Watch the Modern Reggae Triads online guitar lesson by Andrew Ford from Focus On: Reggae Bass
Never have triads sounded so musical as in reggae bass lines. When we speak of limiting our use to just the root, 3rd and 5th normally we are kind of dumbing down our approach, simplifying our concept. Well, that could not be further from the truth in this style. By using a combination of rhythms, space, octave selections, feel and timing, triads can have depth and musicality. I have two examples here, both will be played with full accompaniment, drums, organ bubble, and guitar skank. We will use a 1-4-5 chordal structure in the style of Bob Marleys "Stir It Up" and a bunch of other songs.
Example 1 has a closer feel to the original "Stir it Up" bass line played by Family Man. We start off with a walking feel, going up the triad using notes 1, 3, and 5 before going back to 1 to finish the first phrase. The next bar starts on the 3rd of D which is F# and does a motif using a 3-5-1 pattern and ends with a descending triad over the E chord going from the root down to the 5th and ending on the major 3rd. The 2nd example has a syncopated rhythm with a rest on beat one. This rhythm gives the groove a forward motion feel even though it remains relaxed. On the last chord in bar 2 of the groove we fill it out a bit more building to the start of a new phrase and add contrast. I use only 1, 3, and 5 of each chord for the groove. Both of these examples are played very relaxed, focusing on the organ, guitar and drum patterns making sure it all locks together to create the perfect puzzle. This groove is a good candidate for the thumb style, just keep the notes legato with a more natural decay. We use the same concept when dealing with minor progressions and triads.