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Follow the Numbers

Today the Youth were leading the service at St Clement’s, reflecting back on their time at Soul Survivor this summer. This has become a standard feature for the first service of September each year but it is wonderful to see how the group grows and develops in their confidence and presentation each year.

The Youth also took a lead on the music, which was great… except the guitarists are definitely from the “I love my capo” school. Almost every song showed chords that needed a capo at a specified fret in order to get the sound intended. How is a poor bassist to cope?

Nashville numbers to the rescue. This is a system where you write out charts by the function of each chord rather than the actual note – so a blues would be based on 1, 4 and 5 rather than A, D and E (in A), E, A and B (in E) and so forth. Fortunately, all the songs also stuck to a limited harmonic vocabulary: mainly I, IV, V and vi, with an occasional touch of ii. Therefore, the easy route to transposing on the fly was to think about the numbers – for some reason, it is easier for me to, for example, get to E as the fourth chord for B rather than think of it as a major third up from C the shown key of G major.

It’s just as well the average worship song is much simpler than the average jazz song, where the Nashville system gets harder to follow. To be fair, if they were, sticking a capo on wouldn’t get guitarists out of learning a few more chords so I probably wouldn’t need to fall back on it.

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