Guitar Comping - Part 2: Basic Bossa Nova

The bossa nova groove is a fundamental jazz groove which can be developed into many sub genres and recognizable grooves. It uses a straight 8th note, so it is the perfect counterpoint to swing playing, which uses a swung 8th note. 

Traditional bossa nova guitar playing is a deep tradition with many characteristic rhythms and techniques. This lesson will focus on one basic rhythm which you can use, in conjunction with shell voicings and expended shell voicings, to get started playing bossa nova. 

We’ll start with the solo guitar pattern, and then remove the bass notes to arrive at the combo rhythm. When playing solo, it is helpful to include the bass part in your fingerpicking pattern. 

In the example above, we are playing the root and fifth of a D chord. Even though the notes are to be held, move your left hand finger from string to string when playing this pattern, avoid holding down both notes at the same time. 

Once this is comfortable at a moderate tempo, Try adding the upper part of the chord on beats one and two. In the example below, we’ll use a D-9 chord voicing. 

Last, we add the off-beat chord on the “and of 3”. This introduces syncopation to the pattern, which is a universal feature in bossa nova and most brazilian styles. Make sure to leave a full beat on count 4, with the chord and bass ringing. Rushing through beat 4 is a common mistake on this basic bossa pattern. 

While many bossa nova charts are written in 4/4, the genre is often (and correctly) notated in 2/4. Below is the same rhythmic pattern, noted in 2/4, using 16th note subdivisions. The three numbers indicate the similarity to the patterns above. The full groove is written in measures 3 and 4. 

Next we have the full pattern, in 2/4 being performed over a series of chords in the key of C major/A minor. Take note of the location of the alternating 5th when the root is on the E string.

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