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What are the characteristics of reggae 





Many of the characteristics of reggae are unique to reggae music. While I am aware from reggae music history that reggae developed many of its characteristics from other genres, and then mould them into something unique, it is still essential to know the characteristics of reggae if you intend to play it well.     

  Characteristics of Reggae

The following characteristics of reggae are looked at mainly through the instruments and how they are used.  So read on and enjoy!  


1.  The Feel   


Bob Marley said “many people know it, but can’t play it because it’s not a know, it’s a feel.” It is often said that reggae has a hypnotic feel and to me this characteristic of reggae music can be attributed to its easy and laid back nature.  


The timing in reggae is what gives this peculiar feel.  The rhythm section is normally played on the second and fourth beats, hence the reason they say reggae is played using off beats.  Please remember this characteristic of reggae if you are serious about playing reggae, especially roots reggae.  


2.  The Drumming Styles   


Again, the characteristics of reggae are also unique in the drumming department.  Reggae has three types of drum beats, the One Drop, Steppers and Rockers.  In the One Drop the kick drum is played on the third beat, with snare and hi-hat added to taste.  


The Steppers drum beat is especially unique since the kick drum is played on all four beats while the snare and hi-hat are added to taste.  


The characteristics of reggae changed with the introduction of the Rockers drum beat. With Rockers the Kick drum can start on almost any beat, though in most cases it’s on the first and third.  


3.  The Bass Line   


The bass line is what makes reggae what it really is.  If you can recall your favourite reggae songs, am sure in most cases it’s the bass line that you remember first.  So what are the characteristics of reggae when it comes on to the bass?  


The reggae bass line is steady and repetitive, something that’s catchy but at the same time groovy and profound (roots reggae).  It is played close to the neck, to give that deep sound and a Fender Jazz Bass is normally used with dead flat wound strings.    


4.  Keyboards (Pianos are rarely used these days)  


Morden reggae music is mainly played using the keyboard (because of flexibility) and though this may not be a unique characteristic of reggae, it is nonetheless played in a unique way.    


The bang (I am not a keyboard player, but this is how I heard the reggae keyboard players call the short and clear technique they use) is played on the second and third beats. Fills are added every now and again to keep interest.  


5.  The Guitar   


The Characteristics of reggae is strongly emphasized by the guitar.  The reggae guitar can be used to complement the keyboard by adding a doubling effect or make the rhythm section sounds full.  


The chucking/chopping technique is normally used.  See how to play reggae guitar for more on this.  For interest sometimes the guitarist palm mute while playing the bass line along with the bass guitar.  This gives a really nice sound.  Lead licks are added to taste.  


6.  The Organ   


The organ is responsible for the unique characteristic of reggae called the bubble; this is basically playing against the rhythm section to give dimension body and movement. Think of it in a similar way to the steppers drum beat - playing on all for beats.   


7.  The Brass Section   


The characteristics of reggae allow horns to play an integral part. The trumpet, trombone, Saxophone and French horn are normally used. They are used to start a song, to add fills and solos. They are played on octave apart.  


8.  The Percussions   


Percussions mainly include congo and bongo drums, tambourines, shakers, whistles, bottles and other self made instruments.  This change helps give a roots reggae feel.   


9.  The Vocals   


The characteristics of reggae vocals involve singing, D-jaying (talking over the microphone) or a combination of the both. Most reggae vocalists are unique, in that, they work on preserving the natural tone of their voice.  


10. Reggae Colors


This is the most important part, if you don't do anything else make sure you rock the reggae colors sometimes folks!  That includes any combination of black, red, green and gold.  I tend to rock black and green and sometimes gold.  It just makes you look the part.  That's it!  Take care.  For more on the characteristics of reggae vocals 


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