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A Brief History on the Mariachi Tradition


Tuning the Guitarrón and Vihuela

by Laura Garciacano Sobrino

I. The Guitarrón:

The guitarrón used special strings which are sold either individually or in sets. Traditionally, the playing style of the guitarrón is to play each note in octaves. Contemporary performance practices have eliminated some of the octaves for all song forms when playing a ‘G’, ‘F#’, ‘G#/Ab’, ‘D#/Eb” (sometimes), and ‘C#/Db’.

II. The Vihuela:

The vihuela’s strings are comprised of a combination set of 1st and 2nd strings from classical acoustic guitar sets, tuned as illustrated above. The placement of the 1st and 2nd strings are based on personal preference but must facilitate a “crisp” acoustic sound when played. Notice that the vihuela is similar to a guitar in that it is tuned in 4ths starting from the 5th string, ‘A’, and going up to the 1st string, ‘E’. It is different from the guitar because the 1st and 2nd strings are tuned one octave lower than the guitar. This creates an interval of a 2nd between both the 5th and 2nd strings, and between the 4th and 1st strings. The purposes of this are to: 1) maintain a louder acoustic sound; and 2) to keep the tension of the acoustic strings tighter to produce a “crisp” sound.

  • Many mariachi musicians don’t always tune to 440 ‘A’!
  • Violins, trumpets and guitars are tuned “normally.”


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