8 Mariachi Musical Instruments You Should Know

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Once you have experienced a mariachi band, you understand there is nothing else quite like it in the world. This distinct Mexican music style is characterized by a wall of amazing sound produced by several musicians in matching traditional costumes.

In mariachi music, several musicians will play the same instrument. This results in a loud and celebratory style of music. Mariachi bands use many common instruments you would recognize from other musical groups and traditional mariachi musical instruments.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at all the different musical instruments used in Mariachi music and their role. Let’s start off with the Vihuela.

1. Vihuela

The Vihuela is a five-stringed instrument that resembles a small guitar.

It traces its origins to the aristocracy before the 18th century. The vihuela occupied the same type of cultural use and importance as a lute in other locations around Europe at the same time.

The vihuela now used in Mexican mariachi bands is different from its European cousin, although it has the same name.

The vihuela used in mariachi bands acts as the high-pitched complementary sound, or harmony, to the traditional guitar playing the melody.

2. Guitarrón

The Guitarrón is a large stringed instrument similar to the vihuela, but it occupies the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to pitch: The Bass

The guitarrón offers a very low bass sound to the mariachi ensemble and, like the vihuela, is essential to a well-rounded mariachi band.

The guitarrón is a very large instrument that closely resembles a guitar, but it’s actually a completely separate instrument originating from 16th century Spain.

The guitarrón’s considerable size means it doesn’t usually need amplification to be heard but will sometimes use a microphone to be heard.

3. Acoustic Guitar

Another feature instrument in Mariachi is a standard Acoustic Guitar which grounds the ensemble and provides a recognizable instrument to carry the melody.

An acoustic guitar is a six-stringed instrument smaller than a guitarrón and a vihuela. At least one guitar must be present in a mariachi band.

The acoustic guitar provides a solid foundation for the range of pitches produced by a mariachi band and the dramatic storylines contained within the traditional songs.

Mariachi bands perform ballads, boleros, polkas, and marches about love, masculinity, politics, death, and country life.

4. Violin

Like the guitar, the Violin provides a recognizable anchor for the sound of a mariachi band.

There can be as many as eight violins included in one mariachi band. As a violin is small, many musicians must work together to produce enough sound to stand out.

While many mariachi bands include violins, they are not necessary for the group to be considered a mariachi band.

You may not see violins as often as the guitars or trumpets, as violins are often a fixture of much larger mariachi groups.

5. Trumpet

The Trumpet is another instrument considered one of the essential parts of a mariachi band.

A head-turning brass instrument, the trumpet gives a mariachi band part of its signature sound. The bracing, high-pitched tone of the trumpet provides the needed fanfare to announce mariachi.

Often only one trumpet player is included in each mariachi band. Directly the opposite of the violin, a trumpet produces a lot of sound very easily.

Although the trumpet is considered an essential part of a mariachi band, they were only added within the last 100 years.

6. Vocals

Singers in a mariachi band are a unique element of this traditional music style.

Unlike many other types of musical groups, there is not necessarily one lead singer in a mariachi band. Instead, the band members often trade off on verses and sing together in harmony.

Some of the most famous mariachi musicians made their mark as vocalists. For example, Mexican musical and cultural icon Pedro Infante is remembered for his signature singing style.

Another popular vocalist, Pedro Infante was a prolific artist, recording more than 350 songs before her death.

Who sings the lead on which song is often determined based on the specific qualities of each band member’s voice.

Because mariachi bands sing songs that vary widely, someone may be the chosen ballad singer or be best at leading a falsetto huapango style.

7. Jalisco Harp

The Jalisco Harp is an instrument that has been widely replaced in modern mariachi bands but is still favored in some regions of Mexico.

Traditional music in the southern Jalisco and Michoacán traditions preferred to use the jalisco harp to round out their mariachi ensembles.

The jalisco harp could have up to 36 strings and was difficult to tune, especially for such transient performers.

The Jalisco harp was eventually replaced by a combination of two earlier discussed instruments: the violin and guitarrón.

Before the guitarrón, the jalisco harp provided the deep bass tone for the mariachi band. However, the guitarrón became more widely accepted for its portable nature.

The violin also stepped in to replace the Jalisco harp’s other job—to provide melody. The jalisco harp has been largely retired for many auditory and efficiency reasons.

8. Guittara de Golpe

Like the jalisco harp, the Guittara De Golpe has also been mostly eliminated from the modern mariachi band.

This traditional mariachi musical instrument is a five-stringed instrument similar to the standard acoustic guitar.

The guittara de golpe is used in a similar way to the vihuela, as the viheula is only slightly smaller than the guitarra de golpe.

This mariachi musical instrument goes by many names, including guitarra colorada, guitarra mariachera, guitarra quinta, and jarana.

However, some traditional mariachi ensembles still prefer to use the guittara de golpe for that authentic sound.

Especially in the Michoacán region of Mexico, the guittara de golpe is still prized for its unique sound and appearance.

Summing up our List of Instruments Used in Mariachi Music

Mariachi bands are a sensory experience that must be felt in person.

These ensembles are genuinely a feast not only for your ears but also with your eyes as you enjoy their traditional festive attire.

Enjoy the size and sheer power of a mariachi band; as few as three or as many as a dozen instruments flood you with traditional Mexican music.

Feel the singers’ emotions as they trade off stories within the lyrics about lost loves or revolutionary war heroes.

Mariachi musical instruments provide an outstanding balance between traditional Mexican instruments and some common instruments we all know and love.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.