In the late 1950s, Jamaican ska music emerged as a fusion of traditional Caribbean chin and American R&B music. At times, the guitarists played the “off” rhythm with a slight sense of swing, and it was this out of rhythm, along with a lively tempo and a low walking line that soon became known as ska.
Ska is still very much alive today, although it has gone through several waves of popularity. Some ska artists slowed down to help them dance. This created the style known as ‘rocksteady’, sometime in the mid-60s, and from there was born reggae.
Reggae music is usually played at even slower rates compared to rocksteady, although there are many similarities. One of the key elements of reggae is the ‘one-drop’ drum beat, which some attribute to Bob Marley and Wailers drummer Carlton Barrett.
The rhythm of a drop is characterized by the kick and the trap that accentuate the third time of the bar. This is unlike most contemporary music where the emphasis is on tempos 2 and 4. Reggae bass is also sparse and syncopated, often sketching the tones of the chords.
The reggae guitar style offers many permutations. It features short chord and staccato chords and percussive strumming that are played in time out of time, and this is what is known as “skanking,” or “skanking.” In order for the guitar to cut the mix, the upper three or four strings are often accented, so that the lower strings interfere with the frequencies of the organ and other keyboard instruments.
Some guitarists choose to play a full bar chord but not hit the bass strings, while others choose to play chords and partial triads, as I have in the examples and the studio piece.
One technique that Bob Marley often used was to use the guitar only as a percussion instrument. He formed bar chords with his restless hand, but did not actually push the strings to the frets, thus creating a muted percussion effect. While the chords aren’t actually altered, you can slightly distinguish the tones of the main chord.
Reggae music can be played with a straight or swing feel. I chose the latter for this article, which gives the music a cheerful, cheerful feel. As for the key of reggae, it is played in major and minor key in equal parts.
As a result, the initial five examples are in the key of the major, while the study piece is in the key of the minor. The main thing to focus on here is to keep the chords short, sharp and closed with the bass and drums.
Get the tone
Amplifier settings: Gain 2, Bass 4, Middle 5, Treble 6, Reverb 3
Reggae rhythm and lead are almost always played in a clean tone. The skank rhythm usually sounds better on the bridge pickup, Bob Marley famous using a Gibson Les Paul Special with P-90. Riffs and melodies, however, tend to sound more appropriate with the neck pill. Virtually any guitar with a clean sound will work well; just add a light reverb.
Example 1. Basic skank style
This first example is an introduction to skank-style rhythmic performance. Here, four-note chord voices are used based on E- and A-shaped bar chords. These must be executed with a dash down and each chord must be played in staccato.
This means short, cropped chords that use a gentle silencing of the hand; as soon as you touch the string, lift your finger on the tuning fork making sure to keep in touch with the string.
Example 2. Percussion style
To play these examples, form the bar chord shape for each chord, but without pushing the strings too hard; this creates a muted and percussive effect. The tab shows the required fretting, but the goal is to keep the notes in tune.
Example 3. Cork skank style
This example is based on Example 1, where a chord is played out of time at time 2 and at each bar; this must be touched with a blow up. Don’t forget that these examples play out with a slight swing sensation, so try to give a little bounce to the upward movements.
Example 4. Silent skank and no corca sound
Here I have merged all the ideas so far to illustrate how the chords played in times 2 and 4 can be quickly followed by a percussion strumming in the offside time. Keep both hands relaxed and let the moving hand bounce from each chord, always remembering to keep in touch with the strings.
Example 5. Single note lines
Single-note lines are often used in reggae, and mostly double the bottom line. These lines are usually silenced with the palm to create a slightly boring attack, as seen in this example. Make sure this line sticks to the bottom, and you may want to switch to the neck pad for a good pitch variation.
[Bars 1-16] These bars introduce the chord progression, which is in the key of Am. Notice how the triads were used instead of a four-note approach as seen in the examples above. I chose to play it using the strumming pattern found in Example 3.
However, you should experiment with performing this piece using all the reggae skank style permutations, including the use of percussion hits, as shown in the examples above. During bars 9-16, you will find a variation of the triads used in bars 1-8 to show how different triad inversions can be used.
[Bars 17-24] Here is another single note pattern with a triplet in rhythm 2. Notice how the first two rhythms are muted while the notes in rhythm 3 are not. This technique of merging muted and unmute notes helps emphasize the line and make it stand out above the bass.