How Are Keyboards Used in Reggae?

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How Are Keyboards Used in Reggae?
The keyboard is used in reggae music in a variety of ways. (keyboard image by Vasiliy Koval from

Originally made popular worldwide by Bob Marley and his band The Wailers, reggae music has developed over the last few decades into several different subgenres of music. While there are several possibilities for instrumentation, most reggae bands include drums and percussion, guitar (both rhythm and lead), bass and keyboards, as well as a lead singer and backup vocals. The keyboard plays several important roles in reggae song arrangements.

Rhythmic Role

Rhythm and tempo in reggae music places an emphasis on beats two and four, and moves at a relaxed, but not slow, tempo. Traditionally, the keyboard mimics the part of the rhythm guitar, playing block chords in a staccato rhythm while emphasising beats two and four.

Harmonic Role

Reggae songs can be harmonically simple, sometimes using as little as two chords for an entire song. The keyboard's role is to "fill out" the sound by playing blocked chords, as well as adding interesting harmonic lines under the melody if needed.


Many reggae arrangements call for other instruments, such as trumpets, saxophones, or steel drums. Often, these parts are played on a synthesizer keyboard when those instruments themselves are not available. A reggae keyboardist may play horn line unisons or steel drum melodies along with comping the chords. In addition, subgenres of reggae like dancehall and dub music frequently use sound effects as part of the arrangement, played by the keyboardist or synthesizer player. The keyboard may also employ an organ sound, depending on the song.

Multiple Keyboards

Larger reggae bands covering big arrangements often use two keyboard players. The first keyboard covers the chord comping and harmonies, while the second keyboard may cover special effects, a horn line or steel drum part, or improvisational solos. In other cases, one keyboardist will cover all of these parts by playing multiple keyboards.

Reggae Keyboard Effects

As reggae is a broad genre of music, there are many different types of sounds and techniques used. A reggae keyboardist may use a variety of effects, include the wah pedal, reverb, chorus and flanger.

Reggae Keyboardists

Some of the more well known reggae keyboard players include Ansel Collins, Jackie Mitoo, Earl Lindo and Pablo Black.

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