An Introduction to Brazilian Guitar

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

What is Brazilian guitar? A brief intro

The music of Brazil is full of wonder and excitement with a range of styles and genres as rich and colorful as the country itself. Today, we will review several styles of Brazilian music and the guitar’s role in each.


Although Brazilian musical history can be traced back to the mid-16th century, the guitar’s role in Brazilian music did not arrive until much later. The first Brazilian form of music featuring guitar as a primary instrument was known as choro music, which originated in the 19th Century. The guitar, flute, and a stringed instrument called the cavaquinho are the basic instruments in choro. Although “choro” is Portuguese for “lament,” the music is often upbeat. This music is known for its compositional structure (3 parts in a rondo), its syncopation, and its improvisational nature. Here is a sample of choro music:


What is now considered Brazil’s national music and dance style had its roots in Africa and the slave trade. It started as a musical expression of urban Rio de Janeiro, and is still most associated with that city and the Brazilian Carnival.
The modern samba that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century is predominantly in a 2/4 tempo varied with the conscious use of a sung chorus to a repetitive rhythm, with various stanzas of declaratory verses. It was popularized internationally in the 1930s and 1940s by actress and performer Carmen Miranda. Here is a clip of one of her performances.

Guitar and cavaquinho are the primary string instruments, and they are accompanied by multiple percussion instruments.

Bossa Nova

Bossa nova is a genre of Brazilian music, which developed and was popularized in the 1950s and ’60s and is today one of the best-known Brazilian music genres abroad. The phrase bossa nova means literally “new trend. A lyrical fusion of samba and jazz, bossa nova acquired a large following in the 1960s, initially among young musicians and college students.
Classical nylon-string guitar is the primary stringed instrument used in bossa nova and is often the only one used in a musical piece. The bossa nova was first popularized by João Gilberto. Here is an example of his work.

Here is an example of bossa nova as performed by the acclaimed Antonio Carlos Jobim, along with Astrud Gilberto, Stan Getz and João Gilberto. “The Girl from Ipanema” is one of the most well-known bossa nova songs in history. Enjoy!

Other styles

The above genres are the most internationally recognized and popular genres in Brazil, but they are hardly the only ones. Many popular Brazilian styles have been born out of merging styles, such as samba-reggae, samba-folk, and Carioca-rap. There are also several folk-based styles that are popular in different regions of the country. All of them are worth checking out.

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