Basic Bossa Nova Phrase

The first basic phrase may be constructed by composition of two rhythms: 2 + 3 + 3 aditive rhythm played in chord voice and 2/4 rhythm played in bass voice. The same rhythm combination is repeated in second measure creating 2 + 3 + 3 + 2 + 3 + 3 combination. This polyrhythmic composition results in interleaving of entrainment and polyrhythmic patterns as showed below:

Using Bossa Nova Guitar rhythmic pattern notation introduced in previous section we will label resulting composite rhythmic phrase with symbol 1212.

Perhaps the most known bossa nova song that is based on this phrase is Insensatez by Jobim/de Moraes. The example below was taken from João Gilberto recording from 1961.


This basic phrase can be heard in many other bossa nova songs like O Amor em Paz, Este seu Olhar, Garota de Ipanema, A Felicidade, Samba de Uma Nota So, O Barquinho, Coisa Mais Linda, etc. The melody as sung by João Gilberto fills in missing beats 4 and 8 in 2nd measure which effectively creates syncopation. Throughout the song Gilberto sings on weak beats 4 and 8 in both measures. Resultant syncopation complements the guitar accompaniment that is mostly not syncopated. You may also find that in other interpretations of the same song melody is not syncopated in the same way.

Video Lesson: Insensatez

Video lesson below demonstrates the usage of basic bossa nova phrase. You can watch the rhythmic phrase in the lower half of the screen as it is being played on guitar, as well as the chord diagrams. In this example most chord changes occur on the first beat of the phrase, while at some points they also happen on the first beat of the second measure.

Almost the whole song is played using this phrase with only occasional syncopation towards the end of the song. This creates a syncopated variation of basic phrase that will be discussed in the next lesson.

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