5 Awesome Bossa Nova Chord Progressions on Guitar

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Have you ever closed your eyes and felt the gentle sway of bossa nova chord progressions transport you straight to the sandy beaches of Brazil?

There’s nothing quite like it!

Picture this: It’s the late 1950s.

In the bustling streets and tranquil cafés of Rio de Janeiro, a new sound emerges – one that effortlessly melds samba’s rhythmic fervor with jazz’s harmonic sophistication.

If you’re a student of the guitar, itching to infuse some of this intoxicating rhythm into your playing, you’re in for a treat.

And guess what? We at Student of Guitar are just as excited to take this journey with you!

But first, if you want more Bossa Nova musical inspiration, check out this best of bossa nova compilation:

Best Of Bossa Nova / Various


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Five Awesome Bossa Nova Chord Progressions to Try on Your Guitar

1. Understanding the Classic II-V-I

Starting with the II chord, which is typically a minor 7th, the progression then moves to the V chord, a dominant 7th, and culminates with the I chord, a major 7th.

This sequence of chords creates a sense of movement and resolution, which is paramount in establishing the tonal center of a piece.

In the key of C major:

Dm7 (D – F – A – C)

G7 (G – B – D – F)

Cmaj7 (C – E – G – B)

To play it:

Dm7: Place your fingers on the 5th string/5th fret, 4th string/7th fret, 3rd string/5th fret, 2nd string/6th fret.

G7: Play an open G7 (6th string/3rd fret, 5th string/2nd fret, 1st string/1st fret).

Cmaj7: Place your fingers on the 5th string/3rd fret and 2nd string/5th fret, leaving the other strings open.

A7: Place your index finger (1st finger) on the 2nd fret of the 4th string (D string).

Place your middle finger (2nd finger) on the 2nd fret of the 2nd string (B string)

Diving into the world of bossa nova means acquainting yourself with its fundamental structures, and the Classic II-V-I is undeniably at the forefront.

This bossa nova chord progression, while rooted in the broader traditions of jazz, has found a distinctive voice in the Bossa Nova genre.

Watch the video below as the player discusses the II-V-I Chord Progression.

II V I - You Need To Practice This For Solos

2. The Descending Diminished Progression

At its core, the Descending Diminished Progression involves a series of diminished 7th chords that move down in intervals, usually by a half or whole step. This progression creates a feeling of tension, but it’s the type of tension that adds richness and depth to a piece. It’s like the subtle spice in a dish that you can’t directly identify but which elevates the entire flavor.

In the key of C major:

Cmaj7 (C – E – G – B)

C#dim7 (C# – E – G – Bb)

Dm7 (D – F – A – C)

G7 (G – B – D – F)

To play:

Cmaj7: Place your fingers on the 5th string/3rd fret and 2nd string/5th fret, leaving the other strings open.

C#dim7: Place your fingers on the 5th string/4th fret, 4th string/5th fret, 3rd string/3rd fret, and 2nd string/5th fret.

Dm7: Place your fingers on the 5th string/5th fret, 4th string/7th fret, 3rd string/5th fret, 2nd string/6th fret.

G7: Play an open G7 (6th string/3rd fret, 5th string/2nd fret, 1st string/1st fret).

If you’ve heard tracks that seem to have that intriguing, almost mysterious twist, there’s a good chance the Descending Diminished Progression is at play.

As you delve deeper into the bossa nova chord progression landscape, appreciating and mastering this progression will enrich your understanding.

It will also provide a fresh perspective on constructing and interpreting bossa nova melodies.

You may want to take a look at this video to master the bossa nova Descending Diminished Chord Progression.

Check out this video:

Diminished Chords - Beautiful Progressions and How To Use Them

3. The Intricacies of Chromatic Movements

In musical terms, “chromatic” refers to the use of notes not inherently present in the standard major or minor scales.

In the Bossa Nova chord progression context, chromatic movements involve transitioning between chords using passing tones, often moving up or down by just a half-step.

This creates a smooth, connected feeling in the music, providing a sense of fluid transition between chords.

Using descending bass notes as an example in C:

Cmaj7 (C – E – G – B)

Cm7 (C – Eb – G – Bb)

Cm6 (C – Eb – G – A)

C6 (C – E – G – A)

To play:

Cmaj7:  Place your fingers on the 5th string/3rd fret and 2nd string/5th fret, leaving the other strings open.

Cm7: Place fingers on the 5th string/3rd fret, 4th string/1st fret, 3rd string/3rd fret, and 2nd string/4th fret.

Cm6: Place fingers on the 5th string/3rd fret, 4th string/1st fret, 3rd string/2nd fret, and 2nd string/1st fret.

C6: Use an open C major chord and add the A note on the 3rd string/2nd fret.

This progression’s sound is both engaging and gentle, seamlessly linking chords and adding layers of complexity without overpowering the core melody.

When you hear a bossa nova track with a smooth, almost gliding transition between chords, there’s a good chance chromatic movements are at play.

