Skankin' USA: 'Skank' Guitar Playing

Yes, I did rip off the Beach Boys with the title of this lesson... did I get our attention? Read this lesson if you want to learn how to play ska guitar like the greats of third wave ska!

Ultimate Guitar
Okay, so at some point in life, we've all heard ska - whether it was Five Iron Frenzy (my favorite), Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger, Less Than Jake, The W's, etc. How awesome does ska guitar really sound? Ska brings many care-free feelings to mind and honestly improves our mood. Ska is just a fun style of guitar made for people who like to have fun; however, do we honestly know how to "skank" like the pros?

1. Ska Strumming

Before we get into chord formations, we need to talk about strumming. (Isn't it reminiscent of the first week of guitar lessons?) Ska does have its own unique strum pattern, believe it or not. In order to properly "ska strum" [I will just call it skanking to save time], one must palm mute on the downstrokes and play open on the upstroke:
* * * * * * * *
In the previous diagram, V = downstroke, ^ = upstroke, and * = palm mute

Before we even get to the chords, make sure you have this down. Most ska guitarists skank with 16th notes around 65-80 beats per minute. It's harder than it sounds - it took me almost 2 months to learn this technique.

DO NOT event think about continuing on until you can play the previous exercise (see diagram) in 16th notes at 75 bpm [beats per minute]... you'll thank me later.

2. Chord Formations

Assuming you hopefully mastered the concept of skanking, we can now move onto the chord formations.

In ska, there are a few main chord formations used:

The F-shape moveable pattern:
Partial A-based barre chord pattern:
The inverted chord patterns:
e|-7-| e|---|
B|-7-| B|-5-|
G|-8-| G|-5-|
D|---| D|-5-|
A|---| A|---|
E|---| E|---|
And, finally, the pattern that looks like a C7 chord:
The final key is this: when skanking, just make the chord formation on your fret board but DO NOT press down. Do the previous on the downstroke but press down on the upstroke to get that slightly muted look. For this style, I recommend a clean channel set to a neck pickup with slight delay/reverb with the volume pot set to 10 (or whatever your highest setting on the dial is).

Anyways, this is about it - there is not much to it. This is one of those minute to learn, millenia to master things. For some ska insight, just look up your favorite ska band on YouTube and find their chords here on UG (or look at some of my Five Iron Frenzy tabs). You'll do great! Don't give up! Please comment I would love to hear from you :-)

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