I remember vividly a visit to my grandparent’s house that defined the Hawaiian vamp for me. The family was sitting around the living room with one of my Grandma’s friends. She brought me an ‘ukulele that her dad had bought back in the day and said “Play me something!” I played a couple songs. Blank looks. Then I played a little Hawaiian turnaround and she exclaimed “I know that!” A simple two bar vamp is the sound of Hawaiian music for many people. It’s very distinctive.
An ‘ukulele vamp (also called a “turnaround”) in Hawaiian music is three chords: II7, V7, and I. The first two chords get two counts (//) and the last gets four (////). If you are playing a down-up strum, one count equals down and up. Apply the numbers to a key (C) and you end up with: D7// G7// C//// (D7: DUDU G7: DUDU C: DUDUDUDU).
Vamps are usually used in between verses of traditional Hawaiian songs, but are also very common as intros and outros.
You will hear the term “picking vamp” as if it’s something fancy, but all it is is a melody that follows the same sound as the chords, so they fit together. You could strum a C vamp and your friend could pick a C vamp. If you want to learn picking vamps check out The Picking Vamps Page.
All 12 Hawaiian ‘Ukulele Strumming Vamps:
- C: D7// G7// C////
- C#/Db: D#7// G#7// C#////
- D: E7// A7// D////
- D#/Eb: F7// Bb7// Eb////
- E: F#7// B7// E////
- F: G7// C7// F////
- F#/Gb: G#7// C#7// F#////
- G: A7// D7// G////
- G#/Ab: A#7// D#7// G#////
- A: B7// E7// A////
- A#/Bb: C7// F7// Bb////
- B: C#7// F#7// B////
Here are the ‘ukulele chord charts:
If you want to spice things up a bit, try substituting 9th chords for the 7ths and 6ths for the major chords (D9, G9, C6 instead of D7, G7, C). It will sound less traditional, but more jazzy.
For many more options, shapes, and chord tricks, check out my eBook, ‘Ukulele Chord Shapes.