The One Chord Vamp

The one chord vamp section introduces some concepts to improvise over just one chord. When improvising on a single chord you naturally have more time to work on licks, arpeggios and scales to build your solo.

Improvising in this context is, however, not without its challenges as almost all harmonic weight falls upon you. The soloist needs to develop a story-telling technique that keeps the listener at the edge of the seat!

The following one-chord vamp examples are categorized in Major, minor and dominant chords. We will see how we can weave interesting lines over one chord by using substitute arpeggios as well as scales. This concept of substitution is related to re-harmonization.

When harmonizing scales you see that these chords from the same scale naturally share a lot of notes, something that opens up the possibility, when improvising as well as accompanying, of substituting one chord for another. If the score reads C Major you could choose to play an E min7 in stead, which would equal a C Maj9 without the root, etc. The examples here illustrate various ways of using this improv technique, as well as others like chromatics, symmetrics and modes.

Example 1 The first example is based on symmetrics and consists of a five note sequence moved around to pick-up some outside notes along the way. Moving a phrase inside/outside the harmony (here: C Major) is a common concept for adding color notes outside the box to an improvisation.

one-chord-vamp-c-major one-chord-vamp-4-2

Example 2  is another symmetrical line on the C Major augmented (“5) chord. This is a 3 note per string chromatic phrase, moving up the whole-tone scale, beginning each phrase on a target-note (from within the scale).


Example 4  illustrates how AmMaj7 and GMaj7 arpeggios add color notes; #5th and the #4th to the C Major.


Example 5  shows how to combine several substitution arpeggios into longer lines. This is based on three notes sequences from D minor, E minor and F minor arpeggios, ending on a sequence from Am(Maj7)


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