Latin Rhythms

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The guitar and the vihuela were carried to the New World by the Spaniards and the Portu-guese, and a host of new forms and rhythm patterns developed. In this chapter, we try playing some of these forms, and practice shaping the rhythms with accented upbeats and damping. We play the tango, the rumba, and the beguine, and then learn some typical chords to practice the bossa nova. Finally we learn a solo, a popular dance form from Peru known as carnavalitos.


An ever popular dance is the tango, with its distinctively clipped sound.

Starting on a stressed upbeat, the count is:

and One Two Three Four and One Two Three Four, etc.

The quarter note chords have been marked with a staccato sign marked in the first measure, indicated by the dots below the notes. This means that the chords should be cut off by damping, in this case with the left hand little finger, to give them the dramatic effect typical of this form.

This does not apply to the upbeat eighth note chords which, by con-trast, should last their full value, giving a tar-rump effect. The staccato on the single notes shortens the time they are held, but each note starts on its beat as written, i.e, the overall tempo is not changed. The notes simply have a clipped sound.

As with all the forms illustrated here, there are many variants, but once you understand the basic rhythm you will be able to experiment with making variations.


Another popular dance style that came to these shores from Cuba is the rumba. It has its own specific, syncopated style. It starts on the down- beat with a stress on the second half of the second beat.

The Beguine

For the beguine, the stressed upbeat comes at the beginning:

The Bossa Nova

The bossa nova from Brazil has an intriguing mixture of jazz chords and Latin rhythm. To get the feel of this on the guitar, it is first necessary to learn some chords before concentrat-ing on the rhythmic structure. Below, for instance, is a very typical sequence, not too hard to play because of the way that the second, first, and third fingers progress down the finger-board. After the first four chords you can still slide the second and third fingers, adding the fourth finger on the second string. Then if you lift the second finger you have the final one of the group, ready to repeat back to the first. Here we go:

When you feel comfortable with the chords, try playing the sequence in this rhythm:

I suggest playing each measure twice at first to focus on the right hand. Giving the slight extra weight to the upbeat after the third count is what establishes the correct feel. There is also a languid feel which is best learned by listening to good players.


Here is a complete solo in Peruvian style, the carnavalitos. The basic rhythm is:

This rhythm is played with many variants. Try to play it in a rhythmic and sprightly way, thinking of a dance at carnival time. This piece should present few difficulties, but be sure to accent the notes marked with the symbol >.


Pat said...

I use Latino tempo as shown at to build a really strong rhythm section of a song.

greatGrandson said...

Very nice article. Thanks a lot for that.