Sunday, September 25, 2011

Music Theory: Part 5

Hey there seven followers!

I hope everything continues to go well with you out there in internet land.

Page 2

This week, we're going to wrap up the strangeness that is the Nashville Number System. We have covered the first page of our chart, and I hope you went through it in both D and Bb, so you could get the hang of transposition. Now it's time to move to the second page, where we will find new things to confound us. Have a look:

As you can see, there are a few new elements that require some explanation. We can see that the first twelve bars of the "Chorus 2"  section are almost identical to the first chorus. We encounter a different chord in bar twelve: in Chorus 1, this chord is 4, or G Major in this key, and here in chorus 2, the chord is 6-, or B Minor in this key. The next three bars are sort of a transition to the bridge, complete with specific rhythmic notation. All pretty straight forward.

Flats and Diamonds

The bridge, as I continue to maintain, is the part of the song where the TRUTH of the song, or the MAIN THEME is revealed. Also, since it is a new section, it should do things harmonically or melodically--or both, to differentiate it from the other sections of the song. This Bridge does all of those things...and leads to a Broken Down version of the chorus, where the listener is forced to listen to the words and sentiment of the section.

So let's take the Bridge bar by bar, shall we? The first three chords we have seen before: 4 (G Major in this key), 5 (A Major in this key), and 6- (B Minor in this key).  The last two bars of  the Bridge is where we are introduced to our new elements. These bars contain the b7 Chord. This chord is a "borrowed" chord, because it is borrowed from a key outside of the one this song is written in. In this case, this chord is borrowed from the key of G, but thankfully, we don't really have to know that to play through this chart. all we have to know is where the seventh of this key normally is--and in this case you should know that the seventh of the key of D Major is C#. So for  a b7 chord, we simply lower the seventh one half step, to C, and play a major chord based on that note. So in our example, when we see the b7 chord, we know to play a C Major chord. It should also be noted with some makers of charts, this chord may be written as 7b...but...I went to I never refer to that chord as "Seven Flat," but always "Flat Seven."

So what do these diamonds mean? The diamonds are basically tied whole notes that the whole band stops on in unison. So we're going to hit the chord and hold it for eight beats. So after leaving us suspended in mid-air at the end of the Bridge, we land at Chorus 3...softly...with stripped-down instrumentation.

Chorus 3 

So Chorus 3 in our example breaks down to just a few instruments: mandolin and maybe a pedal steel guitar playing a pad-type figure. You'll notice that there are more chords in this chorus...probably to provide contrast and give this chorus a feeling of forward motion...impelling it to the end.

There are lots of split chords in this section, with the 1/3s leading both towards and away from the 4 chord. Again, this section ends with a diamond over 4...telling us that the band is holding that chord for the full four beats.

So, again, try to play this page not only in D, but also in Bb. See if you can make it through. Next week, we'll look at the final section of this song, which is on page 3.  and then I'll tell you what the song is, so you can buy it and play along!

This Week

This week, I've been listening more. I've also been comping, editing, and tweaking vocals on the mysterious recording project...also doing a little bit of mix prep, trying to make some notes about how I want it all to fall together.

Jamey Johnson
Hayes Carll
Justin Townes Earle
Pink Floyd
Symphony of Science

And again, you really should buy Jodi Ann's Album, "A Brief Moment In Time." You can download it at or email her here for a physical CD.

How long until we have self-repairing cars?

Talk to you next week.

Write somethin' will ya?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Music Theory: Part 4

Hey there seven followers!

I hope all continues to be well with you.

Last week, we went over the Nashville Number System in a basic way, using this chart:

...and I gave you an assignment: to try to play through Verse 1 in D Major, which is the key indicated by the chart, and in Bb Major. Do you do it? I hope so, it will make going to the studio and writing out your music easier, and probably save you some expensive studio time. 

If you were ambitious, maybe you read ahead and looked at the "Chorus 1" section, and discovered there was something in there that requires further explanation.  Let's check it out: 

The Chorus and Inversions

The first six measures are pretty straightforward, no huge surprises here: 

The Chorus starts with the "4" chord, so in the key of D Major, this is a G Major chord.  This G Major also lasts through the first three beats of the second measure. The last beat of the second measure is a "5" chord, so in the key of D Major, this is an A Major chord, and from the rhythmic notation above this measure, we are told that we play this chord for the SPECIFIC duration of one quarter note.  

In the third measure of the Chorus, we are going to play a "6-" chord, which in the key of D Major is a B Minor chord. The B Minor lasts for the whole measure. The fourth measure returns to the "5" chord, or the A Major, for the first three beats, followed by the "1" Chord, or, D Major (obviously) for the SPECIFIC duration of one quarter note. 

