Need help with learning sambas


Senior Member
My band would like to play some samba covers. Problem is though that my samba skills are close to non existent. I've been working on interdependence for a while now and it's just not coming along.

What I'm practicing now is keeping an ostinato going with my right hand and feet and playing crosstick on various places on the beat (for instance play on the e's or the a's, basically using Benny Greb's letter system). I pretty much have this down now. Problem is that as soon as I try to play actual patterns it all falls appart. I have no idea what the problem is.

So I was wondering if anyone could help me with my samba " comping " skills, if they know where I can find some basic samba left hand patterns (Groove essentials I already have) and if they could refer me to some simple examples of samba music that I can learn from.


First off, chill!

The first question is how authentic is the samba music you want to play? Authentic samba music isn't a completely even 8th or 16th feel (depending on how you're counting, which I explain below). To get this down you need to either learn the pandeiro or speak Portugese. But these both take time so I'll take you through a few things you can practise to wing it.

1. Bass drum technique: Have you got the Groove Essential 1 DVD? Tommy talks about the bass drum accent. If we're thinking of sambas in 16th notes then the bass drum is slightly more accented on the 2 and the 4 than 1 and 3. So before you start with complex coordination just play eighths on the hi hat and 4 on the floor with a slight accent on the 2 and 4 (don't go thumping like you're playing metal though!). Once you're comfortable with this put in up beat bass drums, the ones that come on the 'e' of the beat. However retain the accent on the 2 and the 4. Remember than you can always use the 4 on the floor as a pattern if the tempo gets to fast for those doubles.

2. Hi hat: once you've got the above down start accenting the up beats of the hi hat (again not too much; subtlety is your friend). The hi hat is the drum kits adaptation of the pandeiro.

3. Left hand comping: go to your old friend syncopation and play lesson 12 against the above ostinatos. However now you'll be thinking of the samba as fast 8th notes in these exercise rather than 16ths so the bass drum pattern is playing on the 1 (2) 3 (4) or
1 (2)+3 (4)+ with the bracketed numbers being those beats the bass drum doesn't play.

4. More complex hi hat stuff: now play the syncopation exercise playing all 8th notes in the bar with the hi hat. Keep the accent on the upbeat going: 1+2+3+4+ bold standing for the accented 8ths.

5. Jazz samba: play the exercise with 2 and 4 on the hi hat, the bass drum ostinatos and the ride playing a straightened out swing pattern: 1 2+3 4+.

Practise slow until you're fully comfortable with the coordination, before you move on to the next exercise. Keep a vibrancy and life in your feeling; sambas aren't about playing complex coordination patterns, they're a carnival music.

If the tempos you play with the band are too fast for the more complicated stuff keep it simple: 1 and 3 on the bass drum and quarters on the hi hat (if you're counting the samba as fast 8th notes).

In terms of listening: listen to Sergio Mendez on grooveshark/youtube for a more "pop-y" sambas.


Senior Member
Thanks for the speedy reply!

Sadly I don't have syncopation (yet). But the way it seems to be worshipped around here it seems that it's a must buy.

In the meantime I'll just stick to my own permutation pattern. It seems to be a popular one. Just to be clear it involves keeping an ostinato going and cycling through al possible places to play a left handed note (so hitting on all the counts, all the e's, all the +'s, all the a's and doing the same for doubles like 1e, 2e, 3e, 4e or e+ as well as tripple strokes).

I think in many ways I was already doing what you are describing but I've neglected the bassdrum and hi-hat accents. I didn't realize how important those really are (specialy because around these parts nobody can play a decent samba). And you're right in thinking that at this moment I just need the bread and butter standard samba. Right now I'm just trying to survive.


Platinum Member
Definitely get yourself a copy of Syncopation- they cost about 8 bucks in the US. The way most people play samba is very busy and difficult to coordinate, so you could look for ways to simplify:

- You could lose the double on the BD, and just play quarter notes (or half notes, if you're counting in 2/2), putting a little emphasis on the 2 and 4.
- The HH doesn't need to be on the &'s- you can play it in unison with the simplified BD;
- You can play your hands in unison, playing the syncopated LH part and variations. You can practice this by playing through much of Syncopation (in cut time).
- If nothing else, work on the pattern you're already using, but simplifying one part at a time. That will give you some options for shaping the thing, and maybe you'll find a way to play it that's easier for you to maintain the feel and get through the tune without falling apart.

There's also a ton of stuff about samba on my blog- most of it's geared towards getting a handle on the more authentic thing, rather than the American-style jazz/fusion samba. An authentic feel is going to be the last thing to come together for you, so for now I'd just play it as even 16th/cut-time 8ths. A lot of pros still play samba that way, so you won't be too wrong. If you get really ambitious about it, grab Ed Uribe's book.


Senior Member
Thanks for the help todd. Love your blog (even though most of what you put on there is quite a bit over my head right now).


Platinum Member
Oh, thanks man! Hang in there, it won't be over your head for long. I never feel like I learning anything form something I read unless I don't understand half of it.


Platinum Member
Reading the Syncopation exercises with the samba ostinato underneath will develop your comping skill in no time!