Ska Basics

What you need to know to get a basic feel and understanding of ska music.

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Ultimate Guitar
16
First of all, to play ska you need to know how to barre. Then, you should practice playing barre chords only on the upstroaks, and doing a "rhythmic click" on the downstrokes. First Practice. The "x"'s are the downstrokes that you don't play.
G        Gm
-3-x-3-x-3-x-3
-3-x-3-x-3-x-3
-4-x-4-x-3-x-3
-5-x-5-x-5-x-5
-5-x-5-x-5-x-5
-3-x-3-x-3-x-3

Then practice:

C        Cm
-3-x-3-x-3-x-3
-5-x-5-x-4-x-4
-5-x-5-x-5-x-5
-5-x-5-x-5-x-5
-3-x-3-x-3-x-3
-3-x-3-x-3-x-3
After you got the upstrokes, practice sliding chords, while playing upstrokes. A good song to practice for this is Same In The End by Sublime.
(play only upstrokes)
-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-0/1-
-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-1/2-
-3-3-3-3-3-3-3-3-2/3-
-3-3-3-3-3-3-3-3-2/3-
-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-0/1-
-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-0/1-
own in mississippi where sun beats down....
Another song to practice is Sound System by Operation Ivy:
 A     A     G     G      D     D     D     D
E|X--5--X--5--X--3--X--3--|X--2--X--2--X--2--X--2--|
B|X--5--X--5--X--3--X--3--|X--3--X--3--X--3--X--3--|
G|X--6--X--6--X--4--X--4--|X--2--X--2--X--2--X--2--|
D|X--7--X--7--X--5--X--5--|X--4--X--4--X--4--X--4--|
A|------------------------|------------------------|
E|------------------------|------------------------|
     Sound   Systems gonna  bring  me  back  up  yah

     A     A     G     G      D     D     D     D
E|X--5--X--5--X--3--X--2--|X--2--X--2--X--2--X--2--|
B|X--5--X--5--X--3--X--3--|X--3--X--3--X--3--X--3--|
G|X--6--X--6--X--4--X--4--|X--2--X--2--X--2--X--2--|
D|X--7--X--7--X--5--X--5--|X--4--X--4--X--4--X--4--|
A|------------------------|------------------------|
E|------------------------|------------------------|
     One       thing that  I    can    depend   on

   A     A     A     A      A     A     A     A
E|X--5--X--5--X--5--X--5--|X--5--X--5--X--5--X--5--|
B|X--5--X--5--X--5--X--5--|X--5--X--5--X--5--X--5--|
G|X--6--X--6--X--6--X--6--|X--6--X--6--X--6--X--6--|
D|X--7--X--7--X--7--X--7--|X--7--X--7--X--7--X--7--|
A|------------------------|------------------------|
E|------------------------|------------------------|
  Try  to  describe it  to  the limit of my ability

     G     G     G     G      G     G     G     G
E|X--3--X--3--X--3--X--3--|X--3--X--3--X--3--X--3--|
B|X--3--X--3--X--3--X--3--|X--3--X--3--X--3--X--3--|
G|X--4--X--4--X--4--X--4--|X--4--X--4--X--4--X--4--|
D|X--5--X--5--X--5--X--5--|X--5--X--5--X--5--X--5--|
A|------------------------|------------------------|
E|------------------------|------------------------|
  It's there for a second then it's given up what...

