How to Play Bossa Nova Guitar

When I played my first gig in Brazil back in 2010, I thought I knew how to play a cool-sounding bossa groove

I had used my ears and just kind of “picked up” bossa grooves over the years but had never really studied an authentic Brazilian rhythm pattern

All that would change after that first gig. 

Though my soloing went well, and the chords I used sounded good, I knew right away that my rhythms weren’t right, something was off when I comped. 

After talking to my Brazilian friends and studying with world-class Brazilian guitarists in Brazil and the US, I quickly learned what I was missing in my comping. 

I broke down every rhythm I learned, worked out small, easy to play exercises, then built it all back up to play the full grooves my friends were showing me. 

In doing so, I now only learned how to play authentic bossa and samba patterns, I learned how to quickly teach those patterns to any guitarist of any skill level. 

This is the technique I use with the bossa rhythm I teach you in this lesson

Here, you learn how to play an authentic bossa nova rhythm by working small steps that add up to the full rhythm along the way.

Because bossa nova is new and difficult for many players, working on small chunks that lead to the full rhythm is the best way to go. 

Take your time with each exercise in this lesson, use a metronome, count out loud, and have fun learning to play an authentic bossa nova rhythm on guitar.

Bossa Nova Guitar Pattern 1

To begin your bossa nova guitar work out, you play the chord and bass on beat 1 and the bass note on beat 3 of each bar. 

Though this seems like an easy exercise, it’s the foundation of every step going forward in this lesson. 

Because of this, take your time, use a metronome, and work this rhythm until you can play it on auto pilot. 

Doing so builds your strong bossa foundation and makes every addition to this groove much easier going forward.

Bossa Nova Guitar Pattern 2

In this next step, you play the top notes of the chord only, no bass notes, on beat 2 of each bar. 

When doing so, you complete the “down beat” portion of the groove, as the next two chords you add land on the &’s of those beats. 

Remember to keep all these bass notes and chords at a low volume so that it’s easier to add in the accents when ready. 

Bossa Nova Guitar Pattern 3

Here, you add in the syncopated rhythm on the & of 3 in each bar as you build up to playing the full bossa nova groove on guitar. 

Make sure to go slow, use a metronome, count along, and focus on playing with a relaxed Brazilian feel with this rhythm. 

At this point, you can take this rhythm and use it over any Brazilian song you play, without adding in the final chord in the next section. 

This “almost finished” version of the groove is a common variation used by Gilberto Gil and others in their bossa guitar playing. 

So, keep this version of the groove in your back pocket and feel free to use it on its own in your comping

Have fun working on this next step, and fun variation, of the bossa nova comping pattern.

Bossa Nova Guitar Pattern 4

To finish the full bossa nova guitar rhythm, you add the anticipated chord on the & of beat 4 in each bar. 

As I mentioned in the video, this is the hardest part about learning any bossa nova groove, because you have to anticipate the next chord by half a beat. 

This means that the chord you play on the & of beat 4 in bar 1 is the chord from bar 2. 

Look for and pay close attention to those anticipated chords with this full rhythm, as that’s the biggest sticking point for any guitarist with this groove.

Count out loud, use a metronome, and build up to the full pattern over the backing track when ready.

Bossa Nova Creative Challenge

You’re now ready to test the bossa nova skills you’ve learned in this lesson to comp over a Bb blues progression

Here are tips on how to practice and get the most out of this challenge. 

- Play the root notes on the 5th and 6th strings only for each chord. 

- Add chords on beat 1, on top off root note, for each bar. 

- Use any 7th chord shapes you know and are comfortable with. 

- Add chords only, no bass note, on beat 2 of each bar. 

- Add chords on the & of 3 in each bar. 

- Add chords on the & of 4, anticipating next bar, in each measure. 

- Play the entire bossa guitar groove over the backing track. 

Ok, time to play!

Go slow, use a metronome, work up the rhythms and then get them onto the backing track when ready. 

Backing Track Bb Blues