What is Vamping in Music?

Vamping is essentially repeating a musical figure. You’ll find a signature riff in any music that aims to connect to parts of a song. The sound is distinct. They’re used to separate verses that otherwise sound similar. They typically have a Hawaiian element that is easily recognizable. 

These are also used in jazz or musicals. They’re called “vamp until cue” or “vamp until cue.” This is used during introductions or solo performances. The band can improvise easily once they master the common verse. Do you think you can pinpoint a vamping harmony while witnessing a performance?

What is Vamping Harmony?

What part of your favorite song calls out to you? The tempo? The instruments? Or maybe the vamping harmony? Not sure what it is? Let’s take a closer look. Musicians analyze music by looking into the vamping tempo. Vamps are a short series of chords that are repeatedly played for a long time. 

Here’s a sentence to help you understand the scenario better. The guitarists vamped while the vocalists got on stage. Vamps act as a buffer. They play in the background to fill up the awkward pauses. They’re often hypnotic because the rhythms are catchy and groovy. 

If you’re looking for inspiration, look into James Brown. You’ll find harmonic vamps in almost all genres of pop music. It’s a timeless phenomenon. There are many jazz tunes you’ll find this in. Dave Brubeck’s Take Five is a great example. The melody oscillates between two minor chords. 

Sweet Home Alabama deserves a shout out too. It’s a three-chord vamp that leads to an extremely catchy harmony. Maroon 5’s  Payphone features multiple vamps. You’ll find them in both the chords and the verses. It loops in every four chords. There’s even a rap vamp too.

Harmonic vamps are common in hip-hop music too. They’re filled with them. A few gospel songs feature them too. Although it’s more popular in pop music. Every modern-day pop music features at least one vamping harmony. Vamping has changed over time. It’s more of a linear progression now. 

Composed and sequential harmony can help elevate the music. It to more complex melodies. Look at it this way, they’re in charge of keeping things together. So if the vamping in music isn’t composed, the rest of the song won’t likely be either. 

Avid musicians pay attention to such elements. It’s important to identify the trait that makes or breaks the music. Many listeners subconsciously pay attention to the vamping harmony. Without knowing what it is. You’ll also find many artists using the same vamping harmony. 

Consider this a task and look for an example one or two. Here’s a hint. B.O.B.’s Airplanes and Brubeck’s Take Five.

More About Vamps

Vamps are repeating musical chords or sections. They’re typically associated with jazz, soul, pop, or blues. It’s extremely popular in the musical theater too. It’s recently emerging in rock, R&B, country, and reggae music too. Vamps can either be single chords or multiple chords. They just have to be rhythmic. 

“Vamp until ready” is a common phrase heard in concerts. The band plays this until the vocalist is prepared to be on stage. This sound must be open to variation. It’s often adapted instantaneously to suit different circumstances. The tones just have to be symmetrical.

Vamping and Ukuleles

Ukuleles are wonderful instruments. They’re user-friendly and fun to play with. More importantly, they’re easy to pick up. This unique instrument originated in Hawaii. Once you learn a few techniques, you can master the ukulele easily. Let’s take a closer look at vamping with ukuleles. 

Vamps are essentially a type of ostinato. You’re probably more accustomed to the term riffs. They’re also a type of ostinato. Although they’re not quite the same. Riffs define the song. You play it throughout. It’s dominating. It’s what makes the song. This applies to guitars though. When it comes to the ukulele, it’s called a vamp.

Ukuleles were popular in the early 90s. The term “vamp till ready” primarily appeared here. If you look into music sheets of that time, you’ll find that term before or in between the songs. The upbeat chords were important during the transition. They keep the hype going before the next song comes in.

You can also read on "How to Sing and Play Ukulele at the Same Time"

Strumming Ukulele Vamp Chords

Chord progressions in ukuleles are predictable. Let’s look at a famous vamp to understand better. It goes like II7, V7, I. Or two-seven, five-seven, one. This is called the Nashville notation. All the chords are notated on a scale. Anyone with rudimentary musical knowledge can understand this easily. 

The “I” in the vamp is called the root or home note of the key. So if you’re playing the key of the C chord, “1” is C. The scale looks something like this: 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


The notes are D7-G7-C. You play the first two keys twice and C four times. It varies based on the rhythm you’re trying to achieve. Try out this progression. It fits ukuleles perfectly. See how many times you can play it. Tweak it and see if you can create your verse out of it.

This vamp sequence defines Hawaiian music. If you master this sequence and play in front of an audience, they’ll assume you know what you’re doing. It has withstood the strains of time. Adding a little variation goes a long way. All you need to do is adjust your fingering positions. 

The resulting tune will be jazzier or more rhythmic. You can also spice things up by using substitute chords. Choose common jazz or pop chords. It’ll have a similar harmonic progression but with a pop! This might seem complicated to those new to music theory.


Vamping is systematic but has scope for creativity. You don’t have to do things the conventional way. Add your spice to it. With a little practice, vamping in music is an easy feat. The simple, rhythmic nature is easy to appreciate. Trust us, it works like a charm. Your audience will be enamored in no time.

Leave a Comment