Latin Piano Styles


Authored by Nando Michelin


Course Code: OPIAN-300

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


This course will explore some of the more relevant styles of Latin (South American, Central American, and Caribbean) music, and expose you to the wide variety of styles born out of the interactions among African, European, and Indigenous music in Latin America. The course will be based on the essential rhythmic qualities of those styles, and how those rhythms are translated to the piano, providing a strong rhythmic awareness that will enhance your overall musicianship. Each week we’ll develop our piano skills in different settings: piano solo, piano along with a rhythm section, and piano accompanying a singer.

Read More

Much like learning a new language, we will discuss Latin piano in context to the culture from which the music comes. For each style of Latin music, there are different origins, dances, lyrics, form, and specific social situations associated with them. Throughout the course, we will generally discuss styles by country of origin, dedicating extra weeks to Cuba and Brazil, given the importance of those traditions in contemporary music. Another important aspect that we will cover is pronunciation, which can be transferred into music as phrasing and accents. By the end of the course, you will have a broad understanding of Latin piano, providing you the foundation to a lifelong pursuit of mastering an individual style.

After completing the course, you will be able to:

  • Describe the role of the piano in various Latin styles
  • Perform a repertoire of traditional songs
  • Gain a deep stylistic awareness, expanding on a rhythm of your choice
  • Play piano unaccompanied (i.e., without a rhythm section) in these styles
  • Play in these styles along with a rhythm section
Read Less
Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
Request Info


Lesson 1: Mother of All Rhythms

  • 12/8 Bell Pattern
  • Applying the Patterns to the Piano
  • Phrasing Melodies over the Pattern
  • Pattern Variations
  • Comping in a Rhythm Section
  • Assignment 1: Transcribe 12/8 Rhythms

Lesson 2: Cuban Styles

  • Danzón
  • Ignacio Cervantes and Ernesto Lecuona
  • Comping in These Styles
  • The Piano Style of Peruchín, Raúl Gonzalez, and Bebo Valdés
  • Assignment 2: Perform a Classically-notated Piece

Lesson 3: More Cuban Clave-Based Styles

  • Clave and Rhythmic Elements
  • Cáscara and Campana
  • Guajeo and Montuno
  • Tumbao
  • Montuno and Tumbao
  • Tumbao Stride
  • Cha Cha Cha
  • Assignment 3: Montunos and Stride

Lesson 4: Cuban Styles and Their Interaction with Other Non-Latin Styles

  • Chucho Valdés (Irakere)
  • Chucho Valdéz’s Compositions
  • Papo Lucca and Eddie Palmieri
  • Gonzalo Rubalcaba
  • Danilo Pérez
  • Timba
  • Assignment 4: Play and Transcribe

Lesson 5: Brazilian Styles: Maxixe (Brazilian Tango) and Choro

  • Maxixe (Brazilian Tango)
  • Maxixe Compositions
  • Choro
  • Choro Accompaniment
  • Choro Melodies
  • Choro Influence
  • Assignment 5: Perform a Song Selection or Original Piece

Lesson 6: More Brazilian Styles: Samba and Bossa Nova

  • Telecoteco Rhythmic Pattern
  • Samba Patterns
  • Bossa Nova (Tom Jobim, João Gilberto)
  • Samba Jazz (Hard Bossa)
  • Assignment 6: Perform a Song Selection or Original Piece

Lesson 7: More Brazilian Styles: Baião, Afoxê, Frevo, Maracatu

  • Baião and Forró, Transferring Accordion to Piano
  • Ijexá Rhythmic Patterns on the Piano
  • Frevo and Maracatú Rhythmic Patterns on the Piano
  • Egberto Gismonti and Hermeto Pascoal
  • Assignment 7: Perform a Song Selection or Original Piece

Lesson 8: 6/8 and 3/4 Peruvian and Argentine styles

  • Festejo
  • Landó
  • Chacarera
  • Zamba
  • Assignment 8: Perform a Traditional Song or Standard Song

