What instruments are played in reggae music?

Updated April 17, 2017

Reggae is a genre of music rich in culture and tradition. Like other genres, reggae is associated with certain musical instruments. These instruments work together to create the rhythm and style that people typically associate with reggae.


As it does in a lot of popular music styles, the guitar gives reggae a lot of its rhythm and punch. Reggae guitar is generally played with quick, short accents, giving it its "chop/chuck" sound. To do this, the guitar is strummed, and then the fingers holding down the chord are raised slightly off the fret board. Many bands have multiple guitar players, with one playing lead parts and others playing rhythm. A variety of guitar brands can work for a reggae guitarist. Commonly used models include the Fender Stratocaster, the Fender Telecaster and the Gibson Les Paul.

Bass Guitar

The bass guitar is an important component of the reggae sound. Bassists generally go for a low, natural sound. They typically like to cut out most high frequencies and only use enough mids before the sound gets too bright. Playing near the neck of the bass can help give a fat sound. A deep thump from the bass helps to establish the reggae groove. A variety of bass guitar brands are used by reggae bassists, with the most popular being the Fender P bass or Fender Jazz bass.


Keyboards have been used in various capacities over the years in reggae music. Synthesizers were generally used in the 1980s. Before that, reggae musicians often used pianos or organs. Keyboards can be used to add rhythm or to replace other sounds. For example, some reggae bands use keyboards instead of bass guitar or a brass section. The keyboard is typically used to fatten the overall sound and accent the guitar chop/chuck. Like the guitar, this is done by playing the chord quickly and then releasing the keys. The keyboard can also be more of a lead instrument, adding melodies and fills to add character to the song. Brands vary greatly among players. In general, a keyboard with strong piano and organ sounds is preferred.


Like other types of popular music, drums are played in reggae music to provide rhythm and a solid backbeat. But unlike most popular music styles that often emphasises beats 2 and 4, reggae typically emphasises beat 3. Often on beat 3 the bass drum and snare drum will be hit together. On other beats, the hi-hat provides a lot of the rhythm and is often played in a swing feel. The drums work together with the bass guitar to provide a solid, fat rhythm, but in general the drums are typically played in a fairly laid-back style, instead of the pounding rhythms that typically make up rock 'n' roll. Drum brands vary greatly among players.

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Chris Brower is a writer with a B.A. in English. He also spent time studying journalism and utilizes both to deliver well-written content, paying close attention to audience, and knowing one word could determine whether a product is a success or a failure. He has experience writing articles, press releases, radio scripts, novels, short stories, poems and more.