Ska Music

This is my attempted at teaching people how to play ska. I will be discussing everything relevant from basic stumming, to the more complex intricacies of ska guitar.

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Ultimate Guitar
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First, to play ska you need to be familiar with your chords. Sometimes open chords are employ in ska. These most guitarists of any genre should be familiar with.
    Emaj   Emin   Amaj   Amin   Dmaj   Gmaj   Gmaj   Cmaj
1|--0---|--0---|--0---|--0---|--2---|--3---|--3---|--0---|
2|--0---|--0---|--2---|--1---|--3---|--0---|--3---|--1---|
3|--1---|--0---|--2---|--2---|--2---|--0---|--0---|--0---|
4|--2---|--2---|--2---|--2---|--0---|--0---|--0---|--2---|
5|--2---|--2---|--0---|--0---|------|--2---|--2---|--3---|
6|--0---|--0---|------|------|------|--3---|--3---|------|
You should also be familiaried with a few basic barre chords before we begin. They are:
    Fmaj   A#maj  Dmaj   Fmin   A#min
1|--1---|--1---|--2---|--1---|--1---|
2|--1---|--3---|--3---|--1---|--2---|
3|--2---|--3---|--2---|--1---|--3---|
4|--3---|------|--4---|--3---|--3---|
5|------|------|------|------|------|
6|------|------|------|------|------|
There are two things that should be mentioned about barre chords that most guitarist should already know, but for those who don't here is goes: a) barre chords employ barring (i.e.: in the Fmaj/min chord all the notes on the 1st fret should be played with only one finger (the 1st), for the Dmaj the same is applied to the 2nd fret, but both A# chords dont employ any barring). b)Barre chords can be moved to any fret, as long as you keep the formation of the chord (like power chords). Play aound with these chords until switching between them is a snap and moving them to different frets is second nature. Now on to ska. The basic idea of ska guitaring is playing only on the off beats. So in a 1234 count the chord is played on 2 and 4. On beat 1 and 3 guitarists tend to skratch (play dead notes, marked as an X in tab) so that it is easier to keep time. Remember the skratches are downstrokes and the chords are upstrokes. Also make sure you dont hit notes on the dead notes and make sure you hit the chords clearly on the offbeats.
Ex. 1
    1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4
1|--x---1---x---1---x---1---x---1-----------|
2|--x---1---x---1---x---1---x---1-----------|
3|--x---2---x---2---x---2---x---2-----------|
4|--x---3---x---3---x---3---x---3-----------|
5|------------------------------------------|
6|------------------------------------------|
You can also play it double time:
Ex. 2
    1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &
1|--x---1---x---1---x---1---x---1-----------|
2|--x---1---x---1---x---1---x---1-----------|
3|--x---2---x---2---x---2---x---2-----------|
4|--x---3---x---3---x---3---x---3-----------|
5|------------------------------------------|
6|------------------------------------------|
This technique is used more often in newer ska. Play those until you are comfortable with them, and now we will move on to basic progressions. This progression is very basic:
1|-x-5-x-5-x-5-x-5-x-5-x-5-x-7-x-7---------|
2|-x-5-x-5-x-5-x-5-x-7-x-7-x-9-x-9---------|
3|-x-6-x-6-x-6-x-6-x-7-x-7-x-9-x-9---------|
4|-x-7-x-7-x-7-x-7-x-----------------------|
5|-----------------------------------------|
6|-----------------------------------------|
Another basic riff:
1|-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-4-x-4-x-6-x-6----------|
2|-x-4-x-4-x-4-x-4-x-4-x-4-x-6-x-6----------|
3|-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-5-x-5-x-7-x-7----------|
4|-x-5-x-5-x-5-x-5-x-6-x-6-x-8-x-8----------|
5|------------------------------------------|
6|------------------------------------------|
Play with those a bit. This next part will show a technique commonly used in dub, reggae, and slower ska. Essentially you play what you have been playing, but there skratches are eliminated and the chords are played with downstrokes.
