More on NNS and music theory

A reader writes:

I read your [post] about the Nashville Number System and the off the wall comment from another person saying music theory and NNS don’t go hand in hand.
When I moved to Nashville in 1978 to become chief engineer for Ronnie Milsap, the Nashville Number System was bewildering to me. I had the formal training through college and from my Grandfather who taught choir with the moveable shape note system. However, I had only seen on a few occasions musicians using the NNS.
Then, one day like a light bulb going off over my head it became clear that shape notes and NNS were essentially the same thing, only expressed differently. The commenter who made the comment that theory and NNS, is simply wrong. They are very much the same. Our ex-keyboard man, who was a great player, played a chord for me the last date he did for us, and said “I don’t know what it is, but I really like the sound of it.” I looked at what he was playing and told him it was a Bflat 6th, with an add 9. Using NNS for the past 25 years or more taught me theory to be able to know the structures such as this that are not the run of the mill kind of chords. I have found very few play-by-ear guys who know that much about structure.
We use tracks, with studio piano removed, allowing our guy to play studio style with the tracks. However, we also do several numbers with 4 men and a piano the way God intended. (tongue firmly in cheek)
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  1. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Actually, I never implied that the Nashville Number System and music theory don’t go hand in hand.

    What I really said was that it’s inappropriate to label a pianist as “ignorant” of music theory just because they’ve never got around to learning the Nashville Number System. There are several other systems by which music theory can be taught and in turn, applied.

    NNS lets you move “Do” wherever you want it, just like shape notes, but so does the Roman numeral system taught by most music colleges. None of these mean squat if the performer doesn’t translate the system into an understanding of why certain chord progressions work well together. All these systems allow you to give names to chords. It doesn’t matter if you learned to say I/V goes to V7 and then to I or if you say the blocky note goes to the triangle shaped note and then to the circle. It’s how the head knowledge is actually applied that counts.

    I know many college students who found theory to be their most difficult subject. I approached it formally like math first…equations I could then translate into art. So theory was one of my easier subjects. The point is whether or not players grasp the relationships between chords…not what particular method they used to get there.

    By the way, Ben…I’m 90% pretty sure your name is Ben…it’s perfectly fine to call me by name…no need to refer to me as a mysterious “off the wall commenter.” It really doesn’t bother me one bit that you so totally mis-interpreted what I wrote! :o)

  2. Burt wrote:

    Yeah, Ben. I knew it was you too.

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