Instrument Exploration: Mandolin

cn instrument thumbnails

Age Range: Elementary

Learning Objective: Students will learn to identify the mandolin by sound and sight.

ENGAGE students

PREDICT. Show students this picture of the mandolin. Ask them to guess the name of the instrument by whispering their guess to a neighbor. When they’re ready for the answer, say: "It might look like a guitar, but it’s actually a mandolin. Let’s say the name a few times.”

EXPLORE sounds

EXPLAIN. “The mandolin is member of the string family. It is used in many different genres, or styles, of music such as classical, bluegrass, and rock and roll.”

LISTEN. Listen to Vivaldi’s Mandolin Concerto in C Major. It is a famous Baroque piece for mandolin and orchestra. Optional: Have students to play their “air mandolin” when the mandolinist has a solo. (3 min.)

LEARN. “This diagram shows the basic parts of a violin. Can you think of another instrument that also has a neck, body, or frets?”

Wikimedia Commons

WATCH. Listen to mandolinist Chris Thile playing some bluegrass music. Optional: Ask kids to move to the steady beat or even dance a little to the video. After listening, ask students if they can name the other string instrument in the video. (5 min.)

COMPARE. Ask students to compare the two pieces of music written for mandolin. They can do this in pairs, discussing as a large group, or even by drawing their reactions to each piece of music.

EXTEND learning

Choose one or more of the following activities to extend learning.

LEARN. Continue learning about the mandolin using the facts below:

  • The mandolin is related to several other string instruments from both eastern and western music traditions.

  • Mandolins have eight strings, but the strings are in four groups of two, so it is tuned like a violin.

  • Show students this picture of several varieties of the mandolin. The smallest one makes the highest sounds. The bigger the instrument, the lower the sound. The words soprano, alto, tenor, and bass are used to describe how high and low these instruments sound - just like the voice types or kinds of saxophones. Look at the picture below and point to the one that plays the highest sounds. Point to the one that plays the lowest sounds.

LISTEN. Choose one or more pieces below to continue listening to mandolin.

  • Battle of Evermore (Heart): This piece features a rock band (Heart) playing a song by another famous rock band, Led Zeppelin. It starts with a mandolin solo.

  • Heart of the Heartland (Peter Ostroushko): Consider coloring to this relaxing, slow bluegrass piece. Mandolin players pluck the strings with something called a plectrum. Notice that in order to hold a note for a long time, the player must pluck back and forth on the same string to keep the note sounding.

  • My Baby’s Gone (Yank Rachell): This song is by a blues mandolin player named Yank Rachell. He was born in Tennessee in 1903, began playing the blues in the 1920s, and moved to Indiana in 1958. His career spanned from the 1920s all the way up until 1997! This song was recorded in 1990, when he was eighty-seven years old.

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Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

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