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Although mandolin is perhaps most associated with bluegrass and romantic restaurant background music, its mellow, woody tone makes it an extremely versatile instrument. Since picking up a mandolin I’ve played everything from Bach to bluegrass and jazz to Brazilian choros. If you’ve been learning guitar for a while and want to broaden your musical horizons then the mandolin is the perfect choice.
Mandolin vs guitar
In some ways I wish I had started mandolin lessons before picking up the guitar. This is mainly because each pair (or ‘course’) of strings on the mandolin is tuned a perfect fifth apart meaning that, unlike the guitar, every pattern you play can be easily transposed along the fretboard without needing to compensate for the altered tuning of the B string. The symmetrical fretboard of the mandolin also makes it easier to pick out melodies by ear.
Learning to sight-read
Because the mandolin is tuned in exactly the same way as the violin/fiddle, you are immediately exposed to a whole new world of music. While I would always advocate learning to sight-read notation as a shortcut to understanding the building blocks of music, I can understand why so many guitarists stick to tab: it’s widely available, easier to read than notation at first and there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason to learn notation if you mostly play ‘popular’ genres rather than classical. Learning violin music on the mandolin however is the perfect opportunity to get into sight-reading and will massively improve your musical knowledge and, consequently, your playing.
Finally, one massive benefit of learning the mandolin is that it is a great way of building finger strength if you play other stringed instruments. Getting used to fretting each pair of strings cleanly with one finger is difficult to master at first, but once you get the hang of it playing guitar, ukulele or banjo suddenly seems a whole lot easier!