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!
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.
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).
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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