     D     D     D     D      D     D     D     D
E|X--2--X--2--X--2--X--2--|X--2--X--2--X--2--X--2--|
B|X--3--X--3--X--3--X--3--|X--3--X--3--X--3--X--3--|
G|X--2--X--2--X--2--X--2--|X--2--X--2--X--2--X--2--|
D|X--4--X--4--X--4--X--4--|X--4--X--4--X--4--X--4--|
A|------------------------|------------------------|
E|------------------------|------------------------|
  Contained in music somehow more than just sound,

     D     D     D     D      D     D     D     D
E|X--2--X--2--X--2--X--2--|X--2--X--2--X--2--X--2--|
B|X--3--X--3--X--3--X--3--|X--3--X--3--X--3--X--3--|
G|X--2--X--2--X--2--X--2--|X--2--X--2--X--2--X--2--|
D|X--4--X--4--X--4--X--4--|X--4--X--4--X--4--X--4--|
A|------------------------|------------------------|
E|------------------------|------------------------|
This inspiration coming and  twisting things around
Questions, fanmail, blackmail: blakinfo@mail.com

113 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Alex Ritchie
    sassamafras - trombones, trumpets, and tenor saxes are all tuned to B flat, which means when your guitar plays C, they're playing a B flat. Other horns have different tunings, so check up on that, but those three are the main horns for ska. It's a pain to work out those kinks, but the sound is worth it. Also, Jesse Nouveau seems to be the only guy who has his history down. I'm quite surprised no one has mentioned Desmond Dekker, though, and don't forget Toots and the Maytals, Prince Buster, and Justin Hinds while you're at it. Also, for you third wavers, or anyone who likes ska, check out Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (they've had members of the Skatalites in their lineup on and off); Ska-P and Matrioska are a couple of European groups (Spanish and Italian respectively), and for a little bit of older stuff, check out Skank from Brazil and Desorden Publico from Venezuela. America isn't the only country to get ska, and these guys are certainly worth giving a listen. Also, reggae isn't slowed down ska. Rocksteady is slowed down ska. While reggae is a descendant of ska, it incorporates other elements besides tempo into the mix, which differentiate it from its predecessors.
    east bay brat
    eh this shit aint hard. the problem is that u cant read. does it make a difference if u play the downstroke and mute the upstroke.
    actoplus_met
    Mayin wrote: uhh.. hey guy who posted this "lesson".. these are freekin tabs man, this isn't a even a lesson.
    actually i think the tabs actually help you in practicing. to a beginner they would be more lost than people now ( and thats still a lot). people need to practice so im guessing thats what the tabs are for. to help master the basics. and to all the people who say this sucks because it doesnt give enough information, its says freaking SKA BASICS bye
    mayin
    uhh.. hey guy who posted this "lesson".. these are freekin tabs man, this isn't a even a lesson.
    travman_401
    dimebag7 wrote: reggae is the shit, i love it
    its never really been my style of music but ill admit i cant help but want to dance my ass off when I hear good reggae.
    dampysmiff
    If ska is too hard to play what the hell music do you people play? I don't understand. Barre chords are a guitar fundamental IMO, if you can play barre chords and have a decent sense of rhythm you can play ska. I've only been playing about 6 months and I've found that while maybe difficult to master, the basics of ska guitar are pretty damn simple. If you can't play ska how can you play any great music? Most great music has at least some barre chords in it, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Who they all at least use some. Maybe some of you need to stop posting on forums about playing guitar and playing more often before you gauge a style's difficulty. And I'm out.
    Lee is a twat
    SKA FUCKIN ROCKS!! simple. oh, Ollie if ya read this we should cover operation Ivy's Sound System.
    Jesse Nouveau