Lesson 9: Río de la Plata Region, Uruguay and Argentina (Urban Styles)

  • Candombe Patterns
  • Candombe Songs
  • Milonga (Rural)
  • Milonga (Urban)
  • Assignment 9: Perform a Traditional Song or Standard Song

Lesson 10: Río de la Plata Region: Tango

  • Tango Patterns Derived from Habanera
  • Tango Styles of Horacio Salgán and Osvaldo Pugliese
  • Tango Vals
  • Nuevo Tango: Astor Piazzolla
  • Assignment 10: Tango on Piano Solo

Lesson 11: Colombian and Venezuelan Styles

  • Merengue Venezolano
  • Joropo (Harp Elements into the Piano)
  • Cumbia
  • Chandé
  • Assignment 11: Traditional Joropo, Merengue, Cumbia or Chandé song

Lesson 12: A Universe of Possibilities

  • Combining Different 3/4, 6/8, and 3/2
  • Odd Meters
  • More Odd Meters
  • Triad Inversions and Voice Leading
  • Assignment 12: Odd Meter and Open Triads with Voice Leading Harmony


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
This course is designed for pianists who are already able to perform two-handed pieces at the intermediate to advanced level. Pianists with experience in jazz improvisation are especially well-suited for this course, even though the course does not focus on jazz improvisation, per se. Rhythmic mastery of each style is critical for success in the course. Students will vocalize and tap rhythms before playing the rhythms on the keyboard. Pianists with more experience will be encouraged to stretch their abilities, exploring improvisation and composition in those styles.
Students should be able to:

  • Play rhythmically contrasting parts between the hands (independence)
  • Perform standard jazz left hand voicings (using tensions 9, 13 when applicable) depending on repertoire


  • No textbooks required


  • Students are required to record video while playing along with a backing track for their assignments. Options for recording video include:
    • Smartphone
    • Digital camera
    • External webcam
  • Note: The camera view must be from above, recording the keys right side up. It is imperative that the videos show the student's fingerings. You may need certain accessories to accomplish this, such as a goose-neck camera holder, tripod, etc.



  • Piano or keyboard instrument with at least 76 keys and a sustain pedal
    • If using a MIDI keyboard controller, a high-quality piano software instrument is also required.
    • If using a digital piano or keyboard workstation without built-in speakers, an audio interface or amplifier is also required.


  • Students are required to capture their instrumental performance, as well as monitor audio output. Options include:
    • Input (one required if not using MIDI and software instruments):
      • Keyboard connected directly to audio interface (recommended non-acoustic option; alternatively, the microphone options below can be used with amplified instruments)
      • XLR microphone and audio interface (recommended acoustic piano option)
      • USB microphone
      • Built-in computer/mobile device microphone
    • Output (one required):
      • Headphones (recommended option; required if multitracking and/or input monitoring a microphone)
      • Studio monitors and audio interface
      • Built-in or external computer speakers
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need XLR/instrument cables and microphone stand(s).

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Nando Michelin

Author & Instructor

Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, Nando Michelin came to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music, where he is currently an associate professor. His discography includes more than 14 albums as a band leader, mostly original compositions, and several more as a sideman. His albums include collaborators such as Esperanza Spalding, Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzone, Antonio Serrano, Jeff Ballard, Claudio Ragazzi, and Richie Barshay.

Read More

He’s performed at a variety of venues, such as the Wang Theatre, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Smithsonian, Jordan Hall, Teatro Opera (Buenos Aires), Roy E. Disney Center for Performing Arts, among several other concert halls across the US. As a sideman, Nando performed with John Patitucci, Eddie Gomez, Jerry Bergonzi, Randy Brecker, Anat Cohen, George Garzone, and more.

In addition to teaching at Berklee, Nando has also taught at Tufts University and Longy School of Music, and has lectured in Barcelona, Montevideo, São Paulo, Venezuela, South Africa, Mexico, Colombia, and around the US. Read Less


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

Get Info