The Reggae Thread



Since there have been some very small discussions about this and other related styles of music and drumming, but no "big" discussion has evolved yet - maybe due to lack of interest or lack of information - I thought it would be nice to have a thread that covers various topics and questions such as:

  1. Recommended Listening
  2. Transcriptions
  3. Drummers
  4. Drumming Vocabulary
  5. Drum tuning
  6. Drumgear

To make a start, I can offer my personal insights to the playing of reggae music. I could also deliver some transcriptions and cover some of the mentioned topics.

First of all, there is no particular drumbook or DVD on these styles of music that I know of (contrary to Jazz, Rock, Afro-Cuban or Brazilian drumming - for each of these styles, a lot of material is available). The way I picked up most of the things that I know and play was and is through listening, transcribing, playing back and also through playing patterns and beats from other styles and then starting to mix things up. Maybe this thread could lead to a collection of examples and exercises that at one point could make it into a book or DVD.... Who knows. Maybe that's just me ten steps into the wrong direction.

To give this thread a good start, here are some things that I really love and that helped me a lot to dive into it. Have fun watching / listening...

Hopefully a great thread will evolve! (I have a full note-for-note transcription of this song that I made and that I could upload) (the master...) (Check out Jost Nickel, a great young german drummer who plays the style with a great modern Hip-Hop vibe)


Pioneer Member
Kudos SickRick!

I'm on board. I checked out the links you posted. Honestly that live video of Exodus is a great starting point. That tune, and the feel of the drums in particular is a great example of what I hear as a real turning point in reggae. The hi hat work in that song is something I go back to all the time with folks when talking about Bob Marley, or reggae in general.

I think a big part of this music, which needs to be handled with care in this thread, is the culture. Rastafari is something that is very misunderstood. Its a tough thing to deal with as a white guy, but I've lived in Rasta villages and had all sorts of discussions with Rasta musicians who ultimately embrace One Love, regardless of creed or color. It is important to understand that African roots, uplift, love, and revolution are the driving force behind the history of the music. You can take it to whatever level you care to, but it must be acknowledged. I don't have dreads, or practice Rastafarianism, but I've done my homework, and carry respect for the traditions.

Nyahbingi is a crucial element as well in terms of the musical history. I've played with some Bingi chant ceremonies and it is almost reminiscint of Native American drumming, with an African poly-rhythmic influence.

Definitely a lot here that gets dismissed, but its important to have a little background.

There is so much to hear in that version of Exodus from the lyrics, to the drumming, to the horn section. That is a crucial crucial song that cannot be overlooked.


Holy Hell I wish I knew more about this kind of music.


Pioneer Member
Listening: I just went through an alphabetical list and grabbed the names of bands whose albums I have. there are of course lots of others, but I feel comfortable discussing these artists. They represent all kinds of feels from dub, to ska, to dancehall, but its all reggae. I actually got to open for Burning Spear once (yay me!)

Alpha Blondy
Anthony B
Beenie Man
Black Uhuru
Bob Marley
Buju Banton
Bunny Wailer
Burning Spear
Cutty Ranks
Damian Marley
Desmond Dekker
Dub Syndicate
Eek A Mouse
Gregory Issacs
Inner Circle
Israel Vibration
Jimmy Cliff
John Browns Body
Lee Scratch Perry
Lucky Dube
Mad Proffessor
Morgan Heritage
Steel Pulse
Toots and the Maytals
Ziggy Marley


Very good points about the roots of the music Garvin. I also think that you can only understand the music and where its coming from, if you understand its social and historical backround.

That said, I have to admit that personally, I do still lack some of that backround. Of course - I've played various festivals with my band and met people who are really rooted in the music and the culture. But I come from a different musical backround and in the beginng of my "career" in playing reggae music on the drums, all I had was the respect for the music and the people who play (and have played) it. I was very fortunate to have met some guys (no drummers though), who showed me many different aspects of the music and who were willing to share their knowledge with others. Well.... my main "mentors" were two local musicians who dug the style and the culture for years - both with rastas and both with the love for weed also... Both these guys up until today think that I still lack some roots and understanding in my playing - but I guess if they are totally true with themselves, the main reason they believe so is because I don't have rastas and because I don't smoke weed. There is a certain amount of having to fit in socially (mainly the way you look - rastas and clothing and the way you act) going on in the style that I've come across a few times. I recall a gig I played on a Reggae festival in western Germany where I was hanging with some guys from the band that played after us. There was a certain distance they were keeping towards me - I suppose because I didn't look the way they did. No rastas, different type of clothing... I must have come across like a small boy who wants to play with the big kids, but they don't let him. After our show though, I was having the nicest chat with the same guys because they realized that I must have studied and listened to the music deeply. To me (and hopefully to them) it showed that you actually can understand, respect and play the music even if you're coming from somewhere else.

