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The Violin - An Overview

Return to Meet the Mariachi Instruments

Like the guitar, the violin is an instrument widely recognized by many people. Playing the violin is probably one of the most difficult musical instruments to master. The violin is a European instrument brought to the New World by the Spaniards in the 15th century. The indigenous Mexican people quickly learned and adopted the violin, the harp and the guitar to play for church services and religious events. It was the violin that eventually became the melodic instrument played by the local town musicians, which in many cases were also known as the town mariachi. It was the violin, the Harp and the Guitarra de Golpe that first formed the beginnings of modern day mariachi ensembles over 100 years ago. This combination of instrument ensemble was common in southern Jalisco and Michoacán.

The violin is a treble instrument of the violin family. The characteristics of the violin are the rounded back and shoulders, the f-shaped sound holes and deep middle bouts.

Let's take a closer look at the importance of learning the basic 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 from the nut to 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 find the bridge and the f-holes. These f-holes are symmetrical and are found on the top. The f-holes are sound holes for the violin, which are very different from the other mariachi instrumentation.

Observe and comment on the different shapes and sizes of the sound holes in the other mariachi ensemble instrumentation? (Guitar, Guitarrón, Harp, Vihuela and Guitarra de Golpe)

The violin is a 4-string instrument tuned in perfect fifths. The tuning is as follows:

(from 4th to 1st) G, D, A, E

The violin produces a wide range of pitch using the G-Clef, from G below middle C to an E, two octaves above the open E string. It is possible to play a higher pitch but much depends on the musical skills of the violinist.

The strings for the violin are specialized. They can be made of solid steel, stranded steel and /or synthetic materials. The string core can be wound with synthetic material, various metals and at times, plated with silver. Needless to say, buying good strings for a violin can be expensive.

Another important part of the violin 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 produces the tone quality, dynamics, articulation and rhythm. Another important technique in producing sound is that of a 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 important to have a strong tone (but not raspy) and a 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 violin players in their mariachi ensemble.




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