Bossa Nova is a Brazilian style of music that mixes the Brazilian samba rhythms with the North American jazz music.
In the late 1950s, the Bossa Nova movement was led by guitarist/vocalist João Gilberto and composer Antônio Carlos Jobim. Borrowed from samba music, they brought their unique sense, style and innovations to ballad forms. Bossa Nova did not replace the traditional samba, neither it intended to but offered an alternative to it.
Bossa Nova altered several stylistic parameters, seeking dynamic integration of melody, harmony and rhythm while de-emphasizing the vocalist as the center of attention. Instead of the traditional binary samba beat, diversified rhythm was used, and standard drum set became the norm. Rhythmic foundations set by drums and bass were complemented by rhythmic plucking of acoustic guitar chords.
Bossa Nova introduced new patterns of harmony in chord progressions, frequently using the rhythmic chords associated with jazz. Melodic lines were often sparse and understated vocal delivery became a major characteristic. This approach contrasted sharply with the emphatic style of the samba-canção.
Many of these new traits resembled those of the “cool jazz” of the West Coast of the United States, which many young Brazilian musicians admired at that time. Bossa Nova became a unique genre and a permanent part of the jazz repertory.
Bossa Nova Artists To Hear
To understand the Bossa Nova style in more depth, we suggest you listen to composers and artists like:
João Gilberto was obsessed with finding new ways of playing the guitar. He took rhythms from the Brazilian samba and applied it to his guitar style to influence the unique sound of Bossa Nova. This style is most commonly played with a nylon string guitar and finger pluck. It´s the combination of the bass string with samba rhythms in various patterns.
Bossa Nova Exercise for Beginners
We will be playing a very simple and basic Bossa Nova chord progression:
ll Cmaj7 l Am7 l Dm7 l G7 ll
Hear the audio sample of the beginner exercise:
Please note: Below in the Cmaj7 chord, the rhythm remains constant through out the progression with the bass on the 5th string.
In Bossa Nova, the rhythms are always interacting with each other.
For this exercise, while you play the bass with your thumb, the chords are played with your index, middle and ring finger on the 3rd, 2nd and the 1st strings.
I suggest, before you try putting these rhythms together, practice the bass notes and chords separately . You can also split the bar in two sections and practice the 1st half bar to start with and when you have mastered that you can practice the 2nd half.
Here below are the detailed rhythms to Am7, Dm7 and G7 chords:
Please note: While the bass is on different strings, the chords are played on the same strings by the right hand through out the progression. Play the bars twice.
Bossa Nova Chord Progression Lesson
In the video lesson, I will show a common Bossa Nova pattern.
Here is the chord progression:
ll Cmaj9 l Am11 l Dm9 l G13 ll
The chords are coloured with 9th, 11th and 13th tones which is common in Bossa Nova style.
Play the rhythm pattern to the Cmaj9 chord
While you play the bass with your thumb switching between 5th and 6th string, the chord tones are played with your index, middle and ring finger on the 4th, 3rd and the 2nd string. On the 4th beat it´s a hit on the strings to get a rhythmic effect.
If you are having difficulties playing the rhythm together, I suggest, you practice the bass and the chords separately before putting them together. Split the bar in two pieces and practice the 1st half bar and when you master that you can practice the 2nd half before you putting them together.
Here are the detailed rhythm pattern to the Am11, Dm9 and the G13 chords:
Please note: The bass notes differs with these chords otherwise it´s the same fingering and strings in the right hand as to the Cmaj9 chord. Play the bars twice.
Download the complete beginner exercise and chord progression lesson in PDF:
Thomas Berglund is a musician that has played in many different styles through the years. He also works as a guitar teacher and has a YouTube channel where he regularly shares guitar lessons, music releases and concert videos.