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I Want to Add Mariachi to My School’s Music Program. Where Do I Start?

Jaimie L. Abney-Giraldo • CommentaryCommentaryJanuary 2023 • January 15, 2023

SBO+: This is the first in a series of articles about how to start a mariachi program from scratch, especially for educators with no background in the genre.

You’ve seen the research, you’ve read the anecdotes and success stories, and you’ve analyzed your school’s demographic trends and student interest. You even have the support of your administration! You know that adding a mariachi offering at your school will be a big hit, but you don’t have a background in the genre and aren’t sure how to get it off the ground. Where do you start?  Where can you find instruments?  Literature?  Uniforms?  How do you learn how to teach it?

Pause. Breathe. Congratulations! You have just made a decision that will change your life and the lives of the students at your school. I am so excited for you and am looking forward to the journey you are about to embark on! Knowing how and where to start can be overwhelming, but I hope I can give you some resources and ideas to get your planning underway.

STEP 1 – What Will This Look Like? – 1-2 Years Pre-Implementation
To prepare a financial proposal for your school district, you first need to have an idea of what format you want your program to have. Do you want this to be curricular or extracurricular?  Do you want this to be guitars only, a full mariachi ensemble, or a morph of the two?  What grade level do you want to start with, and which grade levels will be included?  What will the roll-out look like – all grades at once, or will it roll out over several years?  All these factors will have different scheduling and financing implications, so it is important that you have thought through what you want it to be.

This may also vary based on what level of school you are in. Starting a mariachi program will look very different at an elementary school than it will at a high school. Though there is no one-size-fits-all, I can share what worked in our school district in case it is something you think might work for you as well.

School District U-46 (Elgin, IL) is a preK-12 unit school district serving ~36,000 students across 57 school sites about an hour northwest of Chicago. We first forayed into mariachi in 2009, and though our journey has morphed and adapted, we are still going strong! In U-46, we currently offer mariachi as an extracurricular ensemble for any students who are interested, starting in middle school. We focus on guitar and singing with all students for the first 1-2 years, inviting individual students to transition to vihuela or guitarron based on their interest or success with the guitar, and offering students the opportunity to learn trumpet or violin once they reach 8th grade. We do have some students we share with band and orchestra, but many of our students are not otherwise involved in music education. Our high school mariachi is also extracurricular; however, they have all parts represented (except harp). We are working to implement mariachi as a curricular course starting in 2024 (pending Board approval). Once curricular, our format will change significantly! Mariachi will be offered and recruited alongside band and orchestra, with 5th grade students selecting the instrument that is right for them among the three ensemble offerings. Daily instruction will mirror what we have in place for band and orchestra in 5th through 12th grades.

STEP 2 – Show Me the Money – 1-2 Years Pre-Implementation
Starting any new program is going to cost money, and this is no different, especially if you want to do it right. This conversation needs to happen very early in the process, before anything is announced to the school or the community, as the financing available for this project may determine what your roll-out will be like. Now that you know what format you want your program to take, you will need to consider all the resources and support needed to make it happen. Make sure you have thought through quantities that will make sense to support your specific school and anticipated program enrollment as put together a financial proposal for your administration.

There are many things you need to remember here. These are some of the key considerations, as well as some of my recommendations based on what has worked well for our school district:

Instruments

Guitar

  • Candelas – The Official Mariachi Guitar with Hard Case
  • Yamaha – CG122MCH – Will need to order a hard case separately
  • Vihuela
  • Candelas – Standard with Hard Case
  • La Tradicion – Estudiante with Hard Case
  • Guitarron
  • Candelas – Standard with Hard Case (Machine Pegs)
  • La Tradicion – Herencia with Hard Case (Machine Pegs)
  • Trumpet
  • Yamaha – YTR-5330MRC Mariachi Series Bb Trumpet (HS)
  • Yamaha – YTR-2330 Standard Bb Trumpet (MS)
  • Violin
  • Jose Hernandez – Cocula Series Violin Outfit 304291 (HS)
  • Strobel – ML-80 Student Series 4/4 Size Violin Outfit (MS)
  • Harp – We do not currently offer harp, but are looking at the following once we become curricular:
  • Dusty Strings – Serrana 34 Lever Harp Outfit w/ Pick-Up 306376

Instrument Storage

  • Guitar/Vihuela – Wenger (or similar) Guitar storage racks or instrument lockers
  • Guitarron – Wenger (or similar) Tuba storage racks or instrument lockers
  • Trumpet/Violin – Wenger (or similar) Violin storage racks or instrument lockers

Sound Equipment – for use in the classroom and in performance

  • Portable PA 
  • Fender Passport Venue Series 2 600W Portable PA System
  • Peavey Escort 6000 600W Portable PA System
  • Microphones
  • Trumpet, Guitar/Vihuela – Shure SM57
  • Guitarron – Shure SM57 OR Beyer Dynamic M88 TG
  • Violins – Shure SM58

Other

  • XLR Cables – 50’ recommended
  • Mic Stands (booms recommended)
  • Speaker Stands
  • Rolling Hardware Case(s) – speaker and mic stands
  • Rolling Case(s) – mics, cables, etc.
  • 100’ extension cord
  • Several rolls of black gaff tape

Music – Much mariachi sheet music is self-made transcriptions or arrangements; however we are starting to see more arrangements that are published.

  • Method Books
  • ¡Simplemente Mariachi!
  • Libro Acompañante Musical de ¡Simplemente Mariachi!
  • Mariachi Mastery
  • Mariachi Mastery Songbook
  • Sheet Music
  • RBD Publications
  • Hal Leonard
  • Mariachi Unlimited
  • Mariachi Education Press

Training

  • National Mariachi Workshops for Educators
  • Elgin Mariachi Education Workshop

Uniforms – We started with basic black pants, a white dress shirt, and gave the students a simple moño (floppy bow tie). Once your program is more established, you can order the full uniforms (traje – suit).

  • RGV Mariachi Warehouse
  • The Mariachi Connection

Instructional Accessories (straps, picks, tuners, etc.)

Once your budget is approved and funding is secured, I would strongly recommend ordering your resources right away. With the supply chain issues, it might take a year for everything to arrive.

Jaimie Abney-Giraldo is a career music educator who is currently serving as the fine arts coordinator for School District U-46 (Elgin, IL), a position she has held since 2017. Prior to coming into this role, she served as a building-level administrator, a band teacher, and a mariachi instructor between 2004-2017. She holds her Bachelor of Music Education Degree with a focus on Instrumental Music from Illinois State University (2004), as well as a Master of Arts Degree in Educational Leadership from Concordia University Chicago (2011).

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