Introduction to Mariachi Music

A detailed introduction to the popular Mexican musical style

Introduce your students to mariachi music with this detailed overview of the history, traditions, and song forms of this popular musical style that originated in Mexico. Includes a list of books, recordings, and websites for further use and investigation.
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Updated on: August 23, 2001
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Preparing to Teach Mariachi Music

When teaching the mariachi music to a class, use the following guidelines:
  • Perform only the most traditional mariachi songs (do not perform arrangements of pop, rock, or other songs that are not in the Mexican tradition).
  • Use only authentic instruments (do not substitute a string bass for the guitarrón or a guitar for the vihuela).
  • Choose simple song forms when first learning to play mariachi music, preferably a ranchem or a son polka.
  • Adhere strictly to the rhythmic patterns of the song forms.
  • Make musicality and adherence to the mariachi style the most important goals.
  • Limit the size of the ensemble so it does not grow too large.
  • Tell students not to improvise when they forget their part; instead, they should do one of two things – either not play or, in the case of the violinists, fake the bowing in the same direction as the rest of the section (violinists always bow in the same direction regardless, of the part they play).
  • When in doubt, seek out performers of mariachi music for advice.
  • Always keep a fun and relaxed atmosphere in the rehearsal (this is the mariachi tradition).
There are no formal books in Spanish for learning traditional mariachi music. It is an art form that has always been transmitted orally. The traditional method of learning mariachi music is to learn the technique of the instrument while the repertoire is learned. Although mariachi music uses solfege for indicating keys or individual notes, it should be learned by ear from the very first lessons. By learning the music by ear, the performer is able to capture the nuance and essence of mariachi music. (This is not to say that performers of mariachi music should not study their instruments and score reading in private lessons or school bands, orchestras, or choirs.)

Over the years, the following standard terminology for the mariachi has developed:
  • al bajon (down beat)
  • primera (first part)
  • segunda (second part)
  • tercera (third part)
  • que tono (what key is the piece to be performed in)
  • pa bajo (down bow)
  • pa arriba (up bow)
  • mas redo (faster)
  • mas despacio (slower)
  • chamba (job or performance)
Learning the art of playing mariachi music meets many of the National Standards for Music Education. However, mariachi music seems to most easily target Achievement Standard 2e (grades 5-8) and Achievement Standard 2a (grades 9-12) under Content Standard 2 ("Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music"), where the student needs to "perform with expression and technical accuracy" and include some songs "performed from memory." On stage, mariachi music is always performed from memory. Music is used only when an arrangement is new or when the band is accompanied by a solo artist.

The performance of mariachi music also requires that the students perform a variety of song forms (the cancion ranchera, bolero, son, and the huapango) as well as perform on instruments, sing solo songs, and sing in a chorus. It is vital to keep in mind that mariachi performers must be able to sing, regardless of the instrument they play in the ensemble. If a student is too shy or has not developed a voice for singing, he or she should still be encouraged to sing as a chorus singer within the group. Musicians in the mariachi band need to be taught from the beginning that singing is a vital and important part of participating in the ensemble.


Book/Recording Set
Harpole, Patricia W. Los Mariachis! An Introduction to Mexican Mariachi Music. Mark Fogelquist, Director El Mariachi Uclatlan. Danbury, CT: World Music Press (Judith Cook Tucker, Publisher, Box 2565, Danbury, CT 06813; 203-748-1131), 1991.

Rafael, Hermes. Origen e Historia del Mariachi. Segunda Edicion: Editorial Katun, S.A. (Republica de Colombia 6) primer piso, Centro, Telephone: 529-38-68), 1983.

El Mariachi. Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan. Polydor/Polygram MCRN 1082-839-332-1. Fiesta en Jalisco. Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan. RCA Victor CSM-1863. Ruben Fuentes: 50 Anos con su Musicay Arreglos para el Mejor Mariachi delMundo, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitan. Mercury CD 314 526 223-2.

Sources of Books and Music
102 W. San Francisco St., Suite 20
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501

La Casa Del Libro
2802 E. 22nd Street
Tucson, Arizona 85713

Musica Latina
4302 S. 6th Ave.
Tucson, Arizona 85714

Yolys Music Shop
3366 S. 6th Ave.
Tucson, Arizona 85713

Clinicians and Performers
William Faulkner
PO Box 6074
Carmel, CA 93921

William J. Gradante
6416 Waverly Way
Fort Worth, Texas 76116

Juan de Dios Noperi
431 W. 26th Street
Tucson, Arizona 85713

Excerpted from Making Connections: Multicultural Music and the National Standards.

Related Resources

Integrating Hispanic Music Throughout Curriculum
Mexican American Mariachi Music
Traditional Circle Game from Puerto Rico
Making a Maraca
Making Panpipes


Provided in partnership with NAfME