Brazilian Music- a Gateway for Classical Musicians; How to Play Bossa on Violin

March 21, 2018, 10:58 AM · Learning to play Bossa, Choro, and Samba can be a wonderful gateway for increasing versatility in classical musicians. 

Brazilian music is infectious music to play and listen to. If you have any doubt, check out this Samba from the opening scene in the Disney movie, Rio.

I've created a free video playlist breaking down "How to Play Bossa and Samba" on violin, viola, and cello, as well as a new deep dive course, complete with transcriptions and analysis.

Here's a video of a solo I took on the Brazilian song "Tristeza".

This tutorial offers strategies to assimilate Bossa and Samba on bowed strings:

There's often a gateway style that leads some classical musicians to check out music beyond their training. For me the gateway was rock music that primed the pump to modern jazz, R and B, free improvisation, composition, arranging, and more.

Some styles may be easier for classical musicians to access and assimilate due to the relative familiarity of rhythms, harmonies, or melodies. Jazz, with its reliance on triplet-based swing, unfamiliar harmonies and melodies, can be especially difficult at first for some classically trained musicians.

Bossas and Sambas, with their reliance on duple feel, may be a more feasible next step to follow on Rondos, Allegrettos, Allegros, and other standard fare of classical musicians. It still offers plenty of challenges similar to those found in rock, funk, bluegrass and other styles.

That's one reason why I think Bossas, Sambas, and Choros are perfect for classically trained musicians to increase rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic fluency.

Here's another reason:

A common problem classical musicians face when they begin to branch out is taking on too much new information at once.

For example, when you start trying to learn jazz, you'll be confronted with new rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic language, not to mention the challenge of improvisation.

Bossa/Samba or other Brazilian grooves offer enough of a rhythmic challenge without being from a different planet. If learning swing-based music is akin to an English speaker learning a non-latin spoken language, learning the rhythmic language of Brazilian music is more like learning a latin spoken language- there's more of an anchor to latch onto. Students may experience more success early on.

For similar reasons, Rock and Appalachian styles could also be ideal gateway styles.

Something which differentiates Brazilian music from Rock or Bluegrass is an introduction to Latin claves as well as Jazz harmonies. It arguably poses more of a rhythmic challenge for a typical classical musician.

That's my theory anyway!

On this topic of contemporary styles, I would be remiss not to share a quote from Bruno Mars:

"When you say 'Black music,' understand that you are talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop and Motown, Black people created it all. Being Puerto Rican, even salsa music stems back to the Motherland [Africa]. So, in my world, Black music means everything. It's what gives America its swag."

How to Play Bossa and Samba for Bowed Strings- Get The Course now while it's available at an early discount.

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how to play bossa, tristeza

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March 22, 2018 at 12:30 AM · This is exactly how I broke into jazz violin two years ago. I have a trio with guitar and percussion and we play Brazilian tunes. A lot of Jobim, Bonfa, etc. We've played maybe a dozen gigs. It helps that the other two guys are pros.

Swinging on the violin is really hard. Even for someone like me who has been playing jazz piano for decades and has no problem swinging on the piano, it's hard. Playing bossas removes that element entirely and you can learn how to move around, improvise to ii-V-I harmonies, develop patterns, etc.

Now that I have played Brazilian style for a couple of years I'm ready to tackle swing. Just need the time to commit to it, which presently I do not have, not at all.

March 22, 2018 at 04:10 PM · thanks Paul, for putting that into words better than I could, and affirming my hunch: A big thing I recommend for delving into swing is dealing with triplet-based rhythmic exercises. I hear you regarding having time..:) I appreciate your feedback.

March 23, 2018 at 11:39 AM · Frankly it's also nice that a lot of those tunes are written in keys like A minor that fit well on the instrument, and they don't explore huge ranges of keys. Nobody starts out with "The Way You Look Tonight" or "Have You Met Miss Jones" which are legendary for moving into weird keys. Even "Blue Bossa" has four bars in an "off" key for the violin (even if you transpose the whole tune to E minor, I tried that when I was starting out, and it just didn't help). If someone asked me what tune they should start with, I would recommend "Black Orpheus" or "Gentle Rain" in the standard (i.e., Real Book) keys.

March 24, 2018 at 08:47 AM · Either one "has it" (Bossa Nova inner rhythm) or doesn't!! I do think Christian Howes is out there yet he probably hasn't seen/ felt the connection between Bach & Bossa Nova? J. S. Bach used many 'secret' or closeted rhythms in his masterworks for Unaccompanied Violin ...

A word to Christian Howes ~ Slowly play or walk through the Unaccompanied Sonatas & Partitas for Violin, adding on those for Violoncello, to discover the extraordinary rhythm's 'inside' the Solo works of Johann Sebastian Bach!

Best Wishes from an original violin protege of Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein ~

Elisabeth Matesky / Chicago

March 27, 2018 at 07:37 PM · I often go to local bluegrass jams, which tend to stick pretty closely to traditional repertoire. But sometimes a few of us will sneak off to a little room upstairs, where anything goes. Besides bluegrass we might pull out a country tear-jerker by George Jones or a swing tune from the '40s, or wander off into something by Antonio Carlos Jobim. There's nothing like suddenly finding yourself in some offbeat passage in a strange key, especially if you manage to pull it off by finding notes you never realized you knew.

At times like these I know that if they put me into one of those brain scanners it would light up like a Christmas tree. What a rush!

March 27, 2018 at 11:34 PM · I don't agree with Elizabeth that you either "have" the bossa rhythm or you don't. I think it can be learned. Last weekend we had an orchestra rehearsal and the first violins (all young people) struggled to play an extended syncopated rhythm (in the accompaniment to a Mozart piano concerto). I can just "feel" that rhythm ... it seems innate. But I'm quite sure that at some point I too had to learn it. And my piano student is right now at that point where he's "getting" extended syncopation, and you can see how it is transforming from something calculated to something felt.

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