The bossa nova style is a combination of soft samba (with less percussion) and American jazz, with a focus on melody, romance, and beach culture. Perhaps one of the most famous bossa nova composers (sometimes referred to as the "father of bossa nova") is the Brazilian pianist and guitarist Antonio Carlos Jobim. Jobim composed some of the most popular bossa novas, including "Girl from Ipanema," "Wave," and "Desafinado." In this article we'll be taking a look at the bossa nova style at the piano using our Standards by the Dozen lesson featuring "Desafinado."

The Bossa Nova Bass Line Rhythms

Bossa novas are usually mid-tempo pieces in 4/4 meter and feature elements of Brazilian music (such as the instrumentation and Portuguese lyrics) and American cool jazz (such as sparse, light comping and percussion). Probably the most important element of playing bossa novas at the piano centers around the bass line, which is played in the left hand. The bossa nova bass line generally features a repetitive rhythmic figure (also referred to as an ostinato) based on the dotted quarter note rhythm. Look at the bossa bass line below. Each measure is the same in terms of its rhythmic placement: beat 1, the "and" of beat 2, beat 3, the "and" of beat 4.

The Bossa Nova Bass Line Notes

The next most important thing to notice are the incredibly simple harmonic tones which construct the bass line - the entire 4-measure phrase above consists entirely of the root and the 5th of each chord. Notice that on beat 1 of each measure we play the root of the chord. On the "and" of beat 2 in each measure we play the 5th of the chord. On beat 3 of each measure we re-play the 5th of the chord (also notice that it does not matter whether you go from the root up to the 5th or from the root down to the 5th - this is a matter of preference).


An interesting thing happens on the "and" of beat 4 in each measure. Here we play what is referred to as an anticipation. An anticipation does exactly what it sounds like - it treats the "and" of beat 4 as if we're getting to the next chord (and therefore the next measure) a half-beat early. This gives the sense of syncopation and surprise (i.e., anticipation) to the sound of the arrival of the next chord. Notice that for each of the chords below the note played on beat 4 has nothing to do with the chord indicated in that measure, but rather is the root of the chord in the next measure.

So let's break this down into a nice easy formula for building our own bossa nova bass lines:

First, use the rhythm indicated in the example above which uses dotted quarter notes and 8th notes;

Second, find the root and 5th of each chord. Start with the root on beat 1, the 5th on the "and" of beat 2, the 5th again on beat 3, and;

Third, be ready to anticipate chord changes on the "and" of beat 4.

Putting It All Together

This bass line will work whether you're using your right hand for comping or - as demonstrated in our Standards by the Dozen lesson featuring Jobim's "Desafinado" - playing the melody in the right hand as featured below. It takes a lot of practice to be able to maintain the bass line while playing the melody over it, so be sure to break down your rhythmic understanding and practice slowly!

In this article we'll be taking a look at three must-have latin piano grooves. The great thing about these latin piano grooves is that they're fairly easy and illustrate quite nicely how much music you can make using simple chord structures and some syncopated rhythms. If you like latin piano grooves and want even more great examples, complete with detailed instruction and demonstration, be sure to check out our great lesson Quick Latin Grooves! Be sure to practice these grooves with your metronome to really perfect the syncopated, rhythmic sense of time.

Latin Piano Grooves: The "ii - V" Groove

This is perhaps the most basic and one of the most common latin piano grooves. If you like listening to or playing latin music you're destined to encounter this groove at some point. What makes it so common? Well, it's a simple groove so it's something that can be learned quickly. It's also effective because it works over a "ii - V" progression, which is one of the most common progressions in all styles of music.

Let's plug in a couple chords and get started. We're going to play this latin groove in the key of Bb major, so for the "ii" chord we'll use a C minor 7th chord, and for the "V7" chord we'll use an F7 chord.

Latin Piano Grooves 1

Look at how basic and simple the bass line is - moving from 'C' up to 'F' and up to 'C," and then back down. Notice also that this groove emphasizes the upbeats (what we call the "ands" of each beat when counting "one and two and three and four and").

Latin Piano Grooves: Minor (i - V/V - V)

This groove is much more challenging than the "ii-V" groove above, so be sure to work hands separately before putting hands together. It also sounds really great at a faster tempo, so start slowly and gradually increase your speed.

Latin Piano Grooves 2

This groove is based in C minor. It's basically a "i-ii-V" progression except that the "ii" chord is not minor - it's dominant. Where does that D7 chord come from? It's what we call a secondary dominant, and we refer to it as a "five of five." The terms "secondary dominant" and "five of five" (or V/V) mean that the D7 is the 'V' chord of the G7. The D7 chord is outside of the key (C minor) but resolves to the G7 (which is inside the key).

Latin Piano Grooves (BONUS): Another (Famous) "ii - V" Groove

I'm guessing that most of you have heard of this one before, but if you haven't it's absolutely a must-know "ii-V" latin groove. Perhaps one of the most famous "ii-V" grooves of all-time - "Oye Como Va" by Santana. It's pretty easy, alternating back and forth for the whole tune between A minor 7 and D7.

Latin Piano Grooves 3

Notice again that this groove stresses the upbeats (or off-beats, as they're sometimes called). Learn this groove and then practice playing along with the original recording to really master the vibe and feel. (Hint: the original groove is played on organ).

