The mandolin is a small plucked string instrument, with eight strings in four pairs or “courses”. It is played with a plectrum held between thumb and forefinger.
If you already play violin or guitar, then you have a big head start if you want to learn mandolin.
The mandolin has the same tuning as a violin (GDAE). The fingerboard is fretted, like a guitar.
There are two main shapes of mandolin: the traditional bowlback – which was the original shape of the instrument as it developed in Italy – and the modern flatback,which developed much later in the USA.
They look very different, and are associated with different kinds of music, but the difference in sound is not as great as you might imagine. You will see both kinds of mandolin in the MMO.
In the orchestra, the mandolin players are generally divided into 2 sections. Mandolin 1s mostly play the main melody, while Mandolin 2s play harmonies and counter-melodies.
And at this point let’s get one important thing out of the way: there is one thing which the mandolin is NOT.
It is NOT a ukulele. (Just saying). If you are looking for a ukulele orchestra, you could try auditioning for this excellent group.
A mandola is a larger and lower-pitched version of a mandolin. In a regular orchestra, you have violas. We have mandolas.
Some mandolas are tuned CGDA (which is the same tuning as a viola). However, most mandolin orchestra music is written for a larger version of the instrument which is tuned to a lower pitch (GDAE – like a mandolin but one octave lower). This is also known as an octave mandola. The MMO mandolists play octave mandolas.
The title is in brackets because the MMO has never had a regular mandocello player. Some of our arrangements do have mandocello parts though.
As you might guess, the mandocello is the mandolin equivalent of a cello. Mandocellos have been known to pop up at our playing days and workshops – and one of our recent concerts featured mandocello as a solo instrument.
In the MMO the lower parts are played on guitars. The note range of the guitar is very similar to a cello, but whereas the cello tends to play one note at a time, the guitar is easily able to add chords and harmonies.
The nylon strings of the classical guitar can give a nice contrast to the more metallic sounds of the mandolins, and slightly soften and sweeten our orchestral sound.
We are always on the lookout for new guitar players! The MMO offers an ideal opportunity for guitarists to play music in parts with others, and to hone those ensemble skills.
It’s so important to have a good foundation!
You might see us playing with a double bass player.
Or then again you might see us with a bass guitarist.
It’s actually quite difficult to know what will happen next …