Piano Chord Tutorial Number Five, Transposing and Nashville Number System

Here is Piano Chord Tutorial, Lesson Five, which is available at YouTube for free viewing and available to watch for free here.

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Piano Chord Tutorial Number Five

This Piano Chord Tutorial, Lesson Five, will introduce you to transposing and the Nashville Number System. When you play piano you will often have to do songs in different keys for different voices. Some people might sing a song in the key of C and others will find it more comfortable to sing the song in the key of D or A or F.

A person who sings one song in the key of C might do another in a different key. A person does not sing every song in the same key and different people sing the same song in different keys. The melody will sound the same but it will be in a higher or lower key. When you play piano chords, you will want to practice the various patterns in different keys. It will sound confusing at first but it will become easy to understand after you have played for a few weeks. Transposing is merely changing the key of a song. If you have been playing lots of 1950s Doo Wop songs using the C-A Minor-F and G chords over and over, you will find that you can do that exact same pattern in any other key that is comfortable for you or whoever is singing the song. The same pattern can start in the F chord and use F-D Minor-Bb and C chords. The last chord in the pattern can be played as a Seventh. If you use C-A Minor- F and G, the G chord can be played as G7 by adding an F note to a G chord. If you play F-D Minor-Bb and C, you can use C7 in place of the C chord by adding a Bb (B Flat) note to the C chord. That also will sound difficult at first but in a few weeks of practice you will see how different patterns can be played in different keys and still the song will sound correct.

When you first are learning to transpose, just remember you are merely changing the key of a song. Something similar to transposing is called modulating. Modulating is changing the key of a song while it is being sung. Some famous examples of this on recordings is Bobby Darin's version of Mack The Knife which changes keys during his performance several times. That also happens when Janis Joplin sings Me and Bobby McGee which starts in the key of G and during the song it modulates up to the key of A. For this Piano Chord Tutorial it is not necessary to learn all that right away but just be aware that key changes do occur during performances very often. This lesson will become easier to understand after you have practiced some key changes during a performance.


The Nashville Number System is a communications shorthand used by musicians to tell which chord they are playing or they are about to play. If a musician sets in with me somewhere while I am playing in a piano bar and that musician wants to sing a song I do not know, a quick communication can tell me his or her chords. It can be done simply by holding up some fingers for the number One or Five or Four or Two, whatever is in the song. If the song is Down in the Valley which has only two chords, he or she will say, "Key of E, two chords, I'll start on the One and go to the Five and back to the One." If it is a song like "Dream" by the Everly Brothers, he or she will say, "Key of C. It's a One, 6 Minor, Four and Five, and I'll modulate to a D after the first verse and chorus."

You will not learn that in this first introduction but you will gradually find it is an easy way to communicate with your band members by holding up one or four or five fingers just before you change to a different chord on a song which they are learning.

This piano chord tutorial lesson is mainly to acquaint you with the idea of transposing and using different keys and getting a first look at the Nashville Number System. The Nashville Number Lesson is necessary only when you are playing with other musicians.

Go to Lesson 6

Piano Notes
Musical Score