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How to Play the Most Popular Piano Montuno (Latin Progression Lesson)

Lisa Witt  /  Rhythm / Nov 5

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This Latin piano progression (montuno) is SO iconic. And our friend Kevin Castro is back with a tutorial on how to master it yourself!

This progression is technically called a montuno, and the bass is called a tumbao. A word of warning: there’s a lot of syncopation here. So, if you’re not familiar with Latin jazz, the rhythmic pattern may be a little tricky at first. But don’t worry, we’ll break down the counting to help you make sense of it. And as always, start slow!

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How to Play the Latin Piano Montuno

The Notes

We’ll be playing in the key of C Minor, which means three flats. Broken down, the basic pattern on the right hand alternates between a C Minor triad (C-Eb-G), B flat, and B natural.

Piano montuno main theme on grand staff with C-Eb-G triad, B natural and B flat labelled.

Chromaticism is popular in montunos. This means you’ll hear many notes that are right next to each other (ie. black key to white key).

The Piano Montuno Rhythm

As we’ve mentioned, there’s a lot of syncopation in this piece. In other words, many notes are played on the off-beat.

One way to demystify the rhythm is to break it down into smaller subdivisions. Like eighth notes.

Piano montuno with 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + counting.

Counting like this, each eighth note takes a syllable (“one” or “and”). We have a whole lesson about subdividing rhythms here if you want a more thorough explanation.

BUT. If this seems like too much math and you’d rather play the rhythm by ear, that is totally fine! We all learn in different ways 🙂

🎹 Latin Piano Essentials with Kevin Castro

If you feel inspired by this lesson, Kevin Castro is releasing a six-part Latin jazz course with Pianote in November, and you can access this when you become a Pianote Member. Not sure whether you want to become a member yet? No problem! Try Pianote for 90 days and get your money back if you’re not totally satisfied.

TRY PIANOTE

Adding Octaves

Once you’ve mastered the right hand rhythm, see if you can play with both hands an octave apart, in unison. This will help you master that rhythm.

The next step after that is to incorporate some octaves. Octaves are super popular in montunos.

Piano montuno octaves version sheet music with fingering added: 1-5 for octave and 2-4 for inner voices.

Play this slowly at first. Here’s the suggested fingering: play the octaves with fingers 1 and 5 and the inner voices (the Eb and G thirds) with fingers 2 and 4.

Spice Up the Inner Voices

Now let’s have some fun and switch things up a little. Try breaking up those inner voices in the montuno — those Eb-Gs. Play them going up or going down. Just varying things a bit can add lots of flavor to your montuno!

Piano montuno sheet music with inner Eb and G voices broken into 16th notes.

The Left Hand (Tumbao)

In Latin music, the left hand rhythm is often called a tumbao.

Again, syncopation is a BIG part of this. Here’s the counting breakdown again.

Piano montuno sheet music with 1+2+3+4+ bass counting.

Remember: after the first measure, you don’t start the first note on the “1” but on the “and.”

Things can get tricky when you add the right hand… If you want to break down the counting for both, it’ll look something like this:

Piano montuno with broken up by counting and lines.

For some people, it helps to line up where the notes match. But again, for other people, hearing the rhythm and playing along works better.

You do you!

Either way, getting the hang of this will probably take some practice. It’s not easy!

Once you master the basic pattern, try adding octaves and breaking up the inner voices again.

🔥 From DIY Pianist to Professional Artist 🎹

Today, Kevin Castro plays with top artists like JESSIA. But his beginnings were humble. In fact, Kevin started his piano journey by learning from YouTube tutorials as a teen. Take a look at his incredible story and get a mini-lesson in re-harmonizing here.

Other Chords with the Same Piano Montuno

The cool thing about this piano montuno is that you can easily play it with other chords. Kevin demonstrates it with F Minor, which C Minor modulates nicely to.

We hope this lesson gives you some inspiration! If you want to learn more from Kevin Castro, consider joining Pianote as a member to access his Latin Piano Essentials course. And as always, happy practicing!

TRY PIANOTE

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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