    P Thought Poster Extraordinaire

    That's where I got the idea that it's OK to develop your own charting style. I need to hit the book again; I'm sure there are many things I missed the first time through.
     

  9. guitar dan

    guitar dan Tele-Afflicted

    Nov 19, 2011
    houston
    Feel free to hit me up if you need any help.
     

  10. soulman969

    soulman969 Telefied Ad Free Member

    Mar 20, 2011
    Englewood, CO
    For me it's keeps me focused on hearing and playing the intervals more than the chords themselves. As a vocalist I find I need to transpose a lot of songs into keys that work best for me and if I'm working with other players who also understand NN it's easier to communicate that way at times. Just a matter of preference with certain groups I think.
     

  11. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    We write 'em with the actual chord symbols out here on the coast 'most' of the time.
    Sometimes you'll see Roman Numerals.
    *Occasionally NN charts if it's an out of town artist (not necessarily Nashville either) here to do a record or play some gigs (that's when I've seen them).

    Anybody doing sessions can transpose numbers or chord letter names pretty quickly - that's no big deal. It's just a system that you learn and get used to. I prefer Roman numerals if I'm reading or writing but that's just because I'm used to it. The unique things about NN charts is how they notate accents, pickups (pushes), 2 or more chords per bar (split bar), held chords (diamonds), etc.

    We also get no chart a lot of the time. Especially for any kind of pop song. This, is even common nowadays for movie, TV and vid game music because a lot of the rhythm section parts are done at the composer's home studio. And a lot of that is just grooves that get looped and tweaked.

    A 'standard' chord chart can be a one pager just as easily as a NN chart.

    For example here's a Sara Evans tune (my chart) ...
    [​IMG]
    All info, including capo placement is there. Who could ask for more?;)


    As far as what guys and gals like the Wrecking Crew read ... well, it was and still is all over the map. Though I doubt they read any NN charts, there were probably Roman numeral charts (as there are now). *If you can find them check out some of Tommy Tedesco's 'Studio Log' columns from GP mag in the 70's.

    Here are some session charts that I've collected ...

    This was for a video game soundtrack I just did (played guitar on) ...
    [​IMG]

    These are just assorted examples from different sessions ...

    [​IMG]

    Movie cue ...

    [​IMG]

    Broadway show ...

    [​IMG]

    I got handed this one from an MD (musical director) who just got off a plane.
    This was for TV, the Leno show. I was hired as the auxiliary acoustic player for a pop act that night (filmed during the day) and that's the chart they gave me.
    [​IMG]
    It was torn piece of Legal tablet paper in the guys carry-on.
    Thank god I got to run through it a couple times.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2015

  12. boneyguy

    boneyguy Doctor of Teleocity

    Age:
    60
    Mar 31, 2007
    victoria b.c. CANADA
    Cool...thanks Ken. That's what I expected to see for the most part. Some of the advantages listed for the NNS are equally possible with simply writing a chord chart like the ones you've provided.

    To be clear I'm not criticising any particular system....it just occurred to me to wonder why a number system gets used in certain contexts.....what are the parameters of any system's usefulness...
     

  13. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    From my understanding the NN system came into being rather quickly when Neal Matthews Jr. of the Jordanaires needed a quick and dirty way to notate a basic chart on the session (time is money) that he knew would go through a lot of key changes before they found the right one. I assume he did it with regular numbers (as opposed to roman) because that's just 'how he did it'. It's concise, it worked perfectly in the moment and it stuck. Session harp player Charlie McCoy began using it on his sessions and the rest is history.

    *One element of NN that I like is a minus sign (-) for minor. Out here a lot of guys itch about that. I think it's funny that the city boys find it un-clear but the country boys have no problem with it.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2015

  14. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Nov 5, 2006
    Iowa City, IA
    Years ago, a group of maybe 10 musicians would be hired for casuals. (Does anyone know that term?) The bass player had decided to think in roman numerals, since the actual keys of songs were sometimes so varied, especially when a singer is involved. Once or twice, I learned a tune on the spot by listening to him recite the chords as functions. I remember how clear and stable everything seemed. I'm sure I learned the tunes faster that if he had recited chords, although I have no memory of that, either way.

    I used to teach musicianship, theory, and analysis to music majors. I got used to hearing classical as functions. It helped me compare different compositions of the Baroque and Classical eras.

