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 post, 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.
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.
3. Alternating rhythm: adding syncopation
Here is a variation of the previous example with some added rhythms.
4. Rhythm variation: chord on upbeats
This particular Bossa Nova pattern places all of the upper notes of the chord in the upbeats.
5. Adding more rhythm (variation)
We can also add more repeated 8th note rhythms like in the example below.
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.
To learn more variations of chords with extensions, see this post 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.
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.
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.
All the best,
JG Music Lessons