Watch the Don't Shoot online guitar lesson by Andrew Ford from Focus On: Reggae Bass
We are counting this one double time so the bars seem to move twice as fast, counting a fast 4. It has 3 sections, the unison line, the chorus, and the verse in that order.
The unison line is based on the E minor pentatonic scale. Some slurs are included in bars 1 and 3 to enhance the melodic feel. We also play over the bar in bar 1 holding over until an 8th note into bar 2. We also have a long hold in bar 4 to set up the chorus.
The chorus starting in bar 5 is a minor style reggae groove. We begin our groove on the 5, B over the E minor chord, moving to D, the b7, to the root, E, finally down to the lower octave E. We hit that root on beat 4 and let it hold for two beats. Next we play a lead in to the A minor chord starting with G, the minor third, E, the root, and then anticipate the root of our new chord on the and of 1, slurring into it from a whole step below with the note G. Again we let the line breath by holding it for a bar and then resting for a bar. We follow that with an answer to the first 4 bars, these next 4 will all be over an E minor chord. In the case of "I Shot the Sheriff" the bass line plays around the melody, always complementing. So here we start on the 5, B, again, but more syncopated this time, leaving off the 1. Same notes, E, D, and B, in bar 9 as in bar 5, just different rhythm. Guitar many times doubles these type of melodic lines in reggae. We have a big hold in bar 10, again creating anticipation for our line in bar 11 which has a pickup note starting in bar 10, low E, then a pentatonic type line starting with G, the minor 3rd for 2 eighth notes, rest, then an A, the 4, on an up beat followed by a G on the next up beat and finally the root, low E on beat 4 and held for a bar. A lot of upbeats in these 4 bars. Bars 13-16 repeat and re-establish the motif from bars 5-8 and likewise bars 17-20 repeat bars 9-12. We do have a pick up in bar 20, outlining the E minor triad, that leads to our verse section.
The first chord in this verse section is C, our only major chord in the song, here we play a 1-5 motif, octave, 5, and root, establishing a new rhythmic foundation, very melodic and spacial. We use this same motif over our B minor chord in bar 22 and also using the octave, 5, and root notes, B, F#, and B. Then we sit on an E minor chord for 2 bars and play a slightly busier and more rhythmic motif. In bar 23 this focuses on the 5, if you notice there is one root, E, to begin the phrase followed by 5 B's. We finish the phrase in bar 24 with those 2 quarter notes, E to B, 1-5. Then in that same bar we have a pick up to bar 25 which is a G, the minor 3rd. Bars 25 and 26 are almost identical to bars 21 and 22 only we cut our last note in bar 26 a little short in order to play a pick up using the root, B. In bar 27 we again answer with the same rhythm as in bar 23 but using different notes. We start on the root, E, go up to the 5, B, down to the minor 3rd, G, and end that bar back on the root, E. Again, this is a two bar phrase so we finish it out in bar 28 with the same two quarter notes from bar 24, E and B. This time we have a different pick up into bar 29, we use the 2, F#, slurred into the minor 3rd, G, then to the 5, B. In bar 29 we have essentially the same notes as bars 21 and 25 only we again cut it a little short to add a pickup into bar 30, the 5, G. The next bar, 30, is the same as bar 22 but yet a different answer in bars 31 and 32. Bar 31 is essentially the same as bar 23 but adding an additional 8th note at the end of the bar. Bar 32 is similar to bars 24 and 28 but the 5, B is played longer instead of short and it has a different pickup, a slur from B to the C root in bar 33. This bar has another 8th note driven motif that includes the root but features the 5, G. A similar motif in bar 34 using roots and fifths only, B and F#. In bars 35 and 36 we have a sort of wind down and set up to play the unison line again. All over the E minor chord and again only utilizing the 1 and 5 but mixing up rhythms and octaves. We start with E, root in the higher octave, then B, the 5, then down to the lower octave root, E. On beat 3 of bar 36 we begin our set up using the 5, B, the b7, D, and our root E which leads us to our first note of the unison line, G.