String Theory with Jimmy Brown: Effective Tactics for Soloing Over a Repeating Two-Chord Vamp

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This month, I’m going to address the seemingly simple but creatively challenging endeavor of crafting strong, cohesive melodies over a short, repeating chord progression, or vamp, as it is often called.

Specifically, I’ll focus on a familiar vamp known as the “i-IV (one-four) Dorian vamp,” which is found in classic rock songs as well as jazz, funk and R&B tunes. This name describes a chord movement that’s based on the Dorian mode and goes from the “one minor” chord (i), or “one minor-seven” (i7), to “four major” (IV).

A famous example of a i-IV Dorian vamp is the verse accompaniment in the Pink Floyd classic “Breathe,” which goes Em7 to A, one chord per bar, at a laid-back tempo. (Neil Young’s “Down by the River” uses this same vamp.)

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Jimmy Brown

Over the past 30 years, Jimmy Brown has built a reputation as one of the world's finest music educators, through his work as a transcriber and Senior Music Editor for Guitar World magazine and Lessons Editor for its sister publication, Guitar Player. In addition to these roles, Jimmy is also a busy working musician, performing regularly in the greater New York City area. Jimmy earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies and Performance and Music Management from William Paterson University in 1989. He is also an experienced private guitar teacher and an accomplished writer.