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Thread: Viola to mandolin or mandola

  1. #1

    Default Viola to mandolin or mandola

    Im new here, hope this is the right place to post. I have played viola for over 15 years. I have wanted to learn mandolin for years and now that Ive finished school I have a little more free time and ready to take the plunge. Im debating whether I should go for mandolin or mandola. Im mostly interested in playing fiddle tunes and covers of popular songs - my sister plays a little bit of guitar and knows a few songs Id like to play along too.

    With mandola, my viola skills should transfer over more directly, but I wonder if Id be better off with mandolin in the long run, since there are a lot more materials and resources for playing and learning mandolin than for mandola.

    Any recommendations on which instrument to go for, and how to get started? I can read alto clef very well, and read treble clef slowly. My knowledge of cords is weak and Ive never tried to read tabs.

  2. #2
    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    You will get lots of opinions with regards to your questions.
    1. viola to mandola likely easier transition than to mandolin as they share tuning and C clef.
    2. more learning resources available for mandolin
    3. I prefer mandola for some music and mandolin for other music. So my choice is both. I find mandola to accomodate solo play more readily than mandolin and mandolin to lend a more distinct voice to playing with other instruments.
    4. as per your comment about tablature. I never had the patience to learn it as the dots are easier for me to read by sight and the tabs, well, just cumbersome with little direction other than which frets and strings to play.

    With that said, get both if you can (you probably will eventually). Start with the mandola first since you have viola experience and enjoy the trip.
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  3. #3
    Gummy Bears and Scotch BrianWilliam's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    Mandolin. Its happier

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    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    Quote Originally Posted by BrianWilliam View Post
    Mandolin. It’s happier
    But he or she is a violist! We love living on the dark side.

  5. #5
    Gummy Bears and Scotch BrianWilliam's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    My mandola still quite happy sounding.

    What pick are you going to buy? Just kidding. Sorta....

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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    What was the reason you started with viola and not violin in the first place? That high e string ..........I couldn't get away from it fast enough.

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    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    The best instrument for former violists is a 10-string mandolin, tuned CGDAE. (Using myself as example.) Mandola scale length is substantially bigger than viola, usually at least 15 inches and commonly 16", as opposed to viola's typical 14.25-14.5", making it not really like a viola in playability. It feels more like a small cello, lacking the facility possible on viola. And we are already familiar with both treble and alto clef, so violists are well matched to a mandolin-scale 10-string.

    10-string mandolins are of course rare. But I find many more uses for one than for a violin-range mandolin. For example, in English Country Dance and contra dance, I can provide chords and bass lines, and can play melody in violin octave, and also the lower octave, for richer ensemble sound. Even though there is usually a piano, the 10-string can be a small guitar and be the accompanying instrument on its own.

    You can of course play the Bach cello suites, but also the violin sonatas. You would be welcome in a mandolin orchestra, being able to handle multiple parts.

    10-string is also a very useful jazz instrument, being able to provide "comping" chords in a useful middle range, and the shorter mandolin scale length allows close-voiced triads not reachable on a mandola. The fifth course means it is really a harmony instrument as well as melodic.

    Thomas Buchanan has been making a standard model for some years and they occasionally show up in Ebay or the classifieds. Scale length is 14.25", right in viola scale range. Brazilian10-string bandolim are becoming common, and the virtuoso Hamilton de Holanda has been using them for years. Being flat-topped as opposed to carved arch top, they are not very expensive in comparison.

    One last comment--the C string on a viola lacks the powerful effect of the violin G string, but we get by fine. And the C on a longer-scale mandola is pretty strong but at the expense of playability, so I argue my C string is as good as a viola's and as easy to play. But, unlike viola, I can strum chords, play bass lines, thump rhythm, and play any violin melody as well.
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    That’s a funny story, actually. I started viola in 4th grade, so this is a 9 year old’s decision making. I originally wanted to play cello, but cellos weren’t allowed on the school bus because they were too big. I thought it would be too much trouble getting my mom to drive me and a cello around, so I moved up to viola. I probably did practice more with the instrument that was easier to bring home with me. I liked the darker sound of viola and never really considered playing violin. I also liked that viola was a less common instrument and the “viola culture” is a better fit for my personality. Violinists tend to be more competitive with their 1st and second violins, concertmaster etc, while violists tend to be more laid back.

