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Acoustic Guitar

Mandolin

Mandolin reviews, articles, and tips for beginners and beyond

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History

The mandolin is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family and is usually plucked with a plectrum. It commonly has four pairs of doubled metal strings tuned in unison, although five and six course versions also exist. The mandolin evolved from the lute in Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries, and the deep bowled mandolin, produced particularly in Naples, became common in the 19th century. The instrument was primarily used in a classical tradition with the works of composers like Vivaldi and Beethoven. By the late 19th century, a modern version was developed in Naples by the Vinaccia family. The mandolin’s popularity and use spread into American folk music, particularly bluegrass, with the development of new styles. In the 20th century, it became associated with a range of music genres, from classical and folk to rock.

Today, it remains a versatile instrument featured in many musical forms around the world.

Mandolin Specs

Mandolins are categorized by their body shapes, number of strings, and tuning. The most common styles include the Neapolitan or round-backed mandolin, the flat-backed mandolin, the carved-top mandolin, and the mandola.

The Neapolitan, often known as the bowl-back, has a rounded back and is traditionally used in classical, Italian, and folk music. The flat-backed version, including the archtop design, is prevalent in Irish, British, and American folk music. The carved-top mandolins, such as the F-style and A-style, are favored in American bluegrass music due to their powerful, punchy sound; the F-style features a decorative scroll near the neck, while the A-style has a simpler teardrop shape.

Typically, mandolins have eight strings in four courses, which are pairs of strings tuned in unison, though five-course and six-course versions exist. The standard tuning is GDAE, an octave above the violin. Mandolin bodies are traditionally made of wood, with spruce tops and maple or rosewood backs and sides, and they often feature a floating bridge and tailpiece.

How To Play

Playing the mandolin involves holding the instrument against the body, using the left hand to fret notes on the neck, and the right hand to pluck or strum the strings with a plectrum. To start, one must learn to tune the mandolin, usually to the standard GDAE tuning. Beginners often start with open chords and simple melodies, practicing smooth chord transitions and clean note articulation.

The right hand technique is crucial, involving picking patterns such as tremolo (rapid alternate picking) for a sustained, shimmering sound, and strumming for rhythm accompaniment. The left hand must develop dexterity to perform techniques like hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides, enhancing musical expression.

Reading tablature or standard notation helps in learning songs and understanding music theory. Consistent practice, starting with scales and arpeggios, is key to mastering the mandolin. Instruction from a teacher or online resources can provide structured learning and help improve technique.

did you know

The mandolin played a crucial role in the soundtrack of “The Godfather,” with its serenading tone setting the mood for the iconic 1972 film’s Italian-American heritage.

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