Watch the video tutorial below to learn more about the Chromatic Movements in bossa nova chord progression:

Beautiful Chromatic Voice-leading And How to use it with Jazz Chords

4. Delving into Circular Progressions for Groove

Circular Progressions for Groove are essentially sequences of chords that loop back to the start, creating a continuous, cyclical musical journey.

It’s akin to a musical roundabout where one chord leads to another and then circles back to the beginning.

This continuous loop imbues the music with an infectious groove that keeps the rhythm flowing and listeners swaying.

In the key of C major:

Cmaj7 (C – E – G – B)

A7 (A – C# – E – G)

Dm7 (D – F – A – C)

G7 (G – B – D – F)

To play:

Cmaj7: Place your fingers on the 5th string/3rd fret and 2nd string/5th fret, leaving the other strings open.

Dm7: Place your fingers on the 5th string/5th fret, 4th string/7th fret, 3rd string/5th fret, 2nd string/6th fret.

G7: Play an open G7 (6th string/3rd fret, 5th string/2nd fret, 1st string/1st fret).

A7: Place your index finger (1st finger) on the 2nd fret of the 4th string (D string).

Place your middle finger (2nd finger) on the 2nd fret of the 2nd string (B string)

When you listen to bossa nova and feel that perpetual rhythm, almost like the ebb and flow of waves on a beach, it’s often the result of these circular progressions.

The cyclical nature makes them melodically appealing and rhythmically engaging, creating an undercurrent of motion that’s hard to resist.

Below is an informative yet engaging tutorial on the bossa nova Circular Chord Progression:

Bossa Nova Guitar Patterns - 5 Levels You Need To Know

5. The IIm7-V7-IIbmaj7 Progression

At its heart, the IIm7 – V7 – IIbmaj7 progression, commonly referred to as the II-V-I, is a cornerstone not just in bossa nova but in jazz as a whole.

Its popularity stems from its pleasing resolution; the tension built up during the first two chords (IIm7 and V7) resolves beautifully into the IIbmaj7, creating a sense of completion.

This progression’s sonic journey captures the ebb and flow, the gentle push and pull, inherent in much of bossa nova’s repertoire.

In the key of Bb Major:

Cm7 

F7 

Bbmaj7

To Play:

Cm7: Place fingers on the 5th string/3rd fret, 4th string/1st fret, 3rd string/3rd fret, and 2nd string/4th fret.

F7: Index finger (1st finger) bars all strings on the 1st fret.

Ring finger (3rd finger) on the 3rd fret of the 5th string (A string).

Middle finger (2nd finger) on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string (G string). 

Bbmaj7: Index finger (1st finger) bars all strings on the 1st fret.

Middle finger (2nd finger) on the 2nd fret of the 5th string (A string).

Ring finger (3rd finger) on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string (G string).

Pinky finger (4th finger) on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string (B string).

Watch the informative tutorial below to learn more about this progression:

To hone your bossa nova techniques, explore these 20 solos by bossa nova legends from Guitar Center:

Hal Leonard Authentic Brazilian Bossa Nova Guitar Arrangements


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Bossa Nova Chord Progressions: The Unique Heartbeat of Brazilian Melodies

How does the Bossa Nova chord progression differentiate itself so strikingly from other genres?

At first listen, the Bossa Nova chord progression might sound delightfully uncomplicated, even serene.

But don’t let its soothing exterior fool you!

Beneath lies a sophisticated tapestry of harmonies.

Unlike the straightforward major and minor progressions predominant in rock or pop, bossa nova weaves intricate jazz-like sequences.

This nuance offers a tantalizing mix of the familiar with the unexpected, and it’s what gives bossa nova its distinctive soul.

Syncopation and Rhythm

While blues may ride heavily on the “1” and “3” beats, and rock might hammer on the backbeat, bossa nova dances in the spaces between.

Its chord progressions often emphasize the off-beats, creating that iconic, laid-back, swaying rhythm.

In tandem with its chordal choices, this rhythm carves out a space only Bossa Nova inhabits.

Harmonic Adventure

Diving into a Bossa Nova chord progression, and you’ll find a wealth of extended and altered chords – 7ths, 9ths, 13ths, and even diminished or augmented chords.

Such harmonic choices aren’t just random; they infuse each song with emotion, depth, and a narrative that’s quintessentially bossa.

Wrapping Up the Bossa Nova Chord Progression Journey

Bossa Nova is a testament to a vibrant history and a showcase of subtle yet profound musical craftsmanship.

Arpeggios seamlessly flow and dance, capturing Brazil’s essence from one chord to the next.

The infectious rhythms further highlight its soulful beauty.

To guitar lovers reading this, whether you’re just beginning or have countless melodies under your belt, you may want to try bossa nova chord progressions if you’re looking to spice up your playing.

Do you have a bossa nova chord progression we missed?

Let us know in the comments below!

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