    As I've heard from one discripton of "Ska" it's related to punk. No, it's not. Ska started in Jamaica, where Jamaicans purchased radios in increasing numbers after WWII. They picked up some US radio waves and heard early R&B and Jazz from Louisiana and other southern states. Although it's rumored that the bad signal quality sounded similar to what currently is Ska. So that was their response to the music they were hearing. 2-tone is the second generation of ska , now THAT is the mix of punk and ska music from the first generation. The name of the genre comes from "The Specials" 2-tone label, which incorporated bands such as Madness, The Beat (English Beat), The Selecter, Bad Manners, The Bodysnatchers, etc. But SKA itself didn't evolve from Punk music, the second generation of ska (2-tone) incorporated punk styling (such as the edgy lyrics.) Most of you are more framiliar with 3rd-wave ska, such as Big D and the Kids Table, Streetlight Manifesto/Catch 22, and The Pietasters. Which also includes punk influences. Hope this was a good explanation of the genre, as most of you had trouble describing it. =)
    barangatang
    heavyreggae311: They only wave of ska that has punk in it is 3rd wave.
    heavyreggae311: hey man, I agree with you on all your points except for this one. What about the clash. They were second wave ska and did a fine job of mixing punk and ska, Listen to london calling.
    Edge_Rocks
    WHY HAS NO ONE MENTIONED TRIAD ???? wtf guys... Triads are a major part of raggae, and thus are a major part of ska. btw, HeavyRaggae311, very good history lesson on Ska. But yea, if you guys wanna learn to play ska in the sort of Streetlight Manifesto style, with heavy Brass and such, learn your triads and find a classic style tone.
    Ska_is_fun
    well i wud like to say, most of the info on this is bullshit n lies.
    HeavyReggea311 wrote: My god, ska isn't a hard music concept to learn. I'm in a ska band alogn with reggea and jazz. Alright i'll break it down for all those who don't know what ska is. There are 3 waves of ska 1st wave- Insturmentials, consisting of fast jazz, off-beat bass and drums with jazz like horns. This was found in New Orleans and one of the most reconized bands of this wave are the Skatelites. 2nd wave- This ska eventualy evolved form the jazz stage to the reggae stage. 2nd wave ska is mostly found in British bands. The clash is an example of 2nd wave ska. With the song rudy cant fail and police on my back many bands soon followed. The most reconized bands are The Specials, The Slackers, Bad Manners, Britt Beat. This is also the time period where the style of "skanking" came along. 3rd wave- this is the modern ska. evolving in the early 80's; punk was now blended into the scene. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, Operation Ivy, Toasters, Catch 22, Less than Jake and Sublime (i would list streetlight but thats pretty new) are all examples of the bands from 3rd wave ska. so basically if you want to play 1st waves ska, play jazz scales and chords with palming the down picks. 2nd wave would be the 4 beat reggea chords with the traditional up-pick. Although if it is a skanking song then the tempo quickens. 3rd wave ska would be the power chords with fast up-picking along with down picking that all these people presented.
    that is proboly the only person i agree with on here. thats all 100% rite. 'the glue man' also was correct, except for his comment on punk. cuz 2nd n 3rd wave ska both are influenced by ska. however, the toasters is an amazing band. nofx switched genres and less than jake has started a brand new one ... 'emoish ska' so for all, ska is proboly the most interesting genres of music. not just because of the music itself, but becase of its roots are so interesting. so if anyone took the time to read this, please tell me what you think. thank you
    the glue man
    This was a bad article. It needs more detail. And ska originally had nothing to do with punk, so do not think that. It came way before punk did. And for an example, listen to the Toasters. THE ska band. Not NOFX or Less Than Jake, don't even call them ska anymore.
    Bobby Darko
    I always wanted to learn to play ska. I'm still working on it. I'm not that great with barr chords, moving them around anyway but this helped me more than anything else i've ever read.
    Digger75
    Thanks to whoever did this. while it dont cover everything, it did help me out
    HeavyReggea311
