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All You Need to Know about Reggae Beat

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

Guitarist playing reggae beat
Reggae guitarist playing reggae beat

Reggae music has been popular for many years, and its influence can be seen in many different genres of music from hip hop to dance. The reggae beat itself is an enigma for many individuals, artists and producers alike. Bob Marley said many know it, but still can't play it, because it's not a know it's a feel. This I believe is the most essential element of this genre, and I think it is responsible for its characteristic sound. In this blog post, we will discuss the history of reggae music and the reggae beat, as well as how to create this type of beat and much, much more. Read on.

The history of reggae music

Reggae music originated in Jamaica in the 1960s. The style was developed by combining elements of ska, rocksteady, and R&B. Reggae became very popular in the 1970s with the release of Bob Marley's album "Catch a Fire." Marley is considered one of the most important figures in reggae history, but there are others such as Lee Perry, King Tubby, King Jammy, Ernest Ranglin, Hux Brown and many more who were involved in the genesis of reggae music as a genre.

What is a reggae beat?

The reggae beat is characterized by a stress on the off-beat, which gives the music its distinctive sound. This type of beat can be created by using three different drumming techniques. The one drop which is characterized by playing the kick drum on the 3rd beat, the steppers' which is characterised by playing the kick on all four beats (four on the floor) and the rockers which is a blend of more modern drumming styles where the kick pattern does not subscribe to those described earlier.

The guitar chuck and the bang from the keyboard are done on the 2nd and 4th beat in roots reggae. However, in more modern times this is not strictly adhered to and musicians depart from the norm and create their own variations when playing, so long as it's not too far out. The tempo of a reggae beat usually sits around 60-90 beats per minute. Again this is not strict and there are examples where producers have used faster tempos.

What are reggae beats called?

There are three main types of reggae beats, one drop, steppers, and rockers. This could be four if you add the dancehall beat to the mix. If fact this number could get really high if you started counting hip hop reggae, soca reggae, Latin reggae beats etcetera. Keep in mind though that many don't consider dancehall as reggae but as a separate genre by itself.

The one drop as discussed earlier is characterized by playing the kick drum on the third beat. This type of beat is often used in roots reggae. The steppers is characterized by playing the kick drum on all four beats. This again is used in roots reggae. Rockers is a blend of more modern drumming styles. This type of beat is often used in reggae fusion, sometimes dancehall and dub reggae.

How many beats does reggae have?

Reggae beats usually have four beats per measure. This is typified by reggae songs that make use of the steppers style. However, there are reggae songs with two beats per measure as in the case of the one drop. The kick is on the third beat but the guitar and keyboard and sometimes the other instruments emphasise the second and fourth beat.

What are the three types of reggae music?

If you read some of what is written on the internet or listen to what others have to say, the answer to this question may differ. When most Jamaicans or those in the know think of reggae types, ska does not come into play. Ska is seen as an influence but not reggae. It is a genre in its own right.

The three main types of reggae from my point of view are rock steady or lovers rock, roots reggae and dancehall. Rocker steady was used to great effect by none other than Mr rock steady himself Alton Ellis. Roots reggae had Bob Marley as its greatest disciple and dancehall had the great Daddy U-Roy and king Yellow Man.

What keys are reggae songs played in?

This is pretty easy to answer. Reggae songs can be played in any key. Yes, any key. Let me repeat that for those in the back seat, any key! Sorry for shouting.

I think what is more important here though are the chord progressions reggae uses. Off the bad, any progression can be used, but the 1-4-5, and 1-4-1-5 in major or minor chord progressions are quite popular. The 1-2 or 2-1 are also very popular. Then you have the 1-5, 1-4 and 1-flat7. In modern times the 6-4-1-5, 1-6-4-5, 6-5-3-4 or any combination are now very popular and were used a lot by Nigel Staff from Ruff Kutt band and Producer Don Corleone.

Is reggae drumming hard?

Yes, it can be since it emphasises the off-beat so to speak. But if you learn just the one drop you will be well on your way. The steppers, rockers and dancehall can come after. Try to relax and play with more feel than technical ability. Listen to Carlton Barrett (Who played Bob Marley), Santa Davis (Who played for Peter Tosh) and Willie Stewart (Who played for Third World).

A good modern reggae drummer to listen to is Sly Dunbar from duo Sly and Robbie and Ricardo Davis from Ruff Kutt reggae band. They both have the old-school reggae stuff but some nice modern dancehall reggae feel.

What percussion is used in reggae?

The percussion instruments used in reggae also help to define the genre, particularly roots reggae music. Strictly speaking and I know this is becoming a cliche, there are no rules as to what percussion instruments you can use in reggae.

While there are others, the main percussion instruments used in reggae are the congas, bongo drums, tambourine, shakers and cowbell. However, there are other percussion instruments used, although to a lesser extent than those previously mentioned. These include, the cabasa ( listen to Night nurse by Gregory Issacs) and vibraslap (listen to Looking My Love by Barrington Levy).

A good study of reggae percussion is Skully Simms and Bungo Herman. Bongo Herman is very innovative, he used a chamber pot believe it or not to create amazing reggae percussion beats. Check him out.

What scale is used in reggae?

The most commonly used scales in reggae are the major pentatonic, minor pentatonic and blues scale. The minor pentatonic is used a lot in rockers, while the blues scale is more prevalent in roots reggae and steppers. These uses are however not strict.

Some of the great singers that have used these scales are Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, and Bob Marley. More modern artists that use these scales in their songs are Ky-Mani Marley, Romain Virgo, Christopher Martin, Morgan Heritage and Chronixx.

