‘Ukulele Chord Shapes eBook
“If you have questions about ukulele chords, Chord Shapes has the answers.” ~ James Hill

Hawaiian Vamps (Turnarounds)

Turnarounds are important to know if you play any traditional Hawaiian songs on ukulele. A vamp (or “turnaround”) is usually added to spread a song out and create separation for otherwise similar sounding verses. It has a distinctly Hawaiian flavor that people will recognize even if the vamp is out of context.

There can be two different parts to a vamp, and they both work together. Some of my students have a hard time wrapping their head around that, but just keep that in mind – they work together and can be played at the same time by two musicians. The two parts are: picking and strumming. If you are jamming by yourself, a strumming vamp is probably going to sound fuller, but a picking vamp has a more precise sound and you can control the exact feel better. If the jam includes more people than just yourself, by all means, play a picking vamp!

Hawaiian Strumming Vamp:

The chord progression (the order and length of the chords in a song) of a vamp goes: II7 V7 I. That means, if you are playing in the key of C you would take the 2nd, 5th, and 1st notes out of a C scale. So if you lay out the scale like this with numbers:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

You would get:

-2- 3 4 5 6 7 8
-D- E F G A B C

1 2 3 4 -5- 6 7 8
C D E F -G- A B C

-1- 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
-C- D E F G A B C

Those are the names of the chords: D, G, C in the key of C (we used a C scale right?). To make the chords push each other through the progression better, it helps to add a seventh to the first two chords. (See Resolving 7th Chords) So we end up with D7, G7, C. (That’s why it’s called a II7, V7, I progression – the 7 tell you to make those chord a dominant 7th.)

The timing for the vamp progression is:

D7 // G7 // C ////

Each slash is a count (don’t count the chord name itself, just the slashes following it). D7 gets two counts, G7 gets two counts, and C gets four counts. The first two chords together take up a measure (4 counts in a measure: 2+2=4 counts) and C takes up another by itself. A count can be thought of as a tap of your foot. Tap evenly for every number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4…

If you aren’t familiar with counting, here is a strum that should help you figure out the chord durations. If you are familiar with counting, stay tuned anyways because this is the easiest vamp strum. For each count (slash) just strum down (D) and then up (U) while holding the appropriate chord. So the strumming for the vamp will go:


That is not the only strum for a vamp, but it’s the easiest and most commonly used.

Strumming Vamp MP3

Hawaiian Picking vamps:

The second (and more optional) part of a Hawaiian vamp is played by picking single notes. This is usually played by the ukulele player. These notes work together with the chord and line up accordingly. The easiest vamp goes like this:

A |-------------2-3-
E |-2-3-2-3-1-3-----
C |-----------------
G |-----------------

Picking Vamp MP3

Learn the picking before you read on. If you don’t know how to read tab, go here: How to Read Tab

In this case, some of the notes in the picking vamp need to be changed to sound right with the current chord. Those notes are: F changed to F# because D7 uses F# instead of the a natural F. After that, D7 goes to G7 which uses F natural, so the F# goes back to F. Usually when picking, you want to emphasize the notes of the current chord – this proves that point and sounds best.

This is how the two parts stack up against each other:

    D7 //   G7 // C ////
A |-------------2-3-
E |-2-3-2-3-1-3-----
C |-----------------
G |-----------------

Use the rhythm of the chords to figure out exactly where the picked notes fall.

Here is an MP3 example of both parts of the vamp along with backing tracks so you can practice picking and strumming.

Vamps work in all keys, as does all of this info. Some more common picking vamps can be found here: Picking Vamps. And the rest of the strumming vamps can be found here: Vamp Chords.