Watch the The Root-5th Concept online guitar lesson by Andrew Ford from Focus On: Reggae Bass
Now let's look at 4 examples of reggae bass lines that only use the root and 5th. Seems kind of limiting I know, but a lot of music can be made from just the root and 5th, 2 notes! I chose to even increase the impact of these examples by using no chordal accompaniment. So we need to imagine the other instruments in our head while we play these bass lines totally exposed trying to be melodic as possible, relaxing our feel, producing a deep sound and executing the various rhythms in these 4 examples. The first one is a 1-6-2-5 pattern in D. The pattern repeats in the 2 bars going from 1 to 5 over the first chord before ending on the 1 of the new chord. It does the same thing over the next bar, a very simple but affective motif. The 2nd example goes from 1 to 5 in the key of C. We need to create a bouncy feel with this 16th note rhythm that again repeats in both bars but uses different combinations of roots and fifths. Keep the notes in your left hand pressed down to connect the notes making it more legato. After you have played this one a few times it may be good to follow up by playing it against a one drop drum groove to really master the feel. Example 3 is a 1-4-5 progression in the key of G, again using only roots and 5ths. We start out with a classic reggae style rhythm using the 16th and 8th combination. Set up the next phrase with some space which has two motifs that start on the 5 moving down to the 1 which gives it a melodic sound. Notice how we sit down or emphasize the repeated roots on beats 2 and 4, another typical reggae approach. The last example is in the style of the song "Pass the Dutchie" played by Leroy Sibbles. You could play this one bar and many would immediately recognize this song. It's the power of a strong melodic bass line. Leroy's bass line is a little different using the major 7th but we capture the basic feel here with this one bar motif using only roots and 5ths again. One of the keys is the bounce to the 16ths in beats 1 and 2. It answers with the 8th note roots over the G sus chord and ends on the 5 emphasizing beat 4 again. Rhythmic first then air it out over the second chord, a very effective strategy.