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5 Things You Should Know About The Reggae Keyboard

reggae keyboard

The reggae keyboard is probably the hardest instrument in reggae music to get information on.  It is almost an enigma; search results in Google or any other place on reggae keyboard does not reveal much. 

Here are 5 five questions about this amazing instrument that I’ve answered for you.

1. When was the reggae keyboard first used?

It was first used in the 80’s as synthesizers.  Before that, the musicians relied mainly on the reggae piano and organs for their sound.  Typically an upright piano was used miked through an amp or stage sound system.

These days’ pianos are rarely used on stage or in studios for playing or recording reggae music.  Most of the pianos, organs, Synthesizers and clavinet sound come straight from the reggae keyboard.  In fact, and God forbid, they are so versatile that some bands are now using them for bass and guitar parts.

2. What types of keyboard?

Believe it or not, any decent keyboard can be used as a reggae keyboard.  The thing with the keyboard unlike other instruments used in reggae is that, it's digital and you can experiment a bit and it will still sound relatively good.

Some of the top keyboard players back in the day used the Korg M1 (01-W).  Still, this is not a recommendation – Again, any keyboard with a decent sound will do the job.  So there is really no point in recommending one specific keyboard for reggae.

If you are still not sure what to look for, then go to your nearest shop and try anything from a Yamaha Motif, Yamaha MM6 or MM8, Korg, Roland Workstations, Phantom or even a Juno D and buy the one you like the most.  The Roland RS serries are very good and you can see the RS-5 in action at how to play reggae keyboard.  I would add that a workstation or keyboard that allows you to alter the preset sounds are the best ones to get.  

This actually makes sense especially if you are looking for a particular sound you heard in a song, then you can alter the instrument sound to suit your needs.  But of course it all comes down to your needs and your budget.   A good rule of thumb however, is to always buy the best you can afford.

3.  What kind of sound?

The sound you use depends on what you are trying to achieve.  Remember that these days the reggae keyboard can be used to replace all kinds of instruments, so if you are planning on using it for another instrument then aim for the sound of that instrument.  It won’t be perfect but it will do.

Strictly speaking a piano sound with effects added to taste will normally suffice for reggae.  If your keyboard has a Wurlitzer, Suitcase or Stage Piano Mk I, II or IV sound, experiment with them since, it’s the only way you are going to know what works.

4.  What kind of effects?

There’s really no limit to what effect you can use and what you can actually do with them.  So try as many effects as possible to see what works and what doesn’t.  That’s what the reggae keyboard players back in the day did.  They experimented with reverb, wah, chorus, flanger, phaser, you name it they’ve tried it.     


5.  Who are the reggae keyboard legends?


If you really want to learn how to play the reggae keyboard and I hope you do, then you will need to know some of the legends who helped to shape reggae music with their keyboard/piano. So check out Jackie Mitoo, Robbie Lyn, Ansel Collins, Paul Crossdale (Firehouse Crew) aliases Wrong Move, Earl Lindo (Wailers) aliases Wire, and Pablo Black.


There are more but, if you can get anything on these few, they are worth studying.  And that’s it, five things you should know about the reggae keyboard.  Later!


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