How To Play Ska Rhythm On A Guitar

Posted by Mike Schuck

Ska is an up-tempo music genre that originated in Jamaica in the 1960s. It has since spread across multiple musical styles, including reggae, dub, and punk influenced sounds. With its strong bass line and frequent use of rhyming words or phrases, ska songs are very easy to sing along with!
As musicians, we can always learn new tricks for our instruments. Taking some time to explore other genres and modes can help you expand your repertoire. This article will go over one such mode, which is called parallel major.

With this mode, there are two main chords that make up the song. The first chord uses the second degree (or harmonic) note of the key, while the second chord uses the third degree (or mediant) note. These notes are typically not too high or low, so they sound good together.

The final trick is to play these chords as steps. A step is when only one finger touches each string, whereas using no steps means playing all five fingers at once.

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Steps allow your hand more space to move, making it easier to play faster.

Find a ska-inspired song you like

how to play ska rhythm on guitar

Finding an easy way to play ska rhythm is knowing what songs contain it. Most ska music contains either an introduction, a verse, a chorus, and then a break or something called a one-two-three pattern.

The first note of the pattern is usually an upbeat chord followed by a second note that is an accentual bass line (this drops down a half step at the next beat). Then comes a third, lower pitched note which is typically a quarter notes triplet (triplets are three notes played in a row — this one does not sync back with the other two until the next bar).

This article will teach you how to play the ska rhythm for the song “Ska Means Fun”, found here.

Learn the song's chord structure

how to play ska rhythm on guitar

The next step in playing ska rhythm guitar is learning the chords for the music you want to play. For this reason, we will be looking at some common ladders of chords for ska rhythm songs!

Many musicians use what are called chord charts when practicing or performing pieces. A chord chart is a diagram with notes written next to each other and an indication of which string number they should be played on.

These diagrams get organized into groups by tone (or pitch) and then genre, such as blues, jazz, etc. There are many free and paid apps that can help you organize your chord charts, so no matter what app you have already there is an easy way to learn how to play the right chords for ska music.

We will start our lesson here by taking a look at the most fundamental ladder of chords for any style of music – the major scale.

Figure out the ska rhythm pattern

how to play ska rhythm on guitar

The second part of how to play ska guitar is figuring out this little pattern! This pattern goes by several names, including foot stomp, back-and-forth step, or shuffle pattern. It’s typically made up of four beats in a row, but not every leg of the pattern has to have the same number of steps.

The ska rhythm usually contains an intro measure, a main section, and then a coda (or ending) measure. The timing of these sections can vary slightly between songs, so you will need to get used to that.

You do not have to use the ska rhythm pattern for any song, but it makes sense to learn this basic structure before moving onto more complicated rhythms. There are many great resources available online and through music software packages.

Tone your guitar

how to play ska rhythm on guitar

Now that you have learned how to play some ska rhythm licks on guitar, it is time to tone your guitar. What kind of guitar do you want to use for this project? You can use any type of electric guitar!

Many people start off playing bass using a double-necked bass instrument. This gives them more options when changing up the chords and notes used in songs. Electric guitars are also easier to find as models with higher tiers (levels) of accessability.

The best types of guitars for learning ska rhythm are ones that have lower frets, wider necks, and shorter lengths. A beginner could even begin by buying a cheapo acoustic guitar and then investing in longer length modeles as they progress.

Tone woods matter! If you’re not sure what sounds good set aside some money and test out different brands before buying a lot of each one.

Learn to use the guitar's volume and pickup settings

how to play ska rhythm on guitar

The next step is learning how to use your guitar’s tone and volume controls effectively. By altering the intensity of the strings you can achieve different sounds!

Many ska songs include frequent uses of either bass or treble effects. A bass effect turns up the low end of the song, while a treble effect raises the pitch. Both of these effects are achieved by using the appropriate pickups (magnetic field sensors) and amplifying them.

The pick ups that apply most heavily for this genre are typically those with no capacitors. These work directly off of radio waves to determine the note being played, and thus don't need an amplifier attached to process it.

So, learn how to turn down the volume of your guitar until it is almost inaudible, then crank up the treble as much as possible! Or do the opposite if you like more heavy bass.

Learn to use your guitar's effects

how to play ska rhythm on guitar

Effects are not only for music artists! They're also very useful if you want to learn how to play ska rhythm on guitar.

Effects can be used to take away or add something to an instrument, or both! Using effects is like putting gel in your hair — it enhances the look and/or function of what you have going on.

Certain types of effect such as reverb will always remain important because they enhance the sound quality of what you’re playing. Reverb washes out the tone of the instrument, making it seem bigger than it really is.

Other effects like distortion or overdrive increase the intensity of the notes being played, creating more oomph!

This article will talk about some easy ways to start using effects on your guitar.

Be aware of loud noises

In ska rhythm, there are two main components: the first is the kick drum, which sounds like someone walking down the street, or a car engine starting. The second element is the snare drum, which rings in time with the kick every other measure, creating a steady beat.

The bass guitar plays an integral part in ska music as well, usually doubling up as the base line for the song. When playing along to a ska track, you should be able to easily identify when each one comes into play!

When learning how to play ska rhythm on your guitar, our best advice is to make sure that you are very familiar with the chords used before moving onto the rhythm section. Once those basics are locked down, then you can start trying out some riffs and patterns!

There are many great resources available to learn how to play ska rhythm on your guitar. Some helpful books include: “Ska Bass Basics” by Sean O'Brien, “Skabass For Beginners” by Nick Rossiter, and “Power Beat Box- The Ultimate Guide” by Michael Mettler and David Campbell.

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