The fifth and sixth measure are easy, two bars of "4",  or G Major again. The seventh measure contains the chord that demands explanation. The first two beats are simple--the "1" chord, or D Major again. The last two beats of this chord look like a fraction: "5/7." This is called a "split" chord, and the way you say the name of this chord in Nashville is "Five split Seven." So what does that mean? To answer that, we have to talk about Chord Inversions. 


Normally, when we write out chords on the staff for theory purposes, we write them in a form that is called "Close Voiced Root Position." This means that the notes of the chord are stacked on top of each other in order with the root, that is, the note that the chord is named after,  on the bottom.  In the key of C, from low to high, this would be spelled C E G or Numerically, 1 3 5.  There are two other ways to organize these notes, in a close way. if you simply move the bottom note up an octave, the spelling of the chord becomes E G C, or numerically 3 5 1. This chord is said to be a "1st Inversion Close Voiced C Major Chord." If you take this 1st Inversion C Major chord, and again take the note on the bottom and move it up an octave, the spelling of the chord becomes G C E, or numerically, 5 1 3. This chord, with the 5 on the bottom , is said to be a "2nd Inversion Close Voiced C Major Chord." Here's how the three different inversions of a C Major chord look in the Staff: 

In the Nashville Number System, the chord is assumed to have its root in the bass, unless otherwise notated...and the way they notate that is with "Split Notation."  So here are the chords again, this time with their Nashville Number System Notation: 

 So the "1" is assumed to have its root in the bass. "1/3" is a "1" chord with the "3" of the scale (in this case "E") in the bass. "1/5" is a "1" chord with the "5" note of the scale in the bass. Pretty simple, right? 

Let's move on to the chord and inversion in question in this particular chart. Since there are also 3 notes in the "5" chord, there are also 3 ways to spell it.  If we spell the Close Voiced Root Position 5 Chord in the key of C, it is a G Major spelled G B D, or numerically, 5 7 2. When the root of this chord is moved up an octave, we get a 1st Inversion Close Voiced 5 Chord, spelled B D G, or numerically,  7 2 5. When that 1st Inversions lowest note is also moved up an octave, we get a 2nd Inversion Close Voiced 5 Chord, spelled D G B , or numerically, 2 5 7.  Here's how they all look in the staff, relative to the key of C Major:

So in the Notation of the Nashville Number System, these inversions look like this:

So a "5" chord is assumed to have its root in the bass, the "5/7" chord is a "5" chord with the "7" of the KEY (in this case the key of C major). So the 7th note of C Major is "B." Therefore, the "5/7" chord in the key of C is a G chord with a "B" in the bass. Similarly, the "5/2" is a 5 chord in the key of C, or G Major,  with the "2" of the Key, or "D" in the Bass. 

Let's apply this to the chart:

Since our example chart is in the key of D, the "5/7" is the "5" chord, or A Major, with the 7th note of the KEY, or C# in the bass, so a "5/7" chord is a 1st inversion A Major chord. Mystery Chord Demystified.... albeit in a long-winded way. 

So in this case, the seventh and eighth measures, when translated from Nashville Number System to normal chord notation, becomes this:

D  A/C# Bm A

...and the rest of the Chorus is pretty straightforward. Try it. Try it in Bb. Try it in A. Try it in G. 

Next week, we'll wrap it up and go over some more examples of how the Number System handles things like Stop Time and more specific rhythms. 

This Week

I apologize for posting this late,  but my son had to get 3 stitches in his foot last night because he stepped on some glass....yikes!

Still working on the recording project, got vocals recorded this week, just have a bunch of editing to do. 

Just got an awesomely MESSED up Gibson LG-01 from the 50's, for  75 I have a new extra time consuming project!!

Not much listening again. 

See ya next week...

Again, please go to and download Jodi Ann's latest album "A Brief Moment In Time."  

Write somethin, will ya?

.....still no guesses about what this tune is? 


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Music Theory: Part 3

Hey there seven followers (and stealthier types)!

I hope all is well with you.

I think this week we'll get to the point, finally!