    1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 etc.
1|----5---5---1---1---3---3---3---3----------|
2|----5---5---1---1---3---3---3---3----------|
3|----5---5---2---2---4---4---4---4----------|
4|----7---7---3---3---5---5---5---5----------|
5|-------------------------------------------|
6|-------------------------------------------|
Another technique used often in slower ska, reggae, and dub, is double skratching. Basically, if we go back to the original riff, where we would have one skratch we can now do 2 as shown below.
    d u d   d   d   d u d   d   d
    1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4
1|--x-x-1---x---1---x-x-1---x---1-----------|
2|--x-x-1---x---1---x-x-1---x---1-----------|
3|--x-x-2---x---2---x-x-2---x---2-----------|
4|--x-x-3---x---3---x-x-3---x---3-----------|
5|------------------------------------------|
6|------------------------------------------|
(*d=downstroke, u=upstroke)
This can be put into any of the above riffs to add "style" or flair to the riff. Now before we continue learning more techniques, there are some chords which all ska players must know, and be very very familiar with. They are:
    Gmaj   Gmin   Cmaj   Cmin
1|--3---|--3---|--3---|--3---|
2|--3---|--3---|--5---|--4---|
3|--4---|--3---|--5---|--5---|
4|--5---|--5---|--5---|--5---|
5|--5---|--5---|--3---|--3---|
6|--3---|--3---|------|------|
These are all barre chords so the above rules for barre chords still apply. Now here is a technique that became popularized in 3rd wave ska. Essentially you add an accent to the first beat. The strummning is like this:
    d   u   d   u   d   u   d   u 
    1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &
1|--1---1---x---1---x---1---x---1-----------|
2|--1---1---x---1---x---1---x---1-----------|
3|--2---2---x---2---x---2---x---2-----------|
4|--3---3---x---3---x---3---x---3-----------|
5|--3---3---x---3---x---3---x---3-----------|
6|--1---1---x---1---x---1---x---3-----------|
Now once you have this stumming down and know the new barre chords, i would like to demonstrate "slide" ska. A prime example of this is the song Gimme Heroin by Morning Glory (i will have it known that on the actualy recording there are 2 guitars playing this, but for the purpose of the lesson I have arranged it for one guitar):
Verse:
    d u d u   u d u d u d u d u d u
    1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
1|--4-4-x-4/5-5-x-5-x-7-x-7-x-7-x-7--------|
2|--5-5-x-4/5-5-x-5-x-9-x-9-x-7-x-7--------|
3|--6-6-x-5/6-6-x-6-x-9-x-9-x-8-x-8--------|
4|--6-6-x-6/7-7-x-7-x-9-x-9-x-9-x-9--------|
5|--4-4-x-6/7-7-x-7-x-7-x-7-x-9-x-9--------|
6|--------4/5-5-x-5---------x-7-x-7--------|
A similar idea is employed in this riff, which is derived from Sublime's Santeria:
  1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
1|--7---7---7---7---4---4---4---4h4-4---4---4---4---7---7---7---7-------|
2|--9---9---9---9---4---4---4---4h5-5---5---5---5---7---7---7---7-------|
3|--9---9---9---9---5---5---5---4h6-6---6---6---6---8---8---8---8-------|
4|--9---9---9---9---6---6---6---4h6-6---6---6---6---9---9---9---9-------|
5|--7---7---7---7---6---6---6---4h4-4---4---4---4---9---9---9---9-------|
6|------------------4---4---4-----------------------7---7---7---7-------|
Here is a little trick where we hold a note for a little while. Where there is no skratch just hold the chord.
