Mariachi Semblanza Instrumentation

Mariachi Instrumentation:

It has to be taken into account that there were no stringed instruments in pre-Hispanic America, and that they were introduced after the arrival of the Spanish to the New World.

The traditional endowment Mariachi “… Before the 50’s (…) consisted of two violins, a large harp, the vihuela and the fifth hit. It was in that decade that the first violin was replaced by melody trumpets, and the violin is relegated to doing vocals. In addition, to compete with the sound of the breath, you should use 3 or more violins playing in unison. Also, the harp is replaced by the bass guitar, which is played by octaves. In these sounds we can notice a complementarity between strumming riffs, bass and violin, where, during silences or slow figures of the latter, the strumming “fill” and bass backbeats supports it. It is in this dialogue where the richness of mariachi music lies, since, if either of the two supports fail, time is lost. “(Zarina Palafox Ana Mendez, 1998)


The violin is one of the instruments most commonly rooted in traditional Mexican music. The monks teachings were spread in all regions. In many parts of Mexico, one can find even small violins descendants of “Rabel”, a precursor instrument which was one of the favorites in the colonial times as it was used for ritual purposes.

From France and Italy came symphonic and bowed string instruments around the time of independence (1810). Many instruments were regionalized and adopted specific ways to be played. That is when the different styles of different regions adopted the traditional forms we now know .

Vihuela (also spelled vigüela in older sources):

Both the vihuela, as Jaranas, are descendants of the viola hand _ vintage guitars that were played since Spanish Baroque, and reinterpreted and adapted to the Mexican musical groups.

The Mexican vihuela is round in the back, has five strings and serves rhythm and accompaniment in the formation of Mariachi.

Spanish Guitar:

The guitar used in Mariachi is currently the Spanish guitar (which replaced the fifth hit) but continues to meet, in most cases, the same function as the Vihuela rhythm. The Spanish Guitar provided other accompanying melodic possibilities so it currently occupies a very important place in the Mexican group.

The Mexican guitarrón:

It is a six-string acoustic bass and currently is the backbone of a mariachi group. It was invented in the XIX century in substitution of the harp. It is responsible for providing the lower notes, but not allowed to move easily between the public and other members of the band.


The trumpet is an instrument that became fundamental in mariachi ensembles in the early XX century.

In the early 30’s some mariachis of Mexico City, including Mariachi Tapatio de José Marmolejo, incorporated the trumpet, continued to gain momentum until it became imperative to mariachi sets. Pedro Infante in 1949 recorded the first songs with a mariachi band with two trumpets, which eventually established a pattern for Mariachi groups and became almost definitive in the recordings of Pepe Villa’s Mariachi Mexico.

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