The Mandola: Exploring the Mid-Range Sounds of the Mandolin Family

The mandola is a stringed instrument that belongs to the mandolin family, also known as the lute family. It is larger than a mandolin and smaller than a mandocello, and produces a mid-range sound that makes it a versatile instrument for various genres of music. This is an essential instrument in traditional, folk, and classical music, and has gained popularity in contemporary music as well.

The mandola differs from other mandolin family instruments in terms of its size, tuning, and sound. It has a longer neck and a larger body, which gives it a richer sound and deeper resonance. It is typically tuned to a fifth below the mandolin, giving it a lower pitch and a unique sound.

There are different types of mandolas, including:

  • octave mandola
  • Irish bouzouki
  • mandola di liuto
  • mandola di liuto moderna

Each type has its own unique characteristics and is used for different styles of music.

This is  a popular instrument among musicians. It is primarily used in folk and traditional music, but can also be heard in classical, jazz, and contemporary music. Its versatility allows it to blend well with other instruments and add depth to musical arrangements.

Playing this member of the mandolin family requires some skill and technique, but is relatively easy to learn compared to other stringed instruments. The instrument is typically played by strumming or picking the strings with a plectrum or fingers. Learning the proper tuning, chords, and techniques can help beginners get started on playing.

Aside from being a fun and enjoyable instrument to play, there are also many benefits. It can improve hand-eye coordination, enhance cognitive skills, provide stress relief, and promote creativity. These benefits make it a great hobby for people of all ages and skill levels.

This is a versatile and unique instrument that offers a mid-range sound that sets it apart from other stringed instruments. Its various types, uses, and benefits make it a valuable addition to any musician’s repertoire. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced musician, this is an instrument worth exploring.


 The Mandola, What is it?

What Is a Mandola? - Mandola: Exploring the Mid-Range Sounds of the Mandolin Family

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A mandola is a larger version of the mandolin, a musical instrument in the mandolin family. It produces a deeper and richer sound compared to the mandolin and is commonly used in folk, bluegrass, and classical music. Similar to a viola, it is tuned in fifths and provides a mid-range sound that complements other instruments in an ensemble.

For beginners, it is recommended to choose one with a solid wood construction for better resonance and tone quality. It is also beneficial to experiment with different string gauges to find the perfect balance of tension and playability.

How Does a Mandola Differ from Other Mandolin Family Instruments?

How Does a Mandola Differ from Other Mandolin Family Instruments? - Mandola: Exploring the Mid-Range Sounds of the Mandolin Family

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This is a unique member of the mandolin family, distinguished by a few key characteristics:

  1. Size: Measuring around 27 inches in scale length, the mandola is larger than a mandolin.
  2. Tuning: Typically tuned a fifth lower than a mandolin, the mandola is usually in the key of C-G-D-A.
  3. Sound: It produces a deeper and richer tone compared to the brighter sound of a mandolin.
  4. Range: With a wider range, the mandola allows for lower notes and offers more versatility in playing various musical genres.
  5. Role: In an ensemble setting, the mandola often provides a harmonic foundation and fills the mid-range between the mandolin and the mandocello.

What Is the Difference Between a Mandola and a Mandolin?

The main difference lies in their size and tuning. A mandola is larger than a mandolin and is tuned lower. It typically has a scale length of around 16-17 inches, compared to the mandolin’s scale length of around 13-14 inches. This results in a deeper and richer sound for the mandola. The tuning  is usually a fifth lower than a mandolin, with the most common tuning being CGDA. The mandolin, on the other hand, is typically tuned GDAE. These differences in size, tuning, and sound make the mandola well-suited for playing in the mid-range of the mandolin family.

What Is the Difference Between a Mandola and a Mandocello?

The main difference between a mandola and a mandocello lies in their size and tuning. While a mandola is smaller and tuned a fifth lower, a mandocello is larger and tuned an octave lower than a mandolin. As a result, the mandocello produces a deeper and richer sound than the mandola. Despite both being part of the mandolin family and sharing similar features, their size and tuning set them apart from one another.

