Playing By The Numbers

Professional manual which describes a number system to ease the transposing of music from one key to another.

6
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.

54 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Guitarmanmatt
    how do u submit lessons?? i have a few handy ones for beginners email me at fate145@hotmail.com with and answer.
    Guitarmanmatt
    angel of death dont worry about not understanding it transposing from one key to another is really simple usiong a capo and a 12 by 12 grid of all the notes
    PunkNMetal
    i already felt dumb being in the beginners section even though i've been playing for almost 3 years. but now i just feel dumber...
    Angel_of_D34th
    i understand this! =) exept if there is some big tabs like 22...? does that mean that i play 2 twice?
    boxdrummer
    Very good lesson! I needed this! I've not been playing long and I got it right away. For those who can't count the 5ths..... the circle of 5ths is just that, count up from a to a sharp to b to c to c sharp to d, five steps works with any note you just need to MEMORIZE your notes and include the sharps!
    m3rcy2
    I got a chuckle from some of the above post. I'm now a 6th month beginner and have done alot of reading. This is more of an advanced beginner kinda lesson. It's a good lesson. Guys don't feel bad if u don't get it. There's so much to know before u can get what he's talking about.
    s-dub
    I have learned this system previously and I think this will help. To find the notes remember that 1 to 2 is a whole step (two frets), 2 to 3 is a whole step, 3 to 4 is a half step (1 fret), 4 to 5 is a whole step, 5 to 6 is a whole step, 6 to 7 is a whole step, and 7 to 8 is a half step. Now all you have to do is set your starting note, or key as one and then go up using all of the notes, A Bb(or A#) B C C# D D# E F F# G G#. Ex. 1=A, 2=B, 3=C#, 4=D, 5=E, 6=F#, 7=G#, 8=A (because 8 and one are the same note!) Hope this helps! Oh and it is called the nashville numbers system and it has been used by professional musicians for years
    s-dub
    Oh, also in music it is assumed that the 1,4,5 chords are always major, and that the 2,3,6 chords are minor unless noted other wise. just a little more info on the system
    Wolfer0624
    From where I'm reading it, ur trying to tell me...that in case a band is playing a song based with different keys, that the numbers represent them as to the mood of the song. Otherwise, I would of rather had a easier explaination about this, because I'm not even half-way to understanding some of this.
    werty22
    I read this a year or so ago and didn't understand it at all. Aren't scale degrees usually notated with Roman numersals?
    DarrylMetalhead
    I would really like to understand this...like...i read it but i didn't get it...someone help me out?
    Freuk
    Davidphillips wrote: lets say you learn a song in C with a basic chord pattern of C to F to G to F to C again then rinse and repeat, the same pattern would be shown as 1,4,5,4,1. now if you get a singer who can't sing it in F and you need to play it in A flat... what the F$%& chords are in A flat??? you can just apply the same pattern you would use on C except you start on A flat. you don't know what chords you are playing you just follow the same pattern 1,4,5,4,1
    To me, this pretty much sums up the entire lesson, thanks a bunch!
    thanielvsnate
    MyOneDesire wrote: can anyone tell me some simple rock/punk/emo songs to learn... i already know how to play 7 nation army by th white stripes
    thanielvsnate
    yeah, you could learn icky thump by da white stripes, its rele easy. Also try cant stop by RHCP its a rele fun easy song as well.
    Rock In Rio
    uhhhhh *smacks head against wall* *smoke begins to rise out of ears before brain explodes*
    Blackfang21
    Hey i got a question, now mind ive never picked up a guitar in my life however, what are the numbers for? and how do you read them? anyone wanna give me a link to help? thanks
    tkdfighter
    when you're talking about F major you add an Eb, you must have been thinking about Bb
    jamogod
    this is stupid, i'm just looking up stuff for a friend to help them learn, and this is a really stupid way to do it, chord names are the best. why call a G7 57, retarded, talk numbers on tabs, and scales, dont do it to name chords.
    Davidphillips
    I can't believe you guys. Try something before you bag it, you are either completely retarded or just stubborn. Read my types THIS IS THE EASIEST WAY TO TRANSPOSE MUSIC. you don't need to learn all of the names of chords or even know which are sharps and flats, you just take the number pattern as well as the chirds you are already playing (usually power chords) and slot them into the new key for the singer.
    Davidphillips
    lets say you learn a song in C with a basic chord pattern of C to F to G to F to C again then rinse and repeat, the same pattern would be shown as 1,4,5,4,1. now if you get a singer who can't sing it in F and you need to play it in A flat... what the F$%& chords are in A flat??? you can just apply the same pattern you would use on C except you start on A flat. you don't know what chords you are playing you just follow the same pattern 1,4,5,4,1
    Davidphillips
    this method becomes so much more relevant as soon as you start playing in a band that has a B flat trumpet and an A flat sax as well as a keyboard and guitars and a singer who refuses to sing in F. It is easiest for everyone to know the root note and then talk in numbers rather than trying to remember what an A on a guitar becomes when you are playing it on a A flat Sax.
    fingersofflame
    even though that that was very simple and basic, i never knew what the hell those numbers next to the scale meant...so thanks for setting me strait on that...
    BHD
    Ok, I'm sorry but I didn't read it all, why? Because I completely got confused when you got to the Tonic, Dorminant and Subdorminant Chords. That was ok, it's how you know what's what, what do you use to find out what is the Tonic/Dorminant/Subdorminant chord? Lol I don't know... If you ask me though this shouldn't be in beginners! -BHD
    yomamamamama
    Why do you have to assign sharps and flats? ex.: 1 2 3 4 5 F G A Bb C Shouldn't it just be FGABC?
    BHD
    Actually wait! Ok that's taken me around half an hour.. I don't know, it's taken me a HECK of a long time to figure it out but I understand it! I still don't think it should be in the beginners section though... -BHD
    cds
    Actually called the Nashville Numbering System and is quite widespread in country music, although it is starting to catch on elsewhere also. Using George Jones and Willie Nelson as an example should of been a give-away. http://www.gospel.mcm ail.com/resources/nashvil le_numbering.htm
    MyOneDesire
    can anyone tell me some simple rock/punk/emo songs to learn... i already know how to play 7 nation army by th white stripes
    Themarsh
    ghost iv you must be a quick learner because i've been readin it for an hour and I'm ready to put my guitar on ebay and use the money for smak
    (sic)kid
    Dude, this shouldn't be in the beginner's section. I take basic music classes and understand some of the things you're saying, but others things I don't understand myself and don't think it would be right for people beginning to play.
    terrywhat
    This is extremely logical actually, took me a while but got there. Will have forgotten it in 20mins though. But thanx
    sleevenote
    Okay, this may sound like a completely dumb question but: Is the first chord of a song always the key it is played in?
    battleaxe
    Yep it is.. And by the way this is extremely helpful, it helps u know the interval and apply the chords in a song
    Slash06
    i just dont get the circle of 5th's, can someone explain it to me please?
    Leigh|esp
    this may be a stupid question, and wondering if some1 can explain to me the circle of fifths on this page? when the notes A D G C F Bb Eb G# C# F# B E A are the fourth interval in each key one after the other?