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On the music of mexico:history,diversity,song and dance


By Michelle Liew



Like any country in the world, Mexico boasts a diverse range of genres, musical forms and sub cultures that existed traditionally and still do today. Mexico is a country of vibrancy, culture and of course, passionate music. Mexican music has always set the heart aflutter, gotten the toes tapping and those bodies dancing.

Indeed, the music of this country boasts richness of history and culture. The beauty of its diversity constantly amazes listeners and visually, the dances evoke the senses with much strength.

This article will explore the diversity and the history of the music of mexico, visit some popular mexican singers that have made a difference to the world of music and, for a little fun at children’s parties, explore how to do the mexican hat dance!


Mexican Music - a true representation of religious and cultural diversity

As it is with many ancient civilizations, the musical history of Mexico is long, rich, vibrant and diverse. While fine arts flourished in pre-conquest Mexico, it gave way to music with more Spanish influences. It has its own distinct jazz tradition and today, Mexican music retains many of its traditional elements while embracing the impact of other cultures and influences.


The music of the Aztecs

We begin most aptly with Mexico before Spanish conquest. Music played a tremendous, influential part in Aztec ceremonies and religion. It was a way of passing on Aztec tradition and culture, with music considered an important subject to be learned in school. Music was a way for people to make emotional connections with important events in life. It would amuse many to find that the nobles had their own “bands” and “studios” in the comfort of their own homes!

Types of Aztec Music

There were many types of Aztec music. Some were sacred hymns that commemorated the Gods, asking them for the flourishing of crops or for success in battle. These were known as cantares. The idea of the “rain dance” probably came from the Aztecs, with dances accompanying rituals asking for rain.

Aztec music, of course, included lighthearted songs and songs of everyday life. The cantares were for religious rituals and ceremonies, but there were many universal songs.

Characteristics of Aztec Music

Aztec music had a poetic, metaphorical and symbolic nature, characteristic of the nahuati language. Each word, God or thing would have multiple names and each line boasted of clever poetry. Both religious and secular songs boasted brilliant word play.


Indigenous Traditional Music

Aztec music was preserved, thanks in large part, to nomadic tribes like the Yaquis and Seris. The Yaquis, the tribal people of Arizona and Sonora. The most famous of their songs would be related to the beauty of the deer. Characterized by flute accompaniment and the use of percussion instruments, Yaqui music was largely responsible for making Aztec hymns extant.


Traditional Mexican Music

One has to truly explore to appreciate the true diversity of Mexican Music. The traditional music of Mexico was an integral an irremovable part of Mexican history and boasted many diverse forms.

The Corridos

These were bold ballads that were the highlight of the Mexican revolution. Usually about oppression, the life of the peasants and other socially important information, it is narrative in nature. Singers of the Corrido were, and still are, wonderful story tellers. As with a narrative, corrido usually contains a prologue to the story, the story itself and the moral viewpoint of the singer. Usually accompanied by guitar and played by Mexican musical ensembles, the corrido has a rhythm similar to that of the European waltz. Modern Corridos have now broach issues pertaining to modern times, like immigration and drug trafficking.


Unlike the Corrido which is performed by ensembles, the ranchera is performed by only one singer accompanied by a guitar. A response to the growing aristocracy, the ranchera was a symbol of Mexico’s new awakening. Usually about politics or nature, the rhythm of the ranchera can be played in 2/4 (ranchera polkeada)3/4 (ranchera valseada) or 4/4 (bolero ranchero). A shout, known as the grito mexicano, is usually given in interludes within the song.


The diversity of Mexican Music

Mexican music boasts diversity in its forms, performance and the instruments used. Listening to the music alone is embracing a truly rich culture. Different regions of Mexico have, as with all countries, their distinct forms of music.

Mexican Musical ensembles

I have approached the discussion of the diversity of this music by addressing the different types of musical ensembles that can be heard playing in Mexico. Each of these can be considered a sub culture of its own.

