The Mexican fiddle is an instrument most commonly used in mariachi bands. Mariachi bands can range in size from incorporating two to 10 or more fiddles. Mariachi fiddle players are often classically trained and technically advanced, with the ability to play well in multiple fields of music. Playing the fiddle in a mariachi band, however, requires different methods and techniques than playing many other styles, and musicians who wish to play the Mexican fiddle must master a diverse skill set specific to this culturally rich genre of music.
Mariachi bands usually play outdoors or in noisy venues such as restaurants. It is usually only the most famous groups who perform on stages in large concert halls. As a result, it is important that the Mexican fiddlers playing have a strong tone. Mariachi bands include loud and powerful trumpet sections that can easily overpower a Mexican fiddle player who has not incorporated a strong tone into his playing method. As a result, musicians who play the fiddle for mariachi bands often have a louder and bolder tone than traditional violists or fiddle players.
Vibrato is an inherent aspect of mariachi music and is prominent in the methodology of Mexican fiddle playing. Mariachi is a dramatic and romantic style of music. Fiddles emphasize the mood of a song lamenting unrequited love with their wailing vibrato. The vibrato of the Mexican fiddle also compliments the "grita," a warbling cry emitted by the vocalist or an audience member that complements the heartache and emotion expressed in many songs.
Most mariachi bands incorporate multiple fiddle players, and harmony is very important for these musicians. Each violin plays a different part, resulting in complex harmonies that complement the roles of each instrument in the band. Some fiddle players take on lower parts while others play higher notes, all carefully chosen to create beautiful harmonies when played together.
One method of playing the Mexican fiddle is the emphasis of counter-melodies. Mariachi songs are complex as they carry a strong main melody, usually sung by the vocalist and emphasized by trumpets. This primary melody is complemented by harmonies and counter-melodies produced by the rest of the band. The Mexican fiddle often plays counter-melodies, adding an element of hope to a sad song or adding flair to a sweet love song.
- "Alternative Strings"; Julie Lyonn Lieberman; 2004
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