Fun Fact: Due to its lower range, the mandocello is sometimes known as the “baritone mandolin.”

What Are the Different Types?

What Are the Different Types of Mandolas? - Mandola: Exploring the Mid-Range Sounds of the Mandolin Family

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In the world of mandolins, the mandola is often overlooked but holds a unique place in the family of stringed instruments. With a lower pitch range than the mandolin and a higher range than the mandocello, the mandola offers a distinct sound that is both melodic and rich. In this section, we will dive into the various types, including the octave, Irish bouzouki, mandola di liuto, and mandola di liuto moderna, and discover the unique characteristics and qualities of each.

1. Octave Mandola

The octav is a larger version of the mandolin, providing a deeper and richer sound. To play the octave mandola, follow these steps:

  1. Tuning: Tune the strings to G3, D3, A2, and E2, just like a mandolin but an octave lower.
  2. Chords: Learn the basic chords used in mandolin playing, such as G, D, C, and A, but adjust them to fit the lower pitch.
  3. Strumming and Picking Techniques: Explore various strumming patterns and fingerpicking techniques to create different rhythms and textures.

Playing the octave mandola offers the unique opportunity to expand your musical range and explore the beautiful mid-range tones of the mandolin family.

2. Irish Bouzouki

The Irish bouzouki, originating from Greece, is a type of mandola with four pairs of strings and a longer scale length. This unique design produces a lower pitch and a rich, resonant sound. The instrument is commonly used in traditional Irish music and has gained popularity in contemporary folk and acoustic genres. Its rhythmic strumming patterns and melodic accompaniment are well-known. Musicians can experiment with different tuning options to create unique tonalities. With its versatility, the Irish bouzouki adds depth and texture to any musical composition.

3. Mandola Di Liuto

The Mandola Di Liuto is a unique variant of the mandola, known for its distinct construction and sound. To fully explore this instrument, follow these steps:

  1. Understand the Mandola Di Liuto: It is a hybrid instrument that combines features of both the mandola and lute.
  2. Familiarize yourself with its characteristics: The Mandola Di Liuto has a larger body and longer scale length compared to a standard mandola.
  3. Learn about its tuning: Typically tuned in fifths, similar to the mandola, the Mandola Di Liuto has a unique sound.
  4. Explore its versatility: This instrument is used in various genres such as folk, classical, and contemporary music.
  5. Experiment with different playing techniques: Strumming, fingerpicking, and arpeggios can all be used to create unique sounds on the Mandola Di Liuto.

4. Mandola Di Liuto Moderna

The modern mandola di liuto is a variant of the mandola, featuring a longer neck and more strings. To play this instrument, known as the mandola di liuto moderna, follow these steps:

  1. Tune the instrument to your desired pitch, typically in fifths.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the fingerings for chords and scales specific to the mandola di liuto moderna.
  3. Practice various strumming and picking techniques, such as alternate picking and fingerstyle.
  4. Explore different playing styles and genres, including folk, classical, jazz, and contemporary music.

Playing the mandola di liuto moderna offers a unique sound and expands your musical expression with its extended range and versatility.

What Are the Uses of a Mandola?

What Are the Uses of a Mandola? - Mandola: Exploring the Mid-Range Sounds of the Mandolin Family

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It is known for its unique mid-range sound. While not as commonly seen as its smaller counterpart, the mandolin, the it has been utilized in various genres of music.

1. Folk Music – A Solid Sound

Folk music is a beloved genre for mandola players. If you want to play, follow these simple steps:

  1. Tune your mandola to CGDA, similar to a viola.
  2. Learn common folk chords such as G, D, C, and A minor.
  3. Practice various strumming patterns, like down-down-up, or fingerpicking techniques.

For a more authentic folk sound, try using a plectrum or experimenting with different playing styles. Explore traditional folk tunes and accompany them with the mandola.

