The mandolin has eight strings arranged in four pairs of two (a pair of strings is known as a course). The stings are tuned G D A E (G being the lowest tone). This can be remembered by the rhyme Good Dogs Always Eat. You tune the mandolin by turning the tuning pegs in the appropriate direction until the string is in tune. In order to ensure the string is in tune you can use a chromatic tuner or tune by ear.
Chromatic Tuners can be bought from any good music shop and via the internet. There are ones that clip onto your mandolin as shown below. I would recommend these as they do not pick up any other noises in the room such as other instruments. They have a visual display that shows you when the strings are in tune. These are useful when playing with other people as it keeps everybody in perfect tune.
There also lots of tuner apps available for Apple and Android devices. These are good if you are in a room on your own. However if you are in a room with lots of other musicians then the app will pick up other intruments as well as your own leading to confusion!
To tune by ear you can use a pitch pipe or tune to another instrument like a piano (click here to see what the notes are on piano) or accordion. Turn the tuning pegs until the two instruments sound in tune. Which direction you turn the tuning peg will depend on whether your strings are higher(sharp) or lower(flat) compared to the reference tone.One you have one course of strings in tune you can then tune the other strings to that course. For example if you have the second course (A strings) tuned then you would follow the following procedure to tune the rest of the strings.
Step 1: Play the 7th fret of the A strings. This gives the E note which should be the same as the E strings(1st course). Tune one of the E strings to the 7th fret of the A strings. Then tune the 2nd E string so both E strings are in unison.
Step 2: Play the 7th fret of the D strings. This gives an A note which should be the same as the A strings (2nd course). Tune one of the D strings so that when the 7th fret is played it is in tune with the A strings. Then tune the 2nd D string so both D strings are in unison.
Step 3: Play the 7th fret of the G strings. This gives a D note which should be the same as the D strings (3rd course). Tune one of the G strings so that when the 7th fret is played it is in tune with the D strings. Then tune the 2nd G string so both G strings are in unison.
The strings on a mandolin should be replaced regularly. How often you replace them really depends on how much you sweat(!) when you play and how often you play. After time the strings will become tarnished and sound dull. Restringing a mandolin can be difficult mainly due to the high tension in the strings and also the fact that some mandolins have removable bridges. This video is a good example of how to change strings.
I find it most comfortable to hold the mandolin at about 45 degrees with a strap as shown in the picture below.
Try not to slouch over the mandolin or you'll end up with a sore back! A link to the NeoTach strap I use is shown below. Other straps are available!
Here are a few tips on picing technique for the mandolin that I have learnt from my teacher and books.
WHAT TYPE OF PLECTRUM?
The mandolin is usually played with a plectrum (otherwise known as a pick). Plectrums come in different shapes, sizes and colours. The most common is the teardrop as shown below.
Plectrums also come is different thicknesses. The thicker the pick the more stiff it is. Mandolin players usually use medium(~0.7mm) to heavy(>1mm) thickness plectrums. The gives you greater control over the pick and a better tone. Plectrums are fairly inexpensive (about 50p in the UK) so as you get more experienced you can experiment with different plectrums. My preference is DAVA plectrums as they have a tractor grip which stops the plectrum slipping out your hand.
When playing notes the plectrum should start at a very slight angle to the strings. It is a wrist action that actually plays the note as shown below:-.
The plectrum comes to rest on the next course of strings as was shown in the video. This helps give a good loud clear sound.It is good to practise playing notes in this way. This can be done by playing the same note over and over again along to a metronome. A bit boring but worth it in the long run! As you get better you will start to do down and up strokes.
D Major Scale Notation and TAB (PDF)