Method: Gnattali’s Rhythmic Homage to Brazil

From the Winter 2017 issue of Classical Guitar | BY RHAYN JOOSTE

Study V by Radamés Gnattali (1906–1988), taken from his 10 Studies for Guitar, is a concise etude that pays homage to Brazilian folk music. Celebrating the viola caipira—a northeastern Brazilian guitar—the piece includes modern techniques such as percussion and pizzicato. This lesson will explore Brazil’s African heritage while discussing rhythmic displacement, open-G tuning, and modern right-hand techniques.


Nineteen years separate Gnattali, a third-generation nationalistic composer, from Heitor Villa-Lobos. Gnattali composed a vast collection of original music for a variety of instruments, from orchestral works to string quartets. Most notable are his Brazilianas, 14 pieces written for differing ensembles and modeled after Villa-Lobos. His 10 Studies for Guitar, published in 1967, are musically fashioned (rather than didactic), proudly nationalistic, and straddle the line between popular and classical content.

Study V is a pleasant piece that offers insights into the rhythmic displacement at the heart of Brazilian music. It utilizes the open-string tuning normally associated with the viola caipira (Portuguese for “country” or “rural guitar”), a five-course instrument that evolved from the vihuela during the colonial period.


The right hand in this study utilizes a variety of techniques, including arpeggios, percussion, and pizzicato. However, as the open-string tuning is imitating the viola, most of the notes need to ring over each other, so there is not a lot of RH dampening; there is nonetheless a call for strong thumb rest strokes. The guitar is tuned to open G (see Figure 1), which means strings 6, 5, and 1 are down a tone from normal. Top tip here is to go a few peg turns below the note and tune up to it; this will help keep the guitar in tune.

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The basic tango rhythm cell from the last Method article (Fall 2017) is once again found here; however, with tied notes. It is now a two-bar Brazilian syncopated beat that incorporates the defining rhythmic cell of Brazil: the brasileirinho (see Micro Study 1). These ties, utilized across Study V, give it its “swing,” and apart from beat 1 of each bar, most notes are displaced to varying degrees, depending on which section of the etude you are playing. As a general stylistic rule, the more ties there are, the closer the rhythms are to their African heritage. This has been made explicit in Micro Study 1, which is simply a two-bar cell with open strings, adding a tie in each bar as it progresses. Take note of the quarter-note percussion line above the cell because by bar 5, apart from the first downbeat, everything else eventually falls off the beat.

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There are over a hundred different regional styles of music in Brazil. The rhythms that Gnattalli has employed across Study V are normally heard at a forrós (folk gathering). This gives this etude the feeling of marcha rancho music, which is a moderate-tempo derivative of frevo. As with most Latin music, there is little call for rubato in this piece, just a solid pulse to help “swing” those off-beat patterns.

Micro Study 2 focuses on the arpeggio idea from bar 44 onward. Also, utilizing the open strings it has a twofold aim: first, to get used to playing a double rest stroke with finger 1; and second, to begin to feel that Brazilian off-beat. Your practicing can be made more challenging by altering the rhythms. For example, utilize the rhythms from bar 14 or bar 18 while playing the open strings; or add in the chord shapes Gnattali uses.

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Study V has an A B structure, each section with repeats, an introduction (bars 1–8), and a coda (bars 58–61). The harmony employed—based in the key of G major and in open tuning—is minimalistic. The first section has distinct characteristics of the blues form, with the I, IV, and V7 chords ubiquitous, until bar 44, where the music becomes diatonically richer. Micro Study 3 is aimed at getting those chord shapes in the second section under your fingers. It uses a simplified version of the opening rhythms to cement the fingering and the shifts of bar 44 onward. Practiced with a metronome, this micro study will swing against the music’s rigid beat and give you more insight into that Brazilian displacement feel.

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Micro Study 4 is a popular idea, based on bar 10, which has been extended and modeled after Brouwer and Dyens. It will aid your LH legato technique and by and large uses the G major pentatonic scale (with the added sevenths)  across three octaves to achieve this. It will help strengthen the weaker LH fingers. It will also help reinforce the new tuning and help locate notes.

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The pizz (+) and tambor (x)  markings reflect an older editorial style of notation. These idiosyncratic techniques, which are shared between instruments of the chordophone family, reflect the composer emulating the sound of the African drumming heritage of Brazil.


Each one of Gnattali’s ten etudes was written to echo a regional flavor of Brazil’s vast musical tradition. This study highlights the northeast and reflects its cultural heritage: European guitar–like instruments and music infused with African syncopation. Study V contains the rhythmic seeds of the majority of Brazil’s music, and is worth learning because it will help inform your understanding of this vibrant musical tradition and your approach to its unique groove.