2. Classical Music – Great For Compositions

Classical music is a highly favored genre due to its rich and warm sound. The mandola’s larger size and lower tuning make it particularly well-suited for classical compositions. It is commonly used as both a solo instrument and as part of an ensemble, such as a string quartet or orchestra. Renowned players in the classical realm, such as Mike Marshall, have beautifully showcased the instrument’s versatility and technical capabilities. Playing classical music on this instrument allows musicians to fully explore its potential and create stunning, melodic interpretations.

In a similar fashion, a true story highlights the profound impact of classical mandola music. During a concert, acclaimed mandolinist Chris Thile performed a classical mandola piece, captivating the audience with his virtuosic skills and emotional interpretation. The music transported listeners to another world, evoking a sense of awe and admiration for the mandola’s unique sound. It was a transformative experience, where the power of classical music and the expressive capabilities of the mandola merged, leaving a lasting impression on all who were present.

3. Jazz Music

When it comes to playing the mandola in jazz music, there are several steps you can take to enhance your performance:

  1. Understand jazz theory: Familiarize yourself with jazz chord progressions, scales, and improvisation techniques.
  2. Listen to jazz mandolin players: Study the work of jazz mandolinists like Jethro Burns and Don Stiernberg to get a sense of the jazz music genre’s unique sound and phrasing.
  3. Experiment with chord voicings: Explore different ways to voice chords on the mandola to add richness and complexity to your jazz music playing.
  4. Develop melodic improvisation skills: Practice improvising melodic lines over jazz standards, incorporating jazz vocabulary and techniques.
  5. Collaborate with other jazz musicians: Seek opportunities to play with jazz guitarists, bassists, or pianists to develop your ability to interact within a jazz ensemble.
  6. Expand your repertoire: Learn and perform jazz standards that are commonly played in the jazz music genre, such as “Autumn Leaves” or “All the Things You Are”.

By following these steps, you can cultivate your skills and bring the unique sounds of the instrument to the world of jazz music.

4. Contemporary Music

Contemporary music provides endless possibilities for the mandola. Its warm and smooth tone seamlessly blends with a variety of genres including folk rock, indie, and alternative. Numerous modern musicians utilize the mandola in their music to enhance its richness and texture. Renowned artists like Chris Thile and Avi Avital have effectively showcased the versatility of the mandola in contemporary music. Whether it’s accompanying vocals, taking melodic solos, or providing rhythmic support, the mandola adds a distinct and unique voice to the realm of modern music.

How to Play a Mandola?

If you’re looking to expand your musical repertoire, this is an excellent instrument to consider. With its unique mid-range sound, it adds a rich and mellow texture to any musical ensemble. But how does one actually play ? I

1. Tuning

Tuning a mandola involves adjusting the strings to specific pitches to achieve the desired sound. Here are the steps to tune a mandola:

  1. Begin by tuning the first string (lowest pitch) to C.
  2. Proceed to the second string and tune it to G.
  3. Tune the third string to D.
  4. Then, tune the fourth string to A.

2. Chords

To play chords follow these steps:

  1. Tune to the desired pitch, typically G-D-A-E, like a mandolin.
  2. Learn basic chord shapes, such as major, minor, and seventh chords, which can be used on other stringed instruments as well.
  3. Place your fingers on the frets of the mandola to form the desired chord shape.
  4. Strum or pluck the strings to produce the sound of the chord.
  5. Practice transitioning between different chord shapes to improve fluency and speed.

3. Strumming and Picking Techniques

Mastering strumming and picking techniques is essential . Here are some steps to help you get started:

  1. Hold the pick between your thumb and index finger for picking.
  2. Experiment with different pick angles and pressure to achieve your desired tone.
  3. Practice alternate picking by striking the strings in an up-down motion.
  4. Try using your thumb or fingers to strum for a softer, more rhythmic sound.

Remember to start slow and gradually increase your speed as you gain proficiency. Explore different strumming patterns and picking styles to add variety to your playing.

What Are the Benefits of Playing a Mandola?

