Like all genres, reggae music has a number of identifiable characteristics that all come together to create a "feel." These characteristics include the types of instruments used, the tempo and recurring rhythmic patterns. Reggae drum beats have a particular "shuffle" feel, with accents on each beat. They also often utilise a distinctive, high-pitched snare sound. Once these stylistic elements are understood, it is fairly straightforward to recreate them using any standard drum machine or sequencer.
Launch your MIDI sequencer application and create a new instance of a drum machine. Set up a four-bar loop and start the sequencer. Ensure that the loop start and end points are exactly on the beat. Set the tempo to around 75 to 100 beats per minute.
Place a kick and snare drum on beats two and four within the loop. This unconventional beat structure is unique to reggae music. Most other genres "announce" each bar with a kick on the first beat. Include a shaker or tambourine on every other beat to help keep the rhythm in between the sparse kick and snare hits.
Copy and paste four instances of your loop to create a 16-bar section. Edit each of the four-bar loops and add some elaborations to keep the beat sounding fresh and "human." Double up on the occasional snare hit by adding a second one just after it to create simple fills. Add a second shaker or hi-hat to vary the "timekeeping" line with different instruments.
Adjust the master "shuffle" control to around 50 per cent in order to create some syncopation. This will go a long way in emulating the relaxed, laid-back feel of reggae music, by moving some of the hits slightly off beat.
Sparing use of a delay unit can be beneficial, especially if it is an old-fashioned "tape echo"-style unit. Early dub pioneers made heavy use of these effects, and as a result they are heavily evocative of classic dub and reggae.
Tips and warnings
- Sparing use of a delay unit can be beneficial, especially if it is an old-fashioned "tape echo"-style unit. Early dub pioneers made heavy use of these effects, and as a result they are heavily evocative of classic dub and reggae.