The Beauty of Number Charts

I am five chords and a capo. I picked up the guitar for the first time about 3 years ago and since then I’ve learned how to lead worship, run rehearsals, and write songs with an acoustic guitar in my hands. Please don’t ask me to finger pick or play bar chords yet. I’m still working on that. Also, please don’t hand me a chord chart with a bunch of letters and #’s and ♭’s. However, with a capo and a working knowledge of basic music theory I can play any worship, pop, or country song you can name.

Years ago I ran across these bizarre-looking chord charts that most studio musicians in Nashville were using. They called it the Nashville Number System. What looked so foreign to me then has become my favorite way of reading music now. Most worship music consists of five basic chords: 1, 4, 5, 6 minor, and occasionally 2 minor (especially in Hillsong music). So, for instance, if you’re playing a song in the key of C, your numbers would look like this:

C = 1
D = 2
D minor = 2m
E = 3
F = 4
G = 5
A = 6
A minor = 6m
B = 7

If I want to move the song to C# then all I have to do is capo up one fret and play the exact same chord positions. Easy as that. Purists scoff at playing this way (believe me – I’ve had my share of down-lookers), but for churches this is an easy way to help everyone speak the same language when it comes to chart reading.

For example, the chorus to “How Great is Our God” in the key of A goes from this (the 4 little lines below the chord mean “4 beats per bar”):


To this:


It makes calling out changes in the middle of a worship set easier as well. Instead of shouting out chord names, I can just hold up the appropriate number of fingers to let everyone know on what chord we will end or where we are heading. Regardless of the key the numbers remain the same, and this is just one more little thing that makes our worship sets fly just a bit smoother.

comments powered by Disqus
Andy Chrisman
Worship Pastor
Andy came to Church on the Move in 2005, having been in the music industry for over 25 years. He's dedicated to raising up the next generation of worship leaders, and even though he spent many years with the group 4him, he says he's "having more fun now than I ever did on the road."