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Bossa Nova music is famous for its soft and warm-sounding chords. They are often four-note chords with an option tone that gives the chords additional color. Popular are the ninth (9) and eleventh (11) for minor and major four-note chords, as well as the thirteenth (13) for diminished and dominant seventh chords.
In order not to get too lost in theory, here are ten of the most popular, well-known and beautiful bossa nova chords.
The first chord of Girl from Ipanema and many other pieces. The ninth adds extra warmth to the major triad with a major seventh!
The little sister of the Major9 chord – a bit more mellow and at least as beautiful! The jazz bossa Blue Bossa makes extensive use of this chord.
The minor 6th chord is the darker alternetive to the minor 7th chord. It is almost always suitable as a tonic chord in minor pieces such as Corcovado.
The Dominant Seventh chord with 13
A complicated name for a simple chord: in this case a G7 chord with an E (the sixth note from G or, an octave up, the thirteenth note) in place of the D (the fifth). In combination with the minor 9th chord (see #2) this chord is often used in a typical chord connection for Latin tunes. The intro to the Jobim song Wave is a perfect example:
The Half Diminished Chord
As part of a II-V-I cadence in minor, the half diminished chord is an important part of many bossa nova and jazz songs. In Manha de Carnaval the chord is often times used in this way instead of the original D minor chord.
The Dominant Seventh Chord with a Flat Nine
Along with the half-diminished chord, the dom7b9 chord forms the “minor cadence” team. In the above example, you can enrich the E7 chord with a small ninth and expand the timbre. Only in connection with the resolution to the A minor chord do these “ugly beauties” show their true potential.
The Diminished Seventh Chord
The Secret Weapon of Bossa Nova! Tom Jobim uses the diminished chord in numerous songs. These chords, which often occur as passing chords, can be used in many ways due to their ambiguity. So you’ll find that this fingering is identical to the E7b9 from the previous example, but used in a very different harmonic context in the song Once I Loved:
The Maj7-Chord With a third in the Bass
This inversion of the Major7 chord has a wonderfully smooth sound. The similarity to a minor 9th chord in the root position can be seen from the structure of the chord fingering alone (compare to #2). The example shows the beginning of Desafinado in Joao Gilberto’s version.
The Diminished Chord With option Tone
In order to make the diminished chord a little softer, you can give the voicing an option tone. Especially the diminished chord with extension b13 is often played by Joao Gilberto. For example in Corcovado:
THE DOMINANT SEVENTH CHORD WITH Flat 13
This chord structure is identical to #4 but with a flattened thirteenth. In theory this chord resolves to a minor chord, usually the tonic chord. In Jazz & Bossa Nova music this type of chord is also used to create a strong tension/resolution effect to a major chord. In the following example you can see an A7(b13) chord at the end of the song So Danco Samba.