What Are the Benefits of Playing a Mandola? - Mandola: Exploring the Mid-Range Sounds of the Mandolin Family

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The mandola, a lesser-known member of the mandolin family, offers a unique and versatile range of sounds. But beyond its musical capabilities, playing the mandola also comes with a range of benefits. In this section, we will explore the various advantages of picking up a mandola and incorporating it into your musical repertoire. From improving hand-eye coordination to promoting creativity, the benefits of playing a mandola extend far beyond just the realm of music. Let’s dive in and discover why this instrument is worth adding to your collection.

1. Improves Hand-Eye Coordination

Playing can aid in improving hand-eye coordination through the following steps:

  1. Properly hold the instrument, ensuring a comfortable grip and correct positioning.
  2. Focus on the fingerboard and strings while playing, developing precision and accuracy in finger placement.
  3. Practice scales and exercises that involve moving fingers across the fretboard, enhancing coordination between the hands.
  4. Play melodies and chords, coordinating finger movements with strumming or picking patterns.
  5. Challenge yourself with more complex songs or techniques, gradually improving hand-eye coordination.

2. Enhances Cognitive Skills

Playing can enhance cognitive skills through various means. Here are some steps to achieve this:

  1. Improves focus and concentration by requiring attention to notes, chords, and timing.
  2. Enhances cognitive skills by enhancing memory retention, developing problem-solving abilities, and boosting auditory processing skills.
  3. Develops problem-solving abilities as musicians navigate complex musical patterns and improvisation.
  4. Boosts auditory processing skills by training the brain to recognize and interpret different tones and harmonies.

Incorporating practice into your routine can provide an enjoyable way to sharpen cognitive abilities.

3. Provides Stress Relief

Playing  can provide stress relief through various techniques and practices:

  1. Listening: Relax and unwind by listening to soothing music, which can help alleviate stress.
  2. Meditation: Use the repetitive strumming or picking patterns to enter a meditative state and find inner peace.
  3. Breathing exercises: Coordinate your breathing with the rhythm, inhaling and exhaling deeply to promote relaxation and reduce stress.
  4. Expressive playing: Release emotions and relieve stress by playing the mandola with passion and intensity, allowing for a cathartic experience.

4. Promotes Creativity

Playing promotes creativity by providing musicians with a one-of-a-kind and adaptable instrument to express themselves. Its deep and melodious sound, along with its unique mid-range tone, offers opportunities for exploration and experimentation in various music genres.

Musicians can compose original melodies, create harmonies, and craft intricate arrangements. The instrument’s larger size and distinct tuning open up new possibilities for chord progressions and melodic patterns, encouraging musicians to break away from conventional norms and expand their creative horizons.

Ultimately it inspires artistic expression and cultivates innovation in music.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a CGDA mandola and how does it differ from a mandolin?

It  is a larger version of the mandolin, with a longer scale length and four strings tuned to CGDA. It is based on old Gibson Mandolas from 90 years ago and is known for its rich and mid-range sound.

Why would someone transition from a mandolin?

One reason could be for compatibility with other instruments, like the Cello. The Cello is tuned an octave and a fifth below the mandolin, but the CGDA is tuned in the same range as the Cello, making it easier to play along with Cello recordings.

How can a mandola be used to play Bach Cello suites?

The author recommends using either C clef notation or violin transcriptions to play as if it were a mandolin. This may require playing a fifth lower than the written notes, but there are plenty of violin transcriptions of Cello music that are an octave and a fifth too high.

Where can I find a custom-built mandola, octave mandolin, or mandocello?

The author recommends looking at Weber for European-style mandolas and other instruments in the mandolin family that can be custom-built to fit your needs and preferences.

What is the significance of the William Shakespeare quote at the end of the article?

The quote from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” highlights the importance of keeping time in music, which is essential for playing instruments in the mandolin family, including the mandola.

Can you provide more information about the specific CGDA mandola mentioned in the article?

The mentioned in the article was ordered from Peter Coombe in Australia and is based on old Gibson Mandolas. It is only slightly longer in scale than a mandolin and has impressed the author with its sound and playability.