Practical Music Theory Tips #6 – Chord Progressions and Vamping

Ryan Egan —  January 10, 2008 — 6 Comments

What happens to you when your worship leader says something like, “Just play something nice while the pastor is praying” or “when I’m introducing this song, vamp something from the song until we’re ready to go?” Do you freak out and think, “How do I play something nice with no music…and what in the world is vamping??? Help!!”

There is a way to play something nice without even planning ahead of time, and no, vamping does not have anything to do with older Anne Rice novels.

What is Vamping?

Earlier we looked at building the basic chords in any key, the I (one), IV (four), V (five) and iv (six) chords. With these chords placed in your musical tool belt, you can create “something nice” on the spot without any music. You do this by vamping a progression of a combination of those four chords.

Vamping means to play something over and over again. Vamping can be used to extend an intro or an outro to a song. It can be used to let someone solo on an instrument or create a space of instrumental music in the middle of a song that the worship leader can use to continue to lead with speaking during the song.

Creating Chord Progressions

So how do you create a chord progression that you can vamp with? Here are some ways:

  • Find the built-in chord progressions. Is there an intro to the song? Figure out the measures of the intro and play it over and over again. Memorize that progression and the next time you’re in the key you can use those chords.
  • Play I, IV, V, I over and over. It’s a little bit boring and predictable, but it will do the job until you’re used to something different.
  • Understand the natural progression of chords. As obvious as it should be, we miss the fact that scales have a definite pattern to them that include each note’s chord: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1. So learn to play the scale progression of I, ii, iii, IV, V, iv, V7 (we substitute this chord instead of the vii..more on that in a future post), I.
  • Listen, look, learn. Listen for progressions in recordings that you have of a certain song. Look for progressions as you play songs. Learn those progressions and use them the next time you’re asked to vamp.
  • Learn progressions in different keys. Once you’ve learned the intro to a song in G, transpose that same progression to Bb, then C, then A, etc.

Changing Time Signatures

Be careful that you are following the time signature as well while you vamp. It’s a little bit tricky to get into a song if you’ve been vamping in 4/4 time and the song is in 3/4 time! Trust me, I know from experience on that one! So be careful if you’ve just played a 4/4 song and you’re asked to vamp the intro to a 3/4 song. Take a breath, count in your head and make sure you’re going to be playing in 3 instead of 4!

What are some good chord progressions you’ve used for vamping music?

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Ryan Egan

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Ryan is a follower of Christ, husband, father, worship leader, & creative. He is heavily involved in the Association of Free Lutheran Churches and desires to teach others to live a life of worship in everything they do.