Using the Nashville Number System to Create Bands

Skip instrument “lessons” and get participants to play in bands from day #1

Give your participants the ultimate musical experience by getting them to play their favorite songs in a band on the very first day. Youth participants are empowered by choosing their instrument, song, bandmates and stage name. Your role is to simplify the chord progressions or drum beats (ie. root notes) and get the band to play along with the recording while performing on stage. Instead of weekly “lessons,” participants attend a regular band rehearsal with the goal of performing at a showcase performance each month. Help participants feel like a “star” in front of their peers while motivating them to improve on their skills. 

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How to… 

Before participants arrive 

  • Prepare an approved Song List on a white board (ie. popular songs for participants to choose from) 
    • Limited song options from a common playlist gives participants a sense “guided choice” 
    • Allows the staff to prepare learning materials for a realistic amount of songs, including, tempo/key signature, progression shorthand (ie. Nashville # system), and song form
    • Add individual progressions for Verse, Chorus, Pre-Chorus, Bridge, etc. 
    • Print lyric sheets (if needed) 
      • Create a playlist on Spotify or Apple Music for quick access
  • Tape and label instruments
Guitar/bassPiano 
Use white Gaffers tape to label frets with chord function. Move tape for each songParticipants play root notes using one finger on one stringLabel keys with chord function using tape or dry erase markersParticipants play root notes using one finger 
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“Karate Belt” Reward System

Want ninja level musicians?! Help your participants earn a musical “black belt.”  

A black belt in karate is a badge of honor representing the highest level of skill. The “Karate Belt” Reward System uses different color guitar picks (similar to “karate belts”) to reward participants’ progress and motivate them to achieve their goals on instruments or music technology.

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How to…

  • Determine what skills participants must demonstrate in order to “level up” on each instrument or music technology gear. Then print and display the “karate belt” requirements for each instrument.
    • The Sample “Karate Belt” Reward System Achievements chart below uses 5 colors, each representing different levels of achievement plus an exclusive club called “The Red-Hot Pick Society” for anyone earning a purple pick on 3 or more instruments
  • Create an incentive chart to visually track and help motivate participants’ achievements.
  • With help from instructors, participants work to earn each colored guitar pick to add to their necklace.
    • Note: If a participant earns their “Yellow” rank in more than one instrument, no need to give them another yellow guitar pick for their necklace. Instead, simply note their achievement on the incentive board.
  • Participants wear their multi-colored guitar pick necklace that proudly displays their rank.

The recommended equipment list below is an example that would serve approximately 30 participants. Your needs and quantities may vary (depending on # of participants).

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New Participant Orientation Tools

Expecting lots of new kids this Fall? Set them up for success with these handy tools!

Download the bundle of all of the New Participant Orientation Tools

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New Participant Orientation Process

New Participant Orientation Process

Help break the ice and welcome new participants so they can make music right away! ...
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Sample House Rules

Sample House Rules

Help establish expectations for all participants and ensure proper use of the equipment and facilities.  ...
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Equipment Orientation Worksheets

Equipment Orientation Worksheets

These quick Equipment Orientation Worksheets are perfect for beginners on amp, bass, drums, guitar, mics, ...
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Musical Poster Boards

Musical Poster Boards

Large posters you can print and hang in your music room to help remind participants ...
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New Participant Orientation Process

Help break the ice and welcome new participants so they can make music right away!

For participants new to your music program, stepping into a recording studio or picking up an instrument for the first time can be intimidating. Some beginners are so excited to get started that they can hardly stand it! One way to help newbies feel welcome is to use this THREE STEP orientation process which includes:

  1. Reviewing House Rules (a sample is provided as a guide)
  2. Get participants comfortable by using Orientation Worksheets to explain the basics for Recording Studio, Guitar, Bass, Drums, Piano, and more…
  3. Creating personal folders for each participant

In addition, help new participants:

  • Feel welcome and comfortable with how to get involved
  • Understand how to treat all equipment with care and respect
  • Set a foundation for success by completing orientations on each instrument or music technology

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How to…

Step 1: House Rules

  • Develop a set of House Rules for your program, ideally with input/buy-in from your youth participants.
  • The rules set expectations for general behavior and for how they handle musical equipment.
    • Creates a sense of pride in the music program
    • Makes it less likely that equipment becomes damaged or broken
    • Avoids dangerous or disruptive sound levels
  • The first worksheet in the orientation process should be YOUR House Rules. Each new participant should review these rules and keep a copy in their folder.

