top of page

Mariachi: The Traditional Music of Mexico


Mariachi is traditional folk music originating in western Mexico.[1] Traditional types of mariachi have a mix of European and African roots and are heavily influenced by African rhythms.[2] Mariachi ensembles are unique to the villages they developed in.[3] As they moved to big cities, the music became more standardized and homogenized and began to symbolize an urbanized version of traditional music.[4]

Instruments and influences

            Mariachi had important European influences. Spanish invaders, during the time of Cortez in the 1500s, brought over the harp and Spanish vihuela, which would later become part of the mariachi ensemble.[5] In the 1700s, Italian opera became popular in Mexico City and the Italian operatic bel canto style of singing later became popular among mariachi singers.[6]

Traditionally, instrumentation of Mariachi ensembles would vary and might have included a combination of vocalists, violin, harp, vihuela, and guitarrón.[7] The instrumentation became standardized in the twentieth century and ensembles were divided into the following sections: armonia (rhythm), violin, and brass.[8] The rhythm section includes the guitarrón, guitar, and vihuela and the brass section includes trumpets playing in thirds that exchange call and response with violins in thirds.[9]  

Structure, notation, and language

Common mariachi song forms include: son, polka, pasodoble, chotis, march, joropo, bolero, huapango, potpourri, son jarocho, mariachi sinfónico, danzon, cumbia, and waltz.[10] The son song form switches between 6/8 and 3/4 time signatures.[11] This project will utilize the concept of switching between 6/8 and 3/4 time signatures. Mariachi music uses traditional Western notation and is sung in Spanish.

Lesson plans

            The Smithsonian Folkways lesson plan “Mariachi: Music from the Heart of Mexico” aims to expose grades 3-12 to Mariachi music. It suggests dividing the lesson into “the rhythmic foundations of mariachi music,” “play and sing mariachi music,” understanding the culture of mariachi music, and “play mariachi music with a marimba ensemble.”[12]


[1] Donald A. Henriques. "Mariachi." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed July 12, 2017,

[2] Patricia Greathouse. 2009. Mariachi. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 13.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 13.

[5] Ibid., 20.

[6] Ibid., 21.

[7] Ibid., 31.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 34.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Jane Lin, "Mariachi: Music from the Heart of Mexico | Smithsonian Folkways." Accessed December 04, 2016.



Un solo idioma nunca es suficiente hoy


un ˈsolo iˈðjoma ˈnuŋka es sufiˈθjente ˈoi

Materials for "One Language is Never Enough"
Section 3 (mm. 26-48)

Spanish Text Spoken in Rhythm

Spoken Text -
00:00 / 00:00
Mariachi Section All Vocals
Mariachi -
00:00 / 00:00
bottom of page