What Instruments Make Up a Mariachi Band?

By Hazel Black

Mariachi is a type of traditional Mexican folk music. The origin of the term "mariachi" is unknown, but various theories exist. Many believe that it originates from the French word for marriage ("mariage"). More recent studies suggest that the name may have developed from a word meaning "Mexican folk musician" in the language of the Coca Indians.

Mariachi music is most often performed by a band of musicians who are mobile, and its modern incarnation has a fairly traditional instrumental lineup.

Violin

Traditionally, the violin is used to play the melody of the song or piece of music. The use of the violin as a lead instrument is a distinctive part of the mariachi sound. The number of violins in a mariachi band can vary dramatically from band to band but is usually between one and eight.

Vihuela

The vihuela is a five-string instrument similar to a small guitar or large ukulele; it comes from the lute and guitar family of instruments. It is part of the rhythm section of a mariachi band and is used to play the "harmony" or, put more simply, the chords and backing of a song (as opposed to the melody).

Guitar

Most mariachi bands include a regular guitar. One characteristic of this style of music is that the guitar and the vihuela often play in unison, supporting the rhythm of the song and grounding the timing of the band.

Guitarron (Bass Guitar)

A guitarron is a bass guitar used to underpin the harmony and rhythm of mariachi music. It is an important element of traditional mariachi rhythms. Originally, a harp would have played this role, but the portability of the guitarron has made it far more widely used.

Trumpet

The trumpet is a more recent addition to mariachi music. It was adopted in the 1930s due to the popularity of jazz music. Not only does the trumpet add drama to the mariachi sound, but it's a key part of what makes mariachi music so recognizable and atmospheric to a modern audience.

Additional Instruments

The violin, vihuela, guitar, guitarron (bass guitar) and trumpet are the instruments most frequently used by the modern mariachi band. However, there are also regional and historical variations, which include the accordion, flute, harp and French horn. These are used for particular arrangements of traditional songs or pieces.

About the Author

Hazel Black started writing professionally in 2010, specializing in music and the arts. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in music from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and is studying journalism at the University of London.