History of the Mandolin

The mandolin is a descendent of ancient plucked instruments found in the Middle East, Europe and Asia such as the Quiterne. The Quiterne had three or more single strings, or four double strings.


The modern mandolin descended from the 17th century Italian mandola and mandolino which can be found in the music of Vivaldi, Mozart and Beethoven. The mandolin is still a popular folk instrument in Italy. Italian mandolins have a round convex back and are called Neopolitan mandolins. 

The mandolin entered America with the first wave of immigrants from Europe in the 1850s. By the early 20th century there were many touring ensembles and companies like Gibson and Lyon and Healy marketed new instruments. The mandolin was also becoming popular in schools and colleges. By the late 1940s mandolin playing had become a craze on college campuses throughout South America.

Eventually the craze died down however the mandolin had become firmly embedded in the music of South America. In the early 1940s Bill Munroe invented a new style of string band music called bluegrass. The mandolin is the centrepiece of this style of music. Bluegrass combines blues scales and forms, Celtic and Appalachian fiddle music and virtuosic soloing found in jazz.

Bill Munroe

Today the mandolin appears in Celtic music ensembles of Ireland of Scotland. Since the tuning is the same as the fiddle the mandolin lends itself to traditional fiddle tunes. Usually a flat backed mandolin with an oval sound hole is used. These provide more volume than an f-style mandolin and are more suited to session playing.

The mandolin also appears in rock music. Artists such as Rod Stewart (Maggie May) and Led Zeppelin (Battle of Evermore) have used the mandolin.

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