Instructor
John Proulx
Quick Tip
Intermediate
17:10

Learning Focus
  • Songs
Music Style
  • Latin Jazz
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In the summer of 1964, Antonio Carlos Jobim catapulted to international fame when “The Girl from Ipanema” took over the airwaves with its mesmerizing Brazilian jazz reverberations. For sixty years, the song has remained one of the most popularly requested Latin jazz standards. In today’s Quick Tip, Play Girl From Ipanema on Piano, John Proulx shares his personal approach to performing this classic bossa nova standard for solo piano. In the process, you’ll discover pro tips that you too can use when performing this popular tune.

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The Girl from Ipanema: Song Analysis

In this section, we’ll examine important considerations for piano students about “The Girl from Ipanema” from a structural and harmonic perspective. Understanding these compositional elements enables jazz musicians to more easily memorize and personalize tunes.

If you are a PWJ member, you can download the chord changes for “The Girl from Ipanema” from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. In addition, PWJ members should check out the Smartsheet for this lesson which is accessible via the blue bar at the top of this page. PWJ digital Smartsheets are interactive, allowing members to easily transpose tunes and adjust the playback speed on performance demos.

Song Key

The 1964 Getz/Gilberto recording that made “The Girl from Ipanema” an international hit was recorded in D♭ major. However, The Real Book and nearly every other modern fake book places the tune in F major. This is most likely attributed to Frank Sinatra’s iconic 1967 performance of “Girl from Ipanema” on the NBC TV Special A Man and His Music + Ella + Jobim. In this performance, Sinatra performed the tune in F major, accompanied by Jobim on guitar.

Song Form

“The Girl from Ipanema” is written in AABA form. However, there is a significant difference in how Jobim structures this tune that sets it apart from a typical AABA form.  Usually, in a conventional AABA form, each section is 8 measures in length, which results in a song that is 32 measures long. However, in the case of “The Girl from Ipanema,” the B section is 16 measures long—twice the length of a typical bridge! As a result, the form of “The Girl from Ipanema” is 40 measures long. (Note: measure numbers won’t reflect the total length of the song when repeats are used. For example, upon first glance, the chord chart in the next section appears to contain only 34 measures. However, if you account for the repeated A section at the beginning, the song is actually 40 measures long when performed.)

Girl from Ipanema Song Form AABA
“The Girl from Ipanema” is written in AABA form. However, the B section is 16 measures long—twice the length of a typical bridge. As a result, “The Girl from Ipanema” is 40 measures long, instead of the standard 32 bars for an AABA form.

Chord Changes & Harmonic Function

The following chord chart shows the standard chord changes and harmonic analysis for “The Girl from Ipanema” in F major. The A section uses a fairly conventional jazz chord progression, which is almost identical to the progression used by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in the A section of “Take the A Train” (1939). The only difference is that Jobim uses tritone substitutions for the Ⅴ7 chords, which means we encounter G♭7 chords instead of C7.

The B section of “The Girl from Ipanema” is much more unique and harmonically complex. In fact, the bridge modulates through three different key centers: D♭ major, E major and F major. However, what makes the bridge particularly interesting and challenging to analyze is that Jobim never introduces the tonic chord in any of these keys! Moreover, the dominant chords that appear in measures 13, 17 and 21 do not function as typical Ⅴ7 chords. Instead, these dominant chords are examples of what jazz musicians call “backdoor dominants.” A backdoor dominant 7th chord is a ♭Ⅶ7 chord that resolves up a whole step to a tonic chord. Nonetheless, in the case of “Girl from Ipanema,” the expected tonic chord for each backdoor dominant never arrives! After 12 measures of this harmonic ambiguity, the last 4 measures of the bridge give way to a more conventional Ⅲ→Ⅵ→Ⅱ→Ⅴ chord progression.

 

The Girl from Ipanema - Chord Changes & Harmonic Analysis

The Girl from Ipanema: Bossa Nova Piano Techniques

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at some the bossa nova techniques that John Proulx uses his performance of “The Girl from Ipanema” on piano. We’ll also provide helpful links to PWJ resources where you can go deeper on each topic.

