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spacerx img Drums: "Reggae & Ska" Song Beat Structures

I am still searching for verified histories of these two beat patterns. Meanwhile, I'll just pass along what I have picked up over the years. Legend has it that Ska came first from Europe during the early days of the British rock and pop invasions of the 1960s. Actually, classic Reggae and Ska are based on the same general beat patterns. Some have theorized that both music styles were the result of a drummer with a coordination problem. It is only speculation, though it appears as if the original drummer may have had problems playing all the hi-hat notes in a bar of 8th 4/4. later that drummer became extremely proficient at playing the cymbal only on the 'and or +'. As a result, the other rhythm instruments in the band picked-up on the different 'feel' of the rhythms, then followed the drummer. Completely new and different music styles emerged. It exemplifies the fact that there is virtually no right or wrong in music. Inept playing may often spawn complete eras of new ad different music styles.

The classic forms of these two patterns are based in 8th-note 4/4 rock. The only difference being that with Ska and Reggae we alter the 8th rock beat, eliminating all cymbal notes that fall on the number count. Put another way, the drummer alters the 8th rock beat in such a way that the hi-hat or ride cymbal is played only on the 'and' or in-between the counts. As the drummer emphasizes this 'different' sounding rhythm . . . the guitarists and other instruments tend to accent along with the drummer on the 'and'. This lays the foundation for all the unique and interesting rhythm patterns that are the basis of both Reggae and Ska. Ska most often tends to be a little faster in tempo than Reggae.

SIMPLE Reggae or Ska
This first beat (below) is the simplest or most basic form. Since this most basic form is so simple, it is easy to jump-in playing it too fast. Later, as you begin to inject variations and syncs to this rhythm it will become increasingly difficult to maintain those rapid tempos. It is best to take it extremely slow until total mastery with variations and syncopations begins to occur. Resist playing this rhythm at blinding speeds in the early stages.

Hear the way Ska/Reggae will sound. Listen closely to the cymbal rhythm. It is very difficult to hear it. The cymbal is only being played in-between the number counts or on the 'and' of, 1 and 2 and as the song beat pattern repeats.

Compare a bar of 8th rock to bar of Reggae or Ska. Visually notice, then listen for the similarities between these two beats! It may be difficult to distinguish the difference when listening to these midi files but there is a distinct difference in the cymbal line. Blame the midi files if you can't hear a difference. :>)

(Compare the differences. These patterns are written in 2/4 for simplicity. We normally write them in 4/4.)

It would be easy to fill several books with variations of this style of playing. But, I'm not sure this would be the best way to progress. It seems the learning curve is greatly accelerated by simply jamming and improvising with this basic concept.

Begin with the basic Reggae (or Ska) pattern above, then try playing all of your routine 8th rock variations and syncs while maintaining this same somewhat spastic cymbal pattern.

I'll toss in a few 4/4 variations to get you started. You will quickly discover many more as you play along with your favorite Ska and Reggae recordings. Permutation theory will prove that 4.3 Billion possibilities exist here . . . it's the same as normal 8th rock. Give up on trying to learn them all. Just listen and jam with all your favorite music in this framework. The most important rhythmic possibilities should surface as you continue to listen and play music that falls within this genre'.

The following examples are written in 4/4.


Pay close attention to the cymbal as you practice these. The trick is to play all of your routine rock variations and syncs while maintaining the unique cymbal pattern on-the-'and' of 1 + 2 +, etc..


Nobody said it would be easy. It's like learning all over again.


These rhythms are fascinating and will grow on you slowly. After mastering a handful of these patterns, the right (cymbal) hand will eventually develop a mind of its own. Once you become accustomed to playing the cymbal on the 'and', it will gradually become an easy habit to maintain the odd cymbal pattern. Later, variations and syncs will become much easier to play than these first few.


Are you getting the idea? Get out a pen and scrap of paper. Write some interesting possibilities of your own, then try to play them.

To finish this lesson, Here is a string of Ska/Reggae variations and syncs played back to back.

VIDEO: Click here to 'play', see, and hear everything in this lesson, back-to-back, at a moderate tempo. This video is designed for Internet Explorer using windows Media Player.

Video: For almost all handheld devices and other browsers.

You will need to 'live' and 'love' this music style to master playing it! Order up a new batch of Reggae or Ska recordings and get into it.

spacerx img Copyright Bill Powelson 1996-2008-2014 @ all rights reserved.

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