How to Play Reggae Style Grooves on the Bass Guitar

You can play reggae style grooves on the bass guitar. Reggae music is most often associated with Jamaica and the Caribbean islands. The trademarks of reggae bass are a thuddy sound (short, dark notes) and syncopation — offbeat rhythms (usually spelled and pronounced “riddims” by reggae musicians).

Aston “Family Man” Barrett (who played with Bob Marley) and Robbie Shakespeare (who played with Peter Tosh) are two giants of reggae bass. Modern bassists, such as P-Nut of the group 311, also play this style to perfection.

With reggae, you often hear a lot of space (rests when the bassist isn’t playing). This reggae groove has a lot of space. This groove fits over a minor chord, which is common to reggae music. Start this groove with your index finger to avoid shifting, and keep the length of each note short.

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If you want to play this groove over a major or dominant chord, you need to change the ♭ó3 in the chord to a 3.

This reggae groove is a bit more on the happy side. It’s for a major or dominant chord. Start the groove with your pinkie.

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Sometimes you may hear a reggae bass groove that has a flurry of notes. This groove is structured in a tonality that fits over major, minor, and dominant chords. You can start this groove with either your index or middle finger.

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The drop-one technique, in which the bassist doesn’t play on the first beat of the measure, is signature reggae. Here is a drop-one reggae-style bass groove. Start this groove with your middle finger. When listening to the groove, notice how the drummer hits on the downbeat (the first beat of the measure), and the bassist follows on the next eighth note.

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Listen to this reggae groove that starts with four clicks and then a four-beat drum intro before the bass comes in. The rhythm is unpredictable and keeps the listener guessing. You can also watch this reggae groove.

Use the previous reggae grooves as a blueprint for creating your own and listen to a lot of reggae bands for inspiration. Better yet, take your bass with you on a vacation to Jamaica!

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