Son Music

In order to truly appreciate the diversity of Mexican music, one has to mention Son music, music that is a mix of Spanish and indigenous influences. It is music that covers a variety of styles that vary by region, but are similar in terms of rhythm, lyrics and dance. There are three main varieties played by characteristic ensembles, which I shall mention.These are Son Jarocho, Son

Huasteco and Son Jaliscience, which has morphed and known as Mariachi music. It is characterised by a specialized percussive element-the stomping feet of dancers.

Conjunto Jarocho

This is an ensemble that specializes in the music played in the Mexican state of Velacuz. The Jarocho form has evolved over the last two centuries in the coastal regions of Velacruz and Tamaulipas. The term “Jarocho” is used to refer to things from this region. The music has characteristics of indigenous, African and Spanish culture. A mainly humorous form, Jarocho are largely songs about sailors, love and nature.

Conjunto Huasteco

This is a musical ensemble specializing in the music of Son Huasteco, originating in the North Eastern area of Mexico known as Huasteca. The music is usually played by a Trio Huasteco of a guitarra quinta huapanguera (an eight stringed guitar) a jarana huasteca and a violin. The form is noted for its lively violin accompaniment.

Conjunto Marimba

This is a musical ensemble that specializes in the playing of the marimba, a percussion instrument with a set of resonators. The ensemble consists of a marimba, double bass and drums.


The mariachi is essentially the music from the western part of Mexico. It was played by the musicians wearing the white shirts of peasant farmers. The form has become more urbanized, and includes influences from the polka and waltz forms.


The evolution of Mexican Pop music

Traditional Mexican music has evolved into what is known as Mexican pop, mainly for Mexico’s teen listeners and youth. Mexico is the country that exports a the largest amount of pop music in the Spanish language.

In the 1960s and 70s, Mexican pop consisted of Spanish covers of English pop hits. In the 1990s, Mexican pop was given a boost in popularity with singers like Selena and boy bands Mercurio and Ragazzi.


Instruments used in Mexican Music

Instruments used by its musicians give Mexican music its unique quality. Some of these we are familiar with, others might be completely new!


The huapanguera guitar is an essential part of a Conjunto Huasteco ensemble. It takes on the role of the bass instrument of the ensemble. With a short neck, the huapanguero guitar usually only has 8 to 10 frets. The tuning arrangement has 8 to 10 nylon strings in 5 courses.



This is a dried gourd that has rough edges for a string to be drawn across. Today’s guiros can be fashioned out of metal, plastic or fibreglass.



The Vera Cruz Harp was brought to Mexico from Spain in the 1500s. Usually made from nylon, the strings are plucked with one’s fingernails. A rapid movement known as a tremolo creates its characteristic vibrating sound.



This is a five stringed guitar that is characteristic of a mariachi band. The sound is usually high in pitch, with the guitarron providing the low notes.



The violin is also characteristic of a Mariachi band, and provides the essential melody. Since the development of Jalisco in the 1700s, the violinist has become the proud member of a Mariachi band. The violin came to Mexico from Spain in the 15th century and has become a part of its culture ever since.



The marimba is a member of music’s percussion family and now commonly used in bands all over the world. It has a set of wooden bars with resonators. They are struck with mallets and arranged chromatically in semintones in a similar way to the keys of a piano.

Early marimbas were diatonic in nature, producing whole tones. The chromatic marimba with keys that represented accidentals was developed from its diatonic cousin later.


Famous Mexican Musicians

Featured here are some notable Mexican musicians and groups.The Mexican musicians here are separated into two groups- the traditional and contemporary.


Los Cadetes Di Linares

Popular Traditional Mexican Musicians or groups

Los Cadetes De Linares

This is a famous Corrido band formed in 1960, which played ballads discussing social issuesThey are also known for appearances in many classical Mexican films. It was put together by Homero Guerrero, who had a dream of attending a military academy. Due to economic pressures, he decided to devote his time to his other passion - music. They became famous around the city of Linares.


