This section of the web site is a work in progress. It is recommended that you check back periodically, as new material will be added as time and energy permit.
Here you will find techniques and songs for playing harp in the Jalisco style, including facts, opinions, and lies, all about the vagueries of playing Jalisco harp, whether solo or in a mariachi. The Jalisco harp is capable of being both part of an ensemble, mariachi or smaller, and also capable of performing solo. The techniques used in both are similar and need not conflict. Many songs will be presented in both formats, with as many options as time and space permit.
The harp is capable of making a large and sometimes unique contribution to a mariachi. In my opinion, it is the arrangements and arrangers that do not let the harp share the spotlight more. In defense of arrangers, lack of harp players to write for, and, in many cases, ignorance of traditional mariachi style playing make it difficult for an arranger to present material for an instrument they are unfamiliar with for nonexistent or inexperienced harpists. Most "mariachi" harp arrangements these days are actually mariachi adaptations of Veracruz/Jarocho or South American harp melodies adapted for mariachi, and many harpists come to mariachi from these traditions. Few arrangers actually arrange for Jalisco harp, and those that do, often give the harpist a token glissando, as if to say "Listen! Here's the harp!", rather than give it a melodic passage. Most older harp players use glissandos rarely, if at all. You will find a paucity of glissandos in the arrangements presented on this web site, just as you will on older recordings. It is hoped that the exercises put forth will serve both the musician wishing to learn the traditional mariachi harp styling, as well as those intending to arrange for mariachi harpists.
It is a given that, when playing with a mariachi, the harpists left/bass hand should play the bass line in octaves, and that the bass line should be the same as the guitarrón. Perhaps more accurately, the guitarrón should play the same bass line as the harp, as the harp is the original bass instrument! In fact, many early recordings reflect the harp's diatonic nature, and use bass notes that are within the scale of the harp, in lieu of other, possibly more logical, notes. The real question is "what to do with the right hand?", and hopefully the following songs and exercises will clarify the various options.
The exercises and opinions put forth on his page are gathered from more than 25 years of mariachi harp playing, from the teachings, advice and personal observation of Arturo Mendoza, harpist with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán from 1945 until 1995, his father José Mendoza, a noted solo harpist from Zapotiltic, and numerous other harp players throughout Mexico. Some techniques are almost universal amongst the various Mexican and Latin-American harp styles, and others are common to specific traditions and not to others. I shall endeavor as much as possible to make the student aware of the origins of the various techniques, and their appropriateness within certain playing styles. If you are looking to learn to play traditional style mariachi harp as it has been done for more than a hundred years, if you want to play sones Jaliscienses and the ranchera style common to much of Mexico, then this site hopefully offers you much information. If your passion is Veracruz, Paraguayan, Venezuelan or other Latin American styles, (all of which are beautiful, and have certainly earned their place in the musical world), this site offers little in that direction, other than as it may or may not relate to mariachi style.
The exercises are presented in a variety of formats: Written music and comments, downloadable video clips, and MP3 recordings. It is recommended that students employ all three, and, in the case of the audio (MP3) files, use a computer program such as "The Amazing Slowdowner" or similar program to facilitate practice via repetition and speed control independent of pitch. Such programs will also allow an exercise written in one key to be transposed to another key WITHOUT changing the speed of the exercise. Again, it is recommended that the student check back periodically, as new material will be added periodically.
Playing the melody, whether in mariachi or as a solo, is presented side by side with accompanying styles, such that the harpist within the mariachi will be able to play melody at any time, developing the attitude of "I will play the melody when the arrangement allows" rather than "I will play the melody someday, when I am able". The objective is to have the harpist ready to play the melody from day one.
BASIC LEFT and RIGHT HAND EXERCISES
BUILDING BLOCK FOR PLAYING SONES JALISCIENSES
RANCHERAS in 3/4 time
SLOW SONGS in 2/4
POLKAS and FAST SONGS in 2/4
SOLOS and OTHER SONGS