The Drumming System has a great section on reggae drumming. Reggae music began in the late 1960’s in Jamaica. Bands such as Bob Marley and the Wailers, Steel Pulse, Inner Circle, and King Tubby were popular bands that brought reggae into the mainstream. Carlton Barrett was a drumming pioneer in this style. He played drums for Bob Marley and the Wailers.
Stewart Copeland, the drummer for The Police, described reggae drumming as everything being flipped (as if you woke up on the wrong side of the bed). The reason it sounds backwards is because the emphasis is on the upbeat (ands).
Reggae can be played straight or swung. Played straight, it has a solid eight note feel. When it is swung, it sounds more like a shuffle.
The bass drum is played on all quarter notes, or just sometimes on beat 3. In many beats, their nothing on beat 1 (no bass drum, snare drum, or hi hat). This might seem strange, but it gives reggae it’s feel.
The Drumming System has beginner beats that include the hi hat only, with occasional accents. There’s also a lot of cross ticking to achieve that wood block sound. These beats are done at slow to medium tempos. The goal isn’t to play these fast. The goal is to lock into the groove and play in the pocket.
The intermediate and advanced beats get fancier. The hi hat patterns are broken and include random open notes. Eventually, the drag rudiment is thrown in. This adds incredible flavor to reggae beats.
I’ve been fortunate to play drums for Nhojj. In 2010, his video “Love” became # 1 on the MTV Music Top 100 chart. He draws great inspiration from reggae amongst many other styles. Check out this video of us performing in Brooklyn: