Mandola vs. Mandolin

By Jaxson

Main Difference

The main difference between Mandola and Mandolin is that the Mandola is a musical instrument and Mandolin is a musical instrument in the lute family (plucked, or strummed).

  • Mandola

    The mandola (US and Canada) or tenor mandola (Ireland and UK) is a fretted, stringed musical instrument. It is to the mandolin what the viola is to the violin: the four double courses of strings tuned in fifths to the same pitches as the viola (C-G-D-A low-to-high), a fifth lower than a mandolin. The mandola, although now rarer, is the ancestor of the mandolin, the name of which means simply “little mandola”.

    The name mandola may originate with the ancient pandura, and was also rendered as mandora, the change perhaps having been due to approximation to the Italian word for “almond”. The instrument developed from the lute at an early date, being more compact and cheaper to build, but the sequence of development and nomenclature in different regions is now hard to discover. Historically related instruments include the mandore, mandole, vandola (Joan Carles Amat, 1596), bandola, bandora, bandurina, pandurina and—in 16th-century Germany—the quinterne or chiterna. However, significantly different instruments have at times and places taken on the same or similar names, and the “true” mandola has been strung in several different ways.

    The mandola has four double courses of metal strings, tuned in unison rather than in octaves. The scale length is typically around 42 cm (16.5 inches). The mandola is typically played with a plectrum. The double strings accommodate a sustaining technique called tremolando, a rapid alternation of the plectrum on a single course of strings.

    The mandola is commonly used in folk music—particularly Italian folk music. It is sometimes played in Irish traditional music, but the instruments octave mandolin, Irish bouzouki and modern cittern are more commonly used. Some Irish traditional musicians, following the example of Andy Irvine, restring the tenor mandola with lighter, mandolin strings and tune it F-C-G-C (two semi-tones lower than G-D-A-D, since the mandola’s fretboard is two frets longer than the mandolin’s), while others (Brian McDonagh of Dervish being the best known) use alternate tunings such as D-A-E-A. Like the guitar, the mandola can be acoustic or electric. Attila the Stockbroker, punk poet and frontman of Barnstormer, uses an electric mandola as his main instrument. Alex Lifeson, guitarist of Rush, has also featured the mandola in his work.

    Mandolas are often played in mandolin orchestras, along with other members of the mandolin family: mandolin, mandocello and mandobass. Sometimes the octave mandolin (also referred to as an octave mandola) is included as well.

  • Mandolin

    A mandolin (Italian: mandolino pronounced [mandoˈliːno]; literally “small mandola”) is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family and is usually plucked with a plectrum. It commonly has four courses of doubled metal strings tuned in unison (8 strings), although five (10 strings) and six (12 strings) course versions also exist. The courses are normally tuned in a succession of perfect fifths. It is the soprano member of a family that includes the mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello and mandobass.

    There are many styles of mandolin, but three are common, the Neapolitan or round-backed mandolin, the carved-top mandolin and the flat-backed mandolin. The round-back has a deep bottom, constructed of strips of wood, glued together into a bowl. The carved-top or arch-top mandolin has a much shallower, arched back, and an arched top—both carved out of wood. The flat-backed mandolin uses thin sheets of wood for the body, braced on the inside for strength in a similar manner to a guitar. Each style of instrument has its own sound quality and is associated with particular forms of music. Neapolitan mandolins feature prominently in European classical music and traditional music. Carved-top instruments are common in American folk music and bluegrass music. Flat-backed instruments are commonly used in Irish, British and Brazilian folk music. Some modern Brazilian instruments feature an extra fifth course tuned a fifth lower than the standard fourth course.

    Other mandolin varieties differ primarily in the number of strings and include four-string models (tuned in fifths) such as the Brescian and Cremonese, six-string types (tuned in fourths) such as the Milanese, Lombard and the Sicilian and 6 course instruments of 12 strings (two strings per course) such as the Genoese. There has also been a twelve-string (three strings per course) type and an instrument with sixteen-strings (four strings per course).

    Much of mandolin development revolved around the soundboard (the top). Pre-mandolin instruments were quiet instruments, strung with as many as six courses of gut strings, and were plucked with the fingers or with a quill. However, modern instruments are louder—using four courses of metal strings, which exert more pressure than the gut strings. The modern soundboard is designed to withstand the pressure of metal strings that would break earlier instruments. The soundboard comes in many shapes—but generally round or teardrop-shaped, sometimes with scrolls or other projections. There is usually one or more sound holes in the soundboard, either round, oval, or shaped like a calligraphic f (f-hole). A round or oval sound hole may be covered or bordered with decorative rosettes or purfling.

  • Mandola (noun)

    A stringed musical instrument resembling the mandolin, but of larger size and tuned lower.

  • Mandolin (noun)

    A stringed instrument and a member of the lute family, having eight strings in four courses, frequently tuned as a violin, and with either a bowl-shaped back or a flat back.

  • Mandolin (noun)

    A kitchen tool used for slicing vegetables (usually spelled mandoline).

  • Mandolin (noun)

    An RAF World War II code name for patrols to attack enemy railway transport and other ground targets.


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