Bossa Nova Groove

First, we’ll start by playing a very basic bossa nova groove on piano that uses one chord only—the tonic chord. Since “The Girl from Ipanema” is in the key of F major, we’ll use an Fmaj9 chord. Let’s take a listen…

Bossa Groove – Tonic Only

Basic Bossa Nova Piano Groove 1

Notice that in a standard boss nova groove, the left-hand rhythmic pattern is one measure long. However, the right-hand rhythmic pattern is two measures long.

Now, let’s add another chord to our bossa groove. If we alternate between tonic and dominant, then we can create a sense of harmonic tension and release. However, instead of using the ordinary dominant 7th chord (C7), we’ll use the tritone substitute for the dominant 7th chord, which is the chord G♭7. Tritone substitution is a common chord substitution technique in jazz music and other jazz-influenced genres. To introduce a tritone sub, we replace the regular dominant 7th chord with the dominant 7th chord whose root is a tritone (3 whole steps) away. For example, the roots of C7 and G♭7 are a tritone apart so they can substitute for one another. Let’s take a listen…

Bossa Groove – Tonic to Sub.V7

Basic Bossa Nova Piano Groove 2 for Girl from Ipanema

When analyzing a tritone substitute chord, you can label it as♭Ⅱ7 or “sub Ⅴ7” (we’ve chosen the latter in the example above). You may have noticed that we’ve used an altered dominant chord voicing for G♭7. Specifically, the example above uses G♭9(♯11). The sharp-eleven (♯11) is a commonly occurring chord alteration on tritone substitutions.

Another important observation to make in the example above is that when you change chords in the middle of the right-hand pattern, the change should occur on the “and of 4” in the first measure. Rhythmically speaking, we describe the early arrival of a subsequent chord as an anticipation.

Harmonic Considerations

Now, let’s consider some of the unique harmonic techniques that John used in his solo piano performance of “The Girl from Ipanema.”

First, let’s talk about all those dominant 7(#11) chords that John uses throughout his performance. Many of these chord voicings also contain the 9th or even the 13th. Therefore, you may see chord symbols such as G9(♯11) or G13(♯11). It’s important to understand that G7(♯11), G9(♯11) and G13(♯11) all represent the same parent scale—the G Lydian Dominant Scale (G–A–B–C♯–D–E–F).

To construct a Lydian Dominant Scale, simply start with a major scale and modify it according to the following scale formula: 1–2–3–♯4–5–6–♭7. The resulting scale produces a dominant 7th chord quality. However, when you add in the ♯11, you get a unique, magical dominant 7th sound. Lydian dominant chords are especially common when the chord function is Ⅱ7, Ⅳ7, and ♭Ⅶ7. In addition, Lydian dominant chords are also common on tritone substitutions, as we mentioned earlier.

Now, let’s listen to the following piano accompaniment for “The Girl from Ipanema” which uses the Lydian Dominant sound in measures 3–4, measure 6 and measure 8.

The Lydian Dominant Sound

Lydian Dominant Sound on Girl From Ipanema Piano

To learn more about the unique Lydian Dominant sound, including how to improvise a solo with this scale, check out Lydian Dominant Scale—The Complete Guide (Int).

Polychordal Voicings

Another cool harmonic technique that John mentions in his performance remarks is polychordal voicings, which may also be called polychords or upper structure triads.

In jazz harmony, the term polychord refers to the combining of two simple chord structures to create a more complex harmonic sound. Therefore, the concept of polychords represents a mental framework that allows jazz musicians to digest complex chord symbols more easily. For example, near the end of the bridge section, we encounter the chord symbol D7(♭9♯11). A much easier way to think of this chord is as A♭ major over D7. Therefore, we’ll play an A♭ major “upper structure triad” in our right and a D7 chord shell in our left hand.

Two measures latter, we encounter the same chord suffix on C7(♭9♯11), which we can think of as G♭ major over C7. In each case, the relationship of the upper structure triad to the overall chord symbol is that the right hand plays a major triad built on the note that is a diminished 5th above the root. Therefore, we’ve labeled the relationship as UST ♭Ⅴ. Check it out…

🔎 For a deep dive on this topic, check out our full-length course on Coloring Dominant Chords with Upper Structures (Adv).

