Learn to Play: The Bass Techniques of Bob Marley & The Wailers' Aston Barrett

As bassist, bandleader, and co-producer of Bob Marley & The Wailers, Aston Barrett played a huge role in creating reggae's rhythm and style. In the video above, Jake Hawrylak examines the bass techniques Aston used to set The Wailers apart and help make Marley and the band international sensations.

Aston is known for playing a Fender Jazz Bass with a picking position around where the neck meets the body.

In "Get Up, Stand Up," you can hear two important aspects of Aston's bass playing—how his lines always serve the song's larger arrangement and the laid-back yet propulsive feel that typifies his approach to reggae. In the chorus, he employs a call-and-response line to Marley's vocals, supporting the melody without getting in its way. And in the verse, he plays a triplet figure that's largely behind the beat, but with the "3" landing early to propel the line forward.

Similarly, Aston's eighth-note swing, as heard on "I Shot the Sheriff," centers the rhythm farther in the measure. And in a dominant trick of reggae, it drops the 1 entirely.

Jake uses "Is This Love" to show off Aston's melodic playing—which uses an F#m and a Dm7 arpeggio, as well as a truncated figure to jump into the chorus. But this song also demonstrates the same pulled-back triplets and swung eighth-notes in earlier examples, while "One Drop" gives a name to that signature rhythmic move.

"This song really encapsulates a lot of the things about Aston's style that we covered today. We've got the swung eighth notes—" Jake says as he demonstrates. "That would not sound cool if we played it [straight]. It would sound like a polka band or something."

Of course, Aston leaves out the 1 on each phrase he plays, outlines chords with melodic arpeggios, and maintains the relentless groove throughout the song.

Be sure to watch the whole video above and use our tabs below to learn these techniques before incorporating them into your own style.

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