The History and Development of Reggae, Ska and Dub Music

In by phoenixgreen




  • Main Vocals
  • Backing Vocals – 3 or 4 part harmonies
  • Guitarists x 2
  • Piano, Keyboards, Organ, synthesizers
  • Horn section – Saxophone, Trumpet or Trombone
  • Bass Guitar
  • Drums and Percussion


Performance and Arrangement:

  • The vocals of reggae are expressive
  • A standard drum kit is generally used in reggae,
  • The back beat of reggae music is relaxed but  rhythmically tight
  • Reggae drumbeats fall into one of three main categories: One dropRockers, and Steppers
  • Reggae is played in 4/4 time
  • Recognisable offbeat rhythms
  • Staccato / choppy chords played by a guitar, piano or both on the offbeats of the measure, often referred to as the skanking
  • The tempo of reggae is usually slower than ska and rocksteady, approximately 60 to 90 bpm
  • Heavy use of syncopation
  • A Melodic riff based Bass lines which plays a dominant role in reggae music
  • Simple chord progressions
  • Vocal call and response phrases
  • Horn sections are frequently used in reggae, often playing introductions and counter-melodies
  • The toasting vocal style is unique to reggae, originating when DJs improvised spoken introductions to songs
  • Reggae is noted for its tradition of social criticism in its lyrics, although many reggae songs discuss lighter, more personal subjects, such as love and socialising
  • Side stick on snare beat 3
  • Organ shuffle played in the left hand plays off-beat quavers
  • A wide variety of percussion is used which includes shaker, tambourine and hand drums


Technology and Production:

  • The bass sound is thick and heavy, and equalised so the upper frequencies are removed and the lower frequencies emphasised, heavily compressed and plays a key part in the performance so is mixed relatively high.
  • Drums are isolated with the use of gating and compression to achieve a more punchy sound
  • The snare drum is often tuned very high to give it a timbales-type sound
  • Piano and guitar chops are EQed to sound unnaturally thin
  • The horn section is sometimes produced with punchier, louder phrases for a more up-tempo and aggressive sound.
  • Extensive use of the Delay and reverb effects to give a sense of space


Stylistic Influences:

  • Blues
  • Rhythm and Blues (R&B)
  • Jazz
  • Mento
  • Calypso
  • Gospel
  • Soul
  • Other African and Latin American musical influences