Aug 8, 2008


Reggae is a music genre first developed in Jamaica in the late 1960s.

While sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to most types of Jamaican music, the term reggae more properly denotes a particular music style that originated following on the development of ska and rocksteady. Reggae is based on a rhythm styleoff-beat, known as the skank. The tempo is generally slower than that found in ska. Reggae usually has accents on the 3rd beat in each bar, there being four beats in a bar; many people think it's accentuated on the 2ndth, because of the rhythm guitar. characterized by regular chops on the and 4

Reggae is often associated with the Rastafari movement, an influence on many prominent reggae musicians from its inception. Reggae song lyrics deal with many subjects, including faith, love, sexuality, relationships, poverty, injustice and other broad social issues.

Musical characteristics

Reggae is always played in 4/4 time or swing time, because the symmetrical rhythm pattern does not lend itself to other time signatures such as 3/4 time. Harmonically, the music is often very simple, and sometimes a whole song will have no more than one or two chords. The Bob MarleySteel Pulse and the Wailers song "Exodus" is almost entirely comprised of A-minor chords. These simple repetitious chord structures add to reggae's sometimes hypnotic effect. However, Marley also wrote more complex chord structures, and bands such as
have often used very complex chord structures.

Drums and other percussion
A standard drum kit is generally used, but the snare drum is often tuned very high to give it a timbale-type sound. Some reggae drummers use a separate additional timbale or high-tuned snare to get this sound. Rim shots on the snare are commonly used, and tom-tom drums are often incorporated into the drumbeat itself. From the mid-80s onward, electronic instruments such as synthesizers and samplers have been used for the same purpose, especially by reggae artists who write in the Stepper and Dancehall styles.

Reggae drumbeats fall into three main categories: One drop, Rockers and Steppers. With the One drop, the emphasis is entirely on the third beat of the bar (usually on the snare, or as a rim shot combined with bass drum). Beat one is completely empty, which is extremely unusual in popular music. There is some controversy about whether reggae should be counted so that this beat falls on the 3, or whether it should be counted half as fast so that it falls on the 2 and 4. This article follows the convention of placing the beat on the 3. Many credit Carlton Barrett of The Wailers as the creator of this style, although it may actually have been invented by Winston Grennan. An example played by Barrett can be heard in the Bob Marley and the Wailers song "One Drop". Barrett often used an unusual triplet cross-rhythm on the hi-hat, which can be heard on many recordings by Bob Marley and the Wailers, such as "Running Away" on the Kaya album.

An emphasis on beat three is in all reggae drumbeats, but with the Rockers (pronounced like "raucous") beat, the emphasis is also on beat one (usually on bass drum). This beat was pioneered by the prolific innovative duo of Sly and Robbie — Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare — who later also helped create the "Rub-a-Dub" sound that greatly influenced Dancehall. An example of the Rockers beat is in "Night Nurse" by Gregory Isaacs. The Rockers beat is not always straightforward, and various syncopations are often included. An example of this is the Black Uhuru song "Sponji Reggae."

In Steppers, the bass drum plays four solid beats to the bar, giving the beat an insistent drive. An example is "Exodus" by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Another common name for the Steppers beat is the "four on the floor".

The Steppers beat was also adopted (at a much higher tempo) by some of the 2 ToneThe Beat and "Too Much Too Young" by The Specials. ska revival bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Examples include "Stand Down Margaret" by

An unusual characteristic of reggae drumming is that the drum fills often do not end with a climactic cymbal. A wide range of other percussion instrumentation is used in reggae. Bongos are often used to play free, improvised patterns, with heavy use of African-style cross-rhythms. Cowbells, claves and shakers tend to have more defined roles and a set pattern.


