How To Play Reggae Guitar.
3 Lessons Rolled Into 1!

This free basic guitar lesson on how to play reggae guitar will get you up and strumming right away. It's actually 3 lessons rolled into 1. Yes, mon!

As soon as you hear reggae music you want to sing or dance. You can feel the sunshine on your skin and you start to smile :-) What's more, there are a lot of wonderful songs made famous by Bob Marley that everybody knows.

The main thing with playing reggae guitar is that it's syncopated. This means that if we count 1 2 3 4 to the beats, the guitar accents are on the off-beats. These "off-beats" are found between the numbers. This will require you to use up-strums when you play. Click this link to see more on basic strumming if you need to.

Why Is It 3 Lessons In 1?

If you're going to learn how to play reggae guitar, you'll need to put 3 different pieces of the guitar playing puzzle together :-) These 3 pieces are:

  • Up-strums on offbeats.
  • String muting or "dampening".
  • Knowing the 3 Primary Chords of a Key.

I'll go over each of these points and then you can watch the free guitar lesson video above. You'll soon be jammin' ;-)

Off-beats and up-strums...remember tapping your foot on each count? Count 1+2+3+4+ ...while you do that, tap your foot on every number. Strum with a slight snap of the wrist upwards when you say "and".

Try that right now with a basic A major chord in open position. Great! To get an even more authentic reggae guitar feel you can dampen the strings after strumming. This just means to stop them from ringing. You can do this with the edge of the palm of your strumming hand. You can also release pressure from the strings with your fretting hand...keep touching the strings, though. Try it!

3 Primary Chords?

Yes. At some point in your guitar playing journey you'll need to dig into some guitar music theory. For this lesson on how to play reggae guitar, we'll cover some basic theory.

The major scale in music is simply the sound of "do re mi fa sol la ti do". If you're not familiar with that sound now, you'll definitely recognize it in the guitar lesson video. A chord is simply a three note "triad" built on every other note in the scale. So if we're in the key of "C" , the note "C" is "do". The "C" major chord is spelled "do" - "mi" - "sol".

You can't make music with only one chord (well, you can...but that's beyond the scope of these online guitar lessons ) so we'll also build chords on the 4th and 5th notes of the scale. These 3 chords are the primary chords in the key. They give the form and shape to the key. Intrigued? If you need to know more go to the music theory online section now. Bookmark this page so you can come back and learn how to play reggae guitar :-)

Guitar friendly...OK. Let's play in the guitar friendly key of A. Why is it guitar friendly? Because it is built on "A" which is an open string. Also, 4 notes up from "A" is "D" and 5 notes up is "E". They are all open strings and basic guitar chords. That's why it's a guitar friendly key. Remember, the primary chords in any given key are built on I , IV and V. Hey! What's that? I just used Roman numerals for 1, 4 and 5. That's because we use Roman numerals in music when we give a number to a chord. This is how we know where we are in any given key.

A lot of reggae songs are based around the 3 primary chords in the key. That's part of what makes them so strong and so memorable. Now, we're going to use the A, D and E basic guitar chords.


Try the syncopated strumming pattern for reggae guitar that we discussed above. Only this time use A, D and E. Play "A" for 2 bars of 4 beats each. Play your "D" and "E" chords for 1 bar each.

Remember to dampen the strings after each up-strum :-) Yes, mon!

Note:This is all in the guitar lesson video above. As always, the video is clear to follow, but these written guidelines will help you to learn the ideas even better :-)

Let's Kick It Up A Notch

This exercise adds a basic variation to the above reggae guitar strumming pattern. This time each beat is divided into 4 smaller beats - these are called 16th notes. We count 1e+a 2e+a 3e+a 4e+a etc.

Like I show in the video, accent or stress the 3rd sixteenth note in each beat. This makes it more of an authentic "feel."

There's one other element to be aware of. It's a loose kind of swing feel. Watch the free guitar lesson video on how to play reggae guitar now :-) Everything will make complete sense, I promise! I recommend coming back here and reading the guidelines over again until you understand them. Then watch the video again. And again...and practice ;-) Oh yeah! A good place to start would be getting hold of some Bob Marley songs to listen to.

As you can see guitar playing is very difficult to "cut up" into separate little pieces. All the pieces connect to each other in some way. That's why most of the lessons here will have links to other relevant lessons. It's also why this lesson on how to play reggae guitar was actually 3 lessons in 1.

Do you really want to take your guitar playing to another level? If so, there are some excellent homestudy beginner and intermediate guitar courses available. Learn and Master Guitar is an excellent dvd guitar lessons package created by Gibson that could be a solution.

Jamorama is another high quality dvd guitar lessons homestudy package. Click here to try some free guitar lessons with Jamorama.

Another choice for those of you serious about learning guitar is a membership site. Jamplay offers a wealth of beginner guitar lessons by a variety of teachers -- you get to choose which teacher fits you best. Click here to find out more about Jamplay.

Guitar Tricks is also a top notch membership site offering a ton of beginner guitar lessons. Click here to find out more about what Guitar Tricks offers.

Further Related Reading And Study

Strumming Guitar

The "A" Minor Pentatonic Scale

Guitar Bar Chords

Slash Chords Guitar Lesson

Thanks for joining me here with how to play reggae guitar. I hope it was helpful to you and your guitar playing. And I'm grateful to play a small part in inspiring you to keep dusting off your guitar :-)


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