The Nashville Number System: Simplifying Music for Musicians and Producers

The Nashville Number System (NNS) is a shorthand method of writing music that has been widely used in Nashville since the 1960s. The system uses numbers to represent chords, making it easier for musicians to learn songs quickly and for producers to communicate musical ideas efficiently.


When there is only limited time to learn a song, the NNS can be a lifesaver. Rather than learning the notes and chords of a song by rote, musicians can simply memorize the numerical sequence of chords, allowing them to focus on playing the music rather than struggling to remember the chords.

The NNS is also useful in the recording studio workflow. Rather than having to write out a full chord chart for each song, producers and session musicians can use the NNS to communicate chord changes quickly and efficiently. This saves time and allows the creative process to flow more smoothly.

The NNS is based on the idea of chord function. Each chord in a key has a specific function within that key, which can be represented by a number. For example, in the key of C, the C chord is the I (one) chord, the D chord is the ii (two) chord, the E chord is the iii (three) chord, and so on. This makes it easy to transpose a song to a different key, as the chord functions remain the same regardless of the key.

The system is also flexible enough to accommodate different musical styles and genres. For example, in country music, the NNS is often used to indicate the precise chord voicings and rhythms used in a song. In rock music, the NNS is often used to indicate the basic chord structure of a song, with additional information such as specific guitar riffs or drum patterns added separately.

In addition to its usefulness in the studio and on stage, the NNS has also become a valuable tool for music educators. By teaching students the basics of the NNS, they can quickly learn how to identify chord progressions and write their own songs. This can help students develop their musical skills and creativity in a fun and engaging way.