Recently, I discussed how you can start feeling the basics of Brazilian rhythm to help you in learning the many incredible styles of Brazilian guitar from Samba to Bossa Nova.
Today, let’s dive into the style that many people think of when they think of Brazilian guitar: Bossa Nova.
Bossa Nova is an extension of the Samba rhythms that came before it.
It usually has a more relaxed and laid-back feel than Samba.
Bossa Nova usually extends across two 2/4 measures. Slight variations between the two measures create the characteristic syncopation and “bounce” of Bossa Nova.
The Basic Bossa Nova
The key here when learning Bossa Nova is to simplify the chords you’re playing so you can cultivate the characteristic feel of Bossa Nova. Until you get the feel internalized, you’ll be effectively lost, and no amount of chord changes or jazz chords will save you.
So, when you’re starting out with Bossa Nova, just work these rhythms patiently while holding on a single simple chord–say, a C major 7, which is just like the C major in 1st position that you already know and love but with the index finger lifted up off of the 2nd string. So your ring finger is at the 3rd fret of the 5th string, your middle finger is on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, and the 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings are open.
Bossa Nova relies on the division of your picking hand into two parts–the thumb is the first part and your index, middle and ring fingers are bunched together as the second part.
This means you’re either playing your thumb (P) or your other fingers (IMA).
Here is the most basic Bossa Nova rhythm. Let’s clap it out to get the feel for it first. Clap only the parts of the rhythm that are not inside parentheses:
1 (e) & (ah) 2 e (& ah)
Right there, you have the kernel that leads to all kinds of Bossa Nova variations.
Now let’s head over to the guitar.
To start building a feel for this basic Bossa Nova rhythm on the guitar, just play the thumb for the 1 and 2. Play the IMA finger block for the & of 1 and the ‘e’ of 2.
That looks like this:
…..1 (e) & (ah) 2 e (&)(ah)
So, to get started feeling the Bossa Nova basic rhythm on the guitar, you start right here with a simple chord and work on feeling the clear difference between playing 1 (e) AND (ah) vs. 2 E (and ah). That difference is quite subtle until you really notice the difference, at which point you’ll start to sense the incredible complexity concealed within even this simplest rhythmic variation.
Once you can feel the difference, try changing chords. First, change after you’ve completed that entire rhythmic sequence. Try going from the C major 7 you’re already playing to another simple chord, like G major.
Once you can change from chord to chord after a full measure, you can start exploring what it feels like to have two chords per measure. Start the 1st beat with a C major 7 chord, and change to your G major on the 2nd beat.
From here, it’s a simple process of expanding your ability to play more complex jazz chords while maintaining the same rhythmic feel that bounces through this slight variation.
Stay tuned as we start to extend this basic Bossa Nova pattern to reveal additional variations that further fill out the characteristic Bossa Nova sound!