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A Brief History on the Mariachi Tradition


The Mariachi Violin and Trumpet:
Distributing melodic lines

by Laura Sobrino

A. VIOLINS: In the mariachi style, there are three ways of writing and distributing melodic lines for violins: 1) for a first and second violin part (the more traditional way); 2) for first, second and third violin parts (most popular); and 3) for one unison violin part, regardless of how many players there are, used frequently when there is only one trumpet player, where the violins are playing a second melodic part against the one trumpet melodic line.

In the sample below, I have provided one song introduction (“El Son De La Negra”) written for each of the above voicings.  As a free-lance mariachi violinist, I have to understand and know all three of these melodic "situations" and adapt my violin part accordingly.

I. "La Negra" for first and second violin parts:

II. "La Negra" for first, second and third violin parts:
(Note: The second violin part is now different.)

In 3 part harmony, the main melody is always first violin and the other 2 violin parts “fill in” as the chord is spelled. One rule is to avoid 5ths and many times one of the two bottom violin parts (as long as they don’t clash with the trumpets who are playing in 2 part harmony) will move down one note from the chord spelling.) Please refer to the examples from “El Mariachi Suena” magazine.

III. "La Negra," Unison violin parts against solo trumpet:

In the 3rd example, the violins are not playing the main melody (which should begin on ‘G’ for the first violins) and the solo trumpet is playing the 2nd trumpet part.  This is done because the mariachi trumpet must respect and remain in its stylistic range, which affects the melody for the violins.

IV. Violin Standard Endings: voicing

(written for two violins parts. The ranchera form is used here, but the range and keys apply to all forms.)

A. Lowest range ending:

B. Highest range ending:

Of course, when you are teaching inexperienced players who cannot shift up to third position, you can adjust for their ability by inverting one or all parts an octave down. In this case, the most important point is to maintain the melodic position of the D major advanced “first violin”. In other words, transpose both parts down one octave, assuring that the first violin still cadences on ‘A - D’.

V. Trumpet voicing

In general, mariachi trumpets play in two-part harmony, moving either in 3rds or 6ths from each other. Occasionally, one note from the 2nd or 3rd violin part of a three-part violin arrangement may clash with another note from the second trumpet line. In that case the violin’s note will be changed to match the 2nd trumpet’s note. Many times the trumpets will voice from other than the 1,3, and 5 scale notes from the chord being played.

A. Voicing first and second trumpet lines. For example, in a G major chord, if the first trumpet is on top with a ‘G’ note, the second trumpet would 90% of the time stay away from the 4th below that, or ‘D’, and play a ‘B’ below the first trumpet. There is one other option: to play an ‘E’ below the first trumpet!

B. Voicing for one trumpet line:

In order to have less stress during extremely long performances, many times the trumpets will play together (2-parts) or take turns during an introduction, an adorno or two, and the tag ending only. If the song has many more “licks” in-between many times one trumpet player will tacet his part to protect his embouchure, changing the relationship of the violin melodic lines. (refer to section III)

If the style of the adorno is strictly for trumpets he may decide to  play it alone or even skip it! If the style of the adorno can also be interpreted with the violins, then many times in order to allow a “rest” for the trumpet, the violins may play in unison against the trumpet line.

C. The range of the trumpets depends on the experience of the trumpet player, but in general the lowest notes are within standard trumpet ranges. The highest notes can be:

                   (This is was not written in trumpet notation!)


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