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Reggae Drumming

29th Oct 2014

Reggae music is a fairly modern evolution of World Music that initially began on the island of Jamaica in the 1950’s. Before Reggae, musicians in Jamaica could be found playing Ska, the combination of Mento music (Jamaican folk) and Calypso, and Rock Steady music, which was the slower response to Ska, giving musicians a chance to play longer, keeping the dancers dancing and the parties... partying.

While the Rock Steady music era was short-lived, its lyrics about social injustice and everyday life were a precursor to the lyrics and message of much of Reggae music. Both Jimmy Cliff and Eric Clapton are credited with bringing Reggae music into the United States’ music scene. With his own style of Reggae that focused on love and politics, Bob Marley kept the Reggae momentum going and rose to stardom with songs like “Get Up, Stand Up” and “Buffalo Soldier.”

Playing Reggae is as rich and diverse as the genre itself. The rhythms are a combination of several different instruments, including the bass guitar, keyboards, horns and drums, including anything from a standard drum set to more traditional drums like congas or bongos.

Reggae is a 4/4 rhythm that with the main emphasis on the third beat, instead of typically emphasized second and fourth beats of most modern music. It is the distinctive third beat that gives it the special sound. This third beat is emphasized through the drum, as well as the other supporting instruments. There are three main styles of Reggae rhythms: One-drop, Rockers and Steppers. The One-drop rhythm emphasizes the third beat, while “dropping” the first beat, as heard in Bob Marley and The Wailer’s song, “One Drop.” The Rockers rhythm emphasizes the first and third beats as in the song, “Right Time” by the Mighty Diamonds. The Steppers rhythm plays a steady rhythm on all four beats, but still emphasizes the third beat above the rest as in the song, "Exodus" by Bob Marley.

Reggae video

Reggae, especially the Stepper rhythm, is also considered to have spawned the dub, rap and hip-hop music genres both in their various rhythms and lyrical styles, and also in the techniques for electronically putting together the rhythms, lyrics and other samples. Reggae's influence goes beyond rap and hip hop, as well. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, No Doubt and even Led Zeppelin also credit Reggae as an influence on their music.

From Bob Marley and Jamaica to today’s hip-hop and rap legends, Reggae music has been the source of inspiration, fun and expression for a short time, and in that time, it has become an invaluable part of today’s musical landscape.