Playing By The Numbers

author: UG Team date: 07/31/2003 category: for beginners
rating: 7.1 / votes: 19 
When our good friend, Tom, submitted this song, it meshed with something I was just finding out about, too. Apparently, there is a number system to ease the transposing of music from one key to another. I had from time to time overheard musicians talking about "does it go to a 2 or a 7" or something like that. I hadn't a clue what they were talking about and kept quiet so as not to expose my lack of understanding. A good friend, a professional musician, explained it to me. Walk Through This World With Me as Recorded by George Jones.
(1)               (4)          (57)           (1)
WALK THROUGH THIS WORLD WITH ME,    GO WHERE I GO
                (4)          (57)              (1)
SHARE ALL YOUR DREAMS WITH ME,   FOR I LOVE YOU SO
            (4)  (57)                 (1)
IN LIFE WE SEARCH     AND SOME OF US FIND
                (4) (57)              (1)
I'VE LOOKED FOR YOU,     A LONG, LONG TIME

(CHORUS)
                  (4)      (57)                (1)
AND NOW THAT I'VE FOUND YOU,    NEW HORIZONS I SEE,
             (4)       (57)                         (1) 
COME TAKE MY HAND, AND WALK THROUGH THIS WORLD WITH ME
Notice that song has only 3 chords. In musical terms, these are known as the "tonic", "subdominate", and dominate. If the song was played in the key of "C", the numbers would relate to "C", "F", and "G7". A lot of Cadillacs have been bought from songs using this pattern. To transpose from one key to another you can use a "Circle Of 5ths" wheel. Select the desired key for your "tonic" and then use the two adjacent notes for your "dominate" and "subdominate"
CIRCLE OF 5ths
A   D   G   C   F   Bb  Eb  G#  C# F#  B   E   A
But what do those numbers in Tom's song mean? Transposing Notation. This is what my musician friend was trying to explain to me. It's a cord number system so that you can easily transpose the music to any key. The more complicated the song, the more you need a system of transposing. In it's basic form it involves numbers "1" thru "7" and the alphabet letters "A" thru "G". Number "1" represents the KEY you are playing in. If you play Tom's song in the KEY of "C", "C" would be represented by the number 1; "F" by the number 4; and; "G7" by the number 5 i.e.: Key of "C"
1     2     3     4     5     6     7
C     D     E     F     G     A     B
To denote that the chord is a sharp, flat, 7th, minor, dim, etc; simply include the sign with the chord. Notice the (57) in Tom's submission. That, of course, is the fifth (dominate) chord with a 7th added. Examples - #, b, 7, m, d, 6, 9 etc. You can easily transpose to any other key by counting on your fingers. You do, however, have to assign sharps and flats to certain chords, depending on the key you are playing in accordance with standard music notation. An easy way to do that is to reference the "CIRCLE of 5ths" to observe the relationships between chords. such as, if playing in the key of "F", your 1, 4, 5 would be F, Bb, and C. ie;
CIRCLE OF 5ths
A   D   G   C   F   Bb  Eb  G#  C# F#  B   E   A
Notation

Key of "F"
1     2     3     4     5     6     7
F     G     A     Bb    C     D     Eb
Transposing Notation really comes into play, big time, as the song chord progressions get more involved. "Crazy" by Willie Nelson is a prime example. No two players ever play it in the same key, and most important, no two singers ever sing it in the same key. "Crazy" in it's simplest form can be represented thus:
 (C)   (A)                  (Dm)
CRAZY, CRAZY FOR FEELIN' SO LONELY,
    (G7)                 (C)   
I'M CRAZY FOR FEELIN' SO BLUE.
(C)          (A)                    (Dm)
I KNOW YOU'D LOVE ME AS LONG AS YOU WANTED,
         (G7)                                  (C)  
AND THEN SOMEDAY - YOU'D LEAVE ME FOR SOMEBODY NEW.

(Bridge)
(F)                           (C)
WORRY, -  WHY DO I LET MYSELF WORRY.
(D7)                               (G7) 
WOND'RIN  - WHAT IN THE WORLD DID I DO?

(C)        (A)                         (Dm)
CRAZY, FOR THINKING THAT MY LOVE COULD HOLD YOU,
    (F)       (Fm)    (C)       (A)
I'M CRAZY FOR TRYIN', CRAZY FOR CRYIN',
        (Dm)      (G)G7) (C)
AND I'M CRAZY FOR LOVIN' YOU.
"Crazy", by the numbers
  Key of "C"
  1     2     3     4     5     6     7
  C     D     E     F     G     A     B

 (1)   (6)                  (2m)
CRAZY, CRAZY FOR FEELIN' SO LONELY,
    (57)                 (1)   
I'M CRAZY FOR FEELIN' SO BLUE.
(1)          (6)                    (2m)
I KNOW YOU'D LOVE ME AS LONG AS YOU WANTED,
         (57)                                  (1)  
AND THEN SOMEDAY - YOU'D LEAVE ME FOR SOMEBODY NEW.

(Bridge)
(4)                           (1)
WORRY, -  WHY DO I LET MYSELF WORRY.
(27)                                (57) 
WOND'RIN  - WHAT IN THE WORLD DID I DO?

(1)        (6)                         (2m)
CRAZY, FOR THINKING THAT MY LOVE COULD HOLD YOU,
    (4)       (4m)    (1)       (6)
I'M CRAZY FOR TRYIN', CRAZY FOR CRYIN',
        (2m)      (5)57) (1)
AND I'M CRAZY FOR LOVIN' YOU.
- and to transpose to key of "A"
  Key of "A"
  1     2     3     4     5     6     7  
  A     B     C#    D     E     F#    G#
Disclaimer: this is my basic understanding of transposing by numbers. I may be right on target or out in left field. If it works for you, I'm a smart son of a gun. If it doesn't, then I'm dumber than dirt. Feel free to E-Mail any comments to me at callen@vs1.invsn.com. - Charles Allen.
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