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The Musician's Corner: My Kingdom For A Mandolin

Updated on February 6, 2020

The Musician's Corner: My Kingdom For A Mandolin

I have been involved in music for most of my life as a singer, musician and songwriter. I play several instruments, but the guitar is my main instrument.

I first started playing guitar around the age of fifteen and became quite skilled at it very quickly. The guitar has been my constant companion now for over thirty years. It will always be my first love.

Recently however, I have discovered a new love. In my never ending search to broaden my sonic palette, I came across a mandolin in a mail order catalog. The mandolin was priced right at fifty dollars. So I figured there was no way I could go wrong.

As far as musical instruments go, you get what you pay for in most cases. This mandolin turned out to be a rare exception to that rule.

It arrived promptly and I began making the necessary minor adjustments to make it playable (tuning it properly and raising/lowering the bridge). After completing these tasks, I was pleasantly surprised to find the tone to be even and that the mandolin stayed in tune for the most part.It has not replaced the guitar as my main "axe," but I do enjoy playing the mandolin because of its inherent simplicity.

The mandolin has four pairs of strings tuned in unison, with each pair being a fifth apart. There is virtually nothing in the bass range. Therefore, when playing solo, one is forced to keep things simple.

I taught myself to play it in a few hours after sitting down on my break at work and figuring out where the notes were and how to finger chords. I have written a few songs on it and adapted some songs that I usually play on guitar to the mandolin.With my Yamaha QY-100 Music Sequencer I have toyed with the idea of programming bass lines to play along with my mandolin.

The mandolin today is mainly associated with bluegrass music in this country, but actually has a rich legacy of European classical music written for it by composers like Mozart, Webern and others. Its sound is light with very little in the way of sustain, thus necessitating the repeated trill one often associates with it. While adequate as a solo instrument, it is better suited for ensemble playing.

In bluegrass, Bill Monroe brought the mandolin to the forefront. As a result of his prowess on the instrument, almost every bluegrass and "new grass" (a modern hybrid of the genre) band features at least one mandolin player.

Extremely light and portable, the mandolin is the perfect instrument to stuff in one's locker at work and steal away to strum a few chords on breaks. It is best played with a pick which being a fingerstyle guitarist, took some getting used to for me.

I do not think it will replace my guitar as my first love, but I plan to pick and grin on the mandolin for a long time to come. If like me, you are seeking to add new sounds to your music or just plain bored with guitar, give the mandolin a whirl. I think you will find it very pleasant and agreeable.


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