The mandolin and ukulele share such strong similarities in sizes and shapes that, to the average person, they might be deemed similar. However, these instruments are distinct and intriguing in their own way. Sharing a common ancestor called the “lute”, these string instruments are worlds apart.
Although you can tune both instruments to resemble the same notes, their resonating sounds will be too inconsistent, and the fingering of the chords will be too difficult. Both these instruments or built for specific tunings.
Now that we know they are not similar in their standard practices, we can delve into the reasons why the standard tuning of the ukulele might not be suitable for the mandolin, but that we can use different tunings.
Why the ukuleles tuning won’t be suitable for the mandolin
If we can tune the strings of our mandolin to different notes, why then can we not use the tuning structure of the ukulele on the mandolin?
The mandolin’s standard tuning is G-D-A-E starting from the top string. This is the same tuning structure as the violin or fiddle.
The ukulele’s standard tuning is G-C-E-A. This is a popular open tuning structure.
Due to the difference in our key notes, we have to tune some strings lower and others higher.
This will result in some of the strings being too loose and too varied for a proper sound to resonate through the body of the instrument. We can alter and change different strings with a larger spread to succeed in using the standard tuning of the ukulele, but then we will have different gauges of strings on the same instrument which will affect the sound.
Some musicians have succeeded in tuning their electric mandolin to the ukulele’s standard using lighter gauge strings. However, the electric mandolin differs from the acoustic in sensitivity and sound. Looser strings on an electric mandolin are not as disruptive or noticeable as an acoustic. For all acoustic instruments, the tension of the strings has to be ideal for the sound to resonate through the body. Therefore, it is ideal to use the same type and gauge of strings to create an even sound that harmonizes with the instrument.
If dedicated to playing the mandolin like a ukulele, you can consult a luthier to adjust the mandolin to accommodate the tension of the strings. The luthier will be able to adjust the neck and re-groove the nut to relieve the tension of the strings. This will make it possible to play the mandolin like a ukulele.
Bearing this in mind, the standard mandolin on the shelf will not necessarily provide you with the opportunity to tune it like a ukulele without some string issues.
Therefore, if you are dedicated to playing the mandolin like a ukulele, you will have to alter the instrument which will inevitably affect the sound. Also, keep in mind that the fret sizes of these acoustic instruments are different and will have an altered fingering pattern to play basic chords. This can be difficult for novice players.
Popular tunings for the mandolin
Although tuning the mandolin like a ukulele is not suitable, we can use different tunings on the mandolin without having to change to different types of gauge strings or consult a luthier.
The table below will show some popular tunings for the mandolin:
|Standard||GG DD AA EE|
|Cajun||FF CC DD GG|
|Open g||GG DD GG BB|
|Sawmill||GG DD GG DD|
|Open d||DD DD AA DD|
|Cross tuning||AA EE AA EE|
|Gee-Dad||GG DD AA DD|
|Calico||AA EE AA C#C#|
Open tunings are easier to play on string instruments because their root note stays the same and their chord progressions are simpler. The name derives from all the keynotes being tuned together to produce a chord, when strummed, on an open fretboard.
As seen in the table above, we have to tune 8 strings on the mandolin instead of 4. This is known as course string and is one of the many differences between a ukulele and a mandolin.
Can you play the same songs on a ukulele as on a mandolin?
Both these instruments are very popular in their respective genres, and learning different styles of music with them can be fun.
Due to the fact that they are tuned differently, we have to keep the following notes in mind:
- The mandolin is tuned in perfect fifths
- The ukulele is tuned in fourths with a third
- The strings on the mandolin are played in unison with a plectrum.
- The strings on a ukulele are further apart, which makes finger-picking possible.
On account of the versatility and simplicity of the ukulele, the majority of songs can be rearranged with a certain degree of effortlessness. When playing with your free hand, you will be able to switch between finger-picking styles and strumming rhythms to create different kinds of flow during the songs. The softness of the ukulele provides all players with the opportunity to play different styles of songs in a unique way.
The mandolin is a more challenging instrument to use when rearranging and learning songs. The course strings make it nearly impossible to finger-pick, and the plectrum only allows for a certain degree of versatility. However, due to the complex nature of the instrument, it can be used in different styles of music when applied with the right skill. For serious musicians, the mandolin provides them with more opportunities to be expressive. The instrument harmonizes well with other instruments like the guitar and violin without disappearing in the mix.
Both instruments are strung and beautiful sounding but differ in their complexity. A certain amount of skill will make it possible to play both, but to become advanced, one has to learn these instruments in seclusion.
The mandolin and the ukulele share some similarities, but they are ultimately completely different instruments. One can consult a luthier and adjust the mandolin to play like a ukulele, but their standard construction was created for a different purpose.