Bossa Nova Guitar Chords – A Beginners Guide

Learning Bossa Nova guitar chords is a fun way to introduce yourself to Jazz and Brazilian music – Let’s explore!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • An amazing Bossa Nova tune
  • The importance of playing with your fingers
  • The Bossa Nova rhythm pattern
  • Why it’s important to listen to the other instruments!

Bossa Nova Guitar Chords Are Easy To Learn!

When you hear Bossa Nova music for the first time, you may quickly jump to thoughts of wine, expensive cheeses, Great Gatsby theme parties and fancy outfits.

You wouldn’t be wrong – however there’s much more to it than that.

  • Welcome to the Jazz world’s most laid-back offering – a genre rooted in Brazilian grooves that encourages complexity wherever possible.
  • Bossa Nova music is a wide-open sea of opportunity for improvisation and experimentation with different chords and scale – but before we can get to any of that we need to learn the fundamentals.

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In this free guide, you’re going to learn an essential list of Bossa Nova guitar chords as well as the most iconic rhythm of the genre.

By the end of this lesson, you should have a firm understanding of the sound, rhythm and chords that make up Bossa Nova music, as well as how to play the basic fundamentals.

If you’ve never played this style of music before and you’re here out of curiosity, that’s okay!

  • We’re going to guide you from the first steps to make sure you don’t miss anything.
  • Grab your guitar and let’s get swingin’!

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Learn The Bossa Nova Rhythm

Before we get started learning Bossa Nova guitar chords, we need to know how they should be played.

This rhythm is very specific to this genre, and it’s the easiest way to identify a Bossa Nova song.

  • In this style of music, we count in 8th notes (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &).
  • When we play Bossa Nova guitar chords, there is a distinctive placement of beats that drives the rhythm along.

You’ll want to separate the way you look at your guitar into bass and treble sections to make the next segment easier:

Bass Strings: E, A, D

Treble Strings: G, B E

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We separate the strings this way because it gives us a better perspective on the instrument.

The Bossa Nova guitar chords and rhythm that you will learn today make specific uses of both sections of the guitar equally.

With that in mind, we’ve illustrated the basic rhythm for you below, showing where to play the bass note of a chord and where to play the full chord across two bars of music.

Pro Tip: Count this section slowly and really work out where each bass note and chord placement lies.

  • Once you’ve mastered this pattern, your brain certainly won’t forget it.
  • Before you start learning specific Bossa Nova guitar chords, you can play this rhythm using any of the chords that you already know!

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Understanding Seventh Chords

One of the big staples of Bossa Nova music (and Jazz in general) is seventh chords.

These chords differ from our standard major and minor chords because they possess four notes instead of the typical three we may be used to seeing.

Can you guess which note of the major scale gets added into the mix of these chords?

That’s right – the seventh.

  • Once you start learning seventh chords, you’ll find that you can swap them out virtually anywhere in place of your standard major and minor chords.
  • The additional note adds a lot of beauty and depth that we don’t find in more common chord shapes.

bossa-nova-guitar-chords

Seventh chords are fantastic for use in any style of music, but they lend themselves especially well as Bossa Nova guitar chords. Seventh chords are made of the following scale degrees:

I – III – V – VII

The III and VII can be changed depending upon what type of chord we are playing (which we will explain below), but be mindful that the I and V will always remain the same in any of the chords we visit in this Bossa Nova guitar chords lesson.

Let’s start with major 7th chords below!

bossa-nova-guitar-chords

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

Bossa Nova Guitar Chords: Major 7th Chords

Bright and colourful sounding, major 7th chords make up a big part of our Bossa Nova guitar chord vocabulary.

The major 7 chord is made up of the I, the major III, the V and the VII.

  • These four notes form a chord that can be played on any string set.
  • For this lesson, we’re just going to focus on Bossa Nova guitar chords that are rooted on either the A or E string.
  • These strings give us more room to emphasize the bass notes.

Try on a few major 7th chords below:

C Major 7

A Major 7

F Major 7

Pro Tip: Practice alternating between playing the bass note and the full chord.

  • This will give you a better idea of what these Bossa Nova guitar chords will sound in context when we get to playing through longer ideas later on in this lesson.
  • Play any of these chords against their common major counterparts to hear the difference in sound.
  • This is an important step in ear training, which everyone should do! Ear training allows us to distinguish different keys, notes, scales and chords from one another.
  • It also helps us hear patterns more easily in the songs we are learning.
  • Never discount the power of your ears!

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Bossa Nova Guitar Chords: Minor 7th Chords

The darker and moodier cousin of the major 7th chord, minor 7th chords (m7) have their own distinct voice.

Made up of the I – bIII (minor 3rd) – V & bVIII (minor 7th), this brooding combination of notes is a great addition to our vocabulary of Bossa Nova guitar chords.

Many Bossa Nova tunes (more commonly known as Bossas) take place in a minor key, which means you’ll be relying on minor 7th chords quite a bit in this style of music.

Try out a few of these minor 7 chords below!

A Minor 7

B Minor 7

C Minor 7

Once we’ve mastered the rest of these chords, we’ll look at Blue Bossa – a Jazz standard that has been played and reinvented hundreds of times.

  • This song will make use of most of the Bossa Nova guitar chords we learn in this lesson, but it’s a good idea to hear it first.
  • Have a listen to Dexter Gordon’s rendition of Blue Bossa here, and check out some more minor 7 chords below!

D Minor 7

E Minor 7

Bossa Nova Guitar Chords: Dominant 7 Chords

Dominant 7s are our third variation on seventh chords for this Bossa Nova guitar chords lesson.

