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This family of instruments originated in Italy in the 17th Century and, like the cittern, the mandolin has a flat back, steel wire strings and brass frets. It has four or five pairs of strings tuned to the same notes as a violin and it was designed to be played with a plectrum (rather than the finger-picking style used for the lute), played very often with a characteristic "tremolo" - fast strumming back and forth on a string. The bright sound of the mandolin makes it an ideal accompaniment for dance and song and, because it was relatively inexpensive and fairly easy to play, it became very popular in ordinary households. Nevertheless, both Mozart and Beethoven wrote music specifically for the mandolin, and it featured as an instrument of the orchestra until 1755.

Photograph of the Mandolin

Mandolin Sound Clips


sound clip size: 142 kb


sound clip size: 147 kb

Large printable image of the mandolin


Text copyright © James McCafferty 2000 Photographic images copyright © John Credland and James McCafferty 2000