Have you ever wondered what’s going on when you see musicians passing numbers on their fingers to each other on stage? Sure it may look like they’re throwing gang signs up, but I assure you they aren’t (Unless you’re at Hillsong New York, then maybe). But otherwise, they’re using the number system.
Also known as the Nashville number system, this system is the simplest and easiest way for musicians to communicate.
For many of us, we’ve most likely heard of the number system, but for some reason or another decided not to implement it. Today I want to convince you why it may be time for you and your band to make the change to the number system. If you think bands like Jesus Culture, Hillsong, Chris Tomlin and …honestly any notable band, are still using chord sheets, it’s time to get real. They are using the number system.
I’m a big advocate of using the number system, and here are 4 reasons why:
1. One Chord Sheet For Every Song
A couple years ago I filled in on guitar at a friend of mine’s church. At the time, my friend was still using traditional chord sheets, so he had printed a stack of papers for every band member. (As a side note, if you have the ability to go paperless, do it!) During rehearsal, we decided to change the key of a song. So my friend had to run into the office and re-print the song for everyone in the new key.
Then we decided to change the key of another song. So again, my freind is running back and forth printing out new paper for everyone. Now everyone has a huge unorganized clutter of paper in front of them. There is nothing I hate more than stacks of paper.
The great thing about the number system is that each song is the same no matter what key you are in. If my friend and his band had been using the number system, he wouldn’t have had all the worrying, stressing, and running back and forth to print out new papers. You have only one chord sheet for every song no matter what key you are in! Go green, save trees, and use the number system.
2. Transposing Will Be Your New Best Friend.
I know how much you hate doing a song you learned in one key …in a completely different key. Or just simply moving one up or down a step. I remember those days, but with the Number system, this will become second nature. (I sound like a salesman)
Everyone in my story above had tons of paper in front of them, except me. I had politely declined paper because I was simply converting all of the music to numbers. Which made it easy for me to then transpose the music wherever I wanted. With some quick and simple knowledge of the number system, you’ll be transposing and changing keys on the fly like it’s nothing.
3. It’s Way More Fun
Simple equals Fun. Whenever I begin teaching a new guitar student, one of the first things I teach them is the Number System. It makes the rest of our time together 100 times easier. It creates a system that they are able to easily wrap they’re brains around and it speeds along the point in which they are ready to play in the band.
In fact, new musicians who have a good knowledge of the number system are typically much more effective than a lot of the more experienced ones who don’t have a knowledge of it. Sometimes they may not even know what chord they are playing, but who cares as long as it is the right one. And they’re having a lot more fun than the experienced musician reading a paper and trying to transpose chords.
4. It’s by far, the Easiest and Best Way for Musicians to Communicate
I used to play for a city wide young adult ministry on Monday nights where the musicians were from all different churches. It was my favorite band to play with because all of the musicians were extremely talented. Most of the time, the worship leader would throw songs at us in the middle of the set.
This is possible because of the number system. Don’t get me wrong, it has a lot to do with the musicianship on stage, but also a lot to do with the number system. If we get to a part of the song someone may not know, we simply just throw up the number for them with our fingers. It only takes one hand since the majority of the time the numbers are 1-6. (6 is a thumb)
This makes things so easy. Much easier than trying to yell out chord names. Especially since B, C, D, E, and G all sound the same when yelled out across a loud stage. With numbers, you don’t even have to look in their direction.
The list of reasons for the number system goes on and on. Here’s a few more big ones to end on. It will decrease your dependency on chord charts, and increase your ability to play by ear. In worship music, that’s more freedom to express worship and not stay focused on the music. Your band will sound tighter, practices will be shorter, and you will feel less stressed. You’ll be able to quickly jump into any musical setting and be able to play along!
Ok, so I’m not going to tell you all of this and leave you hanging. If you’re interested in learning the number system, we’ve created 2 in-depth videos on how to use the number system in worship.
I want to end this post with a question: Is your band using the number system? If so, what do you like about it? Leave a comment below!