Techniques of playing the mandolin
Tuning the mandolin
The mandolin is normally tuned to the notes corresponding to E, A, D, G & G (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th & 5th strings respectively).
Mandolin is a plucked instrument. The sound of the mandolin is basically produced because of the vibrating column formed between the bridge and the nut where string vibrations are created by plucking the strings with a plectrum or the fingers. Frequencies can be altered by pressing the strings on the fingerboard against appropriate frets. The act of pressing the strings on the fingerboard alters the length of the vibrating column and the placement of the frets is so calculated that the exact frequencies as required on the musical scale are obtained. The required musical notes are thus produced and played.
Given this technical background, let us see the basic techniques of playing the mandolin.
One typically uses the index, middle, ring and little fingers of the left hand to alter the musical notes and the right hand to hold the plectrum for plucking the strings. The side of the sound rests on the player’s lap and the neck is held in position with the left hand.
The mandolin is not ordinarily used to play chords. For lead playing, different scales can be worked out and played. The characteristic style of playing is that whenever one wants to sustain any note, one plucks the string with the plectrum with rapid, up-down, strokes of the right hand.
THE PHENOMENAL CONTRIBUTION of Mandolin Shrinivas to the techniques of mandolin playing in Carnatic Music:
The first thing that Mandolin Shrinivas did was to change the tuning of the mandolin to suit the requirements of Carnatic Music.
Changing the tuning from that of the standard mandolin’s not only enhanced the range of the instrument, but also enabled the player to avail of the advantage of having the resonance of the Sa and/or Pa on tap by default. This helps the player fill the void, the emptiness that could sometimes creep into a rendition.
With Sa-Pa-Sa tuning as the base, Mandolin Shrinivas devised very ingenious fingering techniques for playing intricate ‘gamaka’s and for enhancing the expressive potential of the mandolin.