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REGGAE PLAYING ESSENTIALS

by Matt Jenson www.mattjenson.com

! 4/4 Time Signature All lead sheets are written in 4/4 time as opposed to cut time (2/2) despite the fact that most reggae tunes are felt in cut time. The reason for this is that when notating in 4/4 time rhythms are written in 8th notes which are much easier to read than 16th notes which are required if notation in cut time. ! Lead Vocal Melody Lines It is tremendously difficult to convey the swing and syncopation of Marleys delivery of each melody in standard notation. The approach in transcribing each melody is to reduce what is already a highly embellished delivery to what the melody might be had it NOT been embellished. The result is that many of the melodies, if played exactly as written, are not precisely accurate to Marleys delivery but carry the essential elements of each. Bear this in mind when playing or singing the melodies: They should be embellished. ! Background Vocal Melody Lines The boldface type on the lyric sheets indicate where the lead vocal AND the background vocal are the same. The boldface lyrics in parentheses are background vocals that are NOT the same as the lead. Often the background vocal harmonies that are different than the lead vocal note overlap to such an extent that its impossible to include both. In such cases, the lead vocal notes are transcribed and the background vocal notes are left out. In cases where the background vocals stand in a space on their own, the top line of the harmony is written. ! Bass Lines The bass lines in Marleys music and most older roots style reggae is CRITICAL to the composition because each one is such a beautiful and well-crafted melody. On many occasions Marleys bass player, Family Man Barrett, would slightly vary the line. For the purposes of this edition, the bass lines on the most well-known recordings have been transcribed. When learning the bass lines it is important to completely absorb the line in its original form. Once this is accomplished the bassist will be able to effectively embellish the line with out loosing the integrity of the part. ! Introductions In some cases the instrumental melody line that introduces the composition is transcribed and not to be confused with a vocal melody line. ! Straight 8th note vs. Swing 8th note interpretation
(NOTE: Some refer to swing feel as triplet feel)

Reggae music can be played in a swing 8th note feel or in a straight 8th note feel, however, this interpretation must be considered along a continuum, which is to say that no tune is completely straight or completely swung. To achieve the true gritty and soulful feel of this music the players must feel and execute a certain tension between the swing and straight 8th feel as both are present, in different percentages, at any time. Also, tunes that are in a swing 8th feel many times require that drum fills be played in straight 8th note feel. The swing or straight 8th note feel played by the organ bubble, or guitar double chop, can be played opposite to the predominant feel of the tune. Swing 8th note example: Kinky Reggae (Catch a Fire or Talkin Blues) Straight 8th note example: Get Up Stand Up (Burnin)

REGGAE MUSIC TERMINOLOGY AND DEFINITIONS


! Chop, Skank, Strum The aggressive rhythmic attack played on the 2nd and 4th beats of the measure, mainly by the rhythm guitar and keyboards. The rhythm guitar should be approached as more of a percussion instrument than a melodic instrument because the chop must be a harsh, high frequency scratching sound. The piano/keyboard chop is played aggressively and staccato, cutting like a razorblade. A variation on the chop, as played by rhythm guitar and organ, adds a slight upbeat after each chop which can be played in a swing 8th note or straight 8th note feel. This could be called the double chop, in contrast to the single chop. Hand independence (for keyboardists): It is important to learn to play the skank or the bubble (See The Bubble below) in the left hand while playing a counter melody, horn line and/or solo in the right hand. Swing 8th note feel double chop example: Night Shift (Rastaman Vibration) Straight 8th note feel double chop example: Burnin & Lootin (Talkin Blues) Single chop example: Bend Down Low (Talkin Blues)

! The Bubble The rhythmic pattern played mainly on the organ (or organ sounding keyboard) that incorporates the skank (on beats 2 & 4, usually in the right hand) and adds a subtle, almost inaudible, attack on all of the up beats of each measure, usually in the left hand. A great bubble fuses the tension between the swing and straight 8th note feel. Hand independence: It is important to learn to play the skank or bubble in the left hand while playing a counter melody, horn line or solo in the right hand. Swing 8th note example: Real Situation(Uprising) Straight 8th note example: Rat Race (Rastaman Vibration)

Lower manual, left hand, drawbar setting for bubble

! One Drop The rhythmic pattern played by the drum kit characterized by crisp high hat work off-set by the kick drum dropping on the third beat of the measure. There are many variations on the one drop pattern all of which fuse the tension between the swing 8th note feel and the straight 8th note feel. (see Straight 8th note vs. swing 8th note interpretation) Perhaps the most clear demonstration of this is Carlton Barretts unique mystic hi hat pattern. Example: Night Shift (Rastaman Vibration)

! Steppers The rhythmic pattern played by the drum kit characterized by crisp high hat work off-set by the kick drum playing on all four beats of the measure. Example: Exodus (Exodus)

! Dead Picking The muted, (plucked) staccato technique of playing guitar used to double the bass line. Example: Waiting in Vain (Exodus)

! Nyabinghi (or binghi) This is the heart beat drumming style that is used in Rastafarian religious ceremony called a Groundation. Nyabinghi drumming represents the spiritual underpinnings of the music and literally means, death to all oppressors, black or white. The nyabinghi drums must be played with fierce intention to crash down Babylon! They are always played with a straight 8th feel even if the tune is a swing 8th feel. There are three drums in a Nayabinghi choir: 1) Bass, sometimes referred to as Thunder, (a large 2 headed drum struck with a large mallet), 2) Funde (middle drum that performs a heartbeat-like rhythm and is played with the hands, by many drummers in unison), 3) Akete or Repeater, a high pitched hand drum played by only one lead drummer providing melodic fills similar to a quinto in Afro-Cuban music. The basic rhythm of the nyabinghi Funde drum rhythm is in opposition to the skank. If you dont have a binghi drum, use a conga, a set of bongos or a djembe. Nayabinghi examples Example without one drop and skank: Rastaman Chant(Burnin), Babylon System (Survival) Example with one drop and skank: War (Rastaman Vibration) Example of Akete fills: Zimbabwe (Survival)

Nayabinghi Drums: Bass, Akete/Repeater, Funde