5 Essential Techniques for Playing Reggae Piano Like a Pro
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Master the Reggae piano rhythm
  2. Use syncopation to create a Reggae feel
  3. Incorporate chord voicing techniques
  4. Apply the Skank piano technique
  5. Practice Bubble and Chop techniques

Reggae music, known for its irresistible rhythm and groove, has always had a special place for the piano. If you've ever found yourself tapping along to the rhythmic beats of Bob Marley or Ziggy Marley, chances are you've felt the infectious pull of Reggae piano. So, if you're looking to learn how to play piano for reggae, you're in the right spot. This blog will guide you through five essential techniques to get you playing reggae piano like a pro in no time.

Master the Reggae Piano Rhythm

Let's start with the heart of reggae music — its rhythm. Playing reggae on the piano is all about feeling and expressing that distinctive rhythm. Here, we'll break this down into manageable steps for you to understand and practice.

Understand the Rhythm

Reggae rhythm is unique; it's not just about playing notes but about when you play them. The rhythm often emphasizes the off-beats in the 2 and 4 time. In other words, if you're counting a bar as "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and," you'd play on the "and" counts rather than the numbers. This creates that signature reggae 'bounce'.

Start with a Simple Beat

As you start learning how to play piano for reggae, begin with a simple beat. You can do this by:

  • Playing just the off-beats, i.e., the "ands" in each bar.
  • Keeping your tempo slow and steady. Remember, reggae is more about feel and bounce than speed.

Experiment with Different Tempos

Once you're comfortable playing on the off-beats, start experimenting with different tempos. Reggae music is varied and versatile, so don't be afraid to play around with the speed of your rhythm. Just remember to keep that signature 'bounce' — it's what makes reggae, reggae!

Practice with Reggae Tracks

Nothing beats practicing with actual reggae tracks. This not only helps you understand the rhythm better but also lets you feel the groove of the music. So, grab some Bob Marley or Peter Tosh tracks, and start jamming!

Mastering the reggae rhythm on the piano takes time and practice. But remember, it's about enjoying the journey. So, relax, feel the rhythm, and before you know it, you'll be playing reggae piano like a pro.

Use Syncopation to Create a Reggae Feel

You've got a grip on the rhythm; great! The next step in our guide on how to play piano for reggae is understanding syncopation. Syncopation is what gives reggae its unique feel. Let's explore how to incorporate this into your playing.

What is Syncopation

Syncopation, in simple terms, is shifting the normal music beat. Instead of emphasizing the strong beats (1 and 3), you'd emphasize the weaker beats (2 and 4) or the off-beats. This creates a rhythmic surprise that adds a distinct flavor to reggae music.

How to Play Syncopated Beats

Now that we know what syncopation is let's move on to how to play these beats. Here's a basic guide:

  1. Start by playing a steady beat on the off-beats, as you learned in the previous section.
  2. Next, randomly skip a beat. Instead of playing all the off-beats, skip one. This creates an unexpected pause and adds a dash of reggae flavor to your playing.
  3. Repeat this process, varying which beat you skip each time.

Experiment with Syncopation

Syncopation isn't a rigid rule. It's more of a tool you can use to create interesting and unique rhythms. So, don't be afraid to experiment. Play around with different beats, skip different off-beats, and see what unique rhythms you can come up with.

Practice Syncopation with Reggae Tracks

Just like with rhythm, practicing syncopation with actual reggae tracks can be super helpful. You'll get a feel for how professional musicians use syncopation, and it can inspire your own playing. So, keep those reggae tracks rolling!

Syncopation may seem tricky at first, but with some practice, it'll become second nature. And remember, the goal is to have fun with the beats. So, let loose and groove with the syncopation. Your reggae piano playing will be all the better for it!

Incorporate Chord Voicing Techniques

Alright, we're making some serious progress on how to play piano for reggae! Now, let's dive into the world of chord voicing techniques. These techniques can add depth to your reggae piano playing and make your music more captivating.

Understanding Chord Voicing

In essence, chord voicing is the arrangement of notes within a chord. It's not just about playing the right notes but also about playing them in a way that creates a specific sound or mood. Chord voicing is a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled piano player.

Basic Chord Voicing Techniques

So, how do you use chord voicing in reggae music? Here are a few basic techniques:

  1. Play the root note with your left hand and the rest of the chord with your right hand. This gives the chord a full, rich sound.
  2. Play the chord in different inversions. Changing the order of the notes can create a different feel, even if it's the same chord.
  3. Experiment with different spacings. Try playing the notes close together or spread them out over the keyboard. Each choice will create a different sound.

