The Features of Reggae
Everyone knows that Reggae sound, the classic chink, chink, chink of the guitar, but could you really explain it. Most people can't. Luckily this lense is going to detail almost every aspect of Reggae music; percussion, guitars, bass, keyboards, vocals and maybe some others on the way. So put on some music, sit back and have a read.
Percussion. It's pretty vital to all genres of music and Reggae is no exception. Reggae uses a standard drum-kit with a highly tuned snare, there may be the odd tambourine but it's rarely more complicated than that. There are three main types of Reggae drumming styles; Rockers, Steppers, and One-Drop.
- The rockers style of drumming plays a similair beat to that of the guitar.
- The emphasis is on the first and third beats of the bar.
- Sometimes there are counter rhythms played over the top of the beat, but the first and third beat is always noticeable.
- Steppers is probably the most simple of the beats.
- Its defining characteristic is the solid 1-2-3-4 of the bass drum.
- Bob Marleys 'Exodus' is a good example of the Steppers beat.
- 'One Drop' by Bob Marley is the best example of this beat.
- Basically the first beat of the bar dissapears giving an unusual sounding beat.
And those are the defining drum beats of Reggae. But remember, as I illustrated in my last article Reggae is always changing, and the drum beats shown above won't exist forever.
In my opinion, drums are nothing if there isn't a nice thick bassline to accompany them. Fortunately, Reggae makes brilliant use of the bass guitar, even if it is quite simple.
- The bass is very prominent in Reggae, you will be able to hear it due to its thick nature.
- It has a lyrical quality, something not seen in many other genres.
- The bass is equalised so that the low frequencys are boosted and the high frequencys are cut.
- The drum and bass partnership is called the Riddim (rhythm).
And that's about it. Really.
These songs are considered 'Essential Listening' when it comes to Reggae. Why not listen to them against a check-list of all the features of Reggae?
The simple vocals of Reggae are, perhaps surprisingly, not that important to the genre. However they still exist, and can't be ignored. Once again there are only a few key points concerning vocals, but they are each very relevant.
- Backing vocals are extremely popular. The background singers often vary the volume of their singing and sometimes sing counter-melodies.
- The vocals feature a rather specific set of themes; politics, drug use, racism, religion. Nothing like the millions of love songs today, although there are a few Reggae love songs.
- Look out for Toasting. You may think you're listening to rap but think again. Many artists took instrumental Reggae songs and spoke over the top of the track, a precursor to rap.
Guitars and Keyboard
If there is one defining instrument in Reggae it is the electric guitar. It is often a clean-sounding electric guitar playing this rhythm:
If you can't read music, basically this means play the 2nd and 3rd beats of each bar.
-The rhythm shown above is very important and is called the Skank. Sometimes the keyboard plays this rhythm with the guitar, so listen out for it.
- The keyboard is often a Hammond Organ, which has a very specific sound.
- Before the keyboard a piano was used.
- In later Reggae other synthesized sounds like horns were added, however real horns did often play in Reggae too.
That's about it!
Well, obviously there's much more to Reggae than just this, but this lense is hopefully a great way to start your Reggae journey. Thanks for reading!
Feel free to leave me a comment. Also check out my other Reggae article here.