   d u d u d u d u d u d u d u d u d u   u d u d u d u d u d u d u
   1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
1|-1-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1---1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-------|
2|-1-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1---1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-------|
3|-2-2-x-2-x-2-x-2-x-2-x-2-x-2-x-2-x-2---2-x-2-x-2-x-2-x-2-x-2-x-2-------|
4|-3-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3---3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-------|
5|-3-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3---3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-x-3-------|
6|-1-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1---1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-x-1-------|
This technique is used by rollerstarter in their peice, another asswipe. To finish up, I would like to show a technique which at this point should be fairly easy. Remeber when we did 2 skratches instead of one? Well, now we'll do 2 chords instead of one.
    d   d u d   d   d   d u d   d 
    1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
1|--x---1-1-x---1---x---1-1-x---1-----------|
2|--x---1-1-x---1---x---1-1-x---1-----------|
3|--x---2-2-x---2---x---2-2-x---2-----------|
4|--x---3-3-x---3---x---3-3-x---3-----------|
5|--x---3-3-x---3---x---3-3-x---3-----------|
6|--x---1-1-x---1---x---1-1-x---3-----------|
If you want to develop this tehnique evenmore try to play The Flatliners' "Do or Die". That is about all there is to ska. Remember that two-tone is highly accepted, so you can throw some punk in if you like. Also a technique popularized by sublime it playnig ska "reversed". This is where the chords are played (for example) on the 1st and 3rd beat with no skratches between them. This canbe used to break up parts of a song, and accent other aspects of it (normally to accent the vocal/lyrics). That's about all there is to ska, and its tributaries. From here you know all that you'll ever need to know, just play with it a but. Try throwing some punk in, or stick to reggae tempos. Thats up to you. Try using different chord types (i.e. 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th). Just play with it. What more can I say?

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41 comments sorted by best / new / date

    davaliscious
    Kalas, ska predates reggae, it was essentially a dance music that originated in Jamaica. Desmond Dekker is an excellent example of one of the genre's innovators. Most of the themes initially were positive in nature, but this changed in some of the later developments (most notably ska punk, which is usually pretty aggressive and played at much faster tempos).
    steezymurphy
    thanks you described the rhythmic part of ska very well. Now i know what to do with my picking hand, but more chord progressions would be nice
    jg.l236
    great lesson i learned a load, you made everything very clear and did an overall good job on explaining it all,
    IRISH_PUNK13
    Kalas wrote: what is ska?
    ska is like reggae but its faster and sometime punk influenced listen to sublime and rancid that will give you a basic idea
    jakdaripr
    ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo- ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooomg
    heinrick
    ska is about the feel, dont get caught up in trying to over-theorize it; you just have to play what you feel
    snot_foster25
    Good lesson, buddy. Very informative, maintained my interest throughout the whole thing, and gave me a new style to play around with tomorrow.
    Kalas
    omg i was first, i should make a big deal about it like all those other tards do!
    rayc59
    good lesson, beats the hell out of most other ska lessons on the internet
    SagaSudaka
    wow u guys r idiots, ska is just a music style. respect music's boundaries grow up kids. btw good lesson.
    dillsmckay
    easy daisy, the only stupid question is the question not asked. im unfamiliar with ska but would like to learn more, sadly my acoustic im stuck with cant quite get the sharp sound of an electric so i get a more mellow, reggae-ish sound unless i strum right next to the bridge.
    liam177lewis
    pretty basic... but then, ska guitar is really... i think people should be referred to funk guitar lessons. and most guitarists on here i believe are gonna be rock / metal lead guitarists, and so would be better suited to ska bass, being as that usually takes the melody in ska... otherwise pretty sound on the offbeats
    me_myself_and_i
    for some kid out there that just got a guitar, this is a great lesson on bar chords and rhythms using ska examples. its enough to start a band. great lesson, well written...ofcourse it doesn't include everything, but i think that adding 7th's, and 9th's would have taken away from the lesson because it would have been too much to throw at a begginer
    NiCkStEr8993
    quite good, i tried it i made two ska songs out of it, better than a bunch of lessons, thats for sure.