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FREE MANDOLIN LESSON 2 - by Bradley Laird Bookmark and Share

There are 8 strings on the mandolin. More correctly I suppose we should call them wires. But, everyone calls them strings, so I will too. The 8 strings are tuned in pairs.

One pair, the thinnest of the group, is tuned to an E. They are called the "E string". Treat them like identical twins. They are tuned to the same pitch and you play them as if they were one string.

Next, we find the slightly fatter pair of A strings. Tuned to an A, of course. We call this (these) the second string.

Next, in line is the D string. It is known as the third string. Of course, it is a pair of strings like all the rest. The D string, you will no doubt notice, is constructed in a different manner from the A and E. It is a core of steel wound with a spiral of a copper-bearing metal. The purpose of the winding is to add mass to the string, thereby slowing its vibration down, resulting in a lower musical pitch when set in motion.

While here let me explain a bit about how strings produce musical tones: A string, when attached at the ends and left free to vibrate throughout its length will oscillate back and forth when struck. The length of the string, the tension of the string and the mass of the string all act in concert to determine the resulting frequency of the vibration. Once set in motion, the vibration of the string imparts its energy upon the bridge and then is transferred to the sounding board of the instrument. Your tuning machines give you the ability to vary the tension of the string, thereby changing its pitch. More tension yields a faster frequency of vibration and a higher pitched musical tone. Less tension gives a slower vibration and a lower tone.

Before we continue talking about mandolin strings I should mention that if your strings are old, blackened or rusty they will be hard to keep in tune and will not sound very good. You can change them pretty easily if you use these instructions:

free mandolin lesson eBook how to change strings

Be sure to grab this free eBook which will teach you how to change the strings on your mandolin. To get it for free all you have to do is share it on Facebook or Twitter.

Now, back to our discussion of strings. The length of the full string is determined by the distance from the bridge to the nut. This is the "speaking" portion of the string. Since most mandolins are roughly the same size, and since you cannot easily alter this dimension, we will consider the length of the strings to be fixed. But, you should know that a string at a particular tension will increase in pitch if shortened. To take advantage of this we have string shortening devices placed on the fingerboard of the mandolin. They are the frets. Press the string down so that it bears upon the fret and we have altered the speaking length of the string and thereby altered the pitch as well. What a handy invention for rapidly changing the pitch of the string!

The winding on the strings also have an affect on the pitch of the string, but like overall string length, it is impractical to alter this factor while playing. The more massive the winding on the string, the lower the pitch produced if string length and string tension remain constant.

And since we are speaking of more massive windings, let us look at the fourth string, the G string. It has the same length, similar tension, and yet a lower note is produced. This is because the mass of the winding slows down the vibration of the string.


My 8 year old son Jackson designed this app to help you tune. (Don't ask me how he did it!) Just click on each note and match your strings to the sound of that note.

The green flag starts the app and the red stop sign stops it.

If that app doesn't work on your device here is the same recorded MP3 track with all of the notes.

And, if you prefer computer generated tones I made one of those too.

The frets are positioned in such a way that when you press the string down on each successively higher fret you raise the pitch one "semitone". A semitone is also called a half-step. Two frets equates to an interval of one full step, or a step.

mandolin fingerboard
This view of the mandolin fingerboard shows the 8 strings, the nut (at the top) and the frets. From left to right the strings are tuned to G, D, A, E.

If you'd like to watch a free video to help you tune here is a link.

I also invite you to consider these beginner video lessons. Thousands of people have learned to play using these videos because they really work! In particular are my two most popular chord videos: Moveable Major & Minor Chords and Barre Chords & 7th Chords. If you need some help "in the picking department" Beginning Videos 1-4 might be just what you need! Click on the image below to read about them, watch free the demos and decide for yourself:

Bradley Laird Beginning Mandolin Video Series

Onward to lesson 3!

beginning mandolin ebook download package

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This download lesson package contains 3 eBooks, 36 tracks and 3 Video lessons specifically designed for beginners.

This will get your ready for the jam sessions! See everything it contains by clicking this link.