Acoustic Classic: ‘The Girl from Ipanema’

“The Girl from Ipanema,” a prime example of the bossa nova idiom, is one of the most covered songs in recorded history. Here we explore Charlie Byrd's dropped-D interpretation.

In 1962, Brazilian poet Vinicius de Morae and songwriter and composer Antônio Carlos Jobim, having had success in composing songs for the 1959 film Black Orpheus, set out to collaborate on a musical comedy about a Martian visiting the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. For this project, they labored on “Garota de Ipanema,” a melancholy number about secret longing. The show failed to take off, but the song became a hit, first in Brazil and then internationally, thanks to a 1964 version by singer-songwriter João Gilberto and American saxophonist Stan Getz, with Astrud Gilberto singing the lyrics in English. 

“The Girl from Ipanema,” a prime example of the bossa nova idiom, is one of the most covered songs in recorded history, second only to the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” (For a historical perspective on bossa nova, see Mac Randall’s feature in the November 2017 issue.) The transcription here is based on an instrumental version by Charlie Byrd, the American jazz guitarist who is credited with helping bossa nova achieve its mainstream popularity in North America, as heard on his 1965 album Brazilian Byrd.


Though Byrd favored the nylon-string guitar, as have most practitioners of bossa nova, this chord/melody-style arrangement will work equally well on the steel-string. Begin learning the piece by considering the form. “The Girl from Ipanema” has a classic AABA structure, with a twist: The A sections (bars 1–11 and 28–35) are the usual eight measures long, and at 16 measures, the B section (12–27) is twice the customary length. On the original recording, Byrd plays the head (melody) once and then solos on it before wrapping things up with a 12-bar improvisation. 

Though dropped-D tuning is far less common in jazz than standard, Byrd uses dropped D here to brilliant effect. He begins the piece by focusing on the upper strings, but in bar 12 he plays an Ebm9 voicing that would not have been possible in standard tuning. The sound is rich and complex, but the fingering is straightforward: barre strings 1–6 with your index finger and fret strings 4, 3, and 2 with your fourth, third, and second fingers, respectively. The Gbm9 chord in bar 16 is based on this same shape, but played three frets higher. Make sure that all of the chord grips are under your fingers before tackling the piece, and count carefully, such that you nail the syncopated rhythms that are essential to this style. 

Byrd’s solo is both sophisticated and approachable, much of it based around chord shapes. (For more on this approach to soloing, see Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers’ Weekly Workout in the March 2018 issue.) Go for a lilting, laid-back feel, isolating any tricky parts until you can play them perfectly. And as always, once you’ve learned the solo, use it as a template for creating your own.

Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the May/June 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 56.

Adam Perlmutter
Adam Perlmutter

Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

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