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What Is a Mandolin Orchestra?

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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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A mandolin orchestra is a performing group that uses musical instruments from the mandolin family. The conventional mandolin is the most famous of mandolin instruments. It is a guitar style instrument that has four sets of two strings. The mandolin is much smaller than the guitar, and has its own specific sound due to its combinations of strings. It also has a different fingering scheme on the fretboard due to the fact that the sets of strings have different tonal relationships than those on the guitar, or for that matter, the violin or other stringed instruments.

Apart from the standard mandolin, other mandolin types of instruments fill out a mandolin orchestra. Many of these are differentiated by their range. For example, the mandocello is a mandolin instrument with a lower register. It has the same sets of strings, but on a larger frame, with a design that results in a deeper sound. Musicians often make the analogy that the mandocello relates to the mandolin the same way the cello relates to a violin.

Other mandolin instruments include the mandola and mandobass. Classical guitars may also be used in a mandolin orchestra. Many of these instruments will be arranged in a solo and orchestra presentation, where one instrument gets particular attention, and the many other varieties back up the soloist on orchestral portions of the music scores.

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In addition to the range of stringed instruments that are used in a mandolin orchestra, many of these setups will also include vocals and additional musical components. A vocalist may provide the solo, with the mandolin orchestra backing up the vocals, while other performances may include a vocalist as well as a solo instrument together. Other forms of mandolin orchestra music include mandolin-guitar duets and similar configurations.

Mandolin orchestras can perform all sorts of music. Some of these groups focus on classical music and formal types of instrumentals, while others do upbeat types of music such as marches and “rags.” Specialty groups might also do specific types of music, such as show tunes or even folk music. Many of these setups are dependent on a specific audience, where public or private orchestras anticipate what their usual audiences will want to hear. These groups also play at a wide range of events and in many different venues, but all of them showcase the distinct sounds of mandolin instruments.

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