How to Play Reggae Music

can you play reggae music

Reggae music originated in Jamaica and remains immensely popular today.

When beginning music, the basics must be learned first. One of the easiest instruments to learn is guitar.


Reggae music originates in Jamaica, and its hallmark trait is positive lyrics that uplift and inspire. Popularized by Bob Marley during his prolific 70s performance career, reggae quickly spread around the world due to its slow tempo and rhythm that many find appealing.

Reggae bands typically consist of two guitar players, with one playing rhythm guitar while the other adds melodic lines or riffs to add variety and drive to each song. Both guitars may improvise or play countermelodies alongside bass guitarist for added texture and depth of sound.

Reggae music features several distinct drum beats. One such beat, known as a “one drop” beat, emphasizes the downbeat on every second and fourth bar; here snare drum and kick drum are used to produce this rhythmic beat.

The second type, commonly referred to as a “rockers” beat, resembles that of the one-drop beat by adding four quarter notes per bar for more complex rhythmic effects than with its one-drop equivalent.

Reggae drummers generally utilize a standard drum kit when creating their signature rhythm; however, some use high-tuned snare drums along with additional instruments such as timbale or tom-toms or even bongos and cowbells to achieve an authentic reggae drumbeat. This beat is often accompanied by other percussion instruments, including bongos, cowbells and claves to complete its sound.

These powerful and loud percussion instruments should only be used sparingly and tuned to a low octave for best results.

Bass guitars have long been an integral component of reggae music due to their deep low-end tone. Not only can they provide the framework for other instruments to build upon, but their expressive sound allows players to skank around.

Noteworthy about bass in reggae music is its signature bass rhythm known as a roots or riddim rhythm, which features distinct pulses and rhythmic patterns easily recognisable by listeners.

The bass guitar is typically accompanied by a muted, skanking lead guitar which resonates off of its pulsed rhythm, creating what is known as “skeng.” This style has strong links with Jamaican ghetto culture where this was common practice.


Reggae music features many different chord progressions, so before beginning to play you must familiarise yourself with their basics. Some common progressions consist of just two chords while others can contain three or four. There are some that utilize all major chords while there may also be minor ones included in some sequences.

Beginners looking to master reggae chords should start off by listening to lots of reggae music – in particular that created by masters such as Bob Marley or Prince Buster – as a source for learning their chords.

Reggae music makes use of the guitar as it features strong rhythmic patterns and distinctive tones that add character and atmosphere to its music. Furthermore, various pedals such as the wah pedal can add syncopations for added effect.

Use a Compressor pedal to tighten and add reverberation to your tone for that signature reggae sound without resorting to too much other gear. This can create that signature reggae vibe!

Reggae music relies heavily on piano. Keyboard players often add chords during songs that add an upbeat sound; practicing chords with your hands beforehand will help ensure you remember how to play them on your keyboard.

Bar chords are a timeless staple of reggae music, as they’re easy to learn and versatile enough to add other sounds into. Plus, muting adds depth to your sound while softening its edge a little bit more.

When playing bar chords, it’s essential that no open strings are hit as this could ruin their tone; to preserve an authentic sounding tone only hit three strings on your guitar when performing partial bar chords.

An effective guitar playing style depends on strummed chords correctly with accurate note production, while selecting an effective pick attack and muted style to complement this. These details will all contribute to creating your sound!


Reggae rhythms generally follow 4/4 time signature, though their third beats can often be accented with drumming, guitar or bass playing to produce an African-influenced riddim (rhythm).

One of the keys to playing reggae music is mastering its rhythm. This genre is renowned for its syncopated percussion and vocals; mastering this aspect can be challenging at first, but can eventually become second nature with practice.

Thanks to online videos, there are numerous resources that can teach the fundamentals of reggae rhythm. An excellent place to begin learning this style of music is learning the right hand skank – which involves playing syncopated patterns on upbeat bars – then progress onto playing chords using left hand techniques.

An essential aspect of learning reggae drumming is understanding the “one drop” rhythm, the signature drum beat for this genre. Bob Marley and the Wailers popularized this pattern in their songs by accentuating every third beat of a bar with kick and snare hits.

The “one drop” rhythm serves as the foundation for several other styles of reggae music, including rockers and steppers. Both styles utilize four-on-the-floor drum groove, but with differing percussion elements such as snare drum, tom-toms, and cymbals added. They provide dancefloor friendly arrangements.

There are various variations of the “one drop” drum beat, most famously used by UB40 in their song ‘Rockers’. While typically serving as the opening beat in reggae songs, its usage as an melodic line can also be found in songs by Black Uhuru such as their hit single ‘Shine Eye Gal’.

Learn to play the ‘one drop’ drum beat using a metronome or practice with someone. Once you’ve accomplished this feat, move on to learning other reggae beats!

Reggae music offers more than one way of drumming; shuffle patterns offer another option for accentuating the beat and creating unique sounds and feels to help build your style. Similar to jazz ride patterns or cymbal slap patterns, these shuffle patterns provide accents which help accent songs while providing their own sound and feel that can help establish personal style.


Bass guitars are integral elements of reggae music. Serving both as the lead instrument and in concert with other instruments like pianos and keyboards to add to its overall musical soundscape.

Reggae music typically features drums, an electric bass guitar, and a keyboard; additionally they may include horns, brass instruments and Afro-Cuban percussion for added flavor.

Reggae music relies heavily on bass as its rhythmic foundation, anchoring beats and keeping songs moving even when drums play at slower tempos.

Reggae bass players must possess an ability to produce fast, powerful notes as well as possessing an acute rhythmic sense.

He should be able to play stacatto chords whenever the drummer plays an off beat – this technique can help develop your ear.

Establish a consistent and sustainable practice routine when learning reggae bass to ensure you don’t become bored with this style of playing or find yourself becoming distracted from it. This will enable you to maintain and advance this style without getting sidetracked by distractions or boredom.

Another key part of learning reggae music is understanding its distinct tempo and feel compared to rock or blues music, making it difficult to keep control over drumming despite loose percussion style.

Starting reggae can be intimidating at first; to ease into it more effectively, listen to many records and observe how bassists play, getting an understanding of what techniques they employ and whether they fit with your genre of music or not.

One of the primary techniques utilized in reggae music is called drop-one, or “1-drop.” This involves bassists not playing on the first beat of each bar – often times done shuffle style groove.

This technique is commonly seen in dub and ska music, but also has become an indispensable skill in reggae bass music. Learning this technique will enable you to play reggae bass without needing someone else for assistance.