    When I am practicing blues guitar improvising, I usually come up with some exercises to help with my technique. I had started playing again 10 years ago after a 25-year layoff, where I worked in academia as a composer and theorist. 10 years ago, I was attacked by my very own immune system, which destroyed some of the nerve sheathes in my extremities. Thanks to some very aggressive treatment by the Mayo Clinic, I was able to come back from being completely paralyzed from the neck down (but I didn't need intubation) to being able to stand for a few minutes at a time. My progress halted after about 3 months, beyond which little improvement could expected. After that, any improved would have to be the result of building up strength of neighboring muscles. Guitarwise, I would listen to blues, often on YouTube, and copy a particular move. At first, I would store the licks as videos made from my laptop camera. I soon gravitated toward writing these down in Sibelius, a notation program. Rather than having to deal with indicating keys, I decided to write everything in the key of C (blues-wise). There are plenty of times, still, when it makes more sense to stick to the original key (open strings).
     

  15. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Nov 5, 2006
    Iowa City, IA
    When I was playing in stage band/jazz lab band in 1968-72, the arrangers (Neal Hefti, Lou Marini, Sr., John LaPorta, Phil Wilson, Sammy Nestico) were about 50/50 on - vs m. Reminiscing, I think I liked the streamlined - . I also always did like the Delta symbol, when used with 7 for major 7th.

    In the field of academic music theory, there are some cool papers that get into the back story behind conventions.
     

  16. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    That's what we call 'em out here (weddings, bar mitzvahs - any 'society' gig). 'Casuals', oddly enough, usually require a dark suit if not a tuxedo.
    My friends in Boston call them general business and in NYC - club dates, even though they're not in a club.
     

  17. stringslinger

    stringslinger Tele-Holic

    731
    Mar 22, 2011
    Nashville, TN
    That is basically correct. The Jordanaires would also write scale degrees ('numbers') over the lyrics so that each member would know where they sang in relation to the key. Easy, short-hand way to arrange 3/4-part harmonies.

    Back to the OP, I have 3 reasons to "defend" NN. :)

    1) NN eliminates a step in our mental processing, especially when having to transpose.
    Song is in D. Chords are written: Bm G D A, etc.
    Now transpose to Bb, you first have to analyze the above as their intervallic equivalents (6- 4 1 5), and then apply that to the new key. I too prefer the '-' nowadays for minor.

    Whereas in NN, that first mental step is avoided as you start with the harmonic functions (numbers).

    2) A lot of the time NN charts are written by musicians who may not have access to an instrument (backstage, on a bus, etc), so they write out the relative chord functions (numbers) rather than the key-specific chords.

    It's written how we think and hear music, as harmonic functions. Which goes back to the system's roots.

    3) Many times, guitarists (especially on acoustic) capo a song anyway. So if a chart is written with chord names, that creates an unnecessary step for the performer since they aren't playing those chord shapes to begin with.
     

  18. stringslinger

    stringslinger Tele-Holic

    731
    Mar 22, 2011
    Nashville, TN
    And wow, klasaine, that last chart you posted is a doozy! DRUM BREAK!!!
     

  19. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    Ha ha! ... 'DRUM BREAK' looks like my writing. I have zero recollection of the tune but I did have the forethought to keep that chart.
     

  20. boneyguy

    boneyguy Doctor of Teleocity

    Age:
    60
    Mar 31, 2007
    victoria b.c. CANADA
    That was exactly one of the things I stated in my OP that occurred to me...NN is useful when assuming you might have to go through numerous key changes before finding the right one...and that makes a lot of sense in that context.





    1) One of my observations was that in a situation like the studio when you're typically dealing with very experienced musicians they will be able to transpose just fine on the fly from a chord chart...which Ken confirmed in his response to me earlier.

    2) If NN is written, as you say, in the form of "how we think and hear music, as harmonic functions" then why should it be necessary to make it explicit in writing if we already think and hear that way? If that's true, and I believe it is, then NN is sort of an unnecessary step, isn't it?

    3) This context makes sense to me...it makes transposing a sort of robotic, block chord exercise....and that's great if that's appropriate for the song.

    I think Ken's summary is probably accurate when he said "It's concise, it worked perfectly in the moment and it stuck."...probably no more complicated than that really....and it stuck and is still in use because it's useful and beneficial......and I was simply questioning the practicality of it's universal application.....I don't see it's universal application as particularly practical...it seems to me very useful in certain contexts....I guess that's the destination I was trying to get to for myself.
     

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