How to Play Reggae Bass

This lesson will help you on how to play reggae bass.

Ultimate Guitar
Here are some tips that will help you on how to play reggae bass.

I. Play close to the neck

Playing as close as possible to the neck will give a fat reggae thumping reggae sound. Playing close to the bridge gives a crisp and clearer bass sound which is not necessary ideal for reggae but, very skilled players can get away with position change briefly. Personal preferences do also play a role so feel free to change positions if you are after a particular sound.

II. Use the pads of your fingers

Some players use a spectrum to play their bass and other use their fingers. For reggae try using the pads of your fingers. Your aim should be to play your notes as smoothly as possible. Do not rush, relax your picking hand and play with your heart and your ear. Be aware that many players do use their thumb to play reggae bass. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it just means that your tonal feel may come across different from some one who uses their other fingers.

III. Learn as many reggae bass scales as possible

Learn the pentatonic major and minor scale since many reggae bass parts are played using these scales. Be aware though that knowing only these scales can be very limiting.


The three reggae bass scales we'll be looking at are the major pentatonic, minor pentatonic and the major scale or Ionian scale. There are other reggae bass scales you could use but, mastery of these three will cover all your reggae needs and more.

1. The first of the reggae bass scales you should learn is the major pentatonic. It is a very sweet and happy scale and it works very well over major chord progressions. For example, in the key of G-Major, it works over G-C-D and G-D-C or if it's a turn around in the key of C-Major, it will work over C-D-G and in the key of D-Major, D-C-G.

These are just examples since, you can also add some minor chords to these progressions and the reggae bass scales in question will still work. Here is the major pentatonic scale in two positions in the key of G.

G–Major pentatonic reggae bass scales starting on the low E string at fret 3 and then 12 
|--3 -5-7---- -----|----------12 -5---------------------|
2. The second of the reggae bass scales you should master is the minor pentatonic or blues scale. It is a melancholy or some what of sad scale which can produce some deep profound sounds. It works very well over minor chords, and listen to this, it also works well with major chords.

For example, in the key of G-minor you could use the G blues reggae bass scales over the following chord progressions. Gm-Cm-Dm or Gm-Dm-Cm, you could even use it for turn around chord progressions like Dm-Cm-Gm or Cm-Gm-Dm etc. Let your ears be your guide. Here is the minor pentatonic scale in the key of G.

G–Minor pentatonic reggae bass scales starting on the low E string at fret 3 and then 10.
3. The last of the reggae bass scales we will look at is the major or Ionian scale. Of the reggae bass scales this is the most versatile of them all. Why, you ask? Well, it is the parent scale so to speak. From it you can get most other scales and all the seven modes. Hence, the reason it's the most versatile.

With all the modes to make reggae bass scales, this scale won't let you down. Almost any chord progression you can think up it will fit. And rightly so since, reggae uses many chord combinations including minor and major and their derivatives.

You can try it over the earlier chord progressions I gave you or you could try it with the following in G-Major, G-D-Em-C, G-Am and G-Bm-Am. It also works for more complicated turn around progressions such as, Em-C-D-Bm-C-Am-B7. Seriously, of all the reggae bass scales this is the only one you will need if mastered. And here it is.

G–Major reggae bass scales starting on the low E string at fret 3 and then 10.
|-3 -5 -----------------|--10-12-14-------------------------|
There you have it guys, all the reggae bass scales you will ever need. Just pick out the bass notes of each of your favourite songs and you will see that the bass line sits exactly in the major scale or any of the other two.

Practice playing along to different chord progressions, while trying to develop a melodic line. It's very important you do that. Or you could develop a grove without a chord progression and just keep jamming. Have fun!

10 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This is poor, some players use a spectrum? read before you submit.
    spectrum is something you shine light through, plectrum is the technical name for a pick (:
    spectrum is the distribution of a characteristic of a physical phenomenon i.e human can hear sounds in the 20-20000Hz spectrum, a twat is the technical name for yourself
    Not a very good lesson. I was looking for a bit more than 3 standard scales in G that are referred to as "reggae bass scales". Also, everyone should play as they feel comfortable, not where it sounds most like what you prefer.
    "Be aware though that knowing only these scales can be very limiting." I could name about thirty guitarists who have made an entire career out of just one of these scales.
    One of the worst lessons I've ever seen. I was hoping to actually learn something from this one too.
    Here's how you improve this lesson: Throw out the scales portion, which is basically the whole lesson unfortunately. These scales could easily apply to classical, pop, jazz, classic rock, everything. What this lesson is missing is discussion about rhythm and syncopation. Include examples of prominent reggae bass players and famous licks or pieces.