Modern reggae employs many different scales in an effort to push the music forward. If you listen to guitarists like Ernest Ranglin, Eugene Grey, Cat Core, Maurice Gorden, Kenroy Mullings, Andrew Simpson and others you will hear a variety of scales being used.

How do you strum reggae?

The popular way to strum reggae is with what is called the chuck on the down stroke. Here the guitarist or keyboard player strums on the 2 and 4 beats while the bass also emphasizes those same beats, as well as syncing with the drums.

The guitar is not allowed to ring out on the down stroke. This is because on the upstroke the strings are muted. This gives a syncopated sound and in Jamaica parlance, it's called the "chaka" or the "strekeh".

What is the most important instrument in reggae?

The drums are the most important instrument in reggae. The drumbeat is what helps to define the genre and create that laid-back, relaxed feeling that is so characteristic of reggae music.

While there are many different instruments used in reggae, the drums are the foundation upon which the whole genre is built. Without the drums, reggae would not be reggae. In second place would be the bass. The bassline makes the reggae beat or riddim recognizable.

What are the elements of reggae music?

The elements of reggae music are the drums, bass, guitar, keyboard, horns and percussion. The drums and bass are the most important elements, as they provide the foundation for the whole genre. The other instruments help to create the distinctive sound of reggae. For example, the reggae organ which gives the bubble syncopated sound.

Reggae is a very rhythmic style of music, and the drums and bass work together to create that signature reggae sound. The guitar and keyboard also play an important role in creating the reggae soundscape. The horns and percussion help to add energy and excitement to the music.

What horns are used in reggae music?

The horns used in reggae music are the trumpet, trombone and saxophone. These horns add energy and excitement to the music and help to create that distinctive reggae sound. The trumpet is the most popular horn used in reggae, followed by the trombone and saxophone.

How do you write a reggae song?

There is no one formula for writing a reggae song. However, there are certain elements that are common in most reggae songs. These include the use of the major and minor pentatonic or blues scale, syncopated rhythms, off-beat basslines and the use of percussion to create a laid-back groove. Reggae songs often have a positive message, and many of them use wordplay and metaphors to convey their message.

If you want to write a reggae song, start by creating a catchy melody. Then add some simple chords that fit the melody. Once you have the basic framework of the song, begin adding in the elements that will make it sound like a reggae song. These include the aforementioned major and minor pentatonic or blues scale, syncopated rhythms, off-beat basslines and percussion.

It is important not to make it too perfect. Perfection is the enemy of reggae. Vocals must be raw and all instruments must sound as natural as possible. Finally, don't forget to add a positive message!

How do you make a reggae bassline?

The key to making a good reggae bassline is to keep it simple. The bass should lay down a groove that is easy to follow and not too complex. A good reggae bassline will have a lot of space in between the notes, which gives the bass player room to add their own flavour to the music. The reggae bassline must play a melodic line and that's the key to a long-lasting reggae bassline.

It is also important to use the right kind of bass for reggae. The most popular basses used in reggae are the Fender Jazz and Precision Bass. The Gibson EB-3 was also a good choice, but keep in mind that nowadays any bass guitar can be used for reggae so long as you roll off the top end. Use very old flat-wound strings. This will give you that deep dark reggae bass sound.

Why is reggae so hypnotic?

The slow, melodic repeating laid-back groove of reggae is what makes it so hypnotic. The steady drumbeat and simple bassline create a sense of relaxation that can be very trance-like. The use of the minor pentatonic or blues scale also contributes to the hypnotic quality of reggae.

This type of scale along with the message creates a feeling of deep introspection, longing or yearning for something profound, which could be love, justice, peace or religious fulfilment, which makes reggae hypnotic.

Why do people like reggae so much?

There are many reasons why people like reggae. The main reason is the laid-back, easy-going feeling that it creates. It's a great musical style to relax to and the positive messages in many of the songs can be very uplifting. The hypnotic quality of the music can also be very appealing, as it can create a sense of introspection as mentioned before. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that reggae is one of the most popular genres of music in the world.

Why is reggae so popular?

Reggae is popular because it is the music of the people. It has not been sold out. At least not yet. Most of the artists and musicians are doing it from a place of love and fans of the music can sense it. Moreover, there is a lifestyle attached to it that appeals to many.

How to Create a Reggae Beat

If you want to create a reggae beat, you will need a drum machine or software that allows you to create your own beats. I use Logic Pro X, but you can use whatever you like. You should start with a basic one drop (Kick on the third beat). From there, you can add accents on the 2nd and 4th beats with your snare drum.

You can also play or quantize the Hi-hats to 8 or 16 beats. Once you have your basic drumbeat established, you can begin to experiment with different sounds and rhythms to create your own unique reggae beat. Play the guitar and keyboard on the 2nd and 4th beats, drop the bubble organ in there and maybe some horns.

Remember that the bassline needs to be laid back with space to breathe. You can play behind the beat to achieve this. Also, don't change the bassline too much, it should be a recurring melodic line. Don't forget to add percussions to the beat. Use bongos, tambourines and shakers to make the beat sound more organic.

I have found quantizing the drums to 16-beat swing really gets me in that roots reggae groove territory, so try that.


Reggae is a very popular genre of music that originated in Jamaica. The music is known for its laid-back, easy-going feel and positive messages. It can also be very hypnotic and trance-like. Reggae is a great genre of music to relax and enjoy. It can be very simple or it can be very complex.

The most important thing is that the beat is steady and easy to follow. The rhythm should be relaxed and not too fast. So try these techniques.

If you need some reggae beats for your project, make sure you check out these reggae beats. Hope this article was helpful. Peace and love.

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