Learning to play the mandolin
What is the mandolin?
A mandolin is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family. It commonly has four courses of doubled metal strings tuned in unison (eight strings). Ten and twelve string versions also exist. The courses are typically tuned in a succession of perfect fifths, with the same tuning as a violin (G3, D4, A4, E5).
There are many styles of mandolin, but the three most common types are the Neapolitan or round-backed mandolin, the archtop and the flat-backed mandolin. The round-back has a deep bottom, constructed of strips of wood, glued together into a bowl. The archtop, also known as the carved-top mandolin has an arched top and a shallower, arched back – both carved out of wood. The flat-backed mandolin uses thin sheets of wood for the body, braced on the inside for strength in a similar manner to a guitar.
Neapolitan mandolins feature prominently in European classical and traditional music. Archtop instruments are common in American folk and bluegrass music. Flat-backed instruments are commonly used in Irish, British and Brazilian folk music.
The family of mandolins comprises the Soprano, Piccolo, Alto, Tenor, Baritone/Bass and Contrabass.
Other mandolin varieties differ primarily in the number of strings, and include four-string models such as the Brescian and Cremonese, the Milanese, Lombard and the Sicilian and six-course instruments of 12 strings such as the Genoese. There has also been a twelve-string type and an instrument with sixteen-strings!
Much of mandolin development revolved around the soundboard. Early instruments were quiet, strung with gut strings and plucked with the fingers or with a quill. However, modern instruments are louder – using metal strings that exert more pressure.
The soundboard comes in many shapes but is generally round or teardrop-shaped, sometimes with scrolls or other projections. There is usually one or more sound holes in the soundboard, either round, oval or shaped like a calligraphic f (f-hole).
So why learn the mandolin?
The international repertoire of music for mandolin is almost unlimited, and musicians use it to play various types of music (especially true of violin music, since the mandolin has the same tuning as the violin).
Following its invention and early development in Italy the mandolin spread throughout the European continent and was primarily used in a classical tradition with Mandolin orchestras appearing in many cities. Following this, local traditions appeared outside Europe in the Americas and in Japan, then in American country, old-time music, bluegrass and folk music. More recently, the Baroque and Classical mandolin repertory and styles have benefited from an increased interest in Early music.
How much should I expect to pay for mandolin lessons?
Naturally, given these pressing times, online tutoring is the key to learning an instrument. Fortunately, there are many tutors available online but it is important that sourcing via sites like Tutorextra will give you an insight as to the tutors qualities and reputation.
Prices range from £20 to £40 an hour, usually with the first lesson free, which will help you understand how the tutor teaches.
People ask, “How long will it take to learn?” Well, if you are familiar with similar instruments such as violins and guitars, you will have an easier time learning to master the mandolin. The answer is dependent upon how often you are willing to practice, how quickly you pick up on new lessons and your commitment level.
Learning a new instrument takes dedication, patience, consistency and skill.
If you were to practice everyday for 30-60 minutes per day, it would take approximately three months to play the instrument with confidence and consistency. As you practice more, you will develop your skill set and playing will come naturally to you.