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BOSSA NOVA BASICS

Explore the Cool Sounds of


Brazilian Fingerstyle

By Adam Levy
could call bossa nova a clean, washed sam-
he music that came to be called bossa
ba, without loss of the momentum.”

T nova (literally, “the new thing”) took shape This isn’t to say that bossa nova is merely
whitewashed samba, however. Bossa nova
in Brazil in the mid 1950s. Bossa nova has its own deep, earthy pulse, and while it’s
mellower than its percussion-laden cousin,
grew out of the country’s powerful samba tradition, it is equally persuasive.
The nylon-string acoustic guitar is at the
crossbreeding samba’s heavy, hypnotic groove with heart of bossa nova. For a taste of prime
bossa playing, listen to Getz/Gilberto, the
the breezy, urbane mood of American cool jazz. classic record by American jazz saxophonist
Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist/vocalist
João Gilberto. Other albums—for example,
As the late composer and bossa nova and the music is very hot and wonderful. Gilberto’s 1959 disc, Chega de Saudade—
patriarch Antonio Carlos Jobim explained But bossa nova is cool and contained. It may have been more purely Brazilian, but
in the liner notes to Verve Jazz Masters tells the story, trying to be simple and se- Getz/Gilberto crystallized the bossa nova
13—Antonio Carlos Jobim: “The authentic rious and lyrical. João [Gilberto] and I felt craze in North America. It swept the 1964
Negro samba in Brazil is very primitive. that Brazilian music had been too much Grammy awards, winning best album, best
They use maybe ten percussion instru- of a storm on the sea, and we wanted to jazz performance, best engineering, and
ments and four or five singers. They shout calm it down for the recording studio. You best song for “The Girl from Ipanema.”

J O B I M PH OTO : C H U C K S T E WA RT www.guitarplayer.com NOVEMBER 1999 GUITAR PLAYER 1


RIDING THE WAVE
BOSSA If you want to ride the bossa nova tide into deeper waters, you’ll find The Brazilian Guitar
Book (by Nelson Faria) and The Brazilian Sound ( by Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha)

NOVA particularly helpful. Faria’s book is a thorough treatise on the ins and outs of traditional and
contemporary Brazilian guitar styles. The Brazilian Sound is not an instructional book per se,
but it offers a top-down look at Brazil’s rich musical heritage.

BASICS Of course, as with any style of music, you can’t learn the subtleties of bossa nova from a
book or magazine. To get the feel and rhythms right, you must go to the source—the recordings
of the masters. Just about anything from the ’60s featuring João Gilberto or Luis Bonfá will do.
Throughout the record, Gilberto’s seductive You should also search out recordings by the remarkable Baden Powell and by Sérgio Mendes
guitar provides both primary rhythms and un-
& Brasil ’66 (with guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves). Bola Sete and Laurindo Almeida also made
dulating counter-rhythms.
some fine bossa nova recordings during this period. —AL

Getting Started
Let’s take our first step into the world of bossa
nova guitar by exploring some of Gilberto’s original sensual and swinging version.) accents— they needn’t be excessively strong, but
comping patterns. Ex. 1 is the fundamental bossa There are several key points to consider. First you want a dynamic difference between the first,
rhythm Gilberto used for the intro of “The Girl is bossa’s fingerstyle technique: Pluck the chords unaccented eighth-note and the following two
from Ipanema.” (If “The Girl from Ipanema” con- (the up-stemmed notes) with your index, middle, chordal attacks. By contrast, attack the bass notes
jures images of elevator music or a torpid wed- and ring fingers, and attack the down-stemmed evenly, and let them ring for their full value.
ding band, you’ve probably never heard Gilberto’s bass notes with your thumb. Next, notice the Did you notice Ex. 1’s 2/4 time signature?
In pop- and jazz-oriented fake books, you may
find bossa nova standards such as “The Girl

b
Ex. 1 Ex. 2 from Ipanema” and “Desafinado” rendered in
ö = 60-76
> >
D 6/9
b b D b 9 D b m9
D maj9 D 6/9
4/4, but Brazilians write—and, more important-
ly, feel—this music in 2/4. You can tap into the
b b 2 öö öö öö öö .. b b öö öö b öö b öö
& b b b 4 { ö ö ö ö . ={ b
3 2/4 vibe by gently swaying your body, shifting

