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more... AdvancedLessonsFingerstyleApril 2009

Basic Brazilian Guitar Rhythm: The Maxixe

From Brazil: Your Passport to a New World of Music by Billy Newman
The maxixe (ma-shi-shi) was a dance that scandalized the upper classes in late 19th-century Brazil because of how close the two dance partners would move together. The guitarist’s maxixe comp (accompaniment) rhythm has persisted in Brazilian music, and is the source of an integral element: the persistent flow of sixteenth-note offbeats. This will comprise most of the rhythmic background you’ll provide when accompanying others, and also within a solo guitar arrangement of samba or choro. There are two rhythm patterns to learn now: the traditional, and the modified.


An excellent technical exercise using the modified maxixe shows how you can relax your fingers on the sixteenth-note rest between the two finger attacks. Your three fingers work as a hinge starting at the knuckle joints (the joints that connect the fingers to the hand). As in classical guitar technique, the tip joints (the joints closest to the end of the fingers) are extended and relaxed. The strings are pushed, not clawed by the fingers. The exercise follows this sequence:

The Four Parts of a Maxixe Beat
1. thumb (bass)
2. fingers (chord)
3. rest (relax and extend fingers)
4. fingers (chord)

This exercise makes your hand physically feel the four parts of the beat. The time spent literally opening the hand and relaxing on the sixteenth rest can help keep you from collapsing into a three-part “oom–pa–pa” rhythm. Don’t worry, a sixteenth rest is plenty of time to relax the hand. Keep telling yourself that there is an eternity in each sixteenth-note portion of the beat. That is the Brazilian genius—to be able to elongate and manipulate the four parts of every beat.

Start slowly. Speed comes after learning this important right-hand technique. A rest stroke with the thumb will give your hand the stability it needs to develop the free, swinging-hinge mechanism of the knuckle joints. (A rest stroke is a pluck that culminates with the finger—or, in this case, thumb—resting on the next lower adjacent string.)

Maxixe Etude uses chord changes characteristic of many Brazilian styles of music. Starting in bar 6, the chords move through a cycle of 4ths (the roots of the chords are all separated by 4ths), which is an intriguing and common tool. Another distinguishing characteristic of Brazilian harmony is the liberal use of chord inversions (3rds, 5ths and 7ths in the bass) that create bass lines with strong melodic direction.

Maxixe Etude Listen