18 Mexican Instruments You Should Know

The sounds of Mexico bring up mental images of maracas and mariachi bands or mariachi music. However, many more Mexican instruments, whether borrowed from other countries or developed centuries ago, make up the country’s sound! In this article, we’ll go through traditional Mexican instruments. 

1. Accordion 

May 05 2013 A Tavern Near The Pyramids Of Teotihuacan
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Although the accordion has German roots, it found its way into Mexican music and became a hit because one person could now make multiple instrumental sounds! 

The accordion was originally played solo until musicians discovered the perfect melody between it and the bajo sexto, creating what was known as the conjuncto.  

2. Marimba

Tuxtla Gutiérrez Mexico July 29 2018 : Marimba Musicians
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The marimba, which features a piano-like design and wooden bars, is a percussion instrument core to Mexican folk music. It is so important that bands that use marimba are even called marimba bands! A marimba is played like a xylophone, in which you strike its bars with a mallet to create a ringing sound.  Marimbas’ popularity is spread throughout Mexico, but they originated from Oaxaca and Chiapas in Southern Mexico. 

3. Maracas

Mexican Street Musicians Play The Guitar And Maracas. Men Dressed
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The maracas is an integral sound in Salsa music. The origins of these percussion instruments range from central Chili to Brazil or West Africa. 

Fun fact: Maracas is an idiophone because they make sound using vibration without strings or air. 

4. Arpa Jarocha (Mexican Harp)

Beijing Sep 18: Mexican Artists From Mono Blanco Group Perform Ton
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Arpa Jarocha is a symbol of son Jarocho music. It stands at nearly 5 feet, making it the tallest instrument on our list. The uniqueness doesn’t stop there, though. It also differs from other harps by having holes located in the back of its soundboard. 

5. Requinto Guitar

Paracho Requinto
Micmaheux, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The requinto guitar adds flair to Mexican ensembles with its high pitch. Although it is part of many genres, you will often find this Mexican instrument in Trío romántico bands.

6. Jalisco Harp

Mariachi Woman Harpist Smiling And Having Fun While Playing Harp
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The jalisco harp, which hails from Michoacán and southern Jalisco, is the original bass instrument in a mariachi band. This harp paved the way for the guitarrón (number 12 on this list) to become the new melody line. You can still find some bands that use the jalisco harp or both together. 

7. Cantaro

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The cantaro is a simple clay pot that players would tap on the sides to produce different sounds. With the addition of water or different hand shapes while hitting the sides, the pitch changes. The Indigenous dance, Oaxaqueño, heavily features this instrument. 

8. Ocarina

Ocarina Flute In Wood Or Terra Cotta
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The ocarina, a wind instrument with ancient origins, is played like a flute –  you cover or uncover the holes with your finger to make different notes. But unlike a flute, an ocarina has a unique shape. Some 

9. Güiro 

Detail Of A Percussionist Male Hands While Playing Güiro On
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The güiro, a percussion instrument, was originally from Puerto Rico. You can play the güiro rubbing a scraper, known as a pua, across the grooves on its side. Surprisingly, gourd was the material of choice to make this instrument. Today, most guiros are made using wood, metal, or plastic.  

10. Bajo Quinto/Bajo Sexto

Bajo Sexto
11. Mexican Vihuela
Mariachi Woman Group Female Mariachi Hands Holding A Traditional Handcrafted
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The Mexican vihuela is a small, high-pitched guitar. But don’t let its size fool you. This is the main instrument that keeps the Mariachi on beat and together. And if paired with the guitarron, it accentuates the rhythm! So, what makes a vihuela different from a standard guitar? Well, it only has five strings that are an octave higher, a small soundbox, and a convex back. 

12. Guitarrón

Sydney Nsw / Australia September 15 2019: Dulwich Hill
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The guitarrón is the opposite of the Mexican vihuela. It is large and produces a deep, low sound. This bass instrument has six strings, which are divided into two groups – three are nylon strings or fibers, and the other three are either steel or copper. 

Fun Fact: The guitarrón ultimately replaced the harp as the rhythmic bass lines or bass line in mariachi ensembles. 

13. Tamborita

The tamborita or tamborita calentana is a small double-headed drum with stretched animal skin covering the top. To play a tamborita, you will be using two wooden sticks. Some tamborita musicians cover one stick with animal skin to produce a softer sound, whereas the other one would be left as is. 

14. Bandolón

The bandolón is a large mandolin-like instrument with 18 strings. You can find this instrument in the típica orquestra (typical orchestra). Similar to a mandolin, you can play this Mexican instrument with a pick. 

15. Huéhuetl

Huéhuetl is a tall, tubular drum with three feet at its base. It is considered as a member of the membranophone family because its top is covered with a stretched animal skin. 

This ceremonial drum dates back to the Aztecs and was played during warfare or in important rituals. Today, it is often used in traditional ceremonies and dances. 

16. Teponaztli

Teponaztli Instrument Is A Type Of Slit Drum Used In
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The teponaztli is a percussion instrument that also dates back to the Aztecs. But, unlike the huéhuetl, a teponaztli is not upright. It is horizontal (often placed on a stand or lap) and is shaped like a log. It also sports intricate carvings on its sides. You can play this hollow slit drum instrument by striking wooden mallets or olmaitl. 

Fun fact: Teponaztli is played in conjunction with the huéhuetl above.

17. Jaranas

A photo of jarana guitar, a Mexican stringed instrument.
Koffermejia, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Often mistaken as a ukulele, the jarana is a small eight-string guitar originally hailing from southern Veracruz in Mexico. It comes in different sizes and regional variations. Nevertheless, it provides a rhythmic-harmonic base in the Son jarocho genre. 

18. Leona 

A musician playing the leona, a 4-string Mexican instrument
Koffermejia, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Leona is also a stringed instrument and a critical part of the Son jarocho musical style. But unlike the jaranas, leonas only have four strings and produce low-pitched sounds similar to a bass.

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