Bossa Nova Essentials

In this lesson I want to show you three accompaniment patterns that will get you started exploring the wonderful world of bossa nova. This style of music came about in the Brazil of the 1950s and 60s and brings together highly syncopated latin rhythms with the harmonic sophistication of jazz. 

The guitar parts you commonly hear in bossa nova derive from the clave rhythm which is usually played by a percussionist banging two wood blocks together. That goes something like this:

On the guitar we can play this clave-type rhythm with the fingers of the picking hand and combine it with a regular bass note played with the thumb. The important thing here is to master the quite tricky coordination between the thumb and the fingers. The thumb always remains steady playing twice in each bar. The fingers either play together with the thumb or in between the thumb on the off beats.

Below I've written out the rhythms for the patterns I play in the video. I've notated them in 2/4 time which is how the Brazilians like to do it. It's a bit easier to explain and count these rhythms in 4/4 time however, which is what I do in the video. It all sounds the same, so either way is good, as far as I'm concerned. The downward stems are the thumb notes and the upward stems are the fingers. Use any chord you like. If you'r rhythm reading isn't too hot (and let's face it these are quite difficult rhythms to read) you will want to really watch the video closely as I play and count through the patterns. 


Pattern 1

Pattern 2

Pattern 3

Some Further Variations

Once you've got the hang of the first three you might like to give these common variations a go. They're all quite similar to Pattern 3 but with slightly different syncopations in the second bar. When you're playing through a bossa tune you have the option of either sticking to one pattern throughout or mixing and matching the various patterns as you go along. In many bossa tunes I've listened to the guitar will stick largely to one rhythm pattern with a few tasteful variations thrown in at appropriate points such as between vocal phrases and at the end of sections. This is where you'll need to do some listening of your own to get a feel for the style and what works.

As I say in the video, keep things simple to start with working on each pattern slowly using just one chord. Once it's feeling solid try some chord changes, and eventually try playing through entire pieces. 

More Bossa?

Let me know if you've enjoyed this lesson and if you'd like me to develop these ideas a bit further. I could take you through how to play an entire bossa tune perhaps? Tell me what you'd like to see here!