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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: What is "vamping"?

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stinkyfingers - Posted - 11/10/2008:  21:03:24

I have been playing for over a year now, getting pretty good, but no matter how many times I find it discussed here, I still don't know what "vamping" is. Can someone please straighten me out? Thanks!

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American Public." ~H.L. Mencken

Tweak - Posted - 11/10/2008:  21:30:27

Vamping can mean a few things.

In music in general, vamping means to improvise a riff or variation on a particular chord progression. It just means to make something up and or "jam" along for however many measures you need to fill up. The term is mostly used in ragtime or jazz type of music, but you might hear it in other situations.

On the banjo, vamping is a particular technique where you rhythmically mute the strings to play chords with a short percussive rhythm. It is similar to the "chop" of the mandolin and emphasizes the upbeat.

Watch the beginning of this video and he shows you examples of vamping:

Edited by - Tweak on 11/10/2008 21:35:31

steve davis - Posted - 11/10/2008:  21:33:30

It's meant as a steady rhythm for the lead player to rely on,imo.

"If it sounds good..."

Graypeddler - Posted - 11/10/2008:  21:45:08

Geoff Hohwald demonstrates in one of his lessons on vamping.


tombro - Posted - 11/11/2008:  06:07:37

I have always called it chopping.

Don''t get tangled up in your underwear!

farley - Posted - 11/11/2008:  09:59:29

Vamping on the banjo is not to be taken lightly. It is a very "difficult to learn" technique, that takes even the best of banjo players at least several years of practice, and deep concentration to achieve.
Some never do.
To become a supreme VAMP, as they are called, you must be able to be playing a rolling song, such as "Train 45" at about 210 bpm, then for two beats only, be able to completely go into the vamp mode and hit your vamp chords, rendering any other banjo players stupified, wondering, pondering, "HOW"?. Sometimes, it might be best to not even approach this lick in the presence of other "lessor" banjo players. It's sorta like Sonny Osborne says, "Heck with 'em.....I had to figure it out....let them!!!!".
No one person really knows how this technique was developed, if it comes from the continent of Africa, with the old original banjos, or if it came out of the mountains of Kentucky, where some young hillbilly boy woke his mother and father up in the middle of a January snowstorm, to the shouts of "Mama, Mama, lookie h'yar, lookie h'yar". Probably we will never know for certain, maybe the truth lies somewhere between.
Maybe an African, visiting the mountains of Kentucky, shouting, "MiSSY, MISSY, lookie,lookie". It's another technique whose origins are probably lost to banjo history forever.
One of the most difficult aspects of "vamping" on the banjo, is describing just exactly what it is, what it sounds like when applied, and how and where to do it properly on the banjo.
So far, Earl tried to demonstrate it in his instruction book, but, over half of the description of the technique was edited out for pictures of the Earl Scruggs Flint Hill Special Banjo (Did you know now you get an autographed picture from Earl, CD, Certificate, and the missing edited parts of the book including the rare "vamping technique".), when you purchase this banjo? It is probably worth the ten thousand dollar price for this reason alone, if not to guarantee you learn to play like a true "Scruggs".
For years people have been trying to figure out how this is done, ask any banjo player, ask Bela how he vamps...the closest any banjo player ever came to revealing the vamping technique, was John Hartford. He wouldn't tell you how...but he did say where... "Vamp In The Middle". The perfect place to start. Farley

chrome - Posted - 11/11/2008:  11:52:55

A little bored today Farley?

imapicker2 - Posted - 11/11/2008:  12:25:22

Just set down the bottle and back away slowly!


Joe Larson - Posted - 11/11/2008:  12:29:09

It's called choppin when the Mandolin does it and essentially it's the same idea. What you're doing is playing chords on the off or back beat, the "and" between the beats.

So the bass would play, for example G on the 1 beat and D on the 2 beat. To vamp you would play a full either F or D shape G chord in between his beats, just as the Mandolin does.

