Reggae Improvisation Based On A Groove

Before starting this lesson I advise you read our Introduction To Improvisation and Your First Improvisation lessons first. You will also need a copy of This Free MP3 that is used as a backing track for this lesson (this file was updated 05/03/2017). The content on this page will be similar to that in our similar lessons in the Rock, Funk and Jazz styles.

Note: The backing track starts with an eight beat count in.

In this improvisation exercise you will be presented with a four bar pattern similar to that given in our improvisation introduction and I will be discussing how to approach creating a drum kit part for it. The main difference here is that you will be asked to play in the Reggae genre. Here is the notation for this exercise:

The sheet music for the exercise

This kind of improvisation exercise is a little easier than those that give you a rhythm as a starting point as you don't need to spend time working out a groove. I will talk through some ideas for constructing a part for this piece on this page and most ideas presented will be very similar to those discussed in the First Improvisation Lesson. First of all scan the four bar sheet music and make sure you understand everything. The piece is in 4/4, as indicated by the time signature. It is at a tempo of 92bpm, it's played in Swing Time and is in a reggae style. Bar 1 is the groove for the piece, bars 2 and 3 that have the 'cont. sim.' mark are telling you to play a similar part to bar 1 and bar 4 is a fill.

First of all make sure you can play the groove. In this case it is 'Step 2' of the basic reggae groove shown above so you may have come across this before. In most grade 1 and 2 improvisation exercises you will be given a groove that will be very similar to those covered in those introductory lessons.

As discussed in the previous lesson, I recommend following an 'A B A C' structure for these four bar improvisations. Have a read through the linked lesson if you are unsure what this means, a recap is also given in the First Improvisation Lesson. With this structure the given groove will be the 'A' part and that will be played in bars 1 and 3. So you need a 'B' part next.

For the 'B' section it is best to play a slight variation on the 'A' part. A list of ideas for this were given in the previous improvisation lesson so on this page I am going to focus on ideas that are a bit more specific to reggae. We discussed that to give a groove a rock feel you could accent the quarter notes in the right hand and emphasize the back beat with the left. In reggae the backbeat is similar but is generally played with a side stick and bass drum. The right hand also tends to be a little more rhythmic and off beat eighth notes are very common. The list below shows some simple ideas for creating your B part within this genre of playing.

  • Add an extra side stick or bass drum on an '+' count.
  • Add a crash accent. Replacing one of the side sticks with a snare and adding a crash with it works well.
  • Open one of the hi hats.
  • Remove one of the side stick notes.

Listed below are some options for the 'B' section relating to the given groove that use the ideas presented above:

Four options for the B section

Another idea you can use was discussed in the previous lesson. That was to listen to the backing track and see if the other instruments are doing anything different in the second bar. It is always a good idea to follow the music when playing to a backing track. In an exam situation you will have a short amount of time to listen through and work out what you are going to play.

Finally we need a 'C' section, which will be the bar marked 'fill' in the sheet music. There are a variety of options here but something that would be quite appropriate to the reggae style would be to use some 8th Note Triplets. The fill could be any length so go with a pattern you are comfortable with. As I said in the previous lesson, a simple idea played really well is always far better than a great idea played badly. A second variation on the groove will also work very nicely in reggae. Below are four possible options for a 'C' section.

Four options for the 'C' section

Hopefully you can now improvise a four bar piece in the reggae style when a groove is given as a starting point. As before, I'll finish this lesson by giving you two examples of full parts that could work with this exercise.

Full Phrase 1

A full four bar phrase for this improvisation

Full Phrase 2

A full four bar phrase for this improvisation


  1. Create your own part for the improvisation exercise presented at the start of this lesson.
  2. Play your part to the backing track and see if you think it fits well.
  3. Think about different ways you could approach this exercise.


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