    I love the dark sound of viola for classical pieces, but think some fiddle tunes sound better on violin.

  10. #9

    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    I thought about the 10 string too, but unsure about going with less common instrument and more strings. (Is this also called a cittern, or is that something else?) Is it more difficult to play chords with the extra strings? Do you just not play the bottom (or top) strings and play regular mandolin or mandola chords, or are there different 10 string chords? Sorry, I know very little about chords, and suspect getting the hang of chords will be the biggest challenge for me. I think I’ll be able to pick up some melodies pretty quickly once I get the hang of the pick. I’m worried about how difficult it might be to get ahold of this less common instrument. I have exactly 0 Mando-anythings right now and don’t want to wait too much longer while I track something down.

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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    My experience in community orchestras (as a cellist) is that the viola is a much sought after instrument in
    group playing.

    We never had more than two or three players in that section, (sometimes none) while cellists and violinists were numerous.

    I liked the idea of being in demand and playing those exquisite harmonies. I wished I had chosen
    that instrument.

    Right now I play mandola and it suits me very well.

    My advice: Start with a mandolin, but keep mandola in mind.

  12. #11

    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    My daughter has her doctorate in viola performance. I was on vacation with her one spring and was having trouble with a D srtring run. She showed me how she would do it and she was right. I was also trying to learn a Bach cello prelude and asked her if I had a passage right. She picked up my mandolin and did the whole prelude pizzicato with no mistakes. You should do just fine. Your main problem will be flat picking, but it’s a walk in the park compared to bowing.
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    Depending on your price range, there a number of nice looking mandolas in the classifieds at the moment. If I were looking at getting a first mandola I would be looking at this...

    https://themandolinstore.com/product...315-f-mandola/

    I have owned a couple of the md315 mandolins and they are a lot of mandolin for the money.

    Heck, if you can swing it get one of each and have a matching set.

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    This might be worth watching...


    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Registered User Elliot Luber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    You'll be able to do a lot with a mandola right out of the box. You can always move to mandolin later -- while many mandolinists these days are disovering Octave Mandolin)
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  18. #15

    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    Thanks for the input everyone! It’s encouraging to hear many of you think I should be able to get going with either one pretty quickly. Now I want to try a bunch of them - mandolin, mandola, and mandocello (live out my 4th grade dreams)! I think I’ll start with mandolin since it’s most easily acquired and has the most learning material. And it’s the mandolin sound in songs like “Going to California” that drew me to the Mando- family in the first place.

    Br1ck - I’m not sure what flatpicking is, which I suppose proves your point. The pick will certainly be new to me and an area I will need to work on.

    My price range is probably around $1000, but might try to go a little higher. I can very much hear the difference in tone and sound quality between cheap, nice, and really nice violins and violas. I watched some mandolin videos and demos and looked up a few of the ones I thought sounded really good and they were $3000+, so (un)fortunately seems I can hear the difference with mandolins too. When I switched from a low grade rental viola to a nicer model, I noticed a big difference and that inspired me to practice a lot more. So I know I want something pretty good that I’ll enjoy practicing with. My viola would retail new for about $1800 and I’m happy with its quality. Any recommendations for mandolins around $1000 or a little over?

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    I went from viola to mandolin during college. Already had a good understanding of treble clef from accordion lessons and choir, not to mention years of orchestra playing.

    (Everyone: It's a myth that viola players can't read anything but alto clef. Gimme a break. If you play in an orchestra and the teacher/conductor puts an example on the chalkboard, it will be in treble clef and everyone, including the viola, cello and bass players, will be expected to read it.)

    Standard violin scale is 13"; standard mandolin scale is 13 7/8". Violinists often complain about stretching out when they pick up mandolin, but violists are already stretched out! A mandolin fretboard is shorter than the average viola fingerboard.

    I'd start with a mandolin because of the overwhelming advantage in availability of literature, chord charts, etc. Most fiddle tunes are written to be easy to play in first position in GDAE, and many of them assume you have an E string. Get the mandola later.
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  20. #17

    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    Quote Originally Posted by Dein View Post
    Thanks for the input everyone! It’s encouraging to hear many of you think I should be able to get going with either one pretty quickly. Now I want to try a bunch of them - mandolin, mandola, and mandocello (live out my 4th grade dreams)! I think I’ll start with mandolin since it’s most easily acquired and has the most learning material. And it’s the mandolin sound in songs like “Going to California” that drew me to the Mando- family in the first place.

