What is it?

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Choro, popularly known as "chorinho," is an instrumental genre of Brazilian  popular music whose origin dates back to the end of the 19th century in the  city of Rio de Janeiro.

Groups that perform choro are called regionals (“Regionais”) and the musicians, composers, or instrumentalists are called “chorões.” Despite the genre’s name — which literally means “cry” — it generally has an upbeat and cheerful rhythm, characterized by the virtuosity and improvisation of its performers. Choro represents the most quintessentially Brazilian instrumental formation, as well as the oldest musical grouping within Brazilian popular music.

The choro regional traditionally consists of one or more solo instruments (flute, mandolin, clarinet, etc) and a cavaquinho, acoustic guitars, and pandeiro as accompaniment instruments. The cavaquinho performs the rhythm and harmony, one or more 6-string guitars (along with the 7-string guitar) perform the harmony and some variations/modulations, the 7-string guitar acts as a bass, and the pandeiro serves to keep rhythm. The cavaquinho, despite having limitations in range, is also used as a solo instrument.

Choro, in its essence, is a purely instrumental musical genre. Of the few choros that contain lyrics, you could say that the majority of them were written in the years after the choro was composed, or even years after the original composer’s death.

We could say that, historically, choro emerged in the city of Rio de Janeiro at the start of the 19th century, with the arrival of the Portuguese royal family, who fled from Napoleon’s invasion and brought along between 10,000 and 15,000 Europeans [1]. As a direct consequence, the city of Rio de Janeiro experienced unprecedented urban and cultural transformations. Musicians, new musical instruments, and new European rhythms also arrived in Rio de Janeiro and were immediately embraced by local society. Before long, the city of Rio de Janeiro came to be known, according to poet Araújo Porto Alegre, as the “city of pianos.”

Choro is the result of Brazilian musicians’ exposure to European musical styles, essentially the polka (first introduced in Rio in 1845), in a musical environment that was already strongly influenced by African rhythms, mainly Lundu (which had been present in Brazilian culture since the end of the 18th century). Just like ragtime in the United States, choro emerged as a result of the influences of musical styles and rhythms of two continents: Europe and Africa.

The first use of the term “choro” appears in the 1870’s, when flutist Joaquin Antônio da Silva Callado, considered a pioneer in this process of fusing European/African musical styles and rhythms, formed a group called “Choro Carioca.” The Maestro and Professor Baptista Siqueira [2], one of Joaquim Callado’s biographers, explains that with Choro Carioca, or simply Choro de Callado (Callado’s Choro), “and so the most unique small musical group of our country was founded. It comprised, from its origin, a solo instrument, two guitars and a cavaquinho, wherein only one of the components knew how to read music: the rest were to improvise the harmonic accompaniment.”

Where does the word “choro” come from?

The origins of the word “choro” are controversial and no definitive opinion has been established among researchers. 

Ary Vasconcelos [3] tells us of a few possibilities:

  • The term could have been derived from “xolo,” a sort of ball held by farm slaves. Due to confusion with its Portuguese paronym, the expression became known as “xoro” and, finally, in the city, it must have begun to be spelled with a “ch.” This explanation is attributed to Jacques Raimundo.
  • The origin of the term might be due to the feelings of melancholy associated with the improvised counterpoint modulations of the guitar (also known as “baixarias”). This explanation is attributed to José Ramos Tinhorão.
  • Another possibility was suggested by Lúcio Rangel, who associated “choro” with melancholia.

To Ary Vasconcelos, the word “choro” is derived from “choromeleiros,” a musical group that dates back to Brazilian colonial times: “to the public, naturally, any instrumental group would have always been the choromeleiros, an expression which was later shortened to choro.”

What is the structure of choro?

With a 2/4 time signature, the traditional choro has three 16-bar parts (A, B, C) played in rondo. Inspired mainly by the polka style, the traditional form of choro appeared as AA BB A CC A and remained this way until the middle of the 20th century, when 2-part choros started to be accepted. “Apanhei-te Cavaquinho” (Ernesto Nazareth) and “Tico-Tico no Fubá” (Zequinha de Abreu) are typical examples of the 3-part form.

Interestingly enough Ernesto Nazareth adds a transition segment before part C in some of his compositions, deviating from the above rule:  “Escorregando,” “Nenê,” “Ranzinza” and “Ouro sobre Azul” are examples.

Pixinguinha launches his choro “Carinhoso” with two parts in 1928, is critisized and does not achieve success at first. The rule “choro must have three parts” was strongly in force at that time. Carinhoso only experiences success when lyrics are added to the tune in 1937.

“Brasileirinho” by Waldir Azevedo (launched in 1949)  reaches an stunning success in Brazil and overseas and definitely clears the way for breaking the taboo that choro must have 3 parts.

It is important to note that many old choro recordings do not literally follow the form AA BB CC A due to technical restrictions of that era in regards to recording time (limited to around 3 minutes), omitting certain repetitions. Especially in the case of slow choros, many recordings followed the form A B A C A, or A BB A in the case of 2-part choros. So when you see a choro score that does not follow the traditional form, it might be that it is a literal transcription of an original recording. This is the case, most of the times, for our scores in all our books.


[1] Gomes, Laurentino: “1808” - 2. edição - São Paulo - Editora Planeta do Brasil - 2007;

[2] SIQUEIRA, João Baptista. Três vultos históricos da música brasileira: Mesquita, Callado e Anacleto. Rio de Janeiro: Sociedade Cultural e Artística Uirapuru/ MEC, 1969, pg.98;

[3] Ary Vasconcelos: “Panorama da Música Popular Brasileira na Belle Époque” - Rio de janeiro - Livraria Sant’Anna - 1977