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Difference Between SKA and Reggae

bob-marley-pdSka vs Reggae

Ska and Reggae belong to the Jamaican music genre. Reggae, in broader sense, is referred to most types of Jamaican music. Well, though both Ska and Reggae are of Jamaican genre, they differ in tone, music and the instruments used.

First of all, when comparing the origin of Ska and Reggae, it was Ska music that was developed first; while Ska originated in the 1950’s, Reggae originated in the 1960’s.

When talking about Ska, it combines elements of calypso and Caribbean mento, with rhythm and blues and Ameriocan jazz. Reggae is now used in a broader sense to refer the Jamaican genre of music.

When talking about the characteristics of Ska and Reggae, Ska is based on a walking bass line, which is accented with rhythms on the upbeat. On the other hand, Reggae has a rhythm-style, which has regular chops on the offbeat. Well, Reggae has a much slower rhythm compared to Ska. Another difference is that Reggae has a slower tempo than that of Ska. Unlike Reggae, Ska music has horns.

Reggae music is also characterized by a heavy back-beating rhythm. On the other hand, Ska music is quick, upbeat and exciting.

Now comparing the instruments, Ska has guitar, bass guitar, trombone, trumpet, saxophone, drums, piano and organ. Reggae has guitar, drums, organ and melodica.

Different theories are attributed to the origin of the word Ska. One theory says that some musicians coined the word Ska because of the scratching guitar strum. Another theory is that during a recording session, bassist Cluett Johnson asked guitarist Ranglin to play music like ska. There is yet another theory that says that Ska is derived from ‘skavoovie’, by which Johnson used to greet his friends.

When looking at the etymology of Reggae, the Dictionary of Jamaican English has listed the word as recently established for the word rege, which could mean ragged clothing, or quarrel. The term reggae was first used in the musical context when it appeared in print with the rocksteady hit ‘Do the Reggay’. Another theory says that the term was derived from Spanish, and means king’s music.


1. Ska is known to have originated in 1950’s. Reggae originated in the 1960’s.

2. Ska is based on a walking bass line. On the other hand, Reggae has a rhythm-style, which has regular chops on the offbeat.

3. Reggae has a much slower rhythm compared to Ska. Reggae also has a slower tempo than that of Ska.

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1 Comment

  1. “Unlike Reggae, Ska music has horns”

    This isn’t a hard, fast rule. Plenty of non-brass ska, and conversely, reggae with a horn section.

    “Reggae has a much slower rhythm compared to Ska. Reggae also has a slower tempo than that of Ska.”

    Also not hard/fast rule…really comes down to which side of ’96 a band came down on. A lot of the bands that popped up around/after ska hit its stride in 1997 and enjoyed its hot minute on the top 40 charts were definitely more on the “punk” side of the “ska/punk” fusion that became common on the downside of the third wave. In fact, go back far enough and outside of the differences in bassline there is little difference (in terms of musical structure) between first-wave ska and reggae.

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