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Nashville’s Number System and Music Theory

Will Griffin

Making Chords

Purpose:    To show the student the structure and how to make various chords.
Objectives:  Upon completion of this lesson, the student will:
    A:    Understand that various chords are created by the notes (numbers) used to make that particular chord.
    B:    Know that  Major chord is notes 1-3-5 and a minor chord is notes 1-b3-5.
    C:    Know that a 7th chord is a 1-3-5-b7, a Major 7th is a 1-3-5-7, and a minor 7th chord is made by using notes 1-b3-5-b7
    D:    Know how to make the Major chords, minor chords, and 7th chords for the C chords, G chords, D chords, A chords, and E chords.
Procedure:  Read the following carefully and learn to make the major and minor chords for C, G, D, A, & E.

    Modern songwriting is as structured with chords as it is with melody and lyrics. Chords form the bed for the melody to flow within the chord structure. The Nashville number chart system is really a chord chart system, giving the musician a roadmap of the chords to be used in the song, regardless of the key. 

    To continue, make sure you have a good working knowledge of the major scales. In other words, you should be able to sing or play a "do re mi" scale using the numbers one through seven instead of "do re mi’s"

    Two of the same notes are a unison. Two different notes form a duo called an interval. Three different notes, on every other degree of a scale, form a group called a chord.

    Chords should be analyzed in the key of their root. For a C chord, use a C scale with C as 1 for your starting point.

    We're going to use our little chart again, with the keys starting with C and which increase with the number of sharps in that key.  As you can see, the Key of G has one # (F# note) in it, the key of D has 2 #s (F# & C#), and the key of A has 3 #s (F#, C# & G#).  You'll notice that G is the 5 note for C, D is the 5 note for G, and A is the 5 note of D and each key increases by one sharp.  This is called the 'cycle of 5ths', which is fundamental to all western and European music.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8(1)
Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do
G A B C D E F# G
D E F# G A B C# D
A B C# D E F# G# A
E F# G# A B C# D# E

    Every chord has a root, third, and fifth. In other words, every chord has a 1-3-5 notes in it to form the chord.  (Do-Mi-Sol)

A Major chord is spelled    1-3-5
A Minor chord is spelled    1-
A Diminished chord is spelled    1-
An Augmented chord is spelled    1-3-5#

    Thus with a C chord:

C major is C-E-G.
C minor is C-Eb-G.  (why a D scale in C is a minor because F# is F [b3])
C diminished is
C augmented is C-E-G#.

    These notes can appear in any order and be repeated ad infinitum. In other words: G-B-D-G-B-G is still a G major chord, as a matter of fact, this is how it appears on the guitar. As long as you have the root third and fifth, you have a chord.

Now, we’ll turn to seventh chords. You simply add a seventh to the root, third, and fifth.

Major seventh chord (Maj7)    1-3-5-7
Seventh chord (7) (the regular 7th)    1-3-5-
Minor Seventh chord (m7) (the regular 7th)    1-
Half diminished seventh, also called the minor seventh flat five (m7
b5)    1-b3-b5-b7
Augmented seventh, also called the seventh augmented fifth (7+5)    1-3-#5-

    To represent this graphically, look at the table below and we will use the keys/chords for C, G, and D as examples; but this works for all keys and chords.

Chord Name Notes in the Chord Key=C
(key no #)
(key 1 #
(key 2 #s F# & C#)
Major 1-3-5 C-E-G G-B-D D-F#-A
minor 1-b3-5 C-Eb-G G-Bb-D D-F-A
diminished 1-b3-b5 C-Eb-Gb G-Bb-Db D-F-Ab
augmented 1-3-5# C-E-G# G-B-D# D-F#-A#
Major 7th 1-3-5-7 C-E-G-B G-B-D-F# D-F#-A-C#
7th 1-3-5-b7 C-E-G-Bb G-B-D-F D-F#-A-C
minor 7th 1-b3-5-b7 C-bE-G-Bb G-Bb-D-F D-F-A-C

    Try these out on your piano, guitar, or whatever instrument you have. You are probably already used to the sound of major and minor, but it wouldn’t hurt to acquaint yourself with the diminished and augmented also.

    Here is the keyboard again so you can quickly take a look for a reference and why in the key of C, the D scale is naturally a minor scale, E scale is minor, F scale is major, G scale is major, A scale is minor and thus these chords will be usually minor chords in the key of C.  Same holds true for the key of G, key of D, key of A, Key of E, etc.

