Reggae Percussion Instruments

Updated February 21, 2017

Reggae music is a genre with Jamaican roots, as well as American and African influences. Reggae is a very rhythmic type of music that places an emphasis on the offbeat of songs. Musicians often use a variety of percussion instruments within reggae music to create the signature rhythms associated with the style.


The most basic type of percussive instrument in reggae is the drum. Some musicians use a traditional drum set, which usually features a bass drum along with a snare, one or more toms, hi-hat cymbals and possibly several other cymbals. Instrumentalists use drumsticks of varying sizes and thicknesses to play these percussion instruments. Many reggae players also incorporate various types of hand drums that have African and Latin roots. Some of the most common of these hand drums are the congas, as well as the smaller relative of the congas known as bongo drums. Hand drum players vary the shape of their hands, as well as the way that they strike the drums, to affect the sounds that are produced.

Small Hand Percussion

A wide range of smaller hand percussion instruments can be used in reggae music. Most of these instruments, like the congas and bongos, have Latin and African origins. Claves are thick wooden sticks that produce a type of musical tone when struck together. These instruments, along with wood blocks (which are struck with a mallet), are commonly used in reggae. Some instruments in reggae are played by a combination of scraping and striking, such as the guiro. Other percussion instruments are played by shaking, such as the shekere, which consists of a dried gourd covered in glass or plastic beads.

Melodic Percussion

Some percussion instruments in reggae can actually help carry the melody of a song. Although not widely used, xylophones are sometimes implemented in reggae music. Melodic instruments such as the bass guitar, the rhythm guitar and the keyboard are not percussion instruments but are sometimes played percussively within reggae music. For instance, a bass player may use a combination of thumping and tapping the strings of the guitar in order to produce percussive sounds while playing melodic notes.

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About the Author

Charlotte Johnson is a musician, teacher and writer with a master's degree in education. She has contributed to a variety of websites, specializing in health, education, the arts, home and garden, animals and parenting.