So you want to learn how to play the mandolin. If you’re looking for tips on how to play the mandolin for beginners, the good news is that this post has all the information you need to know.
But first, why the mandolin?
So you want to learn how to play the mandolin.
For beginners to playing an instrument, the mandolin is a great option for starting your musical journey. Many people ask, “Is the mandolin easy to play?” or “Is it hard to play the mandolin?”
Fortunately, the mandolin is not a difficult instrument to learn. It’s lightweight and compact so you can practice anywhere. It also has less strings than many other instruments, like the guitar, which makes reading tablature much easier.
The mandolin is just unusual enough that people will be curious as to what instrument you’re playing. This will give you great satisfaction if you like standing out from the crowd!
Whatever your reason for wanting to learn to play the mandolin, this guide is a great source of information for beginners. We’ll provide an introduction on how to play the mandolin, including five steps to get started today.
Let’s dive in to our master list of tips on how to play the mandolin for beginners!
Is it Hard to Learn to Play the Mandolin?
The mandolin is not an overly complicated or difficult instrument to learn how to play. It offers lots of benefits, in fact – it is small, compact, and lightweight, meaning it’s easy for you to take it with you anywhere you go to practice.
Plus, the mandolin has fewer strings than other types of instruments. It’s easy to read tablature and sheet music and there are few technical details you’ll need to master. Many people say that learning how to play songs on the mandolin is far easier than learning how to play guitar since you don’t need to master complex techniques like strumming, fingerpicking, string-bending, and plucking.
Here are a few basic tips that will help you become more skilled as you are learning how to play mandolin (beginners or experts alike!).
- Listen to great mandolin music – as often as possible!
- Find a good teacher, even if that means an online course or YouTube video
- Keep the mandolin nearby so you can practice anytime it’s convenient
- Practice each and every day
- Use a metronome
- Go to camps and workshops to fine-tune your skills
- Attend open mic nights when you feel confident enough to do so
How to Play Mandolin for Beginners
Are you ready to start learning how to play the mandolin? Here are some great tips that should help you get started.
1. Find Your Favorite Style or Genre
Throughout the years, the mandolin has been featured in recordings from a wide range of musical genres. For example, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton have both been recorded playing the mandolin on folk and blues songs. Classical composers have written great pieces for the mandolin.
Irish musicians have used the mandolin to great effect in traditional folk tunes. Last but not least, country and bluegrass mandolin players (such as Bill Monroe and Jethro Burns) have made their mark with the instrument as well.
As a beginner to the mandolin, it’s important to listen to music from each of these styles. This will help you decide which one fits your musical preferences. Once you’ve decided which genre you’d like to focus on, a mandolin teacher can personalize your lessons accordingly and teach you relevant techniques for that style of playing.
2. Purchase the Right Mandolin
The style of music you choose to learn will affect several aspects of the mandolin you should purchase. While it’s true that you can play any genre on any mandolin, some designs are more appropriate for certain genres.
Do you want to play bluegrass music? Then you might want to purchase an F style or an A style mandolin. F style mandolins have the swoopy curl at the top of the body near the neck. A style mandolins are more tear-drop shaped. These two styles of mandolin are the most popular for bluegrass players.
If you want to play classical or European folk genres, a bowl backed (AKA “potato bug”) shaped mandolin will be a better fit. Lastly, if you want to play Irish music you might want to consider a larger A style mandolin, or perhaps even a mandola.
3. Get Light Mandolin Strings
Mandolins are slightly more difficult than other stringed instruments in one aspect: they have two strings per note instead of just one string. So while the tablature for the mandolin reads like any other four string instrument, in reality you will have to press down two strings every time you want to play one note.
This can be difficult on the fingers for a beginner to the mandolin, so it’s important to purchase light strings when just starting out. You’ll have less volume, but starting with light gauge strings will make playing much more comfortable. Martin Lights are the perfect strings for beginners as they are durable, but not too painful for the fingers.
You should expect to experience some finger pain and discomfort as a beginner – this is normal. When finished practicing, try soaking your fingers in a product called “Witch Hazel.” This astringent is great for taking the sting out. Many professional musicians use Witch Hazel after shows to ease the pain in their fingers.
It will also help any blisters turn into calluses more quickly. Last tip – if you do get a blister, don’t pop it. You want the swelling to go down naturally so that it can turn into a callus, which will make playing the mandolin much easier in the long run.
4. Find a Good Mandolin Teacher
If you want to learn how to play the mandolin, yes, you could watch hours of YouTube videos and try to improve on your own. But beginners should be cautious, because when you’re new to the instrument, it’s difficult to tell when you are or aren’t getting accurate information.
Without a live person there to tell you when you’re using incorrect techniques, you could easily develop bad habits that you might never be able to fix. One of the biggest benefits of working with a mandolin teacher is that they can tailor lesson plans to your individual needs. (They can also help you build a solid foundation of music theory)!
To start your search for the perfect mandolin teacher for you, check out TakeLessons. They have a wide range of qualified teachers all over the country that can help you learn how to play the mandolin right away.
