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Nashville Number Charts
Here's everything you need to know to get started with understanding the Nashville Number System.  Nashville Number Charts are the mainstay of Music City Recording Sessions and if you're going to record here you have to know about them. If you have more questions, don't hesitate to shoot us an email.  We'll answer your question and add it to our list.  If you'd like we'll credit you as the person who asked the question (only if specifically requested. Otherwise we'll state your initials and home town.)

I already have chord charts.  Do I still need number charts? If so, why?

The musicians in Nashville use the Nashville Number System almost exclusively for conveying a song's structure and arrangement in the recording studio. If you're going to demo your songs in Music City you pretty much have to have the songs charted in this format.  If you take your chord charts to a session, someone will wind up using your valuable studio time to rewrite your chart using Nashville Numbers. That’s why it’s better to have them in advance.  

One of the main reasons is that number charts can be played in any key.  If a song is intended to be sung in C, but during tracking the demo singer decides he/she’s more comfortable in B, the key can be switched without having to generate a new chart.  If chord charts were being used in this scenario either a new chart would have to be made, or the players would have to transpose on the fly.  Number charts eliminate this problem entirely.

Another reason is that demo musicians don’t have to be able to read music (ie., notes, spaces, rests, varying eighth-note combinations, etc.), or fully understand traditional musical terminology, to read number charts.  That increases the talent pool available for studio work as there are many great musicians who don’t read music.  Unfortunately, in some major cities those non-reading players are locked out from many sessions. 

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 How can the chart making process help improve my demo?

At Write THIS Music, we view the chart making session as a crucial pre-production step in the demo process. This is when the minute details of the song’s arrangement are worked out. Much valuable studio time gets wasted in Nashville recording sessions sorting out chart discrepancies and mistakes on number charts. This can be prevented if the chart maker listens to the songs with much care so the intended details of the song won’t be overlooked.  All too often arrangement details aren't thought out in advance (OR they are thought out but the details are not noted on the charts.  As a result, most Nashville session players are pretty good arrangers.  Why?  Because of all the practice they've gotten helping writers arrange their songs during demo sessions!

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Options that a writer may consider noting on their charts in preproduction include:

These are all common arrangement issues.  However, this level of detail can't be addressed when a chart is hacked out 10 minutes before the session.

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The three biggest factors contributing to an effective, affordable recording are:

  1. An accurate, well thought out Nashville number chart

  2. An accurate, well thought out Nashville number chart

  3. An accurate, well thought out Nashville number chart

That said, it’s a rare day that nothing gets changed on the chart at the time the demo is recorded, and that’s actually a very good thing.  The musicians will often make suggestions or offer ideas that the writer may not have thought of, and sometimes its these last moment tweaks that turn a demo into something that's really special. But detailed ‘finessing’ at this level simply isn't possible if a chart hasn't been thought through or if it has numerous mistakes.  Song arranging and chart preparation should be done before the session, not during it…that is unless you want to pay four skilled musicians union scale to arrange your song.

Having charts done properly, and in advance, will improve everything and lower overall costs. We can significantly help you out during this phase. We promise that your demo will come out closer to what you had in mind than it would have had you ignored this step. Taking the time to create clear, neat, detailed charts will allow the resulting demo to achieve a level of quality you never would have thought was possible. 

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I'm ready to have my charts made. How do I get started ?

One of our specialties is demo pre-production and chart making.  We know how to bring out and maximize the unique aspects of your song, but we need your help because you are the writer and you have final say over everything.  We will either sit with you or communicate closely by phone or email, questioning and verifying any potential issues.  The work we do with you in preparing your charts can make all the difference in the world in how your demo turns out.  Issues we'll discuss with you include (but are not limited to):

Don't worry. If you're not familiar with some of the concepts or terms listed above we'll explain what they're about and what impact we believe they'll have on your song.

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How much does it cost to have my charts made for me?

For songs that are already arranged, charts are $15 each.  Charts that involve significant arranging, or are complex enough to take more than 1 hour, are priced at our standard studio rate ($35/hour).  In other words, if we finish your chart in roughly an hour or less, which is almost always the case if you’ve done your arranging ahead of time, the price is just $15.  Otherwise, it's $35/hour.

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What do number charts look like?

The best way to understand the Nashville Number System is by looking at some charts of songs you're familiar with.  Some prefer charts to be typed (as in our examples), while others prefer their charts to be written out by hand.  Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages and we can do either. Click the titles below to see examples:

I'm Already There        Fix You        Jesus is Just Alright        Jingle Bells    

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How does the Nashville Number System actually work?

The tone number from a given key’s major scale that a particular chord is rooted in is the number noted on the chart.  It is then qualified as such if it’s anything other than a major chord (minor, b7th, 9th, sus, etc.) This “number to tone relationship” is similar to solfège  but numbers (1, 2, 3) are used instead of syllables (Do Re Me…) Using chord charts, the first 8 bars of Jingle Bells would be noted in the key of C using a chord charts as:

C  /  C /  C F /  C /
F  /  C /  Dm /  G /

The corresponding number chart is noted below.  One number is used per measure unless there is more than one chord in the measure.  When there are 2 chords or more in a measure, as is the case (in some arrangements) for bar 3 of "Jingle Bells", it is defined as a "split bar". Split bars are either underlined, enclosed in a handwritten box, or separated by a vertical line when charts are made using pencil and paper.  When charts are being typed with a word processor a slash (/) is typically used to indicate a split bar and an asterisk (*) is used to indicate a 'diamond' (or whole note) as indicated below (not that the 4th bar of Jingle Bells is a whole note...just an example).

1   1   1/4   1 

4   1   2-    5

Notice that the 7th bar in Jingle Bells is noted as 2-.  Traditional chord charts would note this as 'ii' since the 2nd chord in the key of C is a Dm.  But in Nashville number charts a 2 in the key of C means a D major chord unless qualified with a dash (-) or (m) to denote that it's minor. This is a huge benefit in country and contemporary music where many chords are used that break from what's traditionally thought of as 'allowable' in a given key. To notate a D major chord in the key of C one doesn't have to think "What's the second chord in the Key of C?" and then un-flat the 3rd (if you will) in that chord to make it a D major. That would make it a 2 step process. In Number Charts one only has to know the scale notes (or have an "ear sense" of the scale tones, if you will) of the key they're playing in. The assumption is that all chords are major unless otherwise noted with a (-) or (m).  It's actually less confusing.  It takes a little getting used to for those accustomed to traditional chord charts but most quickly adapt.

There’s quite a bit more to it than this obviously, but this is the basic method behind the madness.

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Is it true I can play my song over the phone and you can make my chart?

Yes. You can meet with us personally or you can 1) simply emal us your mp3, 2) send your work tape by mail, 3) provide a link to your mp3, or 4) you can also call us and play your song over the phone.  We'll make your chart right then. You'll receive your number chart via email attachment.


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"Your charts are great. Everything's on there and best of all they're neat and easy to read which made things so much easier and faster for us today." Tommy Hardin (drummer for Reba McIntyre), Nashville, TN.

"Bill Renfrew is excellent for charting at any stage of song development. He gave me hands down the best (Nashville number) charts of the many I tried in Nashville - because he cares more and knows his theory cold. His charts were also the clearest and included the detail I needed as a producer. He let me be me as a songwriter. He allowed the song to become itself. He accepted the chords I chose and proffered excellent analysis of mood versus theory versus marketplace. He kept the focus on the needs of each song and constantly shifted from accompanist to theorist to mentor to student and  partner in the power of song."  James Valentine, Miami, FL

"You are the chart master!" David Beigert, Nashville, TN