60-Lesson Groove Course
Level 3 Lessons
Lesson 7: Reggae
Here’s an example of a reggae shuffle groove.
Audio Example 1
Audio Example 1 (Drums)
Here’s another example, demonstrating a straighter feel (although occasional ghost notes imply a slight shuffle or lilt, the basic feel is straight).
Audio Example 2
Audio Example 2 (Drums)
You’re probably already aware that a very common rhythmic idiom of reggae bass is to not play on beat 1. This introduces a bit of a “vacuum” on the initial downbeat, and its absence also tends to heighten the impact of the bass in the arrangement when it does play. In these examples, I employed this rhythmic convention frequently. This rhythmic approach can really give an arrangement some openness and room to breathe.
As mentioned above, Example 1 is a shuffle, while Example 2 is generally straight. As with many other genres, it’s common to see examples of both feels in the reggae style. Make sure to be aware of which one you’re playing at the time, so that you can avoid unintentional groovicide.
Reggae bass lines (particularly like that of Example 1) are usually characterized by a very laid-back approach to time. If this sort of line is phrased “on top”, it can give the overall groove an urgency that lacks authenticity. Don’t be afraid to phrase your part in a relaxed and lazy manner (versus emulating your sequencer’s “100% quantize” function!).
Reggae bass lines don’t usually incorporate a lot of chromaticism. For the most part, it’s probably best to stick with scale tones.
It should be noted that in spite of the frequent rests occurring on beat 1, the chord changes are nonetheless normally happening at the top of the bar. Ensure that the bass line keeps up with and/or leads into the upcoming chord change.
You might notice a warmer, “thud-like” bass tone in the preceding examples. I employ a different right-hand technique when playing reggae lines to help achieve the requisite warm, staccato, muted tone. It involves plucking the strings with the fleshy part of the thumb, while dampening them with the palm near the bridge saddles. If you experiment with how close to the bridge saddles you rest your palm, as well as how much pressure you apply to the strings, you’ll discover a really broad range of timbres.
Most of the timbre is dictated by technique, but if necessary, roll off your treble knob to minimize fret noise and the “zing” of fresh roundwound strings.
Every bassist can benefit from having a fundamental grasp of the reggae style. Even if your typical playing situation doesn’t involve a proliferation of dreadlocks and wafting clouds of smoke, it is a fun & interesting genre that can be applied in a multitude of settings. Even subtly implying reggae can introduce some real musical freshness.
I frequently incorporate reggae-influenced bass lines in the midst of tunes that are decidedly non-reggae (ballads or middle-of-the-road pop, for instance). Most folks who might hear these lines in context wouldn’t associate them with that genre. The lines simply inject sparseness and rhythmic variation that nicely contrast with the rest of the tune.