They also offer lessons via video chat, if you’re interested in learning to play the mandolin online. To get started, browse through TakeLessons teachers’ profiles to find one who has experience in the style and genre you’re pursuing.
If you’re really interested in learning how to play Italian music, a Bluegrass teacher might not be the best fit. Ideally, you should find a teacher who enjoys a wide variety of styles so you can explore the great sea of mandolin music that is out there.
5. Take Advantage of Helpful Resources
If you’re taking private lessons, chances are your teacher has their own materials to share with you to develop your skills. However, it never hurts to have some extra resources for practicing on your own – which will really get you to the next level.
There are dozens of great apps, YouTube videos, and books for just about any style of mandolin playing imaginable. Taking advantage of these resources will inspire you to practice, learn, and develop your skills even more. For starters, see the list of examples below.
- Mandolin Method Book 1 – This book, written by noted mandolinist Richard DelGrosso, teaches beginners essential skills such as how to read music.
- Mandolin Cafe – When you have a pressing question about the mandolin and aren’t sure where to turn, check out the helpful forums on this website.
- Dead Man’s Tuning – These instructional books are available in four unique volumes for learning the mandolin in alternate tunings.
- MandolinTabs – Want to learn a new song on the mandolin? This YouTube channel features easy tutorials for songs in a variety of genres.
- Mandolin for Dummies – This book is a good resource for beginners to mandolin who are looking for a more comprehensive introduction to the instrument.
- Chord! – Chord! is an inexpensive app that can help you learn new chords on the mandolin, enabling you to play many more songs.
6. Master Some Simple Techniques and Songs
Your goal when you first start playing the mandolin will just be figuring out how to hold the instrument comfortably, how to hold the pick, and how to tune your mandolin (more on this in the last section below!).
As you become more advanced on this unique instrument, you can practice your picking and fretting techniques. You should try to master some classic jamming songs so you can practice at any time of the day or night, such as:
- Cluck Old Hen
- Chinquapin Hunting
- Old Joe Clark
- Angeline the Baker
- Squirrel Hunters
- The Eighth of January
- June Apple
- Clinch Mountain Backstep
- Soldier’s Joy
- Midnight on the Water
- Wayfaring Stranger
- Whiskey Before Breakfast
- Seneca Square Dance
- Over the Waterfall
It’s also a good idea to work on your chords and other techniques. If you want to master that classic bluegrass bark or chop sound, you should learn Monroe chords. These closed chords can be moved around the neck to play any major chord.
Have a few chord diagrams and charts on hand at all times to make it easier for you to learn how to play the mandolin.
Finally, consider learning some new finger techniques as you play (and keep practicing the old ones). The most common finger techniques used in playing the mandolin, both with the right and left hand, include:
- Rest strokes
- Finger planting
7. Take Care of Your Mandolin
When you’re playing your mandolin, it’s important that you have an upright posture with the mandolin body on the top of your leg and the neck held in your left hand. When you’re playing, you should feel comfortable, not strained or tense in any way.
Using a shoulder strap is a good idea to help make yourself more comfortable. It’s also important that you keep your mandolin tuned.
How do you tune a mandolin?
It’s quite easy to tune, actually – many musicians liken the experience to that of tuning a violin. The video below has helpful tips on how to tune a violin that can also be applied to a mandolin:
You will tune it G-G-D D-A-A-E-E, from low to high, with each pair tuned to the same tone. The tuners for each G and D string will be on the side of the headstock that is closest to you while A and E are on the other side (closest to the floor).
Tune in a clockwise pattern as you work your way down the instrument. Tune up rather than turning down so that you can settle the string tension and can avoid the string going flat.
Always use fresh strings on your mandolin, since those that are rusty or worn out will be difficult to tune – and they’ll make your fingers hurt! In general, you should try to change them every other month or so.
How to Play the Mandolin for Beginners YouTube Videos
If you are a visual learner and are trying to learn how to play the mandolin for beginners, you might find that watching YouTube videos that show you how to play the mandolin is a far more effective strategy. Here are some helpful ones to add to the list.
1. How to Play the Mandolin for Beginners – Technique Lesson
This video, courtesy of MandoLessons, has all the information you need to master your mandolin technique.
2. Easy Mandolin Chords
Here is a video by Jackson Emmer that shows you how to play basic G, C, and D chords on the mandolin.
3. Mandolin Introduction for a Complete Beginner
This video by COMANDOLIN covers everything from unpacking your mandolin to tuning it and even learning your first chords.
4. Chords and Strumming Techniques for Mandolin
Here’s another video that covers basic chords, but it also goes over strumming techniques, thanks to original poster Jamie Anderson.
5. 10 Songs on Mandolin That Aren’t Bluegrass
Sick of playing the same-old, same-old bluegrass songs on your mandolin? This video will give you a few ideas for songs you can play that aren’t bluegrass. It comes to us courtesy of mandohat.
What is the Best Way to Learn the Mandolin?
In conclusion, if you’re a beginner and want to learn how to play mandolin, you need to discover your style, find the right mandolin for that style, and utilize the variety of resources available to you. Follow these steps and you’ll be playing the mandolin in no time.
Can you think of any more tips on how to play the mandolin for beginners? Share them with us in the comments section below!