Bossa Nova

Bossa Nova basics. Concepts for playing Bossa Nova.
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  Bossa Nova Step 1  In the first step you just want to focus on putting the root note of the chord on the downbeats of the bar, 1 and 2. One of the big mistakes that non-Brazilians make when playing Bossa rhythms is that we tend to accent the 1 of each bar, as in funk or rock music, but this is not the desired effect. Instead, focus on playing these two notes, the downbeats, evenly as far as the accents and volume, and at a quiet to normal volume. You want to have these notes there for time keeping, keeping the steady pulse, but in the background, so don’t feel that you have to accent or bring out these notes at all, just have them there for rhythmic support. Also, one of the other things that a lot of players do with Bossa is play an alternating bassline that moves from 1 to 5, the root to the fifth of each chord. You can do this when you feel it fits well with the rhythm and chord progression, but don’t feel that you have to do this on every chord. More often than not Brazilian guitarists will stick to the root for both 1 and 2, and only sometimes move between 1 and 5. The focus will be on the upbeats in steps 4 and 5, as we will see, not the bass movement, so don’t worry about doing it all the time when comping through a Bossa rhythm. Step 2  Now that you have the basic beat down, you can start to add in the chords on top of the bass notes. Start by putting the three chord notes above the bass note on beat one. Again, try to keep the chord even as far as volume with the bass notes, do not accent the first beat of the bar in the bass or with the chord as this kills the forward motion of the Bossa beat. Step 3    In this step you are adding a chord between beats 1 and 2. Though this chord is between the beats, it falls on the & of 1, so it is not a syncopated part of the bar. Because of this, you will again avoid adding an accent on this chord. Just play it at the same volume level and attack as you did on beat 1, and with both bass notes. It is this sense of unity in the volume of these first two chords that will set up the accents in the second half of the bar, bringing them out and really bringing the Bossa rhythm to life. Step 4  With the bass notes and first beat covered, you can now add in the first accented off beat chord. This chord falls on the “e” of the second beat. If you are new to thinking about sixteenth notes, just picture the second beat having 4 sub-beats in that time frame, so 1-2-3-4, and the chord falls on the 2 nd  sub-beat. This is also the first chord that you will accent. For practice purposes you might want to exaggerate a little bit, playing it much louder than the other chords at first. But, eventually you want to make it a subtle difference, just a bit louder and with a slightly more aggressive attack than the chords on the first beat. Give this first off-beat chord a try. Even though we’re still missing a few key parts in the overall rhythm, you can already hear the Bossa beat coming out in this pattern. Step 5  The last step in the process is adding a chord on the last sixteenth note of the second beat. So, if you are thinking of the second beat as having four sub-beats, 1-2-3-4, you now put chords on 2 and 4. Again, this last chord will have an accent when you play it. And, if you can, try making this accent slightly more prominent than the first one, from step 4. The first accented chord kind of leads up to this last chord in the bar, which gets the most attention and strongest accent. Since this note happens right before the next bar, and has the strongest accent of the bar, it starts to resemble a new downbeat when you get it going smoothly over a  number of bars. This is an important function in the Bossa beat, having the strong accent happen a sixteenth note before the next downbeat. So, if you can learn to hear this as normal, compared to the accented one in western music, it’s perfectly normal and will actually help you get the Bossa beat firmly planted in your ears and fingers. You can also try starting the Bossa beat with this last sixteenth note, tying into the first bass note of the first bar. More on this in the next example. Two-Bar Bossa  You can now play the Bossa beat over a two-bar phrase. In this case, you will hold the last chord in the first bar, tying it over to the second chord of the second bar. You don’t play the downbeat in the second bar. Instead, the last chord of bar one becomes the new downbeat, the anticipated downbeat that really gives the Bossa its characteristic feel. Take your time with this exercise since it might take a while to get down perfectly. Keep things relaxed and laidback as much as possible. The worst thing to do with a Bossa is rush things, so focus on playing tight rhythms with smooth transitions and subtle accents in the last two chords of each bar. Switching Chords  This is the hardest part of playing a Brazilian rhythm, switching chords by placing the new chord on the last sixteenth note of the previous bar. This is counter to what you might have learned with other musical styles, so don’t feel frustrated if it takes a little while to master. The goal is to play the chord notes of the next chord on the last sixteenth note of the chord you’re on. In the example I move between C6 and G13, so the G13 chord occurs first on the last sixteenth note of the first bar, followed by the root of the chord on the downbeat of bar two. Then, the chord portion of the C6 chord occurs on the last sixteenth of bar two before the bass note lands on the downbeat of bar  three. Being able to play a convincing Bossa rhythm on the guitar will not only get you sounding more authentic the next time someone calls a Brazilian tune on the bandstand, but it can also be fun and enjoyable to just lay back and groove on this rhythm. I hope you liked this lesson, stay tuned next week where we’ll look at using the Bossa rhythm to build a fun, faster groove called the Samba.
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