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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
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.
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 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.
Keyboards (Pianos are rarely used these
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
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
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