How to play Bossa Nova rhythms on guitar

Last updated on March 22nd, 2024

Bossa Nova is a musical genre originating from Brazil which features the guitar as the main accompaniment. This mellow and beautiful style uses syncopated rhythms with a fingerpicking style of playing.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how to play Bossa Nova rhythms on guitar starting with basic patterns on one chord to more advanced patterns over a chord progression. The examples include guitar tabs and audio to guide you along the way.

Grab your guitar and let’s get started!

1. Basic rhythm over one chord

A typical characteristic in Bossa Nova patterns is that the bass notes land on beats 1 and 3 while the upper notes of the chord change. You will also see this in the following examples.

The numbers next to the notes on the top staff indicate which fingers to use on your fretting hand. If needed, see how to read guitar notation symbols.

Basic bossa nova rhythm over one chord
bossa nova pattern 1

2. Basic rhythm with alternating bass

This pattern is the same as the previous except the bass note alternates to the 5th of chord on beat 3. You’ll see how we also apply this to other chords in later examples.

Basic bossa nova rhythm with alternating bass

3. Alternating rhythm: adding syncopation

Here is a variation of the previous example with some added rhythms.

Alternating bossa nova rhythm - adding syncopation
bossa nova pattern 3

4. Rhythm variation: chord on upbeats

This particular Bossa Nova pattern places all of the upper notes of the chord in the upbeats.

Bossa nova rhythm variation - chord on upbeats
bossa nova pattern 4

5. Adding more rhythm (variation)

We can also add more repeated 8th note rhythms like in the example below.

Bossa nova pattern - Adding more rhythm (variation)
bossa nova pattern 5

Bossa Nova guitar chords

Here are the Bossa Nova chords that we’ll use for the following examples. These chords may also be labeled as jazz chords because most of them include chord tone extensions beyond the 7th chord structure. Try them one at a time until you feel comfortable switching between them.

Bossa Nova guitar chords

To learn more variations of chords with extensions, see this guide on jazz chords.

6. Rhythms with a chord progression

For the chords that start on the 6th string, we’ll repeat the bass note instead of alternating with another note.

Bossa nova rhythms with a chord progression
bossa nova pattern 6

7. Progression with chord variations (mixed rhythms)

This last example shows how you can mix up all the different rhythms while still switching between chords.

Bossa nova guitar pattern with mixed rhythms
bossa nova pattern 7

Wrapping Up

We covered how to play basic to more advanced Bossa Nova patterns over a single chord and over a series of chords. Once you understand and get a rhythm pattern down, you can apply it over any chord or progression.

Remember that when playing chords starting on the 5th string, you can also alternate with other bass notes on the 6th string. On the other hand, you can simply repeat the same note when you’re playing chords that start on the 6th string.

If you’re interested in learning other types of strumming, check out how to play 12 easy strumming patterns or Travis picking patterns on guitar.

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All the best,
JG Music Lessons

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