======== 1 b b ö
===========
& ö
3
ö bö
4
3
1
4
3
4
3 your weight from left foot to right as you count
ö ö 1
2 ö ö ö
1
2 ö 1
2
1
2
1
2
“One, two, one, two.” If you aren’t moving, you
aren’t grooving.
Also, note that the Db6/9 chord is voiced with
T .. 4
3
4
3
4
3
.. T
4
5
4
3
4
4
4
4
the 5 (Ab) in the bass. While not the rule, in bossa
A 3 3 3 A
B 3 3 3 2 guitar it’s common to have the 5 in the bass on
B
4 4 4 4 4 4 the sixth string. Here’s a tip: When playing a ma-
jor 9th, major 6/9th, dominant 9th, or minor 9th
Ex. 3 chord whose root would occur on the fifth string,
ö = 60-76 b
D 6/9 E 9 b leave the root out of the voicing and instead fret

> > > > > > > > the 5 on the sixth string. Play Ex. 2, and notice

.
how the 5-in-the-bass voicing gives chords a

bbbb 2 öö öö öö öö .. öö öö öö öö öö öö öö öö öö . öö öö öö öö öö more open sound. The separation between the

& b 4 öö ö ö ö . öö ö öö . ö n ö n öö ö öö ö . n öö ö öö ö b=
==================== ö upper part of the chords and their respective
ö J Å bass notes adds to the musical illusion that the
bass and treble parts are played by different
players. (When you’re playing with a bassist, he
T
4 4 4 4 4 4 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 or she will cover the roots.)
A
3 3 3 3 3 3 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6
B
3 3 3 3 3 3 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 4
4 4 4 4 6 6 6 6 Anticipating Ghosts
E m9 b D9 D 6/9 b Ex. 3 shows how Gilberto uses a simple two-
measure rhythmic pattern to work his way
> > > > > > > > though the chord progression in “The Girl from
.
bbb öö öö öö öö . n öö öö öö öö b öö öö öö öö öö .. öö öö öö öö .. Ipanema.” The last sixteenth-note of measures
b
& b öö ö öö ö . # n öö ö öö . ö n ö b öö ö öö ö . öö ö öö ö .=
====================
2, 4, and 6 anticipate the next chord—Eb9,

J Å ()
T
6 6 6 5 5 5 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
A
6 6 6 5 5 5 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
B
4 4 4 4 4 4 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
6 6 5 5 4 4 4 4 www.truefire.com

www.guitarplayer.com NOVEMBER 1999 GUITAR PLAYER 7 5


The up-side/down-side concept is not a have this passage up to speed, make up your
hard-and-fast rule, but you’ll hear it in many own combinations, and try them out with this

BOSSA bossa nova songs. In any case, the two-bar pat-


terns are rarely repeated verbatim for very long.
Instead, rhythmic accents shift and change to
tune, other bossa classics, or with your bossa
nova songs. g

NOVA
compliment a song’s melody and mood, or—as
in the many collaborations between bossa nova
and jazz musicians—to compliment the soloist.
Yet bossa guitarists will sometimes repeat a

BASICS one-measure rhythm to keep the music static


for a while. Ex. 1 is the kind of a one-measure
phrase you can loop this way. To hear the dif-
Ebm9, and Db6/9, respectively. Play this antic- ference between one- and two-measure patterns,
ipation very lightly. In fact, many bossa nova first play Ex. 3 as written, then repeat the chords,
guitarists play these anticipated chords as pitch- but play them using Ex. 1’s one-measure rhythm.
less ghosts, using the chording hand to mute
the strings briefly by lifting the fingers ever-so- Play It Again, João
slightly off the strings. Ex. 6 brings us back to “The Girl from
Again, pay attention to the accents, and strive Ipanema.” But this time, instead of copying
to keep the bass notes smooth and even. Resist Gilberto’s rhythms, we’ll play a composite of
the temptation to play syncopated bass lines several patterns we’ve tried thus far. Once you
or couple the bass line to all the chords. To nail
the bossa style, you’ve got to keep a steady quar-
ter-note pulse on the bottom.

