The Role of the Violin in Mariachi Music

The word mestizo, denoting a mix of European and Amerindian heritage, is a perfect term to apply to mariachi music. Originally a Mexican regional style blending a traditional native American sounds with European band and orchestral music (a product in part of Mexico’s brief occupation by Austro-Hungarian forces in the 1860s), mariachi has gained popularity north of the border as well. Today in many parts of the U.S., especially the Southwest, students are involved in thriving mariachi programs at school. Violins are an essential component of any mariachi group, and so string teachers may find it rewarding to incorporate mariachi instruction into their normal classical curriculum.

Mark Folgelquist, a mariachi instructor at Chula Vista Middle School in Chula Vista, California, and one of the country’s leading experts on the genre, points out that the differences between classical and mariachi are many. The primary purpose of the violin in mariachi music is to complement trumpet melodies, and so the most notable element of this style of playing is use of the entire bow. “I have my students use whole bows and be very aggressive with the bow from the very beginning,” says Folgelquist. “Violins are trying to produce a lot of sound because they are competing with the trumpets.” He adds that open strings are used freely and, in fact, are desired.

Among the other stylistic elements characteristic of mariachi violin are frequent appoggiaturas, acciaccaturas, and finger glissandos; the latter, which mariachi players commonly call “rubbing the note,” often occur at the beginnings of phrases or whenever a note requires extra emphasis.

NAfME’s Mariachi Education Site 
Foundation of Mariachi Education, Volume 1: Materials, Methods, and Resources (MENC/Rowman & Littlefield)

This article was adapted from an article of the same name by Cynthia Darling. Read the entire article on page 50 of your November 2009 Teaching Music.

— Nicole Springer, November 10, 2009. © National Association for Music Education.