    My god, ska isn't a hard music concept to learn. I'm in a ska band alogn with reggea and jazz. Alright i'll break it down for all those who don't know what ska is. There are 3 waves of ska 1st wave- Insturmentials, consisting of fast jazz, off-beat bass and drums with jazz like horns. This was found in New Orleans and one of the most reconized bands of this wave are the Skatelites. 2nd wave- This ska eventualy evolved form the jazz stage to the reggae stage. 2nd wave ska is mostly found in British bands. The clash is an example of 2nd wave ska. With the song rudy cant fail and police on my back many bands soon followed. The most reconized bands are The Specials, The Slackers, Bad Manners, Britt Beat. This is also the time period where the style of "skanking" came along. 3rd wave- this is the modern ska. evolving in the early 80's; punk was now blended into the scene. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, Operation Ivy, Toasters, Catch 22, Less than Jake and Sublime (i would list streetlight but thats pretty new) are all examples of the bands from 3rd wave ska. so basically if you want to play 1st waves ska, play jazz scales and chords with palming the down picks. 2nd wave would be the 4 beat reggea chords with the traditional up-pick. Although if it is a skanking song then the tempo quickens. 3rd wave ska would be the power chords with fast up-picking along with down picking that all these people presented.
    knivessout
    Funkyfreako wrote: .. i still dont know what ska is...
    its playing the chords on the offbeat (a.k.a. upbeat). most music has chords played on the beat itself. so say if you were playing to a 4/4 beat (tap your foot to the numbers) 1 2 3 4 x ^ x ^ x ^ x ^ the x's are the MUTED down strokes and the ^'s are the barre chords that are played UPSTROKE then quickly muted. and if you play slower, youre playing reggae! hope that helps =D
    agingpunker
    This is a good lesson to start with. A few added comments.. The easiest way, and perhaps the best, to play the muted (x in tab) parts is to simply relieve the pressure on your fretting hand. You can try some complicated palm muting but thats much harder for a beginner, although it does give a different texture. As far as the need to play barre chords, absolutely not true but if you cant play them. learn it!!!! Its basic. Lets just conside for starters a C major chord. Theres two barre positions for this chord below the 12th fret (right. Root on 3rd fret second string, or root on 8th fret first string: all my blah-blah about strings assumes the first string is the low E in standard tuning). However, there are many other voicing worth considering, especially in the context of Ska. For example, try playing the C major as follows: 7th fret 2nd string (E), 5th fret 3rd string (G) and 5th fret 4th string (C). Or, 12th fret 4th string (G), 13th fret 5th string (C), and 12th fret 6th string (E). Play these two voicings if youre not familiar with them. Same notes but different feel. In terms of using them, consider the song structure. If you want the chord to rise above the song (say you want to accent a part of the song with the chord), then consider playing the C at the 12th/13th fret. This will bring you in the upper register and cut through the rest of the band. But dont be a hog!!! Playing in a band means playing with others, so choose your voicings accordingly should the guitar be in the background right now, or should it jump out and bite your ass??? unfortunately the majority of guitar players (the bad ones anyhow) seem to think the guitar should be the primadonna all the freaking time. Alas Anyhow someone made some rather silly remarks in the thread about power chords and metal heads. Ska can be played with power chords to great effect (in this case the palm muting is a good way to go if using distortion, gives you a more bottom sound in the x parts that releasing the pressure on the fretting hand). Try it have some fun and try playing a chordal melody by changing the chords during the strumming (i.e., between the x parts). Ska is about bounce make the music bounce rhythmically and harmonically. Then, start putting riffs in the rhythm patterns, much more complicated but all good things come with practice. As far as practicing, start slow!!!! If you have no experience with the style, play it at half time, then slowly ramp up as you tighten up the playing at slower tempos. All in all Ska is meant to be fun. Have fun! And if you want more of a challenge, pick up a bass and try Ska bass your fingers may get tired but youll have a blast. Anyhow enjoy and I hope this is useful to someone.
    skaface
    Hewhocorrupts wrote: As a guitarist whos played in everything from Ska, Punk, Hardcore, Grindcore and Deathmetal bands i'd have to say its harder to play ska than anything else (besides metal solos) and by the way, if yer using the word "fag" like an ignorant then you shouldn't even be associated with ska and punk so all you metalheads go get drunk and flirt with yer relatives. (also, NOFX is not ska, real ska are bands like Mustard Plug and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones)
