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Sometime when I was around nine years old, my music teacher brought in an audio-visual aid into our classroom and showed us a half-hour film documentary about what made up a mariachi band. I=The narrator introduced several members of the band and what they played. He demonstrated things like how the strings and brass often complemented each other on melodies and harmonies, while the guitar and vihuela often provided the rhythm and accompaniment, and how the guitarron provided the bass foundation, while the vocalists simply sang when the brass and string sections were at rest.

Somewhere in the middle of that presentation, I heard the guy who was one of the guitar players say how he strummed a G-chord at an eighth-note pace, at a quarter note BPM of 100. He said something like how there was a slight delay between the first guitar player playing those eighth notes and the other one, so that it would sound something like this:

Since this technique is present throughout the whole piece, I did not include time, sufficient to say that starting about ten seconds, the guitars really start to pick up speed. The idea was for it to sound like sixteenth notes, so when I was a little older, I tried doing that on a guitar by rapidly strumming up and down at that pace, but it was difficult to do. If I knew where that documentary was, I could go back and listen to it, but unfortunately I don't know what it's called.

If anyone here has mariachi experience and can provide me with a better explanation of what was going on, I would really appreciate it.

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    Please indicate the video timing of the sound you're asking about.
    – Aaron
    Sep 23 at 4:23
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    So, this kind of thing? Mariachi strumming pattern
    – Aaron
    Sep 23 at 4:58
  • Maybe, I was too little to really pay attention to what they were talking about. I had always grown up thinking that they simply had two guitar players, each one playing strums on eighth notes, but just delayed by a sixteenth of a beat, sort of like how delayed phasing would work. Sep 23 at 5:48
  • Okay, I think I understand. You're looking for the name of the technique that sounded like 16th notes (at q=100), possibly played by two guitars alternating strums. Yes?
    – Aaron
    Sep 23 at 5:52
  • Yes, if that's how I remembered it, yes If I misunderstood the video, and it was only one guitar player, then maybe that was it. Sep 23 at 12:41

2 Answers 2

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It seems like an appropriate term for the context might be maniqueo(s). The path that led me here was:

  1. The world-music textbook Music of the Peoples of the World discusses son jarocho (and draws a distinction between it and mariachi):

Although often overshadowed by the ever-popular mariachi style, the traditional music of the Veracruz fandango dances is the son jarocho. The core jarocho ensemble is made up of three instruments: the jarana, a five-course guitar slightly smaller than the Spanish guitar; the requinto, a small guitar; and the arpa, a diatonically tuned harp. [the quote notes that it lacks the trumpets characteristic of mariachi.]

Although the son jarocho also lacks percussion instruments, the rhythmic and percussive use of the instruments of the ensemble more than makes up for it. The jarana and guitar players create these rhythms by alternating patterns of up and down strums called maniqueos or rasgueado. Rasgueado also refers to one of the most distinctive strokes in which the fingers unfold over the strings as the wrist moves down, creating a long emphasized strum.

I would be cautions about using the term rasgueado for the alternating effect we're talking about here, since that "spread-fingered strum" meaning is much more prevalent, including in flamenco contexts.

When I look for a definition of maniqueos, I get a lot of mention of the religion Manichaeism, which emphasizes duality and dichotomy; I think maybe maniqueos can carry a meaning of "contrast" or "black-and-white."

  1. The term maniqueos perhaps appears in the article "From Veracruz to Los Angeles: The Reinterpretation of the Son Jarocho"; I lack the JSTOR access to read it, but this is a snippet that reads "... stroke maniqueos on each quarter-note beat of the 3/4 meter, which results in a continuous eighth-note strumming effect." That seems like exactly the meaning that you're describing.

  2. Maniqueo appears in a survey of the words used by mariachi musicians, Estudio lexicológico del vocabulario del mariachi de Puebla. I can't get much meaning from it, but p. 75 seems to equate it with rasgueo. It also appears in a transcription of an interview on p 183; the speaker doesn't explain the maniqueo thoroughly, but he identifies it specifically with the sones jarochos, refers to it as "a rhythm," says it's technically challenging, and involves the playing of "the guitarists or vihuelists."

  3. It's also discussed in Convergencias: Encuentros y desencuentros en el jazz latino. Google Books omits part of the quote, but links it to African polyrhythmic practices, which also often construct rhythms from the interlocking of multiple instruments. My (amateur) translation is:

... rhythms are represented in the maniqueo or muñequeo of the jaranas, of the vihuelas in the case of mariachi (in all the mariachi of the south of Jalisco and the north of Michoacán), en the polyrhythm the are produced between a guitar, a jarana, and a requinto. Here we find the Africanism.