    You'll notice that if you are playing a scale in the key of C that if you play a D-scale that the F# is a regular F, thus a b3, which is why the D scale occurs as a minor scale in the key of C.  And thus the D-chord in the key of C is naturally a Dm.  If there is a DMaj chord in the key of C, it usually appears before a G chord and is thus called 5 of the 5, but we'll get into this a bit later.

    If you play a  G scale in the key of C that the F# is a regular F, which is fine because there is an "F" note that naturally occurs in the key of "C", as it is the 4th. note.  So, in the Key of C, the G chord is naturally a Major chord.

    Things starting to make sense?  Just work with this principle for all keys as we have discussed here and previously and it won't be long before it all makes perfect sense to you.

    After this, then consider the following, as you have seen 9th and other chords, but the 1- 3 - 5 - 7 notes whether they are natural, sharp or flats is your fundamentals you'll see in most music, whether it is rock, country, blues, jazz, reggae, etc.

    Strangest of all is the fully diminished seventh ( o ). This is the diminished chord most people are familiar with (" Help, help, he’s tying me to the railroad tracks!) It uses a doubly flatted seventh. In C this would be a Bbb which would sound the same as A.    1-b3-b5-bb7

    The fully diminished seventh chord repeats its intervals so perfectly, that any note in the fully diminished seventh chord can be the root.

    The ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords are built directly on the seventh, which may be: seventh, major seventh, or minor seventh. If you haven’t noticed yet, chords are built on every other note in the scale. Skip a number after seven and you would get two, but that could have been confusing, so we called a two built on a seventh chord a ninth. Continuing with this, we call a four an eleventh, and a six a thirteenth. Here’s a common thirteenth chord.


    (Notice that the common extended chords have a flat seven, this allows them to lead to another chord e.g. a G7, G9, G11, or G13 want to lead you to a C chord. If they had a natural seven, they would just "sit there"   (Gmaj7, Gmaj9, Gmaj11, or Gmaj13.)

    There are a few other chords or tone clusters that are used by songwriters. Perhaps the most familiar is the suspended chord (mistakenly referred to as a "sustained" chord.) A suspended chord "suspends" the listener from knowing whether it is major or minor. It substitutes either a four or two for the three or flat three.

    2 5 or 1 4 5

    The more common is the Sus4, which can be referred to simply as Sus. The Sus2 must be written as such. The Sus4 is the "Pinball Wizard" chord; the Sus2 is the "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" chord.

    Another chord often used by songwriters is the Add9 chord. It leaves out the seven.


    This one usually follows a specific pattern.


    Steely Dan called this a "mu" chord. When played on the guitar as a C add9, usually following a G chord, it has been called a "Nashville C". CEGDG (The sixth string is not played.)

    Songwriters often come up with other "added" chords, like an Am add11 (an Am with a D note, but without the seventh or ninth…theory cats: I know this could be a D9, but bear with me.) Very often these chords are useful to the single act, but would sound strange if the whole band played them. (If you really need it, show it to the guitar player, but make it an Am on the chart.) With experience you’ll find when such chords are appropriate.

    Last but not least is the drone chord. Not really a chord, the drone is made up of a root and fifth. It is neither major nor minor and it allows the melody to move from the b3 to the 3, giving a bluesy or "modal" sound. It’s found a lot in country and metal (how’s that for an eclectic chord?) You’ll hear it in the Judds’ "Why Not Me" and in "Smoke on the Water." It’s the "power" chord.

    I know this is a lot, but if I can get on the Internet, you can figure it out. While you’re sifting through this, remember that chords may have different names depending on what you call the "root." You often identify the root in context. Also the bass note (which is not necessarily the root) affects the "feel" of the chord. Some bass notes even seem to operate independently of the chord, (Theory cats, close your eyes…) like an F chord with a G in the bass in the key of C. In Nashville we’d call that a four over a five. (OK cats, it’s a G11? Then, where’s the third and fifth?)

    Once again, you’ll need to get a decent grasp on this to continue. Be practical. Figure out your own songs. Think about what chords you use. If you don’t use ninths and thirteenths, you don’t need to worry as much about them.

    Part three will be about time. Until then, eat your 1622656 in the key of C.

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