Applying Chord Voicing to Reggae Piano

These techniques might seem simple, but they can make a world of difference in your reggae piano playing. For instance, you can use a wider spacing to create a laid-back, relaxed feel typical of many reggae songs. Or, you could use a close voicing for a tighter, more upbeat sound.

Practice Chord Voicing with Reggae Tracks

As always, practicing these techniques with actual reggae tracks can be a great help. You'll get to see how professional musicians use chord voicing in their playing, giving you ideas to incorporate into your own music.

Chord voicing is an art in itself, and mastering it can take your reggae piano playing to the next level. So, don't be afraid to experiment and find your own unique voicings. Happy playing!

Apply the Skank Piano Technique

Let's continue our journey in learning how to play piano for reggae by exploring the Skank piano technique. This method is one of the defining features of reggae music and understanding it is key to nailing that authentic reggae sound on the piano.

What is the Skank Piano Technique?

The Skank technique is about rhythmically striking the offbeats, usually on the 2nd and 4th beats of a 4/4 time signature. This gives reggae its distinctive, laid-back feel. In essence, it's about playing less, not more, and letting the rhythm carry the music.

How to Skank on Piano

Now that we know what Skanking is, let's get down to the specifics of how to apply it to the piano:

  1. First, find the beat. In a 4/4 time signature, you have four beats to a bar. The Skank technique involves playing on the 2nd and 4th beats.
  2. Next, try playing a simple chord on these beats. You can start with a basic triad, like C major (C-E-G). Strike the chord on the offbeats, making sure to give it a sharp, crisp sound.
  3. Once you're comfortable with this, start adding in other elements, like bass notes or melody lines. Remember, the focus is still on the offbeat chords, so don't let these extra elements overshadow them.

Skank Piano Practice Tips

Skanking might seem a bit tricky at first, especially if you're used to playing on the beat. But don't worry, with some practice, it will start to feel more natural. Here are a few practice tips to help you along the way:

  • Start slow. It's better to play slowly and accurately than to rush and make mistakes. Gradually increase your speed as you get more comfortable.
  • Practice with a metronome. This can help you keep time and make sure you're hitting the offbeats accurately.
  • Listen to reggae music. Pay attention to the rhythm and how the instruments work together to create the signature reggae sound.

Remember, the beauty of reggae music lies in its simplicity and groove. So, keep calm, Skank on, and you'll be playing reggae piano like a pro in no time!

Practice Bubble and Chop Techniques

We're nearing the end of our journey on how to play piano for reggae, and it's time for us to dive into a couple of other important techniques - the Bubble and Chop. Like Skanking, these techniques are unique to reggae music and knowing them will help you create a more authentic sound.

Understanding the Bubble Technique

The Bubble technique refers to the unique syncopation of chords in reggae music. It's a rhythmic pattern that fills in the gaps left by the Skank technique, creating a rich, full sound. Here's how you can start bubbling on your piano:

  1. Identify the chords of the song. The Bubble technique involves playing these chords in a specific rhythm.
  2. Play the chords in a syncopated pattern, typically on the 1st and 3rd beats of a bar. The exact rhythm can vary, but the key is to fill in the gap left by the Skank.
  3. Try to keep your chords light and airy. The Bubble is meant to be a subtle effect, not a dominating force.

Chop Technique: What is it?

Next up is the Chop technique. This is similar to the Skank in that it emphasizes the offbeats, but it's typically used in slower, more relaxed reggae songs. Let's look at some ways to incorporate the Chop technique into your playing:

  • Play a chord on the offbeat, similar to the Skank technique. However, instead of a sharp, quick strike, aim for a softer, more prolonged sound.
  • Experiment with different chord voicings to create a more interesting sound. In reggae, it's common to use extended chords such as 7ths and 9ths.
  • Try combining the Chop with the Bubble for a rich, full sound. Remember, the key is balance - don't let one technique overpower the other.

And there you have it - the Bubble and Chop techniques. Practice these along with the Skank, and you'll be well on your way to playing reggae piano like a pro. So why wait? Get to your piano and start practicing these techniques today!

If you're looking to improve your reggae piano skills even further, we recommend checking out the workshop, 'How to Get Better at What You Do - Go from Good to Great!' by Debbie Knox-Hewson. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and techniques to enhance your musical abilities, helping you become a pro in no time!