Why PLAY pie-anna when you can VAMP?

As far back as the 1920s, smart musicians have known that your ability to hit the notes isn't nearly so important as your ability to vamp.



  1. I hate to admit that I’m unclear on why this is interesting.

    Is it the word “vamp” and it’s undead connotations? 
    Is it the absurdity of the claim that a colored piece of cardboard eliminates the need for musical knowledge?
    Is it just the beautifully vintage look of the ad?

    When I was a kid, my mom had many many comb-bound books of melodies from well known songs. I think they’d been her uncle’s, who played professionally for years. Just the melody and notation about the chording – to play from them, you had to “vamp” – to improvise all the stuff that went around the melody to make it sound good.

    Honestly it isn’t very hard to take them and play something passable – not professional, perhaps, but passable – by just banging out the chords with your left hand while you played the melody with the right.

    1. I hate to admit that I’m unclear on why this is interesting.

      Then I won’t even try “camp” or “tramp” on you.

    2. I had both. My father was a professional musician and the house had plenty of music pieces. I also remember playing with such a vamping chart. But I knew the latter’s limitations.

    3. I had a fake-book when I was a kid, and it taught me all Burt Bachrach’s secrets.  (hint: Cmaj7.)

      Also, the ad is cute because “vamp” could also mean, “act sexy.”

      1. I still have a pair of enormous fakebooks on the shelf somewhere (one regular, one B♭).

  2. I have an old Johnson Smith catalog reprint that includes a “how to vamp” book. The pitch was nearly identical. Same product, or an imitator?

    Underlying cultural assumption: Lots more people had pianos in their homes.

    1. Perhaps, but if I think about it, nowadays I bet more people have keyboards or midi controllers and computers (or even piano apps on tablets/computers) than had pianos back then.

      1. I’m not so sure. Sure, anyone with a tablet or computer *could* install a piano app if they wanted (I have several even on my phone), but I’m not sure they are all that popular. And if you think MIDI-controllers are common, you must hang out with professional musicians. But in its heyday, before being killed in part by radio and recorded music, pianos were *the* sign of a middle class home.

        1. I wonder if, in 100 years, Wikipedia will have an article on the social history of the ukulele.

          1. today, wikipedia has a paragraph about vamping: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ostinato#Vamp

        2. I made a quick, lazy search for keyboard sales statistics and came up dry.  But I do seem to see them in almost every home with kids.

          Also stumbled on a startling statistic of about a billion dollars a year spent on new guitars.  Rock on!

  3. Google instantly turns up a PDF of this 1894 pamphlet How to Vamp.

    It seems to cover basic music theory like chords, inversions, and harmonic progressions though it does require some ability to read music.

    Many amateur music players often have/had no idea of theory and were strict reproducers of the written music.

  4. MAN: Hey, do you know the orgasm song?

    PIANO PLAYER:  No, but hum a few bars and I can fake it!

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