I'd like to learn some standard samba chords for guitar. I understand this usually involves jazz chords like 9, 11, 13 and a few others.

I can construct these chords myself, but:

  1. It's tedious.
  2. Most of the variations don't sound "samba-ish enough". Often they are either too low or high or miss some important note and I am quite sure there is a bunch of basic riffs one should be familiar with.

So, while samba chord theory is welcome, I'd appreciate if you could provide concrete variations. Better still, I'd like to see some database of these chords. I am sure there must be some but, alas, I was unable to find them; at least disregarding some weird pages.

3 Answers 3


For the "sambaish" sound the most important thing is the rhythm of the right hand. The thumb plays bass notes, usually on beats 1 and 3, with bassline usually alternating on I and V of the chord, and the index+middle+ring fingers stab the top of the chord in a highly syncopated way. They almost always use 4-note chords.

However, like you have seen, a lot of the sound is also in the voicings. For samba, I have had pleasing results with the similar kind of voicings as used in other brasilian music such as choro, bossa-nova:

Minor voicings:

  1. Am7 [5x555x]
  2. Dm7 [x5756x]
  3. Dm9 [x5355x]
  4. Dm6 [x5x465]
  5. Am11 [5x553x]

Major voicings:

  1. AM7 [5x665x]
  2. A6 [5x465x]
  3. A69 [5x445x]
  4. DM7 [x5767x]
  5. D69 [x5445x]

Dominant voicings:

  1. A7 [5456xx]
  2. A13 [5x567x]
  3. A13b9 [6x567x]
  4. A7#5 [5x566x]
  5. D9 [x5455x]
  6. D+ [x5433x]

Some "sambaish" 2-5-1 examples off the top of my head:

  1. Em7b5 [x7878x] -> A+7 [5x566x] -> Dm9 [x5355x]
  2. Em7 [x7578x] -> A13 [5x567x] -> DM9 [x5465x]
  3. Bm7 [7x777x] -> E9 [x7677x] -> AM7 [5x665x]
  4. Bm7b5 [7x776x] -> E7b5 [6x675x] -> Am6 [5x455x]
  5. Em11 [5x543x] -> A7b9 [5x532x] -> D69 [x5445x]

First of all:
I've tried to learn these by means of books, but it didn't quite work (at least for me). Much more effective way to start (at least for me) was to go with youtube lessons. There are tons of them and some of them are quite good. For your purpose I'd like to recommend this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl8J2AcwngA.

Second is about the "database" question you've asked:
When you get into the area of "colored chords" be prepared to get overwhelmed -- there are virtually infinite possibilities. To get the idea -- check the "Chord chemistry" book by Ted Greene (...I know that you'll never fail recommending this guy...).

  • I'll try the video lessons but I feel this isn't the right way for me... Books should work better, so thanks for that recommendation.
    – Marek
    Jun 23, 2011 at 15:15

If you are looking for a book "The Brazilian Guitar Book by Nelson Faria" is pretty much the de-facto authoritative text as far as I'm aware, but I haven't checked out any of the competition in the last ten years; regardless, it's invaluable in my opinion even if there are other qualified sources now as well.

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