Last week, we went over the construction of chords and the four basic types of triads. To quickly review:

1. Triads are built from two stacked thirds.

2. The Four basic triads are Major, Minor, Diminished, Augmented.

3. A Major Triad is built by stacking a Minor Third on top of a Major Third.

4. A Minor Triad is built by stacking a Major Third on to of a Minor Third.

5. A Diminished Triad is built by stacking Minor Third on top of a Minor Third.

6. An Augmented Triad is built by stacking a Major Third on top of a Major Third.

Harmonizing the Major Scale

If we were to take our old familiar C Major Scale:

...and build triads based in each degree of the scale, here's what we get:

In the above graphic, triads with an "M" above them are Major, triads with an "m" above them are Minor, and the lone triad with a "D"  above it is diminished. Explicitly, these triads are as follows: C Major, D Minor, E Minor, F Major, G Major, A Minor, B Diminished, and then C Major again.

So, you may be asking yourself, why isn't the triad based on D a Major triad?

The answer is that we are constraining ourselves to notes only found in a C Major Scale. When you build  a triad on the second degree of the C Major Scale,  you have the notes D F A. From the previous blog posts in this series, you will recognize that the interval from D to F is a MINOR Third, that is, one and one-half steps. The interval from F to A is a MAJOR Third, or two whole steps. When a Major Third is stacked on top of a Minor Third, a MINOR triad is constructed:

When we analyze all the rest of the triads in the harmonized major scale, we notice similar things. I'll leave you to do that for yourself for E through A, they are either major or minor.  For the triad built on B, we have a MINOR Third (F-D) stacked upon another MINOR Third (B-D): a Diminished Triad.

The Beginnings of the Number System

For centuries, Composers of Western music have attempted to define the sound of the Harmonized Major Scale by creating a numerical shorthand. They basically took the NUMBER of the degree of the scale upon which the chord was built, and paired that number with the QUALITY of the triad built upon it. In order to make this as easy as possible, they used CAPITAL Roman Numerals to represent the MAJOR triads, and LOWER CASE Roman Numerals to represent the MINOR triads.

Like This:

You notice the odd man out: the B Diminished Triad has the "vii" lower case Roman Numeral symbol, with a small "o" to signify the DIMINISHED quality.

The cool thing about this method of  notation is that transposition becomes easy, as long as you are intimately familiar with the Major Scale.

Here's what I mean: as long as you have memorized the notes at every degree of the major scale, in all twelve keys, you are able to tell that the progression I vi ii V I goes like this in the following keys:

C: C  Am  Dm  G  C

Bb: Bb  Gm  Cm  F  Bb

F#: F#  D#m  G#m  C#  F#

This ease of transposition is what made session players in Nashville simplify this old classical shorthand and modify it to suit their unique needs.

So here goes:

The Nashville Number System

So Nashville session musicians use the same Numerical VALUES, but they use the ARABIC Numerals that we all use on a daily basis to notate the values. Also, they thought that is was easier to assume that the chord was Major, unless explicitly defined. That means that in the key of C, using the NNS, 1 is C Major, 2 is D Major, 3 is E Major, and so on, unless the chord is designated 3min, or 3-...then the chord, in C major, would be E Minor.

So the same I vi ii V I progression from above looks like this in the Nashville Number System:

1 6- 2- 5 1

Those are really the basics, let's see they look in a practical application:

Check out this chart:

Let's examine it piece by piece. 

First, look at the upper right hand corner. In this chart, the upper right hand corner is telling us that  the song is in the key of D and that the tempo is 90BPM. If there is no time signature designation, it is assumed that we are in 4/4 time. Notice that the sections have been clearly labeled. For now, let's confine ourselves to the Intro and Verse 1. 


You only see two numbers in the intro, 1 and 4. In the Key of D Major, 1 would be a D Major Chord, an 4 would be a G Major Chord. In the Nashville Number System, the DURATION of the chord is assumed to be one entire measure, unless otherwise notated.  So there we have it: one bar of D, one bar of G. So what about the ACTUAL RHYTHMIC FIGURE that this player is going to be playing?....well....that's up to the player....and that's kind of the beauty of the Nashville Number System: the player is allowed the freedom to create their own part, as long as it is within the constraints of the chart.

Verse 1

For Verse 1, we are introduced to a few new things. The chords are fairly straightforward, in the Key of D we have 1 (D Major), 6- (B Minor), 5 (A Major), and 4 (G Major).  This section of the chart answers the question, "What happens if there is more than one chord in a measure?' This chart handles it this way: if there is more than one chord in a measure, that measure is bracketed by vertical bar lines : |. 
Normally, if no specific rhythm is notated, is is assumed that, in 4/4, we are dividing the bar in half equally, so if there are two chords in the bar, we're talking two beats per chord. In the fourth bar of our example, however, we are given some rhythmic cues. Notice the slash notation above the fourth bar: we are given 3 slashes with no flags, followed by a flagged slash. This means that for the first three beats of this measure, you play the 4 chord (G Major), with whatever rhythm you're feeling, until the fourth beat, at which point, we play the 5 chord (A Major) with the SPECIFIC RHYTHM of  a quarter note. 

