Play the Bossa Nova Classic ‘Corcovado’ Like João Gilberto

Add not only a bossa nova classic and jazz standard to your repertoire, but a handful of new harmonic colors.

One of the most popular songs in the bossa nova canon is Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars),” a wistful melody that takes its name from the famous mountain that looms over Rio de Janeiro. “Corcovado” first appeared on João Gilberto’s 1960 album, O Amor, o Sorriso e a Flor (The Love, the Smile and the Flower). That version informs the chord voicings in this lead sheet arrangement, while the original Portuguese lyrics are replaced with those added in English by Gene Lees.

Begin learning the song by familiarizing yourself with the chord grips, fingered in a way that promotes an economy of motion. In moving between the first two chords, Am6 and Abdim7(b13), for instance, keep your fourth finger held in place on the fifth-fret E, and slide all of your other fingers down by one fret, without completely lifting them from the strings. And when switching between the Dm7, F/G, and G7alt chords in bars 15–16 and 33–34, keep your first finger barred across strings 1–3.


As for the picking hand, any of the patterns demonstrated in Daniel Ward’s bossa nova lesson will work well. But while these patterns incorporate roots and fifths in their bass lines (downstemmed notes, picked by the thumb), try playing just the roots on beats 1 and 3, like Gilberto did on the original recording. Those notes would be the fifth-fret A on the Am6 chord, fourth-fret Ab on the Abdim7(b13), and so on.

Once you’ve polished off “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars),” you’ll have not just a bossa nova classic and jazz standard in your repertoire, but a handful of new harmonic colors.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue  issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine. Due to copyright restrictions, the music for “Corcovado” is only available in the magazine.

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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