Reharmonization

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at four examples of reharmonization that John uses in his solo piano performance of “The Girl from Ipanema.” Reharmonization is simply changing the chords to an existing melody. The most common reason to reharmonize a tune is to make it sound more interesting.

The first example we’ll consider happens during the final A section of the initial presentation of the melody (at approximately 1:48). This is just before the solo section. Instead of playing 2 measures of F▵9, John uses the extended turnaround progression to insert three passing chords: B♭9(♯11), Am7, and D9. Let’s take a listen…

Extended Turnaround Progression

Girl from Ipanema Piano - Extended Turnaround Progression

Since this part of the tune marks the third pass through the A section, this quick reharmonization adds an element of surprise and curiosity for the listener.


During his solo, John plays another variation of the extended turnaround progression on the final A section of the form (at approximately 2:58). Here, John replaces the tonic major chord with a tonic dominant 7th chord and slides down chromatically: F7→E7→E♭7→D7. This harmonic movement functions as a chain of tritone substitutions on the original extended turnaround. For example, E7 is the tritone sub for B♭7. Afterward, E♭7 is a tritone sub for A7, which was previously Am7. Let’s take a listen…

Extended Turnaround Tritone Subs.

Girl from Ipanema - Extended Turnaround with Tritone Subs


Now, let’s take a look at how John approaches the 2nd ending of the A section, right before the bridge (at approximately 1:15). Traditionally, the lead sheet calls for two measures of F▵7 here. However, John choses to create some passing motion here instead. He accomplishes this using a convention of jazz language known as a “walk-up progression.” Since Ⅲm7 can substitute for I▵7, John creates movement from I▵7 to Ⅲm7 (F▵7 to Am7). Then, he connects these chords with a stepwise bass line: F→G→G♯→A. When G is the bass note, we use a diatonic Ⅱm7 chord (Gm7). However, since G♯ a chromatic tone, we cannot use a diatonic chord for G♯. Therefore, we use a diminished 7th chord instead. Check it out…

Walk-Up Progression Before Bridge

Walk-up Chord Progression on Piano


Now, let’s consider one final example of reharmonization that John plays over the 1st ending of the A section on his solo (at approximately 2:13). On a lead sheet, the normal chords in the 1st ending are one measure of F▵7 and one measure of G♭7. Instead, John choses to import a jazz idiom known as the “Tadd Dameron Turnaround,” which is named after bebop pianist and composer Tadd Dameron. This turnaround comes from his 1939 composition “Lady Bird.” Therefore, sometimes you may hear this idiom referred to as the “Lady Bird Turnaround.”

The Tadd Dameron Turnaround contains the chords Ⅰ▵7→Ⅲ♭7→♭Ⅵ▵7→♭Ⅱ7. In F major, these chords are F▵7→A♭7→D♭▵7→G♭7. As you can see, this progression begins with F▵7 and ends with G♭7—the same chords that normally appear in the first ending of “The Girl from Ipanema”! Therefore, you can see how John is able to build out this progression. (Note: sometimes, in a Tadd Dameron Turnaround, a Ⅲm7 replaces the initial Ⅰ▵7 chord.) Let’s take a listen…

Tadd Dameron Turnaround

The Tadd Dameron Turnaround (a.k.a "Lady Bird Turnaround"

Surprisingly, the Tadd Dameron turnaround is really just multiple embellishments on a standard Ⅰ→Ⅵ→Ⅱ→Ⅴ turnaround progression. Check it out:

  • Standard Turnaround:  Ⅰ▵→Ⅵm→Ⅱm→Ⅴ7   (F▵7→Dm7→Gm7→C7)
  • Add Secondary Dominants: Ⅰ▵→Ⅵ7→Ⅱ7→Ⅴ7   (F▵7→D7→G7→C7)
  • Add Tritone Substitutions: Ⅰ▵→♭Ⅲ7→♭Ⅵ7→♭Ⅱ7   (F▵7→A♭7→D♭7→G♭7)
  • Add Major 7th Chord(s)*: Ⅰ▵→♭Ⅲ7→♭Ⅵ▵→♭Ⅱ7   (F▵7→A♭7→D♭▵7→G♭7)

(*Sometimes all of the chords are major 7th chords)

To learn more hip jazz chord substitutions, check out our full-length course on 32 Colorful Jazz Endings (Int).