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Download editable Sample House Rules 
Download the bundle of all Orientation Worksheets

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“Sticky” Instrument Challenges

Want beginners to have instant success on instruments? Forget notation and pick up some tape or stickers!

“Sticky” Instrument Challenges are a great way to “gamify” your music program and expose participants to new things without having to learn music theory/notation first. At the start of each day, introduce several Instrument Challenges for participants to choose from (on different instruments). For example, participants have to complete a challenge in order to “unlock” privileges like using the recording studio, or instrument equipment, etc. “Sticky” Instrument Challenges help introduce basic concepts and gives participants success right away in hopes that they “stick” with it.

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How to…

  • Decide how often you’ll introduce the Instrument Challenges challenge. For example,
    • Every day – choose a specific time, etc. 
    • Each week (e.g. every Wednesday – or whatever day you choose) 
  • Decide on the format of the challenge – ie. everyone must complete or make it an optional challenge that helps participants earn extra privileges, etc.  
  • Make it easy for all skill levels to complete the challenges; examples include: 
    • Piano – use “Avery See-Through Removable Color Dots”, Post-it Page Markers (multi-color pack), Multi-colored dry erase markers 
    • Guitar/bass – use masking tape along the top of the neck/fretboard – label the fret number in sequence 
    • Drums – use an easy “play along” track, YouTube clip or take a video of an instructor playing a basic groove.  
  • Create fun challenges that participants must complete before participating in other programs/activities (displayed on a white board). Examples include: 
    • “Chord Buster” – Participants must play through a I-IV-V progression.  
      • Piano – Green dots = C Major chord, Red dots = F Major, Blue dots = G Major
      • Guitar/bass – #1 = Low E string, 8th fret (C); #2 = Low E string, 1st fret (F); #3 = Low E string, 3rd fret (G)
    • “Melody Mystery” – Place a sequence of colored dots or label fretboard that participants must “decode” in order to play a familiar melody.
    • “Octave Obsession” – Place colored dots or label fretboard on various octaves, and discuss the basic concept of what participants are playing.
    • “Scale Trail” – Place colored dots or label fretboard on various scales and discuss key signatures with participants.
    • “Intricate Intervals” – Place colored dots or label fretboard on basic scale intervals for a quick ear training exercise.
    • “Groove Master” – ask participants to recreate a drum groove on a video or recording
    • “Rhythm Xerox” – participants have to repeat a series of rhythms 
  • Optional – Use the same concepts for helping participants on music technology equipment 

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Big Ears

Help participants develop their ear and the critical listening skills that are nearly impossible to notate

Critical listening skills like tone, intonation, and groove are universal and highly sought after by all musicians. These skills are also often overlooked or taken for granted in favor of traditional music education skills like music theory and reading skills. Help your participants become well rounded musicians by developing their ear, overall critical listening skills in their playing or music productions. Below are a few ideas on how to help your participants accurately identify and communicate music elements and use them in their own playing or songwriting.  

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How to… 

Be creative in how you communicate musical skills in instrument workshops, ensembles and/or music productions.  

Some ideas for Big Ears workshops include (but not limited to): 

Music Theory:

  • Find the Note: Play a note on piano and have other instrumentalists match the pitch on their instrument
  • Intervals: Give starting notes and find second note based on reference of sound. Limit options to Major, Minor 3rd, etc.
  • Identify Chords: Determine whether chords in root position are minor or major. Move chords around but don’t invert. Make it easy at first and build from there.
  • Transcribe: Figure out a guitar line/chords by ear.