    Real ska is from Jamaica, fool. I went to see The Skatalites last night, that is real ska!
    i_miss_mxtabs
    pretty good lesson, but it looks a little confusing for a beginner. i would have started by teacing basic reage, because its basicly ska at a slower tempo... but what do i know? ive only been teaching music theory for 7 years
    nutinurmacaroni
    Tab books for Sublime? I just started playing guitar less than 2 yrs ago and I would never need Sublime tabs lmao! Anyways, I know this is only the basics page but I need to know how to get the thick chuck sound. An example would be The Expendables - Paper Chains (
    ). I have a feeling it's just guitar effects but I'm really feeling like my skanks sound retarded without this sound..
    spellcheck9385
    Oh and you're looking for a treat please look up those local/underground bands I listed above. I'd love for more people to appreciate good music. If you genuinely appreciate Ska for what it is I know those bands would be for you. ^_^ Just wanting to help my fellow Ska kids.
    spellcheck9385
    Oh and you're looking for a treat please look up those local/underground bands I listed above. I'd love for more people to appreciate good music. If you genuinely appreciate Ska for what it is I know those bands would be for you ! ^_^ Just wanting to help my fellow Ska kids.
    spellcheck9385
    Oh and by the way...Sublime is NOT ska (mostly) They have some ska songs like Date rape, (although that would be a cover) however most of their songs are more punk-ish/reggae. I'm not saying completely they aren't ska, but generally any song they wrote is kinda a ska/punk/reggae fusion. I find it's easier to label them as alternative because they seem to vary a bit. Don't flame me I DO know what ska is and listen to it, and I understand the difference in 1st 2nd 3rd wave ska, but they can't really be entirely classified as ska. Not to mention you really won't find any ska kid skanking out to Sublime or telling you to listen to Sublime if you wanna get into ska. They'd tell you to listen to band like Skatelites, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, Operation Ivy, Toasters, Catch 22, Streetlight Manifesto, Big D and the Kids Table, and there's the Slackers, The Clash etc.etc. Where I'm from we have some pretty good local/underground bands that play around here that many of you guys would probably like if you haven't heard of them also, but get on Myspace and look up Don't Mess With Winkie, Donner Party of 5, BAMF! Obi-Wan KBM (the KBM stands for KanBlow mi), There's also a band that many consider hardcore ska, I personally think they are an acquired taste because I didn't use to like them but they're called the Flaming Tsunamis (you may or may not have actually heard of them) Oh if you actually look up the underground/local bands I listed listen to them for more than part of one song actually listen to a few of their songs because generally these people just play whatever they feel like so you may not hear what you like right away but they have pretty good talent in my opinion.
    spellcheck9385
    [quote]Youtsey wrote: How do you slide from a e-0/1 b-1/2 g-2/3 d-2/3 a-0/1 E-0/1 ?????[/quote ] If you believe anything is possible ^_^
    SkamakaziVT
    pretty good but 2 things id like to point out. 1.) ska isnt supposed to be barre chords but some people prefer them. its supposed to be the last 4 to 3 strings. its actually not that hard once you get used to it. and 2.) that intro to Same in the End...yeah its wrong, sorry kid, there is no Am and it starts on Dm on only the last 4 strings. i have The sublime self titled albums Guitar sheet book. look into it
    Youtsey
    How do you slide from a e-0/1 b-1/2 g-2/3 d-2/3 a-0/1 E-0/1 ?????
    bengi
    heavyreggae311: hey man, I agree with you on all your points except for this one. What about the clash. They were second wave ska and did a fine job of mixing punk and ska, Listen to london calling. all of the chords in london calling are played on the downbeat, not the upbeat. Dosn't that make it not ska?
    peaceonearth52
    PapeR CuTTT wrote: i dont understand it ...how do u make that really quik sound? like a start stop thing
    you mute like instantly after you play the chord liste to white man in hammersmith palace by the clash and you'll see what i mean