    Br1ck - I’m not sure what flatpicking is, which I suppose proves your point. The pick will certainly be new to me and an area I will need to work on.

    My price range is probably around $1000, but might try to go a little higher. I can very much hear the difference in tone and sound quality between cheap, nice, and really nice violins and violas. I watched some mandolin videos and demos and looked up a few of the ones I thought sounded really good and they were $3000+, so (un)fortunately seems I can hear the difference with mandolins too. When I switched from a low grade rental viola to a nicer model, I noticed a big difference and that inspired me to practice a lot more. So I know I want something pretty good that I’ll enjoy practicing with. My viola would retail new for about $1800 and I’m happy with its quality. Any recommendations for mandolins around $1000 or a little over?
    A pick is flat. Picking with one is called flatpicking. That's all it means.

    $1200 on the used market will buy you a nice A style mandolin. The big difference is in the resonance of the G (low) string. I bought a double bound Silverangel a while back for $1400, but you can get an Econo A for twelve hundred. Many Morris fans out there, and Weber Gallatins are in that range as are Ratliff Country boys. Watch the classifieds and see what comes up, then do a search to see what people think. If you can, find a dealer and play an Eastman, then a Collings. You will immediately hear the difference. I use those as just an example of what you might expect to find in a small city. You won't find a Collings less than $1800 or so. But streatching the budget to $1200 will IMHO, be well worth it.
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  21. #18

    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    My husband said I could buy “whatever I want” so I’m going to extend the budget to $1000-2000 range. He’s the spender in the relationship. I’m not certain he even knows exactly what a mandolin is, but he will be well acquainted soon enough I know I would be a better violist if I switched to a higher quality instrument sooner, made a big difference in my practice time.

    Unfortunately, I’m currently under quarantine for possible Coronavirus/COVID-19 exposure (please don’t get political), my employer is closed/wfh the rest of the month and much of the city is shitting down, so I don’t think I will be able to get to a dealer and play some mandolins in the near future. I could easily hear the difference between Eastman and Collings in some demos I listened to. If anything, I’d guess the difference would be even greater in person. A Collings was actually one of the ones I thought sounded great and looked up, the other was a bitterroot. They seem to be a little above budget though. Is it crazy to just order something and roll with it? I’m already going crazy stuck at home and it’s only been a few days. It would be nice to make positive use of this time. I’m partial to used instruments, think they’re a better value. My viola was a couple years old, slightly used when I got it.

    I play a 16.5 inch viola, which is on the large side. The scale, nut to bridge is 14 5/8 inch, so I should find the mandolin quite comfortable. Whenever I would play around with someone else’s violin the more closely spaced fingering would trip me up. But with frets this might be less of an issue on mandolin.

  22. #19
    Gummy Bears and Scotch BrianWilliam's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    Your husband would fit in here

    I hope you stay healthy and dont think its crazy to just buy something off the interwebs. Welcome to the MCs most favorite game. My first moves are:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/152046

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/152035

    Whos going next?


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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    Hard to beat those two. Dein, stay well and enjoy your mandolin journey!
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  24. #21

    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    I’d buy the first Collings MT under $2000 listed in the classifieds. They come up now and then for that price. It’s a proven solid choice.
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  26. #22

    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    Shopping is fun! There’s some cool stuff in the classified. Might stretch the budget a little higher - husband encouraging me to spend more. I’m usually the cheapskate.

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    Registered User Mike Romkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    Br1ck's advice is hard to beat.

    I'd go for the mandolin. It's tuned if fifths, like your viola. It'll be an easy transition, even with written music in the treble clef. There will be more role models for you in the mandolin world. And so much of the music is fiddle music, and that's even without bringing up the central role the mandolin plays in bluegrass. The one exception -- if I were you -- would be if I lived somewhere, or where I was surrounded with, mandolin players. Maybe. If it would present more playing/collaborating opportunities. But maybe not even then.

    Good luck!
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    more mandola players please

    the dark side welcomes you
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  29. #25
    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viola to mandolin or mandola

    Particularly if you are quarantined this is the perfect time to buy a decent instrument from a known source. Learning mandolin while you ar shut in sounds like a great project to me!

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