#12 Choosing Your Instrument: Mandolin

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I found the mandolin very tricky to tune, when I started to learn the instrument, so I’m going to give you a couple of tips on how to get around this.

The mandolin is tuned the same as a violin, except instead of 4 strings it has 4 pairs of strings (two E Strings, 2 A Strings, 2 D Strings, and 2 G Strings), making it twice as hard to get in tune. Tuning with an electronic tuner is fairly simple: you match the string to the note on the tuner visually until it’s correct with the light turning green or the cable comes up the centre. But mandolin tuning becomes more difficult because of the pairs of strings, so when you pluck the G string you may be hitting the other one along with it. So, when one string is out of tune they’ll both sound out of tune – so it’s important that both strings are tuned correctly.

Here’s a mandolin tuning tip: use rest strokes to isolate the individual strings of each pair. Rest strokes are when you hit the string with the pick and then let the pick rest on the string below it, thus muting it. So for the G Strings for example, start by hitting the top G String and let the pick rest on the G String below it. Then once you have the top G in tune, pull the pick the other way and let the pick rest on the top G. This sort of string isolation is essential in mandolin tuning, otherwise you’ll never be able to hear the individual strings.

The mandolin is a member of the lute family, and is a fretted instrument, like the guitar but sound and play very differently. I enjoyed rapid up and down plectrum strokes when playing a melody it has such a unique sound, very sharp cutting across the mix.

There are a lot of shapes and sizes of mandolin but my favourite was the electro mandolin because it was great use on stage and for recording sessions.

For the last blog in this series I will give you some tips on my latest instrument, the Ukulele.

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