I''d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

Edited by - Joe Larson on 11/11/2008 12:30:11

andy wa - Posted - 11/11/2008:  19:07:41

So vamping is what we call "boom-chick?" The bass goes "boom" on the first and third beats, mandos, guitars, (and vamping banjos) go "chick" on the second and fourth beat? cool. Another banjo skill to work on, but easier than some other stuff. I can apply this immediately.

boom chick boom chick boom chick boom chick........gotta love it!


thistledew - Posted - 11/12/2008:  03:29:45

To me, vamping and chopping are two different things. It seems to me that chopping is the act of holding a chord..pulling the 1st and 2nd strings and then letting up on the chord so that the sound stops. I have seen more chopping of the banjo these days than vamping. I see players actually lift their right hand completely off the banjo head.
Vamping is actually a roll pattern. The right hand stays planted with the fingers on the head as with any other roll pattern, but closer to the banjo neck. The left hand still releases the chord, but the sound is a lot more sustained than a chop.
One vamping roll pattern, while holding a full G position is, 4-21-5-2-31. Give it a try. There are lots of varations to this.

Joe Larson - Posted - 11/12/2008:  06:49:39

Well I guess it's just a matter of definitions. I've always felt that vamping was as you described it, a continual musical figure or accompaniment. But commonly in Blue Grass music vamping and chopping seem to have become synonymous. I'd be glad to see people start recognizing the distinction.


I''d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

Ira Gitlin - Posted - 11/12/2008:  06:49:48

I've never heard anyone else make the distinction that thistledew makes here. In the bluegrass banjo world, in my experience, "vamping" and "chopping" are always used as synonyms.

Be aware, though, that outside of bluegrass, musicians use the term as Tweak explained in post #2: "vamping" is used to mean repeating a brief pattern indefinitely until something else that's supposed to happen finally happens (e.g., comedian finishes joke, singer remembers lyric to next verse).

Edited by - Ira Gitlin on 11/12/2008 06:50:31

BanjoJim1 - Posted - 11/12/2008:  07:32:47

...Well, now that we've cleared that up...

Any instrument that has more or less than five strings is only good for backup or kindling... preferably the latter!

thistledew - Posted - 11/12/2008:  07:38:02

Maybe we could call it a chopping vamp? A chopvamp or a vampchop..YEAH! A VAMPCHOP! Hey Momma, bring me some crackers!

ValleyBoy - Posted - 11/12/2008:  19:14:30

When I want a more choppy sounding vamp, I leave my left hand on the strings and mute the sound sharply with my right hand palm. It's much more abrupt than standard vamping (lifting left hand fingers slightly to kill the sustain).

Nothing beats personal one-on-one instruction!
Learn to Play Bluegrass
Hensley''s Bluegrass Music

slickpicker - Posted - 11/12/2008:  19:45:45

Originally posted by chrome

A little bored today Farley?

haha!! good one! I agree.. it was a really long post!!!

and still pretty much failed to explain.....

Vamping is what you would hear Earl do behind Uncle Josh (Flatt and Scruggs Dobro Player)sometimes.... or a good example to listen to would be the song "My Saro Jane" that popping sound you hear off and on in the recording is Earl playing a muted chord to produce the pop on the upbeat.. vamping! Which is the opposite from the beat the bass plays... the bass would go "uuummm; and the vamp comes next with the "bop".. to create "umm---bop...umm----pop...umm---pop". rythm in 4/4 time.... which is standard time used for most bluegrass songs....

think of tapping your foot... naturally most tap the foot to the bass (downbeat) you want the "vamp" to come out on the upstroke of your foot tap...not on the downward pat...

you would vamp by basically holding a full chord position and pinching the bottom three strings at the same time... as soon as you pich them you would lift them off the fretboard to create the POP... this is one way another way...

Hold the same chord position but dont hold the strings all the way down.... just place your fingers over the notes in that chord and play a more "quite" clear... pop.

you could also play both beats while vamping... by hitting a bass string.. muting it... and then playing the regular chop on the bottom three strings following the bas note... you can do this to get both beats.. up and down beat....

but most of the time vamping is done "generally' on the upbeat only..without the bass note...

this takes time as with all else dealing with banjo..and there are several froms and variations of it...

I tried to explain it so you could understand more about what you really asked...."what is vamping"

vamping is also used in another way at the end of Earl's "Flint Hill Special"..and also in a catchy lck he played in one of the stops in "Bugle Call Rag"..... he combined vamping and slides and a few rolls do do theses effects.... just another way of incorprating the "vamping' technique into banjer playing.....

hope that helps!!

-"We might''ve not -started- that song out at 99 MPH.... but by the end we was pushing 100!!"-

Edited by - slickpicker on 11/12/2008 20:01:13

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