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Latin Guitar

This is a short introduction to Latin guitar. We'll have a look at two guitar techniques used in Latin music and a rhythmic pattern called the clave. The first technique is a guitar chord pattern in combination with a bass line, the second technique is called a montuno, a frequently used accompaniment technique in Latin music.


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Bossa Nova Chord Patterns

Bossa Nova and samba have a very typical bass line and chord rhythm. The bass line is played on the beat, while the chords are played mostly on the off beats.

Here' s a first guitar chord pattern that's used frequently in bossa and samba. Play the pattern finger style and legato (let the notes flow into each other so the pattern doesn't sound 'broken'). The chord I used in this example is a Dm9, but you can of course use any chord you like.



The bass line switches between the 1 and the 5. This bass line can be used for every chord except for half diminished and diminished chords. Those chords have a b5, so play the b5 in the bass instead of the 5.

Here's the same chord pattern but with the root of the Dm on the E string:



Here's another chord pattern usable in latin music. This pattern alternates between a m9 and m6 chord (b7 to 6):




A montuno is another accompaniment technique used in latin music. It is usually played by the piano, but can be adapted to the guitar. You can define a montuno as a repeated pattern of notes or chords with syncopated moving inner voices and a differently syncopating bassline. Montuno's are typically 1, 2 or 4 bars in length. They can also be used as a vehicle for improvisation.

Here's an example of a montuno adapted for the guitar:



This montuno goes from Gm7 to C7 (II V). The two lowest voices contain the guide tones of the chord progression. Let every note sound as long as possible and don't play laid back, but don't rush it either (the anticipations ask for a steady timing).


The Clave

The clave is a two measure long rhythmic pattern and forms the rhythmic foundation of latin music. Latin musicians don't think '1 2 3 4' like we do, they have the clave as a reference for their music. The clave is often played by two wooden sticks, called the claves and functions as a time keeper. The clave is not always played, but it is always implied throughout the music.

There are 2 types of claves: the son clave and the rumba clave. A clave has a weak bar (the one with 2 notes) and a strong bar (the one with 3 notes).


Son Clave

2-3 son clave:

3-2 son clave:


Rumba Clave

2-3 rumba clave

3-2 rumba clave





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