These chords are made from the I – III – V & bVII scale degrees, and they bear a distinguished sound that separates them from major and minor seventh chords.

Dominant seven chords have a certain neutral tone within them because of the clash between the major 3rd and the minor 7 notes. These notes neutralize one another, giving this chord a very unique sound.

Check out these dominant seven chords below!

C7 

G7 

A7

Pro Tip: Now that we’ve learned three basic types of Bossa Nova guitar chords, it’s a good time to take a reading break to practice.

  • We’ve included a mock Bossa Nova chord progression for you below to practice before we move on.
  • Keep everything you’ve learned so far in mind! Emphasize the bass notes to really bring out the rhythm and start playing your first bossa!

Remember: Bossa Nova guitar chords are just seventh chords with a specific rhythm. If it doesn’t sound like a bossa, it’s not a bossa!

Each chord in this progression should be played for two bars, so you can cycle through the entire bossa rhythm before switching chords.

Check out the chord progression below:

G7 | C7 | Am7 | Dm7

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Bossa Nova Guitar Chords: Minor 7 Flat 5 Chords

One of the strangest chords that we will hear in this style of music is the minor 7 flat 5 (m7b5) chord.

Remember when we told you that the V note will always stay the same?

Well, we lied (kind of).

There’s an exception to the rule and it’s this chord in particular.

  • The minor 7 flat 5 chord is great for turning around a progression at the end and bringing it back to the beginning.
  • This chord is made up of the I – III – bV – bVII notes of the major scale.

Check out the chord chart below!

C7b5 

The minor 7 flat 5 is an amazing choice to accompany other Bossa Nova guitar chords because it transitions nicely, provided you put the right chord in front of it.

Take Blue Bossa for example. This bossa features a Dm7b5 that leads to a G7 chord, which eventually resolves to a Cm7.

Check This Out: This movement from Dm7b5 to G7 makes sense, because D is a fifth away from G in the G major scale. G is also the fifth of C, which means the next logical chord in the progression is Cm7!

Pro Tip: This musical movement has a name – II – V – I (2 – 5 – 1)!

  • 2-5-1s are used frequently in Jazz, and they’re a practical series of chords that fit well with any set of Bossa Nova guitar chords. Give this progression a shot!
  • While you’re at it, check out the full chord chart for Blue Bossa here.

how-to-play-bossa-nova

Bossa Nova Guitar Chords: Slash Chords

Slash chords are an easy and fun way to reimagine and reinterpret chords that you already know.

In order to play these Bossa Nova guitar chords, all you do is take a chord you can already play and move the bass note to a different fret.

  • For example, if you wanted to play G/F#, all you need to do is move your finger on the low E string to the second fret instead of the third.
  • Similarly, if you wanted to play C/B, you would make your standard C major chord shape and move your bass finger to the 2nd fret on the A string instead of the third.

bossa-nova-guitar-lesson

In this chord chart of Iskander’s “Sabor A Bossa,” the C/G chord is used as a transitional chord to get to the G major chord smoothly, as well as the A minor chord..

The progression starts with G major and deviates to C major, but holds on to the low G note on the E string to keep the G sound alive.

Pro Tip: Play this progression in the open position to keep everything sounding wide and beautiful.

easy-bossa-nova-chords

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Make Room For The Bassist With Smaller Voicings!

Here’s an amazing playing tip that will help you with playing with larger groups of people:

Minimize the size of the chords you play.

That’s right, guitarists – sometimes less really is more!

  • A lot of bossa-type music is played in groups featuring a drummer and bassist, sometimes a piano player.
  • It’s important to leave space for everyone in the mix, and practicing our chord forms from above with less notes is a great way to warm up to group playing.
  • The guitar tends to take up a lot of space in the mix, so don’t hesitate to dial back your note choice!

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Try This: Play one bass note from each chord in Blue Bossa, and two notes in the treble range.

  • You’ll want to favour the B and G strings as they sit the nicest with other instruments like the bass guitar.
  • This is a technique used to make space for the other instruments in a band setting, and the other players will thank you!

Experiment with different combinations of notes in each chord, but make sure to always include the root note!

how-to-play-spanish-guitar

Follow The Drummer!

This is purely a listening exercise, but following the beat of the drummer is important when making good use of these Bossa Nova guitar chords.

When you find yourself playing along to this style of music, listen attentively to the drummer and what they are playing.

  • You will find that the drummer carries the bossa rhythm throughout most pieces.
  • Take Quincy Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova for example, where the drummer provides us with a bouncy bossa groove that keeps the band moving ever-forward.
  • Every instrument and every player will find their own ‘pocket’ to play within in this style.
  • Be attentive to what’s happening around you in the music you jam to!

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Fingerstyle Bossa Nova Guitar Chords

As a final pro tip, we recommend playing this style of music with your fingers.

Using a claw-style grip, assign your thumb to the E and A strings and your index, middle and ring fingers to the strings that follow accordingly.

You can use your thumb to emphasize the bass notes in each chord, allowing you to play the bossa rhythm with ease.

Not only will playing with your fingers soften the sound of your guitar, but it will give you increased control over which notes you play within a given chord.

Remember: We don’t need to play all of the notes – just the right ones.

Check out our lesson on fingerstyle guitar playing here.

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Where Do I Go From Here?

Learning to play Bossa Nova guitar chords can help slowly introduce us to the world of Brazilian music as well as Jazz. If you’re interested in hearing more bossa-style music, check out the links below:

Recommended Resources

Did you enjoy this free guide to learning to play Bossa Nova music? Check out some more free lesson content below:

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