Jose Alfredo Jiminez Ella

Jose Alfredo Jiminez

Jiminez, born in 1926, was a famous ranchera singer whose songs are considered an integral part of Mexico’s tradition. Not formally trained in music and not knowing what a waltz was, he nevertheless composed more than 1000 songs. Among is most famous are "Ella", "Paloma Querida", "Tu Y La Mentira". Many of his songs have been covered by recording artists famous in the Spanish speaking world.


Rodrigo Gonzalez distante instante

Contemporary Mexican Musicians

Some Mexican musicians have helped to shape the face of Mexican pop, encompassing a diversity of styles in their respective genres.

Rodrigo Gonzales

The singer songwriter founded the movimento rupestre or Cave Movement, a pop-folk music movement that greatly influenced Mexican rock. Playing in bars, cafes and on the streets of Mexico City, he slowly began to develop existentialist music based on his experiences as a street musician. The form became known as Rockdrigo, which discussed mainly the issues of the Urban poor.


Plankton Man

Plankton Man

Otherwise known as Ignacio Chavez, his music is inspired by the brass banda and accordion elements of norteno music. He is famous for his infusion of jazz and electronic elements into his music, and is a founding member of the nortec collective.


Carlos Santana Smooth

Carlos Santana

I did not think I could possibly write a that delve into the genre of contemporary Mexican or Latin American music without mentioning Santana. By far one of the most famous Latin American Musicians we know, Santana became famous with his band, Santana, in the 1960s. They pioneered a fusion of rock and Latin American music, and infused the African percussive elements of congas and timbales. The Rolling Stones magazine listed Santana on its list of 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

A stuffed tiger wearing a sombrero

A stuffed tiger wearing a sombrero

Teaching children a Mexican Hat dance

If you are organizing a children’s party or are a music teacher looking for a new dance to teach the kids, this is a simple dance you might be interested in, though it requires the making of a few props. Here is how you would teach the Mexican Hat Dance to children.

Make streamers.

Make simple “dancing sticks” out of the cardboard of toilet rolls or kitchen towels, adding colored paper streamers to the end.

Find a sombrero!

Find a sombrero and put it in the centre, surrounded by the dancing sticks.

Form a circle

Form a circle with the children around the hat and dancing sticks.

Walk round the hat.

Have the children walk round the hat. They can do a simple dance step to the left or right, depending on their age.

Call out individual children.

Call out individual children to dance around the hat. Encourage a little creativity by asking them to move and use the colored sticks in their own ways. Continue calling out names until each child has finished.



The music of mexico is varied, rich, passionate and sensual, certainly to be enjoyed by everyone. Till the next time, Adios Amigos!


Other Music Hubs by Michelle Liew



Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 13, 2013:

Thanks, Glimmer!

Claudia Mitchell on June 13, 2013:

What a great and indepth hub. Love that you included all of the different instruments as well. I enjoy listening to all sorts of music.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 06, 2013:

Thanks Eddy!

Eiddwen from Wales on June 05, 2013:

Brilliant Michelle and voted up.


Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 05, 2013:

Thanks, Travmaj..ola!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 05, 2013:

Hiya, hatter! Will do!!!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 05, 2013:

Thanks Lurana....still learning! Fascinating what music does for us!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 05, 2013:

Thanks, Janet! I like writing about music from different cultures because every culture has outstanding music and musicians. Thanks for sharing!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 05, 2013:

Mexican music is indeed all of that! Thanks for sharing, Who!

travmaj from australia on June 04, 2013:

Another wonderful tribute to music - how fascinating - a colourful collection of instruments and artists. Makes me want to pack my bags and head for Mexico. I'll probably have to settle for a stab at the Mexican Hat Dance. Thanks Michelle - voting of course...