Although the Loza snippet talks about exactly the use case you're describing—alternating equal-duration notes to create a doubled rhythm—I get the impression that the term can also be used for more complex alternations to create other rhythmic patterns.

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  • Bravo! FWIW, you can sign up for a free individual JSTOR account. It permits access to a limited number of articles per month.
    – Aaron
    Sep 23 at 14:55
  • @Aaron Thanks, I didn't know! I just said "oh well" when I stopped teaching for universities. What I really miss is Grove, though... Sep 23 at 14:59
  • Great research! Good point about been cautious to mention rasgueado, as nowadays have became a keyword to represent a similar technique (maybe the technique that is subject of this post might comes in some way from this source...). Sep 26 at 10:44
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    Also rasgueo should be a valid term to mention, generally, this techniques, as its meaning could be inferred as "action or effect of playing the guitar strumming multiple string at the same time", and undestanding "strumming" as a synonym of rasguear (for futher info, check: dle.rae.es/rasgueo and dle.rae.es/rasguear#VBa8tgl and collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/spanish-english/rasguear). Sep 26 at 10:44
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I don't think that alternating notes between two players is a common thing in mariachi music. I have experienced that kind of alternation in a fast orchestral piece, the Sabre Dance by Khatchaturian, where one group plays on the beat and another group plays all the off beats and the tempo is quite fast. It's hard! Oom-pa oom-pa for pages and pages. It's so tempting to start playing the other group's part because your ear might follow that line instead of your own. Kind of like an optical illusion, where you see two different things, depending on what you focus on. Once you lose the proper alternation, it's hard to get it back.

Also, I listened to the video you provided. Since I'm a string player, not a guitarist, I confess that my ear was more focused on the violins than the guitars, etc., but I really did not hear any alternation.

There is a way of playing separate notes very fast, called tremolo. This is done on string instruments, and I don't know whether it's also done on guitar and the other special instruments of the mariachi. Could they have been talking about that in the documentary?

The Wikipedia article about mariachi music in Spanish lists all the different sub-genres. I suggest that you get to know each one, and then maybe something will fit with your vague and tantalizing memories. I jumped around and read bits of Andy's article (book?) in Spanish, Estudio Lexicológico, and I noticed that in the transcribed interview, the musician comments that the various specific techniques are specifically associated with certain sub-genres.

I suggest you pay particular attention to the overlapping genre, música veracruzana, as I think you will find fast plucked notes, for example in its flagship piece, Huapango. What I can say about that style of piece is that it takes years of practice to be able to play the pizzicato parts on a string instrument, e.g., the violin, as fast as is traditionally done. (I was never able to master this on the cello.) Note that the string players who do this well put their bows down so they are less constrained in their fingers (right hand). Try to find a video of the arpa veracruzana played this way -- it's amazing.

Note that there are many, many different regional styles of traditional music in Mexico, and getting acquainted with all of them would take at least a lifetime. And there are sub-regional variants of all of them. I hope you will sample one of my personal favorites, the marimba with the buzzers. You can hear this in Chiapas, in the Yucatán, and anywhere those musicians wander to try to make a living. Three people on one marimba. Heaven.

Suggested field trip: If you ever have the opportunity to visit Mexico City, I guess you would be on Cloud 9 if you visit the Plaza Garibaldi. Side note: if you do, hopefully you will still find in the restaurants around the edges of the square a refreshing, unusual non-alcoholic drink called granadina (pomegranate juice).

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    Hi @aparente001, good work, seems that you have passed spend some time in México ;) Just two notes: for the armenian/georgian famous composer, I guess the right surname (when writing in English) is "Khachaturian", and on the other hand, I suppose the drink you mention is granadina ("grenadine" in English), which is a nonalcoholic drink made from pomegranade, am I right? Sep 26 at 10:54
  • Thanks! I agree, it seems like this technique is associated specifically with certain genres (like son jarocho), and some sources use the word mariachi more broadly or narrowly, to include or exclude those. (Including to describe the musicians themselves!) And yes, similar features appear in other genres and cultures; besides African polyrhythms, one of my early comments mentioned medieval vocal "hocket"; and, for that matter, the opening of the popular 2nd mvt of the Ravel string qt—or, arguably, Clapping Music Sep 26 at 12:33
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    @AndyBonner - Is it just me, or is the Sabre Dance really hard for an orchestra to do well? Thrilling to play, when it works, but rather stressful. / To me, if the men are wearing the trousers with the big studs going up the sides, then it's mariachi. I don't remember what the women wear. If the men are wearing guayaveras (the best apparel for the heat close to the seaside), then it's música veracruzana. Maybe that's an oversimplification, but it's always worked for me. Sep 26 at 17:24

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