Bossa nova piano playing is but one of many different styles that we piano players need to practice - but what a fun and challenging style of piano it is! Bossa nova is a style of Brazilian music and (in the jazz world) is often characterized under the catch-all label of "latin jazz." The most distinctive aspect of bossa nova piano playing is the rhythm, which makes it an excellent topic for studying comping. And that's what we'll be looking at in this article - bossa nova piano comping using the classic tune "Girl from Ipanema."

Bossa Nova Piano - The Left-Hand Rhythm

The whole trick to mastering the bossa nova is being able to play the rhythm. When broken down to individual parts the rhythm is fairly simple. The challenge is trying to layer these two rhythms (left hand and right hand) over each other.

Let's take a look at the first 8 bars of "Girl From Ipanema."

bossa nova piano 1

The bass line will be played by the left hand and follows some very basic "rules":

  1. The bass line is a simple and recurring rhythmic figure;
  2. The bass line is built on the root and 5th of the chord;
  3. The bass line anticipates chord changes (more on this in a moment).

Let's take a look at the left hand bass line and rhythm and examine the 3 "rules" above.

bossa nova piano 2

As you can see, the rhythm of the bass line is a dotted-quarter note followed by an eighth note. Each chord is outlined by playing the root of the chord and then down to the 5th of the chord (you can also play up to the 5th of the chord). Notice that when the chord changes, the last eighth note of the previous measure anticipates that change. For example, in measure 2 the last note of the bass line is a 'G' even though the chord above is still F major. But the bass line anticipates this chord change.

Practice this bass line rhythm slowly with your metronome.

Bossa Nova Piano - The Right-Hand Rhythm

The right-hand part has its own distinct rhythm. In the example below we've used rootless voicings in each of our chords. Notice that the right-hand rhythm is a 2-bar phrase that repeats over and over. Practice this comping rhythm slowly with your metronome, being as precise as possible with your rhythmic placement. It will be very important to have each part (right hand and left hand) fully learned before trying to put hands together.

bossa nova piano 3

Bossa Nova Piano - Playing Hands Together

Now comes the challenging part - putting hands together. The trick here is to start slowly, perhaps even just focusing on two measures at a time. Be very careful to count and play the rhythms precisely. As you improve start to gradually increase the tempo, using your metronome. Notice the interlocking aspect of the two parts, creating a rhythmically dense texture. This is the hallmark of the bossa nova rhythm. Go through the rest of the tune, applying this comping pattern to the other chords. Once learned, practice comping along with a recording.

bossa nova piano 4

One of the hallmarks of latin music is the latin piano breakdown. You know, that section where the band drops out and the piano player is playing some killer rhythmic groove all alone for a few bars before the band re-enters? I remember always loving those piano moments in latin music (in fact, one of my all-time favorite latin piano grooves to this day can be found at the 2:28-2:44 mark of this latin pop hit). Sometimes referred to as a piano montuno, these grooves usually consist of a repetitive rhythmic figure or theme and generally found in Latin or Afro-Cuban music. The piano montuno is a sort of syncopated comping pattern that outline a chord or chords within a piece of music. Oftentimes, the chords themselves are quite simple - it's the rhythm and syncopation that is often challenging. But these grooves are fun to play specifically because they are so rhythmic, and for that reason practicing them can really help us, as pianists, work on our rhythmic feel and precision. In this article I'll teach you a killin' (yet simple) latin piano groove in 3 steps that uses only three chords. This simple little groove can be used as a comping pattern to build energy and excitement - and I'll even show you a simply way to keep building that excitement as you play the groove.

Step 1: Learn a C minor, Ab major, and G major triad.

That's right, just three simple little chords. Practice playing them in both hands and arpeggiate the notes of the chords (that means be able to play the notes of each chord one note at a time in ascending and descending order). Also make sure to use a fingering that allows you to play the notes of the chords smoothly. Then, practice transitioning from one chord to the next in time.

Latin Piano Groove 1

Step 2: Learn a rhythmic syncopation for these arpeggios.

The rhythmic aspect of the latin piano grooves can oftentimes be the trickiest part of mastering them. It's important to start slowly, practice counting and subdividing, and work with your metronome. Below I've notated the rhythmic figure with the subdivisions written in the middle of the staff to help you with your counting. Practice playing the arpeggios with this rhythmic figure in both hands simultaneously. Start slowly and gradually work to increase your speed.

Latin Piano Groove 2

Step 3: Outline the chords in the right hand in a different inversion.

What do I mean by "inversion"? Simply change the order of the notes in the arpeggio. For instance, in the C minor measure (bar 1), instead of playing 'C-Eb-G-C' you will play 'Eb-G-C-Eb.' Continue to play the left hand as written.

Latin Piano Groove 3

Once you've played and mastered the above latin piano groove, here's a tip for how to give the groove a little boost of energy after you've played it a few times. Simply move the arpeggios (in both hands) up another inversion, and then another inversion. Notice that every time the chords are moved up to the next inversion it gives the groove a slight kick of excitement.

Latin Piano Groove 4

Are you a big fan of latin piano grooves? Wanna learn some more of these classic latin piano grooves, complete with sheet music, videos, and step-by-step instruction? Well you're in luck because we have a great Quick Latin Grooves lesson for you to check out!