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on June 03, 2013:

Thank you for this. If you come to SF visit our Mission St. area. One can get a taste of the diversity of Mexico.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 03, 2013:

Hi Pamela! Thanks for dropping in. Yup, it's fun to listen to, though not all the time...can be a little grating on the ears! Thanks for sharing!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 03, 2013:

Hi Grace! A beautiful place, like every country in the world. Thanks for sharing!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 03, 2013:

Thanks, Mary, hope that I bring a little music to everyone. Thanks for sharing!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 03, 2013:

Oh yes, Mary, it takes an entire day to produce one. What with photo collection, it can take a while, but I love music, so I write! Thanks for sharing, Mary..and so cool that you've a Mexican family living nearby!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 03, 2013:

I love parks and will go there immediately when I have the chance. Thanks for sharing, Kidscrafts!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 03, 2013:

Thanks, Bill!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 03, 2013:

Hi Dianna! Hope it benefits those in search of a different music lesson! I think music is one of the most fascinating of God's gifts!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 03, 2013:

Hiya Janine! Yes, the younger artists these days mix things up a bit. Common across many cultures. Thanks for sharing!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 03, 2013:

Hi Boutiqueshops! Wow, then you must have been really exposed to it! Thanks for sharing!!

MrsBrownsParlour on June 03, 2013:

You are quite the musicologist...your illustration of history, culture, instruments, and styles is just outstanding! ~Lurana

Janet Giessl from Georgia country on June 03, 2013:

This is a very informative and interesting hub. Apart from Santana I haven't been really familiar with Mexican music so your hub was also educational for me. Thanks for sharing it.

whonunuwho from United States on June 03, 2013:

A wonderful hub and very informative my friend. Mexican music is so marvelous and expressive. It is truly the essence of what romantic music is all about. My favorite is the guitarists who display such a wonderful array of mood and exuberance in their playing. Thank you for sharing this nice work. whonu

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 03, 2013:

This is a really interesting hub. I like to hear Mexian music once in a while and your hub really brought it alive. Voted up!

Grace-Wolf-30 from England on June 03, 2013:

You make Mexico sound beautiful. I hope I am able to visit some day. Definitely voted up!

Mary Craig from New York on June 03, 2013:

Astonishing! One hub better than the next. You include so much good information and bring us right into your subject. "The music of mexico is varied, rich, passionate and sensual, certainly to be enjoyed by everyone.", as are your hubs!

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on June 03, 2013:

You constantly amaze me at all the time and research you put into your Hubs. It has to take you a lot of time to do the quality of work you do. Your hard work shows in all your Hubs.

There is a wonderful Mexican family who lives across the street from me. Every Friday night, they BBQ and play Mexican music until the wee hours. I love it!

Voted UP and shared all around.

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on June 03, 2013:

Great hub as always, Michelle!

I love Mexican music. It's so warm, like the climate in that country!

If you have the chance to go to the Mayan Riviera, go visit Xcaret. It's a fantastic park with plenty of things to do during the day and at night they have a fantastic show about the music and dances of the different part of Mexico. They also show ancient games. Just great!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 03, 2013:

Great educational piece....wonderful research...thank you for this.

Dianna Mendez on June 03, 2013:

Excellent post and it is educational, a must read for students of All kinds. I grew up hearing the traditional music in the home, but now enjoy the classical versions as well. Voted up and shared.

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on June 03, 2013:

This was great Michelle, because I will be honest I always think of this type of music characterized by big sombrero and maracas, too. And that truly sin't the case, but there is so much more and even contemporary artists, too. Thank you again and have voted and shared as always!!

Sylvia from Corpus Christi, Texas on June 03, 2013:

Interesting hub. Growing up in Laredo, traditional Mexican music played a big role in my childhood. Thanks for bringing back some memories!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on June 03, 2013:

On Mexican music, its history, variations and a little hat dance for children.

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