Toggle Menu

Black Orpheus and its sublime chord structure.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange

Manhã de Carnaval - The Lesson explained.

Way way back in the 1960s, when I had first started learning guitar, I heard this tune played by Brazilian guitarist Luiz Bonfá, the composer, on our radio. It was one of my first tastes of fingerstyle guitar and I was entranced by it. I made it my goal to one day be able to play like that, to turn my guitar into an orchestra with melody lines and bass lines and chords all happening at once. Well, 50 odd years later, I still can't play like Luiz Bonfá, but I can play like me and I can play fingerstyle and so I decided to come up with my own version of this gorgeous piece of music and teach it to you.

This tune has three titles! 'Manhã de Carnaval' (I believe the original title), 'Black Orpheus' (from the Brazilian movie in which it was used as the theme) and 'A Day in the Life of a Fool', the English title. It's been covered by countless artists, notably Frank Sinatra.

It's in the key of Am and has that beautiful bossa nova feel to it. The chord structure is sublime, with that jazzy Bm7b5 chord showing up every few seconds. For the theory buffs, 'minor seventh flat five' chords are also known as 'half-diminished' and are the chord generate on the seventh degree of the major scale. They are rarely used in western pop music but often used in jazz. If you want to literally see where they come from I did a video on chords which you can view here. There is another m7b5 chord in the piece, an Em7b5.

There are a couple of other 'weird' chords in the mix, but they're just chords, nothing to worry too much about. Those Brazilian composers of the genre which became known as Jazz Samba sure knew how to put some beautiful chords and progressions together! Bonfá, Jobim, Gilberto ... all masters.

I start with a bit of an intro before getting into the verses. I had a lot of trouble transcribing this into Guitar Pro. I never was very good at notation and time values -- dotted crotchets, triplets, tied notes -- I've always felt a little dyslexic about that stuff, so please forgive the mistakes I'm sure I made. The notes are all there, though, so you should be able to figure it all out. Most of it is based around the chord shapes anyway, and you can see them in the video. You'll also see the bar count changing at odd moments in some cases. That's where there's been an 'anticipated' chord,one played just before the end of one bar and ringing over into the next. Don't let that throw you.

What I'll call verse 1 starts at bar 13. I do a few slide-ups so be careful with those, know where to stop sliding. The one at bar 18 goes right up to the twelfth fret and uses the same finger (the index) as the previous chord, so just keep it pressed down and then slide.

Bar 24 I had to use my thumb to grab a bass note. Some consider it poor technique but sometimes there's no other option.

Bar 36 I hit that high D note and zoom back down the neck for the next section. Be ready for that.

I end it with an outro, same theme as the intro but played in a higher register.

There's lots of room for you alter the timings. I tried to keep it simple but soulful so there are parts where I add some little triplet flourishes and other odd timings. I wouldn't feel like you need to copy them exactly if I were you. If some of them don't feel comfortable, there are many other ways of expressing the same thing. I actually did three takes of this, all quite different ... but the same. I chose this one to work on because it made most sense when it came to transcribing it.

Have fun with this. It's challenging but not overly complicated and once you do get a version down, it's a pure pleasure to play.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange

Kirk LorangeAs well as putting together these fingerstyle guitar lessons, I am also the author of PlaneTalk - The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Package, which teaches a mindset, a way of thinking about music and a way of tracking it all on the guitar fretboard. Yes, there IS a constant down there in the maze of strings and fret wire, a landmark that points to everything at all times. I call it The Easiest Yet Most Powerful Guitar Lesson You Will Ever Learn and many testimonials at my site will back up that rather superlative description. If your goal as a guitar player is to be able to truly PLAY the guitar, not just learn by rote; to be able to invent on the fly, not memorize every note; to be able to see the WHOLE fretboard as friendly, familiar territory, not just the first 5 frets and to do it all without thinking about all those scales and modes, then you should read more here.

Manhã de Carnaval - TAB, Notation and the GuitarPro file.


Notation | GuitarPro File