Did you know that the Jalisco Harp was the original bass instrument in the mariachi ensemble? The Jalisco Harp was the instrument preferred by the mariachi harp players in southern Jalisco and Michoacán. One reason the Guitarrón eventually replaced the mariachi harp because it was easier to carry from place to place. Also, there were violins to play the melodic lines that the harp once played.
Playing the Mariachi Harp
When playing the mariachi harp, the left-hand plays the bass line, and the right-hand performs the melodic line. Together, the harpist could play the bass line and the melodic line without any other melodic instrument accompaniment. The Guitarra de Golpe was used to accompany the harp and function as the rhythmic pulse. The harp is a large instrument and played while the harpist is standing.
The Jalisco Harp today could have up to 36 strings, monofilament nylon, and nylon wound or wrapped bass strings. If you look closely at the length of the strings, the shorter length strings have a higher (tenor, soprano) pitch and the longer length strings have a lower (bass) pitch.
Tuning the harp can be challenging. A metal tuning key is used to alter the tuning of the harp strings from one key signature to another. When tuned, the harp could have a range of 4 to 5 octaves. Did you know the original strings for the harp were made of gut?
Mariachi Harp Today
The role of the Harp in today’s mariachi ensemble is to play the bass line along with the Guitarrón. It can also provide a melody line but generally not as frequently as it was once played in the past. The harpist can even play chords and arpeggios as per the specified musical arrangement. Though the Jalisco Harp style with a Tacote top is commonly used in the mariachi ensemble, the Veracruzana Harp style with a cedar top is also used.
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