How To Play Reggae Drums

An Introduction


Learning how to play reggae drums involves thinking differently regarding the primary pulse of the beat. In reggae the emphasis is on the third beat in the measure as opposed to the 2 and 4 in popular music. The grooves can be played straight or with a triplet swing feel.

The bass drum played with the snare on beat three enforces this backbeat. The kick and snare can be placed anywhere you desire within the pattern. Just make sure the emphasis is on the third beat. These are just general guidelines to base your patterns on.

One Drop - Rockers - Steppers

When learning how to play reggae drums there are three main drum beat styles to master: One Drop, Rockers and Steppers. The One Drop beat, places the emphasis on the third beat of the bar with the snare and bass drum played together. Beat one is not played which is the opposite of most popular music. Carlton Barrett drummer of The Wailers is credited with inventing this style.

Check out "One Drop", by Bob Marley and the Wailers to hear him play this beat. Barrett often used an unusual triplet figures on the hi-hat, as heard on the song "Running Away" from Marley's "Kaya" album.

The Rockers beat, has the emphasis on beat one and beat three as heard on "Night Nurse" by Gregory Isaacs. The Rockers beat can also include syncopated counter rhythms such as the Black Uhuru song "Sponji Reggae".

In the Steppers beat, the bass drum plays four solid quarter notes giving the beat a strong driving pulse. "Exodus" by Bob Marley is a good example. Stewart Copeland of Police fame mixed syncopated rock and reggae rhythms to create a distinctive style that influenced many drummers.

In the Steppers beat, the bass drum plays four solid quarter notes giving the beat a strong driving pulse. "Exodus" by Bob Marley is a good example. Stewart Copeland of Police fame mixed syncopated rock and reggae rhythms to create a distinctive style that influenced many drummers.

Triplets & Sound Variations

The triplet or swing feel gives reggae drumming a jazzy feel. Playing straight tends more toward rock or a heavier sound. Reggae drummers often play drum fills that do not end with a cymbal crash.

A standard drum set is commonly used with high a pitched snare sound. A timbale or second snare with the snares off adds tonal variety to the beats. Rim shots and side stick techniques on the snare are common in reggae. Toms are often used within the beat pattern itself, not just for fills.

A variety of other percussion instrumentation is used in reggae. Bongos, congas, claves, cowbells and shakers are often used to add counter-rhythmic flavor to the grooves.

Always remember that drum styles and beats are always evolving. Rules are made to be broken when it comes to music of any kind. Try to take these basic principles and create your own hybrid reggae beats.

Reggae originated in Jamaica and Bob Marley is recognized as the artist that made it popular around the world. If you want an education in Reggae drumming add a Bob Marley compilation CD to your collection and learn the drum beats.

Learning how to play reggae drums is really fun and adds another great style to any drummer's library.


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