Two Sides to Every Story


Jobim also played guitar, but his style was
a little different from Gilberto’s. Ex. 4 is a sam-
ple of Jobim’s comping from the introduction
to “Vivo Sonhando” (from his album, The
Composer of Desafinado Plays). This example
illustrates an important bossa nova concept:
Each two-bar rhythm pattern usually has a
“down” side and an “up” side. The down side
relies on eighth-notes, which are not consid-
ered syncopations in bossa nova. By contrast,
off-beat sixteenths—or upbeats—are felt as
syncopations. Ex. 4
Another example of this two-bar up/down
ö #
> > > >
feel can be heard in Gilberto’s comping on “Do- = 60-76 F maj7 Bm9
ralice,” again from Getz/Gilberto. The song was
#### # 2 ö ö ö . ö ö ö ö ö ö . ö ö ö . ö ö ö ö ö ö .
& # 4 öö öö öö .. öö öö öö öö öö öö .. nn öö öö öö .. öö nn öö öö öö öö öö=
..
recorded at a brighter tempo than typical bossa
====================
2 3
4 2
novas, so play the lively Ex. 5 accordingly.
ö ö ö ö ö ö ö ö
3
This four-bar progression also introduces 1 1
the concept of moving voices within a chord.
For example, in the opening measure, Dmaj7 ’s 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
T 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
top note (C#) drops down to B, changing the A
B
3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
chord to a D6. For the E13 chord, B returns to
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
C#, and then chromatically works its way down
to B again (via E7b13 and A9). This kind of inner-
voice motion adds harmonic sophistication to Ex. 5
an otherwise simple progression. Note that 7 ö = 72-90 Dmaj7 D6 E13 b
E7 13 A9 b
A7 9 Dmaj7 D6
> > > >
## 2 ö ö ö ö ö ö ö n ö ö ö . ö >ö b öö öö ö ö ö ö ö ö .
shifting to 6 is a characteristic bossa move, as
is 6-7, 6-5, or 5-6. The motion can be direct or

& 4 öö ö Jöö . ö # öö öö # öö öö öö öö .. (n)ööö öö öö ö ö öö ö ö öö ö . =


chromatic (7-b7-6).
====================
1 3 1
1 1 2
1 1 1
Å ö
4

ö 2

T
2 2 0 0 2 2 1 1 0 0 2 2 2 2 0 0
A
2 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 0 0 3 3 2 2 2 2
0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 5 5 0 0
www.truefire.com B
0 0
0 0

PH OTO : C O R B I S / B E T M A N N - U P I
7 6 GUITAR PLAYER NOVEMBER 1999 www.guitarplayer.com
BOSSA
NOVA b Eb9 E b m9
Ex. 6

BASICS ö

b
= 60-76
>
D 6/9
> > > >
.
> >
bbb 2 öö öö öö öö öö öö öö .. öö öö öö öö öö öö . öö öö öö öö öö
& b 4 öö ö öö ö ö öö ö . öö ö n öö ö öö ö . n öö ö öö ö b=
==================== ö

T
4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6
A
3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6
B
3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 4
4 4 4 4 6 6 6 6
Db 6/9
> > > > >
D9

bb b öö öö öö öö öö n öö öö öö öö .. ( b)öö öö öö öö öö öö b öö öö öö ..
& b b öö ö ö öö ö # ö ö ö ö . ( n ) ö ö ö ö ö ö n ö ö ö =
==================== .
nö ö ( b) ö ö ö ö
T
6 6 6 6 6 5 5 5 5 4 4 4 4 4 4
A
6 6 6 6 6 5 5 5 5 3 3 3 3 3 3
4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 3 3 3 3 3 3
www.truefire.com B
6 6 5 5 4 4 4 4

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