Recommended Listening

If you’re looking to for a good recording of “The Girl from Ipanema,” there are plenty to sift through. In fact, Jobim’s bossa nova mega-hit is often cited as being the second-most recorded song of all time (although current standings are more difficult to confirm).³ Nonetheless, SecondHandSongs.com currently lists 914 recorded versions of the tune! Therefore, we thought we’d start you off in the right direction with a few must-know recordings.

Even though the Getz/Gilberto May 1964 release of “Girl from Ipanema” was not the first recording of the tune, it was certainly the match that lit the international blaze. Almost immediately, dozens more recordings followed. In particular, piano enthusiasts will love the Oscar Peterson Trio’s version of “The Girl from Ipanema” released in November of 1964 on We Get Requests. In addition, we’ve included a serene 1998 release by Brazilian vocalist and pianist Eliane Elias featuring Michael Brecker on tenor sax.

Stan Getz & João Gilberto

“The Girl from Ipanema” (1964)
Oscar Peterson Trio

“The Girl from Ipanema” (1964)
Eliane Elias

“Garota de Ipanema” (1998)

To learn interesting song facts about the background and legacy of “Girl from Ipanema,” continue reading in the next section.

The Girl from Ipanema: Song Facts

Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927–1994) composed “Garota de Ipanema (The Girl from Ipanema)” in 1962 with lyricist Vinicius de Moraes (1913–1980). The inspiration for the song came as the writing duo visited the Bar Veloso, a block of the beach at Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro.² Originally titled “Menina que Passa (“The Girl Who Passes By”), the lyrics tell the tale of a captivating young Brazilian woman passing by a secret admirer…

🎶 “When she walks, she’s like a samba that swings so cool and sways so gently, that when she passes, each one she passes goes, ‘Ah.'” 🎶

Moraes composed the original lyrics for “Garota de Ipanema” in Portuguese. Afterward, the familiar English lyrics were adapted by Norman Gimbel (1927–2018). Although the song was first recorded by Pery Ribeiro in 1962, it didn’t become an international hit until American saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto released their more mellow and subdued recording of the tune in 1964 on Getz/Gilberto.

During the Getz/Gilberto recording, a last-minute suggestion was made for Asturd Gilberto, the then wife of João Gilberto, to sing the lyrics in English. Although Astrud was not a novice, that session became her debut vocal recording. Ironically, it also earned her a Grammy Award for Record of the Year and a Grammy nomination for Best Vocal Performance by a Female!³

So who was “The Girl from Ipanema?” The young woman immortalized in the song lyrics is Heloísa Pinheiro, who later become a business woman and model. Decades later, when the 2016 Summer Olympics were hosted in Rio, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen was selected to portray “Garota de Ipanema” in the opening ceremony, walking a 125-meter-long runway (410 feet) while the tune was performed by Daniel Jobim, grandson of composer Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Conclusion

Congratulations, you’ve completed today’s Quick Tip on Play Girl From Ipanema on Piano. As always, you’ve likely gained some fresh and exciting new ideas to test drive from the piano bench.

If you enjoyed today’s lesson, then be sure to check out the following PWJ resources:

 

Thanks for learning with us today! We’ll see you next time.

 

 

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¹ Micucci, Matt. “‘The Girl from Ipanema’ (Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, 1962).” JAZZIZ Magazine, 20 Feb. 2017.

² Gioia Ted. The Jazz Standards : A Guide to the Repertoire. Second ed. Oxford University Press 2021.

³ “Astrud Gilberto.” Recording Academy, www.grammy.com.


Writer
Michael LaDisa

Michael LaDisa graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in Music Theory & Composition. He lives in Chicago where he operates a private teaching studio and performs regularly as a solo pianist. His educational work with students has been featured on WGN-TV Evening News, Fox 32 Good Day,...

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