I now see it as a great "plus" in my playing that I originally was trying to become a Jazz/Funk/Latin drummer... Through playing and listening to Reggae my whole feel and approach to drumming changed similarily to the way it did when I was first starting to play and practise Jazz. Now I feel that my playing is more settled and there is sort of an "earthyness" and "spacyness" that it would not have, if I hadn't gotten into Reggae...

There is just so much space in that music... The HiHat and Bassdrumwork is so much different from other styles... Every drummer can really gain a lot from getting into that style, no matter which style you're originally wanting to play in.


Pioneer Member
I share a lot of that same sentiment. I'm a normal looking short haired, fairly conservative looking person, but I'm a confident player (I think). It is funny in those situations to see how quickly people are willing to open up to you after you "proved" yourself. It kind of sucks too, and it makes me very conscious how I treat other musicians who I don't know.

I'm trying to avoid the herb issue, but it is unavoidable. I'm not a huge smoker, but living in the village, you kind of had to be. I don't really get into it that much anymore. I have a full time job, wife, 2 kids and 3 or 4 different musical projects. I frankly don't have the time or money to spend these days. But I'd rather skim over that and keep the thread open than divert in that direction and get spanked.

Its easy to make yourself look the part, but I'm old enough and comfortable enough with myself to not have to worry about looking like a middle class dad.


Platinum Member
The Copeland thread,....... reincarnated!!

kidding. I wish I'd delved more into Reggae than I did. My route was quite predictable with Marley, UB40, Burning Spear, till much later I heard Sargent Garcia ( I think we talked about it , Lutz)..

My good friend Roy Venkatraman who plays guitar with the Wailers did drag me off to the Sunsplash festival in Kingston back in 1999, which was my only real and only serious exposure to this music and its related horticulture.

I like that comment about space in this music.. I love the way time hangs in suspension, in this genre.
Am reminded of Quincy's famous quote when music execs wanted him to put more instrumentation into the mix.. " Lets leave a little room for God".

Reggae does have a powerful spiritual vibe.



Silver Member
I'd recommend anything & everything- there's more variety in reggae drumming that people think, not just the one-drop. Don't know if any transcriptions are out there. Drummers- I'd start with Carlton Barrett and Sly Dunbar, but again, listen to as many as you can. As for tuning & gear- it's funny that so many reggae drummers tune the drums very dead-sounding, except for the snare which has a very timbale-like rimshot sound [which I love]... I think most don't realize the reason older reggae songs' bass drums & toms were so dead was because their gear was old & shoddy! Jamaica was [and is] a very poor country. Most drummers couldn't afford new heads and so played on very old batters & often went without resos. I played in a reggae band for a while, and didn't change from my rock/r&b tuning at all, and got compliments from more established reggae musicians. I love the style and wish I could play it more often.


Pioneer Member
Gear is an interesting element here. I think that traditionally, the sound was unique because folks used whatever they could find. Every video I've seen of live reggae shows in Jamaica or elsewhere in the Caribbean show that indeed the acquisition of equipment was difficult and expensive. Lots of crappy looking gear, and not just drums either. Jamaica is a very poor country, and even when I've traveled in the region relatively recently, it was difficult to find things like lugs, heads etc... plus everything rusts like crazy!

I personally like the sound of more modern drums. I don't like dead toms and snares. It bothers me in classic recordings as well. But it is an identifiable element to be sure. The pervasive attitude in these poor countries, as it should be everywhere, is to make the best of what you have while you have it.


Pioneer Member
Awesome clip Dr.! I remember watching that a while back and saying to myself "who the hell is Gil Sharone?" I have since read some interviews with him and definitely kept an eye out for his name. He is a talented drummer who can do a lot of different things. If I recall, he was even tasked with subbing in for a leg of a Mars Volta tour if I'm not mistaken.

Awesome playing here, and a perfect kit/cymbal combo as well.