Music Production/Engineering:

  • Listen as a Producer: Describe instrumentation and explain arrangement. How many hooks? Any interludes? Etc.
  • Mixing: Working through a mix and talking through the different instruments and how we handle certain frequency ranges
  • Physics of Sound: How does sound travel? What are frequencies, how are they measured, and what are the frequency ranges instruments play in?

Songwriting:

  • Rhyme Schemes: What type of rhyme schemes is the artist using? Slant rhymes, or perfect rhymes?
  • Lyrical Imagery: Is the artist using metaphor, simile, alliteration? What does it make you feel or visualize? 
  • Performance: What type of emotion is the artist using on the track? How does it support the lyrics? 
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Recording Studio Orientation Process

Demystify complicated studio gear and get participants making beats right away

What better way to teach all the basics of the recording studio than to have participants create a couple projects of their own?!  Engage your new or beginner participants with a real-world project while they learn the expectations for handling studio equipment and basic music production concepts and techniques.

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How to…

  • Participants complete a Recording Studio Orientation to learn:
    • Studio Rules and Expectations (see following “Sample Recording Studio Contract”)
    • How to use and take care of all studio equipment
    • Basics of studio equipment and their functions
    • How to properly turn on and shut down studio equipment
    • How to set up a basic Logic Pro X project (i.e. new tracks, check levels, and record enable)
  • Conduct a simple verbal quiz to make sure participants have learned the names of all studio equipment
  • Have participants produce two basic “demo” Music Production projects using iPad Workstations or computer workstations following this process:
    • GarageBand project at least 32 bars long
    • Distinct “A” and “B” sections
    • Minimum of 5 tracks
    • At least one track performed live by the participant then quantized (others can be Apple loops)

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VIP Band Program

Motivate your Very Important Participants to become Virtuoso Instrument Players!

Avoid the musical progress plateau with your participants by motivating and challenging them with an exclusive VIP Band program opportunity (for those who want it). Each week, Junior band participants (age 10-13) and Senior band participants (age 14-18) participate in exclusive workshops and programs that help build mastery in their chosen instrument. Participants receive weekly instrument workshops, theory courses, music technology experiences and build strong bonds with their peers in an ensemble. VIP Band ensembles are also given higher stakes performance opportunities in your organization or in the community, giving them a sense of pride in their hard work and dedication.  

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How to… 

Participation in the VIP Band Program is divided into two groups and is typically limited to no more than 15-20 participants for each band: 

  • Junior Band: ages 10-13
  • Senior Band: ages 14-18 

Each week, VIP Band participants commit to participating core music program elements, which may include: 

  • Instrument Workshop (of their choice) 
    • Take at least one instrument workshop per semester taught by Music Program staff 
    • Track weekly attendance (communicated with parents)
  • Musical Knowledge 
  • Apply rhythm and notation basics to their chosen instrument
  • Compose an original 16-32 bar song by the end of each semester
  • Music Technology 
    • Participate in a weekly Music Technology activity such as: “Sound alike” projects, iPad beat making, Recording Studio sessions
    • Record an original song with distinct “A” and “B” sections by the end of each semester
  • Ensemble
    • Apply musical knowledge in a band
    • Learn rehearsal and performance techniques 
    • Perform in one Open Mic night by the end of the semester

Tracking VIP participants’ progress: 

  • Create a poster board tracking sheet (see example below) 
  • Participants get a stamp in the category activity they’ve completed each week. Visually displaying progress is motivational to the participants.
  • VIP’s must have 3 stamps at the end of each week, 12 stamps at the end of each month

Sample VIP Band Incentives: 

  • First to know about concert tickets, field trips
  • Prioritized Recording Session time
  • High profile performance opportunities (galas, fundraisers, community events, etc. 
  • Opportunities for music video shoot
  • Monthly rewards, raffles, prizes
  • Music books, lyric books, pick necklaces, VIP-only party (ice cream, movie night)
  • Raffle: Big prize could be Guitar Center gift card or iTunes gift card 
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