One more thing about the first verse: there are repeat brackets around the first six bars of the verse. Naturally, you would repeat these bars before moving on to the last two bars. 

Try it. Try to play the intro and the first verse in the designated key, then try to play it in Bb Major. 

We'll  get through the next few pieces of this chart next week. Feel free to look over it, try to play it in various keys, but be mindful that there are a few "Gotcha" moments that I will explain in detail next time. 

Bonus Points if you can figure out what song this's a release by a major country recording artist. 

This Week

This week, I've been recording guitars, trying to finish a song, new weird G4 Mac, that I installed Debian if I could just get that pesky WiFi to work....and it's really difficult to find a modern browser that works on the PPC architecture...

Again, you need to buy Jodi Ann's latest release "A Brief Moment In Time." Download it here: or get the physical CD from me, by commenting here!

I think  podcast is immanent, I just have a few things to worry about before trying to eat, and feed my family and stuff like that, but stay tuned!

Graphics by GIMP

Notation by MuseScore

Not much listening this week, unfortunately.

Write something will ya?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Music Theory: Part 2

Hey there SEVEN followers!

Hope all went well last week.  Where was I?

Oh yeah...we just got through learning how to construct the Major Scale, and we're about to get into intervals and chords.

Here goes:


When we build our Major Scale, each step of the scale has a particular name, and over the last 400 years or so, we have sort of arrived at a naming convention that is closely tied to the sound of this scale. Each step of this particular scale is named a MAJOR or PERFECT something.

In order, they go like this: Perfect Unison (the identical note played at the same time), Major Second, Major Third, Perfect Fourth, Perfect Fifth, Major Sixth, Major Seventh, Perfect Octave.

The thing about intervals is that they can be played MELODICALLY, that is, one tone after the other; or HARMONICALLY, both tones played simultaneously.

Here is what the intervals of the major scale look like when played Harmonically in the staff:

All these intervals have specific definitions, in terms of space between the notes. A Major Second, as an example, is defined as being an interval separated by one whole step, or two semi-tones. So, by definition, the note D is one whole step away from the note C. Another way to say that is to say that
D is a Major Second away from C. ANYTHING that is two semi-tones away from a particular note is said to be a Major Second away.

Here are some examples of Major Seconds based on several different notes:

Similarly, Major Thirds have a specific definition. Major Thirds are two notes separated by two whole steps, or four semi-tones. Here are a few examples of Major Thirds:

I won't bore you with the definitions of all the other major intervals, but I will refer you to wikipedia, as it is an excellent reference for all kinds of musical terms. Start here:

All of these base intervals can be manipulated in several ways, making the interval sound different and be called something different.

For example, any of the intervals, labelled "Major" can be flattened by one-half step, making them "Minor" and changing their sound accordingly. So, if you take a Major Second and lower it by a half-step, you get a Minor Second:

If you take a Major Third and lower it by a half-step, you get a Minor Third:

The "Perfect" intervals can also be manipulated. Each of the Perfect Intervals can be flattened by one half-step, causing them to be called "Diminished." Or you can sharpen the Perfect intervals, causing them to be called "Augmented."


For lots of reasons, Western Music and Western Harmony have evolved to use Triads as their basic building blocks. Basically, a triad is two Thirds stacked on top of each other. This means that there are four possibilities for stacking Thirds:

1. You can have a Major Third on the bottom, with a Minor Third stacked on top, Like this:

...and for reasons that are not altogether clear, we have come to label this type of triad a "Major Triad" or a "Major Chord."

2. You can have a Minor Third on the bottom, with a Major Third stacked on top, Like this:

...and for reasons that are not altogether clear, we have come to label this type of triad a "Minor Triad" or a "Minor Chord."

3. You can have a Minor Third on the bottom, with a Minor Third stacked on top, Like this:

...and for reasons that are slightly clearer, we have come to label this type of triad a "Diminished Triad."

4. You can have a Major Third on the bottom, with a Major Third stacked on top, Like this:

...and for reasons that are slightly clearer, we have come to label this type of triad an "Augmented Triad."  

...And I think we'll stop there for this week...seems like a good place.

Next week, we'll actually get to the point of all this: the harmonization of the major scale and the Nashville Number System.

This Week:

I have been working on the production project and some new songs.
...seriously, download "Red Sundress" it'll either inspire you or make you give up...

Podcast on the horizon...stay tuned....

How does it sound now?

Write something, will ya?

See ya next week!