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Bluegrass Bass Lesson: Using the Number System


When first learning to play an instrument of any kind, one of the most seemingly daunting tasks that musicians face is transposing their favorite tunes from one key to another. Transposing tunes quickly is a skill that is required commonly in the context of bluegrass. Whether adjusting the key of a tune to accommodate the preferred register of a vocalist or fellow instrumentalist, transposing tunes from one key to another is a talent that’s exercised at essentially every bluegrass jam session.


Fortunately, there are a variety of tools that can make transposing tunes easier. One such tool is the musical number system.


In this online bass lesson, ten-time IBMA Award-winning “Bass Player of the Year” and ArtistWorks bluegrass bass instructor, Missy Raines, outlines the concept of the number system and teaches how to apply it in the context of the classic tune, “Old Home Place.”


LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to play bluegrass from an upright bass master like Missy Raines? Try some free online bass lessons now!


What is the Number System in Music?

The number system in music is a tool through which players organize a unique note, series of notes, harmony, or series of chords, using a number rather than a letter name to represent or refer to each note or chord.


For example, in this lesson from Missy Raines, “Old Home Place” is performed in the key of B. As such, B is referred to as the 1, since it is the root note of the key. The second degree of the B major scale (C-sharp) is then referred to as the 2, D-sharp is then referred to as the 3, and so on.


The benefit of the number system is that it is a moveable system, not a fixed system, meaning that the number that represents each chord changes depending on the key center in which the musician or ensemble is operating. The reason that this system is beneficial to musicians is that it allows players to learn tunes based on each chord's corresponding number rather than the letter name, which makes transposing tunes from key to key much easier.


“What the number system is designed to allow you to transpose tunes quickly,” Missy explains. “It allows you to easily understand the tune’s form, structure, and chord progression, and apply them in any key.”


To learn more about the number system, how it relates to chords, harmony, and key centers, and how to apply it in your playing, dive into this online bluegrass bass lesson from Missy Raines:


Using the Number System with Missy Raines:




Have you always wanted to learn how to play the upright bass? Through our comprehensive online upright bass lessons and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned musicians, like Missy Raines, and get personal feedback on your playing.


Missy's bluegrass bass course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner upright bass methods to advanced performance techniques, classic bluegrass tunes, music theory, and beyond. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as bassists and musicians.


Sample some free music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!



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