Regae guitar Rock steady, Marley & more
Jon Bishop looks at the wonderful world of reggae guitar. With five stylistically contrasting performance pieces for you to learn, you might be surprised at just how deep this music is.
Reggae and its relative styles is way more subtle, varied and complex than you may imagine. Jon Bishop is a big fan and will enthuse you too!
Many western pop art ists have ad opt ed aspects of the regga e styl e into their arra ngements with gr eat success
ABILITY RATIN G Easy to moderate ✪✪ ✪✪✪ Info Key Various Tempo Various CD TRACKS 10-19 Will improve your… Stylistic awareness Timing and tone production Playing offbeat and triplet rhythms
Welcome to GT’s mega reggae guitar feature; perhaps the most thorough ever in a guitar magazine. The aim of this lesson is to take the key guitar styles of the reggae greats, and see where they sit within the broad range of sub genres that make up the overall reggae style. Both rhythm and lead guitar ideas are notated in the five performance pieces, and by the end of the feature your ‘dub’, ‘skank’ and ‘rocksteady’ trickbag should be fully topped up. Hopefully too, your appreciation of this infectious West Indian form of music will be fully realised.
The reggae style originated in Jamaica in the late ’60s and has its origins in ska and rocksteady. A key difference is the tempo of reggae, which is often slower than that of ska.
The reggae rhythm section template is fairly specific, with the key ingredients being slightly altered from sub genre to sub genre. The classic roots reggae style features a ‘one drop’ drum groove. The main component of the one drop pattern is the kick drum and snare drum both fall on beat three of the bar. In most styles we are used to the kick drum falling on beat one of the bar so this may take some getting used to.
The rhythm guitar performs accented, heavily muted chord strums on beats two and four of the bar. These rhythm guitar hits are referred to in reggae circles as the ‘skank’ or ‘bang’. The organ often plays a syncopated eighth-note figure referred to as the ‘bubble’. The bass guitar is free to play arpeggio-based lines and is often improvised in nature.
Due to the mainstream success of artists like Bob Marley in the ’70s many western pop musicians adopted aspects of the reggae style into their arrangements, many with great success. Bands and artists as varied as The Police, The Clash, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Culture Club had mega hits with songs that had a reggae style foundation.
The harmony in reggae tends to be fairly straightforward with the use of triad minor and major chords. For lead lines and popping lines the Minor and Major Pentatonic scales provide a solid starting point, and these can be embellished with arpeggio notes and tremolo-picked figures.
From a rhythmic standpoint syncopation (playing off the accented parts of the bar) is important, as is the quarter-note triplet. It’s worth familiarising yourself with the sound of the quarter-note triplet as it features throughout this month’s performance pieces. There are five authentic studies for you to try, each focusing on key reggae components and using seven top artists as inspiration.
Reggae is one of those styles we too eagerly take for granted for its simplicity and yet, when examined closely, real subtlety and intriguing variations are revealed.
Many thanks to Universal Audio for the loan of the Apollo interface for the recording. And I’ll see you next time.
Bob Marley played a Gibson LP Special with P90 s for rhythm, while lead sounds often came from Fender Strats or Teles. All of the pickup and effects are notated at the start of each piece for reference. When playing in a style it is important to have an appropriate tone, so study the notation and refer to the artists mentioned, to hear for yourself how they sounded.