Growing up in Brazil, I listened to a lot of Samba, which
is Brazil’s most popular style of music. To illustrate how to play
Brazilian Samba properly, let’s take a typical jazz-ish melody and
chords, and change them into Samba form. (Click sheet music for larger images.)
1. Jazz Melody
Ex. 1 is a standard jazz-style melody, similar to
what you might find in a typical “lead sheet.” The rhythms are played
straight and free of accents or syncopations.
2. Samba Pattern
Ex. 2 is a basic Samba pattern. Notice how Brazilian Samba music is very syncopated.
It has a basic pulse of eighth-notes or sixteenth-notes, and an
abundance of accents. It’s also usually written in 2/4 or 2/2 (also
called cut time).
3. Samba Melody
Ex. 3 converts the melody from Ex. 1 into Samba
form. The melody now contains numerous upbeats and anticipations, and it
complements the Samba pattern from Ex. 2. Notice that the melody places
an emphasis on the Samba’s rhythmic pulse, with the underlying
eighth-notes working as “ghost notes” to propel the music forward.
4. Comping Strategies
Ex. 4 illustrates a typical left-hand Samba pattern
to accompany our melody. Again, notice how the rhythmic underpinnings
push the music along.
5. Samba Chords and Bass
A great exercise for practicing and understanding Samba is to play chords and a bass line together, as in Ex. 5. Note: In the left hand, the second note of each bar should be played stronger and more legato than the first.
6. Soloing Over Samba
Ex. 6 is a short solo over our chord progression in
the Samba style. Practice your right hand solos by improvising over
this left hand rhythm pattern. You can also practice soloing over a
Samba bass line like the one in Ex. 5.
“To learn the secrets of Brazilian piano, listen to
masters like João Donato, Sergio Mendes, Cesar Camargo Mariano, Luis
Carlos Vinhas, Tenório Junior, and of course, Antonio Carlos Jobim,”
says pianist and composer Helio Alves. “Also listen to
guitarists like João Gilberto and Baden Powell.” Alves has worked with
Joe Henderson, Yo-Yo Ma, and Paquito D’Rivera, and was also nominated
for a Grammy for the album Forests, by his group Brazilian Trio. Find out more at helioalvesmusic.com.