Basic Bossa Nova Phrases Summary

In this section we described basic bossa nova rhythmic phrases as a polyrhythmic composition of additive rhythms in the form of 3(2) + 3(2) + ... + 3(2) and simple 2/4 divisive rhythm. As total number of beats in typical samba phrase is always 16, there can only be a limited number of combinations of ternary and binary beat groups within a single phrase. It's easy to calculate that it's only possible to have exactly 2 or 4 ternary beat groups within a phrase.

Phrases With 2 Ternary Beat Groups

Second and fourth (Partido Alto) phrase contain 2 ternary groups. The second phrase finishes with ternary group (position 7), while in Partido Alto second ternary group is placed on position 5 (or 6 in the variation). In both phrases first ternary group is on position 2 (or 3 in second phrase variation). That makes them quite similar and they can sometimes be used interchangeably. For easier comparison we'll summarize all basic phrases with 2 ternary beat groups we have described so far:

2 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 (1332)
2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 (1432)
2 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2 (1321)
2 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2 (1331)

It can also be seen that the more distant ternary groups are in the phrase the more syncopated the phrase feels. Because of it's odd number of beats the first ternary group effectively starts the syncopation, causing all subsequent played beats from binary groups to fall on the weak beats, until second ternary group resolves the syncopation by returning following binary group beats back to strong beats.

Phrases With 4 Ternary Beat Groups

First and third basic phrase contain 4 ternary groups. They are usually arranged in such a way that both halves of the phrase contain exactly 2 ternary groups. This limits the number of possible arrangements within each half of the phrase to just three: 2+3+3 (12), 3+2+3 (42). 3+3+2 (41). Accordingly, the number of pattern combinations in this phrase variant is quite limited. Phrases of this type that regularly appear in bossa nova songs are:

2 + 3 + 3 + 2 + 3 + 3 (1212)
3 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 3 (4112)
3 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 3 + 3 (4212)

As with the former phrase group, these phrases sound alike and as it was mentioned earlier in this section they are sometimes used interchangeably within a song, examples from this site include Desafinado, A Felicidade, Este Seu Olhar, Aos Pes da Cruz, as well as many others that we have not included here.

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