The History of Mexican Musical Instruments

Image by, courtesy of Kevin Dooley

The most famous Mexican music is the "mariachi" style which originated in the city of Guadalajara in the 19th century. But Mexico's music and musical instruments go back many centuries earlier.

Aztec Instruments

The Aztecs used a variety of musical instruments. Drums included the ayoti made from a turtle shell and the teponaztli, made from a log and played with mallets. Other instruments included flutes, rattles filled with beads or pebbles, and horns made from conch and snail shells.

Mayan Instruments

Mayan instruments included wind instruments such as ceramic ocarinas and flutes, drums and rattles.

Mariachi History

Traditional mariachi instruments--violins, guitars, vihuelas, and harps--were introduced to Mexico by the Spaniards. The instruments were intended to be used for church masses, but Mexicans began using them for popular music as well.

Mariachi Instruments

Typically the mariachi ensemble consisted of four or five guitars, a guitarron (large bass guitar), vihuelas (guitars with rounded backs), violins, and a small harp. Some ensembles included a small snare drum.

Pyramids as Instruments?

Fascinatingly, new research suggests that the giant steps at the ancient site of Chichen Itza were created to make "rain music" from the footsteps of those who climbed the El Castillo pyramid. Thus, the pyramids may possibly be the oldest Mexican musical instruments of all.

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