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Evolution of the Violin in Mariachi Music

Like the guitar, the violin is an instrument widely recognized across the world. The violin was developed in Europe, then brought to the New World by the Spaniards in the 15th century. The indigenous Mexican people quickly learned and adopted the violin after it was introduced to their society.  The violin, harp, and the guitar were initially played during church services and religious events. Eventually, the violin in mariachi became the primary melodic instrument played by the local town musicians, which in many cases were known as the town mariachi. The violin, harp, and the Guitarra de Golpe first formed the beginnings of modern-day mariachi ensembles well over 100 years ago. This combination of instruments was common in southern Jalisco and Michoacán.

Parts of the Violin

The violin is the treble instrument of the violin family. The physical characteristics of the violin are the rounded back and shoulders, f-shaped sound holes and deep middle bouts.  Let’s take a closer look at the importance of learning the necessary anatomical parts of the violin because of its beautiful and purposeful design. The scroll and the wooden pegs are part of the peg box. The fingerboard runs from the nut to the top of the C-bouts. The neck is the part that spans between the nut and the heel, where it connects to the upper bout. The body of the violin consists of the upper bouts, the C-bouts, and the lower bouts. In the lower bout, you will find the tailpiece with fine tuners and a chinrest. In the C-bout area, you will see the bridge and the f-holes. These f-holes are symmetrical and are located on the top. The f-holes function as sound holes for the violin.

Tuning and Strings

The violin is a 4-string instrument tuned in perfect fifths. The tuning is as follows: E, A, D, and G. The strings of the violin are specialized. They are made of solid steel, stranded steel, and synthetic materials. The string core may be wound with synthetic material, various metals and at times, plated with silver or gold.

Right Hand Techniques

Another essential part of the violin outfit is the bow. The bow is a stick with a ribbon of horsehair between the tip and the frog. The frog piece has an adjustment screw to tighten and loosen the horsehair when needed. The sound produced is that of drawing the horsehair on the bow across the strings. This action is critical because it creates the tone quality, dynamics, articulation, and rhythm. Another important technique in producing sound is called pizzicato, which is plucking the string(s) with a finger of the right hand rather than using the bow. The role of the violin in the mariachi ensemble is to provide the melody in either unison or harmony within the violin section. It requires much training and flawless technique. It is essential to have a firm tone (but not raspy) and strong vibrato. The violin section can play counter melodies to the trumpets. The use of grace notes is widely used, and the pizzicato technique is common. Large show groups could have up to 8 players in their mariachi ensemble.