How to Play the Mandolin


This four-stringed instrument can be a real joy to play, and makes a great addition to a lot of bands, particularly for live acoustic sessions. Here's how to get on your way to mastering this instrument.

  • Get the necessary equipment. One of the first things you want is a pick, a plastic piece to pluck the strings with. The mandolin is a hard instrument to pick with your fingers, as you will quickly find out. Another good accessory is a strap for hanging the instrument around your neck if you'll be wanting to play it standing.

  • Practice picking the taut double strings of the instrument. You'll want to get a good balance between light touch and getting both tones out of a string. Lots of mandolin playing involves picking at a fast pace, so work that into your practice until you become comfortable with it.

  • Put your fingers on the fretboard. Another thing that will take some getting used to is keeping a firm pressure on the frets--the mandolin strings are harder and less supple than those of most other string instruments. Getting used to this is mostly an issue of building up the power in your fingers, as well as callouses on the tips of your fingers. Be patience with this process.

  • Learn the specific four-note combinations of mandolin chords. The mandolin has a different tuning than the guitar or other popular starter instruments. With mandolin, there's a whole new 'chord structure' to learn for strumming recognizable major or minor chords in a given key.

  • Find strumming rhythms that complement the songs you'll be playing along to. As mandolin is an "accompaniment instrument," it's important to be able to follow the cadence and tempos of other instruments.

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