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reggae bass lines

Knowing that we don’t have to fill up all the space, let’s start with a basic, sparse, I-IV-V (one-four-five) groove to get our feet wet. In the first bar of FIGURE 1, the bass plays a few root notes to establish the foundation, and then rests for the remainder. In measure two, we introduce a little syncopation on the first beat, and leave the downbeat of beat three clear, playing the V chord on the upbeat instead.

Now that we’re familiar with the use of space in reggae grooves, let’s try getting a little busier. As you work through FIGURES 4 and 5, notice how the bass lines outline most of the indicated chords. For variety, try picking these lines with your thumb while lightly palm muting.
I spend most of my gigging hours playing rock, funk or Top 40, which are mostly high-energy pursuits, so it’s refreshing when I get the opportunity to play chilled-out music outside those genres, such as reggae, where I can lay back, play very simply, and just vibe.

As reggae instrumentation is usually sparse—guitar and/or keyboard stabs on the upbeats, and maybe some organ pads (sustained chords), all over a moderate drum groove—you won’t need an aggressive tone to cut through layers of guitars.
FIGURE 6 is a mixture of simple rhythms and space, with a 16th-note triplet thrown in near the end, and FIGURE 7 further explores the idea of starting the groove any place other than the “one,” with even more complex rhythms added in. As you can see, there are far more variations and possibilities than I can show you in the space allotted here.
Let’s start with tone.
The beauty of reggae bass is there’s plenty of sonic space in which to create. Rhythmically, reggae bass grooves can start right on the first beat—the “one”—or you can leave the “one” silent and start on an off-beat. Further, the key is to sit slightly behind the beat; precision isn’t always necessary, and it’s okay if some rhythms fall between the cracks. Harmonically, you can begin the groove with the root of whatever chord or key you’re in, or you can opt to start on another chord tone, such as a third or fifth. It really comes down to vibe, feel and taste.
In fact, the “deader” your strings are, the better. EQ-wise, you’ll want plenty of low end and just enough midrange to keep your notes defined without being too muddy. If your strings still have some brightness in them, you may opt to pick with your thumb, à la Sting, for an even duller tone.

FIGURE 2a is a similarly basic groove incorporating sparse rhythms and lots of space, but it starts on the dominant seventh instead of the root. We can vary this approach even further by starting on the fifth of the chord and altering the rhythms, as FIGURE 2b demonstrates. In FIGURE 3, we’ll experiment with starting the groove on the second 16th note of beat one.

I spend most of my gigging hours playing rock, funk or Top 40, which are mostly high-energy pursuits, so it’s refreshing when I get the opportunity to play chilled-out music outside those genres, such as reggae, where I can lay back, play very simply, and just vibe.

Reggae bass lines

Listen to this reggae groove that starts with four clicks and then a four-beat drum intro before the bass comes in. The rhythm is unpredictable and keeps the listener guessing. You can also watch this reggae groove.

If you want to play this groove over a major or dominant chord, you need to change the ♭ó3 in the chord to a 3.
With reggae, you often hear a lot of space (rests when the bassist isn’t playing). This reggae groove has a lot of space. This groove fits over a minor chord, which is common to reggae music. Start this groove with your index finger to avoid shifting, and keep the length of each note short.

You can play reggae style grooves on the bass guitar. Reggae music is most often associated with Jamaica and the Caribbean islands. The trademarks of reggae bass are a thuddy sound (short, dark notes) and syncopation — offbeat rhythms (usually spelled and pronounced “riddims” by reggae musicians).
This reggae groove is a bit more on the happy side. It’s for a major or dominant chord. Start the groove with your pinkie.
Sometimes you may hear a reggae bass groove that has a flurry of notes. This groove is structured in a tonality that fits over major, minor, and dominant chords. You can start this groove with either your index or middle finger.
The drop-one technique, in which the bassist doesn’t play on the first beat of the measure, is signature reggae. Here is a drop-one reggae-style bass groove. Start this groove with your middle finger. When listening to the groove, notice how the drummer hits on the downbeat (the first beat of the measure), and the bassist follows on the next eighth note.
Aston “Family Man” Barrett (who played with Bob Marley) and Robbie Shakespeare (who played with Peter Tosh) are two giants of reggae bass. Modern bassists, such as P-Nut of the group 311, also play this style to perfection.

Use the previous reggae grooves as a blueprint for creating your own and listen to a lot of reggae bands for inspiration. Better yet, take your bass with you on a vacation to Jamaica!

How to Play Reggae Style Grooves on the Bass Guitar Bass Guitar For Dummies, Book + Online Video & Audio Instruction, 3rd Edition You can play reggae style grooves on the bass guitar.