How to Start a Mariachi Program at Your School

Mariachi photo by Magallonphotography

Mariachi education is growing as more schools are incorporating mariachi to increase cultural awareness and provide our students and Hispanic community an opportunity to live and safeguard their cultural traditions. Unfortunately, not all schools are able to start their programs due to lack of funding or support. In cases like these, what comes first? How do you begin the process of having a successful program at your school? Do not fear: Help is here!

Support and Funding

Administration, community and parental support are necessary to begin to form your mariachi ensemble. There is a large body of research done on mariachi education that may help you create a Letter of Intent to present to your school or district. There is also many successful mariachi educators in the U.S. that may be of help and assistance in providing personal experience and research within their own programs. Some of the organizations that you could reach out to would be the Texas Association of Mariachi Educators or Texas Music Educators Association.

Mariachi resources, instruments and attire can become expensive. If your district provides little to no funding, there are ways to help in getting what you need to start your program. The most efficient and effective way is to get acquainted with the parents of your mariachi students and speak to them about starting a parent booster club to fundraise throughout the school year. Fundraising through your school will also help in providing additional funds to purchase music, instruments and attire. Performing for donations is another effective way to add money to your mariachi school piggy bank for the needs of your students!

When to Begin

It is always best to start our young students in mariachi early on in middle school just as we normally would start our band, choir and orchestra programs. This will allow them to be more fundamentally experienced in high school, thus provide opportunities for performing more complicated and virtuosic mariachi arrangements.

If beginning a mariachi program in high school, ask your band and orchestra directors if they are willing to assist you in allowing their violin and/or band trumpet students to be part of the mariachi program. This will be much easier on you as these instruments are more challenging to teach and may require more time to learn and master.

Instrumentation

In a typical mariachi ensemble it is easy to have many students wanting to be part of the program, but a balanced instrumentation is key to a successful organization. The more students on each instrument the harder it will be manage and control.  Auditions for the ensemble will be necessary once they have developed their experience and note reading skills. The membership of the mariachi ensemble should be as follows:

  • 6 to 8 violins
  • 2 to 3 trumpets
  • 1 harp
  • 1 guitarron
  • 1 vihuela
  • 2 guitars

If the guitarron and vihuela are new to you, do not be intimidated; they are not as different from the guitar as you might initially think. Check out these short videos that offer an excellent introduction. You may have students who are only interested in singing, but it is highly recommended that every student learns an instrument of the mariachi ensemble as most mariachi competitions require all students to play an instrument. It will also be required if the student is interested in continuing to perform in a higher education institution or professional mariachi group.

Resources

Mariachi resources are not difficult to find. Most music publishing companies have mariachi method books and musical arrangements for sale. Some popular options include “Simplemente Mariachi” by Marcia M. Neel and Francisco A. Grijalva and “Mariachi Mastery” by Jeff Nevin and Noe Sanchez. You may also use orchestra and band beginner method books to begin your trumpet and violin students.

If you are in need of learning a particular mariachi instrument or perfecting your mariachi style, there are workshops available for educators every summer. Some are, The National Mariachi Workshop for Mariachi Educators in Las Vegas Nevada, Mariachi Spectacular in Albuquerque, NM, and the Jose Hernandez Mariachi Workshop and Summer Institute in Los Angeles, California.

Mariachi music is always fun and exciting to play! Having a school group will not only benefit your students and allow them to feel connected to the Mexican culture, but they will enjoy being part of something important and create wonderful memories they will cherish! Please feel free to contact me at any time.

Mayra GarciaMayra Alejandra Garcia is the mariachi director for the award-winning Palmview High School “Mariachi Los Lobos” in La Joya I.S.D. and director of the award-winning all-female mariachi group “Mariachi Mariposas” from the Rio Grande Valley, Texas.

Her mariachi groups have established a legacy of excellence by becoming one of the top high school and professional mariachi groups in the state of Texas.

The group photo above is by Magallonphotography.com

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