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Drums Life

From Carlton Barrett to Sly Dunbar, here are the Reggae Drum Rhythms

Reggae is Jamaican folk music, developed in the late 1960s after the impact of ska and rocksteady and made famous to the general public by Bob Marley.

Ska, a particularly fast and exuberant style, represented the initial euphoria of the islanders after the liberation from English colonialism in the late 1950s, while rocksteady and reggae slowed down time, leading beats to be more relaxed.

Bob Marley is spoken of as “the king of reggae”, for having valued not only the music, but also the culture and social concepts behind this style, but he is not the only artist to have made Jamaican music great and famous all over the world.

Some of the leading drummers in this genre are Winston Grennan, Carlton Barrett, Sly Dunbar and Lloyd Knibb, godfather of the ska genre with his band “Skatalites”.

To understand reggae, you need to know the three basic beats that distinguish this genre.

One Drop

The One Drop style has the characteristic of giving rhythmic emphasis with kick drum and snare drum on the third movement of the beat.

Some sources claim that the inventor of this beat was Winston Grennan in the late 1960s. Grennan was also the reference and mentor of many drummers in the following years.

The term One drop therefore refers to the only strong accent on the third movement.

This style is part of the reggae tradition and remains the predominant beat until the first part of the 70’s, when new variants were introduced.

While Winston Grannan was the inventor of this rhythm, Carlton Barrett made it popular thanks to his recordings with Bob Marley & The Wailers from 1969 until 1981.


The steppers are a similar rhythm to the One Drop, but the kick drum plays all four quarters of the line.

In the early 70’s dance music was depopulated and it seems that the introduction of the “four” kick drum in reggae, comes from the notoriety that music was having.

The beat, however, unlike dance music, is much slower and more relaxed, as per One Drop tradition.


Beat Rockers took on importance in the mid-1970s, mainly thanks to the recording studio work of two Jamaican musicians: Sly Dunbar on drums and Robert “Robbie” Shakespeare on bass.

The influence of rock music also comes to reggae. The Rockers beat in fact resembles very much the classic rock n roll time, but with the emphasis of the rhythmic accents on the upbeat, at the same time with the pinnacles of the guitar.

This new rhythmic version is characterized by heavier and more modern tones.

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