The bass guitar often plays a very dominant role in reggae, and the drum and bass is often called the riddim. Several reggae singers have released different songs recorded over the same riddim. The central role of the bass can particularly be heard in dub music — which gives an even bigger role to the drum and bass line, reducing the vocals and other instruments to peripheral roles. The bass sound in reggae is thick and heavy, and equalized so the upper frequencies are removed and the lower frequencies emphasised. The bass line is often a simple two-bar riff that is centred around its thickest and heaviest note (which in musical terms is often the harmonic root note) - the other notes in the basslineSun Is Shining" by Bob Marley and the Wailers. often serve simply to lead you towards the bassist note. An example of this can be heard on "


The rhythm guitar in reggae usually plays the chords on beats two and four, a musical figure known as skank or the 'bang'. It has a very dampened, short and scratchy chop sound, almost like a percussion instrument. Sometimes a double chop is used when the guitar still plays the off beats, but also plays the following 8th beats on the up-stroke. An example is the intro to "Stir It Up" by The Wailers.

The lead guitar will often add a rock or blues-style melodic solo to a song, but much of the time it plays the same part as the bass line an octave higher, with a very muted and picked sound. This is often referred to as the "bubble" and adds definition to the bass line (which is usually devoid of upper frequencies), and emphasizes the bass melody. Sometimes the guitar will play a counter-melody to the bass line instead.


From the late 1960s through to the early 1980s, a piano was generally used in reggae to double the rhythm guitar's skank, playing the chords in a staccato style to add body, and playing occasional extra beats, runs and riffs. The piano part was widely taken over by synthesizers during the 1980s, although synthesizers have been used in a peripheral role since the 1970s to play incidental melodies and countermelodies. Larger bands may include either an additional keyboardist, to cover or replace horn and melody lines, or the main keyboardist filling these roles on two or more keyboards. The latter has become increasingly popular as keyboard technology improves.

The reggae-organ shuffle is unique to reggae. Typically, a Hammond organ-style sound is used to play chords with a choppy feel. This is known as the bubble. There are specific drawbar settings used on a Hammond console to get the correct sound. This may be the most difficult reggae keyboard rhythm. The 8thIs This Love" and "Midnight Ravers" by Bob Marley. beats are played with a space-left-right-left-space-left-right-left pattern. The right-hand part coincides with the rhythm guitar and piano. It makes the music sound faster than it really is. The organ often also plays melodic runs and extra beats. The organ part is typically quite low in the mix, and is often more felt than heard. Examples include the songs "Natural Mystic", "


Horn sections are frequently used in reggae, often playing introductions and counter-melodies. Instruments included in a typical reggae horn section include saxophone, trumpet and/or trombone. In more recent times, real horns are sometimes replaced in reggae by synthesizers or recorded samples. The horn section is often arranged around the first horn, playing a simple melody or counter melody. The first horn is usually accompanied by the second horn playing the same melodic phrase in unision, one octave higher. The third horn usually plays the melody an octave and a fifth higher than the first horn. The horns are generally played fairly softly, usually resulting in a soothing sound. However, sometimes punchier, louder phrases are played for a more up-tempo and aggressive sound.


The vocals in reggae are less of a defining characteristic of the genre than the instrumentation and rhythm. Almost any song can be performed in a reggae style. Vocal harmony parts are often used, either throughout the melody (as with bands such as the Mighty Diamonds), or as a counterpoint to the main vocal line (as with the backing group I-Threes). The BritishSteel Pulse used particularly complex backing vocals. An unusual aspect of reggae singing is that many singers use tremolo (volume oscillation) rather than vibrato (pitch oscillation). Notable exponents of this technique include Dennis Brown and Horace Andy. The toasting vocal style is unique to reggae, originating when DJs improvised along to dub tracks, and it is generally considered to be a precursor to rap. It differs from rap mainly in that it is generally melodic, while rap is generally more a spoken form without melodic content.

Lyrical themes

Reggae is noted for its tradition of social criticism, although many reggae songs discuss lighter, more personal subjects, such as love, sex and socializing. Many early reggae bands also covered Motown or Atlantic soul and funkmaterialism, or by informing the listener about controversial subjects such as Apartheid. Many reggae songs promote the use of cannabisherb or ganja), considered a sacrament in the Rastafari movement. There are many artists who utilize religious themes in their music — whether it be discussing a religious topic, or simply giving praise to the Rastafari God Jah. Other common socio-political topics in reggae songs include black nationalism, anti-racism, anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism, criticism of political systems and "Babylon", and promotion of caring for needs of the younger generation.

-reggae soul from reditumerah-


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