The mandolin is part of the lute family of stringed instruments. It has four sets of paired strings, a total of eight, that are played in pairs. The tuning of the mandolin is G,D,A,E traditionally. This instrument, or at least early forms of it, was used by medieval minstrels and troubadours. This makes sense as the music of the mandolin is moody and haunting!
One of the major reasons that I am writing about the mandolin today is that I recently got my first mandolin, and I am beginning to learn to play! I love the history of this instrument, as it relates to my obsession with medievalism, as well as the beautiful sound! My fiancé, Andrew, commented that it makes sense that the mandolin suits me more than a guitar (which I have dabbled in for years, and he plays well) since it is smaller. It is much easier to work the strings as I have small hands and as I am a small woman the size of the instrument is easy to manage!
I have already mentioned that the mandolin is part of the lute family, and this connects it to one of the most popular instruments of the middle ages and Renaissance. While the mandolin itself was highly popular with traveling musicians and poets, the lute was just as popular at royal courts. Famous royals have played the lute, and that includes my favorite queen of England, Anne Boleyn! I even have a figurine of Anne holding a lute sitting on my bookshelf!
In the modern day lutes are not as easy to come by as mandolins, and they are certainly more costly. Learning the mandolin gives me a connection to medieval times and some amazing royal courts of yesteryear. The traveling poets originally playing early forms of this beautiful instrument often sang of Arthurian legends, making it connected to my Arthurian obsession! I am so proud to be learning this lovely and historical instrument.
There is a long history of the mandolin being used in rock music. Famous bands like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, and The Grateful Dead have used it in songs. Below is a list of great mandolin rock songs!
I hope that you enjoyed learning a little bit about this incredible instrument! Let me know your thoughts, and if you play any cool instruments, in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is Three Ladies Making Music by Master of the Female Half Lengths ca. 1530. I found the image at onthetudortrail.com.
Mandolin Rock Songs/Further Listening:
- “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” by The Beatles (1965)
- “Love in Vain” by The Rolling Stones (1969)
- “Friend of the Devil” by The Grateful Dead (1970)
- “Going to California” by Led Zeppelin (1971)
- “The Battle of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin (1971)
- “Dream of the Archer” by Heart (1977)
- “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. (1991)
- “Little Ghost” by The White Stripes (2005)
- Hal Leonard Method: Mandolin Method Book 1 (second edition) by Rich DelGrosso
- Mel Bay Presents…You Can Teach Yourself Mandolin by Dix Bruce