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His uncle taught him to play the guitar when he was eleven years old. Guinga began composing music at the age of 14. In 1967, when he was 17, his song "e;Sou Só Solidao"e; reached the first eliminatory round in Rede Globo's second Festival Internacional da Cancao (International Festival of Song). At the age of 26, he began his five-year classical guitar studies with Jodacil Damasceno.
During the 1970s, Guinga accompanied famous singers such as Beth Carvalho and João Nogueira and recorded with samba legends Cartola and Clara Nunes. He also began a fertile songwriting partnership with the poet and lyricist Paulo Cesar Pinheiro. Their songs were recorded by important artists like Elis Regina, Nelson Gonçalves, Miúcha, Clara Nunes, and Michel Legrand. During the same time, Guinga embarked on a parallel career in dentistry, which he practiced for nearly thirty years. His music career took off in earnest in 1990, when Ivan Lins and Vitor Martins formed the Velas label in order to release Guinga's first album, with a repertoire of songs he co-authored with lyricist Aldir Blanc.
Guinga is now widely considered to be Brazil's most innovative songwriter, as well as one of its foremost guitarists. He is known for drawing on many musical genres, including choro, samba, baião, frevo, modinha, waltz, foxtrot, blues, classical music, and jazz. His compositions are often harmonically and rhythmically complex yet melodically accessible and emotionally resonant.