Posted by: worshipguitarguy | September 29, 2006

Music Theory Part 2: “CAGED” and the Nashville Number System

Download the Music Theory Chart that goes with this lesson.  It’s a printable PDF with the chromatic scale wheel, a scale interval list, all the CAGED Chords, and the notes of the guitar neck in standard tuning. 


 The Nashville Number System 

Ok, I first have to thank you for suffering through the last post.  Those basic pieces of information are extremely important for growing as a guitarist.  Now let’s get down and dirty with applying it.  First, let’s look again at the C major scale. 

You’ll remember that there are seven notes in the scale, so we’re going to show all the notes below and number them 1-7, starting with C (C is equal to 1, D is equal to 2, etc.):

Pay careful attention to the numbers above each note, because they’re very important.  Those numbers show the relationship of notes (and also chords) to one another.  Working with the notes, there are a couple that have special importance.  Obviously, 1 or C is important… in music terms, it’s called the “tonic.” Also, 5 or G is big, and it is called the “dominant.” note or chord.  4 or F has the name of “subdominant”, and 6 minor or A minor is called the “relative minor.”  Some songs also include the 2 minor chord, (D minor) too.  These five chords are very important in worship music, I’d go as far as saying that 80 percent of all worship songs contain only these chords or some variation of them.  Now why are we mentioning the numbers 1,2,4,5 and 6, instead of just the chord names?  The reason is the numbers show us the relationship between the notes and chords that are important to us.  These numbers (and ultimately the relationship they show) have a name in music circles.  They’re called the Nashville Number System.  Confused?  Well, it’s real easy. 

Imagine having a chord chart in front of you of a song in the key of C… it repeats the chords C, Am, G, and F over and over.  (ex. the verses to Katheryn Scott’s song “Hungry” follow this progression)  Now say your worship leader comes to you and says he or she would rather do the song in the key of D.  If you didn’t know the relationship between the chords, you might be lost.  But being the observant guitar player you are, you know that there is a relationship between the chords that stays the same, no matter what key you play in.  So you put on a Sherlock Holmes hat, and go back to the C major chart above to determine which numbers match the chords.  Thus:


The relationship of the chords in the song is 1 – 6m – 5 – 4 repeated over and over.  Now we have to determine how to change or in musical terms “transpose” the song into the key of D.  If you remember in part one, we found the relationship between notes on the major scale to be

2 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 2 – 2 – 1

So let’s go back to the Chromatic Scale chart, and apply these starting with D. 

Since our chord progression goes 1 – 6m – 5 – 4, then we know the new chords for playing the song will be:

D – Bm – A – G

So what’s this whole Nashville Number System?  Well, it’s pretty simple… it’s the relationship that the numbers have with playing a song in different keys.  No matter what key you play a song in, the relationship is always the same, so the Nashville Number System gives us a way to communicate that relationship no matter what key we’re playing in. 


CAGED Chords

Now that we’ve done all the hard thinking, I’ll make things real easy for you.  Below is a chart of the five important Nashville Number chords, and their corresponding chords in the keys of C, A, G, E, and D… something otherwise known as the CAGED principle for guitarists.


Why CAGED?:  The reason the chords in the keys of C, A, G, E, and D are so important is that they’re the major open root position keys available for guitarists.  By knowing all these chords, you can play a song in any key, just by capoing.  For example, say a song is in A# (B flat) you could capo on the first fret, and play the A position chords, or capo on the third fret and play G position chords.  Likewise, if you have a song in D# (E flat), you could capo on 1 and play in D, or capo on 3 and play in C. 

Once you memorize all the chords and their relationships above, you’ll come a long way towards being able to play anything thrown at you. 



  1. Good stuff. I’m loving the theory!

  2. Gerry,

    I’ve not heard it called the Nashville Numbering System before, but in Jazz you spend a lot of time describing chords in intervals, which is the distance from the root note. The result is still the same – if you learn in intervals you can easily transpose to another key because you’re describing notes not with chord names but with numbers.

    Thanks for putting up the in depth theory – I’ve pointed a few guitarist friends of mine at the site. I’m also looking forward to where this is going.

  3. I’d like a sacle chart like the chord chart you posted ( )
    Thats if you can get one.

    Love the site!

  4. If I wanted to transpose a chord chart, say in “D” in a 1-4-5 progression, how would write a “D7”? It would look like “17.”


  5. it would be 2M7

  6. the 7 would be subscript… but some people write it differnetly 2M means its major and then you add the 7

  7. […] look at keys and chord voicings.  To start though, you may want to review the lessons on the Nashville Number System and the CAGED chords, because it will really help you understand all of […]

  8. As a bluegrass musician, the Nash’ number system is really important. The voicing of the guitar and banjo in bluegrass is such that playing open chords in standard tuning in different keys will produce a “non-bluegrass” sound. The deep G run produced by the guitar, for instance, doesn’t transpose to other keys without a capo. The NN system is perfect for using capos. All you need to know about playing in a given key is where to put the capo and what the chord numbers are. The chord forms are then totally transportable, and the instruments retain their voicing.

  9. i have been trying to learn how to play the dobro for 2 yr. now, boy is it hard i know my frets and cords but, i am having trouble with rhythm i can’t seem to get it? if you can help that would be great. i need to learn the # system. thanks linda

  10. ha ha ive been playing for years and new the theory just didnt know what to call it…CAGED!!! thx

  11. Great Post! I’ve been playing guitar for many years now, but just started using the NN. I know and can play most of the chords on your site, but I’m having trouble memorizing then NN where I can just spit it out on the fly. I play scales by using the pentatonic boxes so I use positions according to the p box pattern not using numbers or letters.

    Any tips on memorizing the whole thing??

    Should I write it or play it or use flash cards??

  12. THANK YOU. im trying to learn how to play the NN so i could just write a few songs down so could play around at this festival. this did help alot.

  13. Woww, Great teaching!! Keep up the great work!

  14. Yes! I think I’m learning music! Thank you, Lord. hahahaha… Keep it up worshipguitarguy. And Godbless…. ^_^

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    When I take a look at your blog in Safari, it looks
    fine however when opening in I.E., it’s got some overlapping issues. I simply wanted to provide you with a quick heads up! Besides that, great website!

  16. You should be a part of a contest for one of the finest websites online.

    I most certainly will recommend this blog!

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  18. Nice post, very helpful! But I still have a question: how does this numbering work e.g. if you have a song in C (major), and it includes non-scale chords like E flat or F sharp?

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