Mariachi is perhaps the best known Mexican folk music tradition, especially outside of Mexico. The term “Mariachi” refers to a traditional Mexican music ensemble, although it can also be used to describe the musicians themselves. Mariachi music originally comes from Jalisco, a state in Southwestern Mexico. From there, the mariachi tradition spread to the surrounding areas in Central and Western Mexico.
Mariachi music is typically lively, bright and vibrant folk music- with a western sound. Mariachi groups play mostly traditional Mexican arrangements, many of which include a romantic theme. In addition to the instruments, mariach musicians (“Mariachis” or “Mariacheros”) usually sing in accompaniment to the music. Some of the most recognized mariachi tunes include the “Mexican Hat Dance” and “La Cucaracha”. You may already be familiar with mariachi music, but do you know the three types of guitars that make up a mariachi band?
The characteristic mariachi sound is a harmony of several musical instruments. Mariachi ensembles normally consist of three or more violins, one or two trumpets and various guitars. Every mariachi band needs at least three guitars since each of the mariachi guitars has its own distinctive tone.
The guitars used in mariachi music are the “vihuela”, the “guitarron” and the acoustic guitar. A vihuela is a small, high-pitched Mexican guitar with five strings. This instrument can be identified by its ‘vaulted’ (curved) back. The vihuela produces the lively rhythmic vibrancy of mariachi. A guitarron is a deep-voiced acoustic bass guitar. The guitarron serves as the bass of the group, since the mariachi ensemble has no drums or other percussion. Like a vihuela, the guitarron has a curved, convex back, but this instrument is much larger – almost the size of a cello! In addition to these two, special Mexican guitars, each mariachi band has a more typical acoustic guitar as well. The classical guitars used for mariachi, however, are usually Mexican-made “Requinto guitars” or the “guitarra de golpe”.
When you see a mariachi band performing, take a closer peek at the guitars the Mariacheros use. You will be sure to find some fine mariachi guitars like the vihuela, the guitarron and the acoustic guitar.