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The Difference Between Progressions And Vamps

KimoB sent me an email a few days ago asking:

Could you please explain the difference between progressions and vamps: when, where and how they are used.  Also, when using a vamp to go from one chord to another, either up or down, what are the Roman numeral sequences (I-VII) that are commonly used.

Okay, so first off, the differences as I’ve come to understand them in Hawai’i:

  • Progression – A sequence of chords that repeats throughout different parts or all of a song. Maybe the verse has a chord progression of C Am F G and the chorus has a chord progression of C F C G. You will also find songs like Honey Baby or Drop Baby Drop that use the same progression throughout the whole song even though the melody changes. A lot of times a progression is the easiest way for people to jam together and take turns soloing. “Ok man, jam this!” [plays Gm Cm Eb D7 and somebody solos]
  • Vamp – A vamp is another sequence of chords that is used mainly to connect two pieces of a song. The Hawaiian vamp (or turnaround) is made up of the II chord for 2 beats, the V chord for 2 beats, and the root (I) chord for 4 beats. In the key of C, that would be D7 G7 C. I wrote extensively about vamps in an “All About Vamps” post. That should answer most questions regarding the vamp itself.

So a vamp could also be thought of as a progression. But most of the time when you hear “progression” the verse chords, or chorus chords are being referred to. When you hear “vamp” it means play a turnaround to go into the next part of the song. A whole list of the vamp chords can be found here: http://liveukulele.com/chords/vamp-chords/

All 7th chords have a place they resolve to. But if you continue to make the “resolved” chord a 7th you can float around what is called the circle of fourths indefinitely. Each 7th chord resolves a 4th up, so the circle would look like: A7 D7 G7 C7 G7 F7 Bb7 Eb7, etc… You can hear how each sound leads to the next. More about that: Resolving 7th Chords.

If you want to change keys with a vamp, you would use a move like: D7 G7 C7 F. That would take you from the key of C to the key of F. By adding the C7 you are changing the one note that is different between the two keys – B to Bb. That implies the key change. In Roman numerals that would be: II7 V7 I7 IV (the IV would be the new root or I) To change to a key that doesn’t relate as easy, you would just jump from the old root after playing a vamp to the V of the new key. So if you started in G and ended in A you would end up with: A7 D7 G E7 A. That would be II7 V7 I VI7 II. The II would be the new root. There are a bunch of ways to change into a new key, but those are the most basic.

Hopefully that answers your question Kimo! As always, follow ups and additional questions/comments are welcome.

Meet The Author:

Brad Bordessa

Brad plays 'ukulele on the Big Island of Hawai'i. He writes original music, performs, and hunts unicorns - all with only an 'ukulele.

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