ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Enchanting Mandolin

Updated on April 2, 2017
Seafarer Mama profile image

Seafarer Mama is a musician and loves to write about her favorite instruments and the music she loves to make with them.

My mandolin and pick

my Kentucky mandolin
my Kentucky mandolin | Source
flat pick
flat pick | Source

Love is a mandolin in the moonlight ~

On a patio lit by candlelight, starlight, and moonlight sits a figure cradling a stringed instrument shaped like a gourd. He plays a progression of tremulous notes that vibrate in the air of the warm summer night like the call of a love bird to its mate. The longing in its voice is palpable. The music of the mandolin is made for the moonlight.

No matter where you may be, there is a place for the music of the mandolin. The instrument has a part in the history of many lands. It is such a versatile instrument because it can be played in a variety of musical styles. In this hub, I weave together early historical background about the instrument, its place in American history, its cross-cultural value, and the types of music it is most used for today.

What is a mandolin?

A mandolin is a stringed instrument in the lute family, fashioned in the shape of a gourd. This shape has since been refined to look more like a pear, with abundant variations. Those variations include fancy flourishes such as latticed wooden rosettes, or inlaid abalone, pearl, etc. A person who makes mandolins is known as a luthier. When the instrument was first invented in Italy, gourds were carved and set with strings to create the mandolin. It has a thick, resonant body and a fretted neck, with pegs to adjust the pitch created by each of its 8 strings. There are 4 sets of two strings, with each set producing an identical pitch that is a fifth apart from the sets that are above and below it. The musician may use a pick to make a rich sound by alternating the vibration of each string of a set with a series of up-down motions, to create the classic tremolo effect. A softer sound is created by a softer, slower motion, or by plucking the strings with bare fingers.

What does a mandolin sound like?

The notes made by a mandolin when its strings are plucked or strummed range from deeply sonorous low notes worthy of a cello, to higher pitches that are close in range to a fiddle or violin. There are many instruments in the lute family that are a variation of the mandolin in shape and character, and played for their unique resonance in a small chamber group, orchestra, or folk band. For example, a mandola has a lower, or deeper, range than the mandolin. The bazouki has its roots in Greece and is often used in Middle Eastern folk music.

The mandolin can make the type of sound you intend, whether solo or with accompaniment. Lively fiddle tunes are often played as harmonic accompaniment to the fiddles themselves. Folk ballads, dances, and lullabies, even Christmas carols, sound beautiful on the mandolin. The classical, nylon-stringed guitar is another instrument played as accompaniment to the mandolin, as is the mountain dulcimer and banjo. Antonio VIvaldi's Mandolin Concerto is one example of classical music that has been composed especially for the mandolin.

"Greensleeves/What Child is This?" on the Mandolin"

A Cross-Cultural Instrument

Though the mandolin has its origins in Italy, music from other lands sound equally compelling when played on it. Below is a description of several types of dances that are fun to learn and have accompanied by a mandolin.

Italian - Tarantella

The (Sicilian) Tarantella is a classic Italian tune created to accompany the dance that mimics the feverish movement of a victim of a tarantula bite. When this piece is played on the mandolin, the musician who plays it is giving a deep bow to its cultural origins.

Irish/Celtic - ballads and jigs (The Rakes of Mallow)

Since the dawn of the 20th century, Irish/Celtic dance music has been played well using a mandolin. The sound of the instrument is very dramatic and contributes to the festive air of each piece played for happy occasions. The quick pace at which a mandolin is played by a skillful musician lends itself to traditional Irish dance, and makes the heart race just to hear it. The Rakes of Mallow is one example of such a dance tune. Others include Star of the County Down and The Ballad of St. Anne's Reel.

Spanish - Recuerdos de la Alhambra

"Recuerdos" is a lilting melody written by Francisco Tarrega in 1896, as a dedication to the grand architectural character of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Spanish love songs were composed with the mandolin in mind. The melodious notes produced by the master musician on a mandolin caress the heart and add an extra glow to the face of everyone in the hall.

Let the Feast Begin - A Short History of the Mandolin

Medieval Court Musicians

In Medieval times, a stringed instrument shaped like a mandolin was named a lute. The lute was played by court musicians, thespians, and those who wrote psalms. When King David was a boy, he played a lute to cheer up King Saul.


No celebration is complete without dancing, and the mandolin brings a unique sound to dance to, particularly with a partner. American Bluegrass, Cajun and Zydeco music feature the mandolin when played live at festivals and jams. The mandolin has also been recently included in arrangements of jazz classics, too.

Birthday Songs

Singing "Happy Birthday" to a friend or family member is not complete without the sound of the mandolin. Its notes are cheerful and welcome the combination of many voices singing to the "guest of honor." I have been playing the familiar Birthday Song to my daughter for the past 6 years.


Mandolins may be played softly, without a pick. I manage to play quietly with a pick as I sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and All Through the Night to my daughter after I tuck her in, with a finale of an instrumental Lullabye by Johannes Brahms.

Christmas Carols

What merrier way to sing to the newborn Savior than with the mandolin? Deck the Halls and Good King Wenceslas are two of my favorites. I also play an Italian carol called Tu Scendi dalle Stelle . One year, I accompanied a friend with my mandolin when she sang the song at a concert.

The mandolin has gained popularity in the 21st century. It can make you happy or sad, it definitely makes the feet want to dance when rhythmic chords are played on it near or far. Let it live a full life for many more decades....centuries....millennia. Viva la mandolin!

How do I love thee...?

Have you developed a greater appreciation or affection for the mandolin because of this hub?

See results

© 2010 Karen A Szklany


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)