John Clark Music Tuition

Mandolin, Mandola & Irish Bouzouki

Bob - Nailsea

John is an excellent mandolin teacher - he has opened up the possibilities of the instrument to me and my playing has improved greatly since I started lessons with him.

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Many people will be familiar with the mandolin from the film Captain Correlli's Mandolin which featured the mandolin's trade mark tremolo effect in much of its music. The mandolin is well suited to sweet sounding melodies, but it is capable of much more, such as providing rhythmic backing of a folk or bluegrass band, or belting out lead lines in a rock band! It is also small and easily portable which can be important for a travelling player.

Most mandolins have 8 metal strings, tuned in pairs to the notes G, D, A and E (the same as a violin), and invariably played with a plastic plectrum or pick. Because mandolin and violin fingering are identical and the instruments are similarly sized, many violin and fiddle players also play the mandolin, and any music written for the violin or fiddle will usually transfer easily to the mandolin.

Mandola and Irish Bouzouki

A Mandola is an instrument similar to a mandolin but playing either a fifth lower (like a viola compared to a violin) or an octave lower than a mandolin. These instruments are physically bigger than a mandolin with longer fretboards. The version playing an octave lower than a mandolin is sometimes called an Octave Mandola (or Octave Mandolin).

A Greek Bouzouki is a superficially similar instrument, but with a characteristically longer fretboard. A Greek bouzouki usually has 3 strings (tuned to D A D), or four strings (tuned to C F A D, or D G B E).

In the 1960s a number of Irish folk musicians adapted the Greek bouzouki for Celtic music. As a result, several manufacturers started producing the "Irish" bouzouki, usually tuned one octave lower than a mandolin, but with a longer fingerboard giving a somewhat twangier sound than an Octave Mandola.

Teaching Approach

Teaching starts with learning how to tune the instrument and the correct way to hold it.

To begin with, the student player will learn how to play simple tunes and songs from sheet music and tablature, shortly followed by simple chords and rhythmic backing. As the student progresses, more complex tunes, chords and rhythms will be added, but the precise approach will vary from player to player, and the teaching order can be changed if appropriate.

Note that a similar approach is used with Mandola, Octave Mandola and Irish Bouzouki.


Currently, the Registry of Guitar Tutors and London College of Music do not offer any graded examinations for these instruments.

What To Buy

Mandolins are readily available, and most music shops will have a range of instruments. If you're thinking of learning the mandolin then a good choice for the beginner is a flat back or arched top model. Expect to pay around £120 for a reasonable acoustic instrument. Expect to pay a little more for an electro-acoustic mandolin with a contact microphone built into the bridge.

Pure electric mandolins are also available (pictured here). Some of these will have the usual 8 strings, but you will also find 4 or 5 string variants. Prices start at around £130 for beginner's instrument.

Mandolas are less common but they are available in larger music shops at prices similar to an acoustic guitar. Be extremely careful not to buy an Irish Bouzouki when you really want a Mandola (or vice versa).

Instrument montage