In Depth Guitar Lessons and Expert Help


April 10, 2013

Ska and Reggae Guitar Lesson

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Written by: Mike Abbott

Playing Ska music or
Reggae music on the guitar requires a
few different strumming techniques to come together.

If you haven’t learned how to play mute strums yet, click here!

Brief history of Ska Music

Nineteen Ninety Three saw the historic
Skavoovee tour, the first major national American tour package of Ska music. This tour had
the full spectrum of what Ska is – the original Jamaican brand of Ska by it’s very inventors
the Skatalites, British counterparts who revived it and reinvented in the late 70s with
the Selecter and Special Beat, and American upstarts the Toasters who raised the Ska
flag for the third time starting in the early eighties. In January of 1994, American
music-industry trade magazine Billboard had Ska on the cover page as the
next big thing.

Let’s start with some chord forms that are common in Ska and Reggae music.
The chord progressions in this music are usually very simple – 1, 4, and 5.

The Chords:

chord forms in ska music

Now try these strum exercises which are found in Ska music.

Things to remember:

  1. Mute the 5th and 6th strings with your 2nd finger
    hyperextend the 1st finger so that part of it mutes
    out the 1st string.
  2. Use all Up Strums
  3. RESTS: Release the pressure on the chord, but keep the finger
    lightly touching the strings. Make the chords sound nice and short!
Strum 1

a typical strum in ska music

Here’s a common Ska strum progression you can try:

Strum 2

a harder strum in ska music

Here’s a different Ska strum which utilizes mute strumming.

You hear this type of strum in Ska-rock music.

Strum 3

a typical strum in ska-rock music

  • Get the chords sounding clear before you
    try the strums!
  • Practice each strum slowly at first (keep a steady beat) –
    REMEMBER – you can’t make music when your chords buzz!!
  • Try creating some of your own strums using any of the chords.

About the Author

Mike Abbott
Mike is a pro guitarist and music educator.  He has performed with such diverse acts as the Rolling Stones Horns, Sammy Davis Jr., and Burt Bacharach.   After spending much of his music career in New York City, He now is a very busy guitarist in the Denver area, performing and teaching extensively. Mike's latest work is a book, The Guitar and Amp Sourcebook, published by Harper Collins and released in December 2012.



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