There are few chord progressions that sound better than a good ‘ol swing vamp on the ʻukulele. Something about the way this set of jazz chords push into each other is very pleasing.
I end up using this style intro and outro for Hawaiian swing style songs like Sophisticated Hula or Little Rock Getaway. That said, there’s no reason this couldn’t be used in a more traditional swing tune.
The progression I’m referring to here is:
C6 Adim7 F6 G7
Try playing it and you’ll hear what I mean. …Sweet!
The bigger part of this trick I learned from Kimo Hussey. He said that the most important thing is that it sounds good – it doesn’t matter what chord progression you use. This was a big revelation for me since I, like many others, was convinced that there was always a formula for everything in music.
So use the chords that sound good. That’s great advice, but as a springboard starting point, the idea in its most basic form is based around a I, vi, IV, V7 progression – C Am F G7. This is the progression used in numerous R&B and doo-wop songs like Earth Angel. To jazz things up and find the chords that sound good, we will use substitution chords to create more complex sounds.
Substitution chords are shapes that add interesting notes without disturbing the tonality of the main chord. Here is a chart of C substitution chords. For example, C6 can fit over C, F6 fits over F, and G7 could become a G9.
Here is a list of possible substitution chords for this progression. Pick any chord from the left column, and work your way across, picking one chord from each column. By the time you get to the right side you will have a snazzy intro or outro.
C | Am | F | G7 |
C6 | Adim | F6 | G9 |
Cmaj7 | Am7 | Fmaj7 | G11 |
Cmaj9 | A7b9 | Fmaj9 | G13 |
C6/9 | Am6 | F6/9 | G7b9 |
Cadd9 | | Fadd9 | |
You can transpose this into any key.
The options above are only a few out of many possibilities. I wrote a book called ʻUkulele Chord Shapes that is an extensive resource of ʻukulele chords and their shapes.
Further Study/More Advanced Vamps
Several years ago I was working through Mickey Baker’s Complete Course in Jazz Guitar Vol. 1 and ran across this same concept, but notated for guitar. I diagrammed what I came up with so I could continue to study the material and figured I’d share. There are some cool sounds in there. Please excuse the sloppy writing – I was transposing and identifying chords as I went.
Advanced ʻUkulele Intros PDF (chord diagrams)