The instrument world is a fascinating and sometimes overwhelming one. Especially for newbies. If you are interested in investing in instruments, you want to be sure to pick the one that will fit your genre of music. Whether it’s to play in a band or leisurely around the house, the instrument you choose can make all the difference.
There are quite a few differences between the banjo and mandolin that make them unique.
The main difference is the sound. The mandolin produces a high pitched sound distinctively different than the twang of a banjo. The mandolin is also smaller and has 8 strings versus the typical 5-stringed banjo. The appearance of the two are much different and both have their unique place within bluegrass and folk music.
Although the mandolin has 8 strings, it plays like a 4-stringed instrument. This is because there are two strings per note on the mandolin so when you press a string down, you actually press two down at the same time.
These are only a few of the varying differences that you can find in the banjo and mandolin. If you are serious about investing in one or the other, then knowing these differences can help you decide which will be a better fit for you. Or if you just want more knowledge that you can show off to your musical friends, then read on!
Differences Between A Banjo And A Mandolin
The Number of Strings On Each Instrument
Banjos come in a variety of configurations but the most popular ones today have five strings while the mandolin has eight strings. As mentioned above, the mandolin has four courses of two strings that make up the eight strings. Each two strings per course are tuned in unison so it is like playing one string, except it sounds different than it would with just one string.
This is not the case with a banjo. The banjo consists of a single string per note and since the strings are longer, they tend to sound a bit deeper than the mandolin.
The Sounds Vary Based On The Instrument
The mandolin is typically higher-pitched than the banjo and doesn’t have the same resonance sound or “twang” that the banjo does. Many people think of bluegrass or folk music when they hear the banjo, whereas the mandolin can jump genres. The mandolin is common in bluegrass or folk music, but can also be found in country, classical or European folk music. This gives the mandolin more diversity of playable genres.
Each Instrument Caters To Different Performances
The mandolin is commonly amped for larger performances. Whereas the banjo can be hooked up for louder sounds but also does well when played in an intimate setting or among friends. Banjos can also have resonators on them to produce a louder sound that can work for artists who want to play live or be heard among louder instruments.
Both Instruments Can Be Enjoyed By Different Musicians
The kind of sound you are looking for can help you decide which is a better fit for you. The following video will give you an idea of the sound you can expect from a banjo.
The mandolin will have a much different sound as heard in the following video.
Based on both sounds, you can determine which would make a better fit into your musical style.
What Makes The Banjo Special?
Here are some reasons why playing the banjo is different from the mandolin:
1. The Banjo Is A Good Transitional Instrument
The banjo is a good instrument to learn if you already play another string instrument. The strings are similar to the guitar or violin. The 6-string banjo has a similar setup to the guitar, so you won’t need to relearn chords. The 4-string banjo is good for the violin or viola players who also don’t want to relearn chords. The 5-string is typical for bluegrass music, but the other string options are still good for those not wanting to relearn chords.
2. The Type Of Sound Varies
The banjo and mandolin sound different. There are many factors that go into how a banjo sounds, such as:
- The backing
- The number of strings
- Electric or acoustic
The backing is important since a resonator backing can give you more sound if you plan on playing outside or with other loud instruments.
The number of strings can alter the sound and playability of the instrument. Electric or acoustic can be a choice depending on whether you are playing at home, or at a concert. You can always attach an electric add-on if you aren’t sure whether you need the banjo to be electric or not.
3. The Banjo Is Easy To Play
The banjo is an easier instrument to learn and play compared to the mandolin. There are two primary ways of playing the banjo: fingerpicking or frailing.
- Fingerpicking – the typical playing style of a banjo in the bluegrass genre
- Frailing – more of the folk music sound compared to fingerpicking
Both styles can be learned easily and applied to various songs. There are multiple tutorials on how to play the banjo online. These styles can be played within the same song or across various songs if you are planning on playing in a concert. This keeps the banjo open as a great cover band type of instrument.
What Makes The Mandolin Special?
Like the banjo section above, let’s look at some of the reasons why the mandolin stands out as its own instrument compared to the banjo:
1. It’s An Instrument That Has Been Treasured For Centuries
Reference to the mandolin-like instrument can be found as far back as 2000 BC in Mesopotamia. It has been referenced across the centuries and heard within the music played currently as well. To be able to play a musical instrument that has transcended time can be an awe-inspiring experience.
2. You Can Play Across Genres
The banjo can box you into specific genres, while the mandolin can play with a variety of instruments that cover multiple songs. Being able to play the mandolin can open up the possibilities of what kind of music you or your band can play. You can choose from a wide range of genres, such as:
- European Folk
Given these options, you can create your own unique sound within these genres or entertain during a cover with your band.
3. Learning The Chords Is Easy For Veteran Players
Similar to the banjo, there are tutorial videos across the internet that you can use to learn how to play the mandolin. The mandolin is an instrument that can be easily taught to either a veteran instrument player or a novice.
4. For the Aesthetic
This may sound a bit vain, but the mandolin is a good looking instrument compared to the banjo. Many musicians learn how to play the mandolin when they plan to dabble in some of the music genres listed above. This can also be a great instrument for you if you play music in those genres or just want to learn how to play an instrument for fun.
How Do I Decide Which To Play?
Since you will be tackling one of these instruments, then look to the one that makes the most sense for your lifestyle. If you are more into bluegrass and folk music, the banjo will be a solid choice. If you like to dabble across genres and don’t like the sound of the banjo, then the mandolin is a good choice.
Another option is to look into playability. If you will be playing the instrument around friends and in your basement, then you can go with the banjo since it can be both soft and loud. The mandolin is more reserved for concert play, although it can be enjoyed alone too. A live performer may prefer the mandolin to the banjo.
Alternatively, you could learn how to play both and jump between them, depending on the type of sound you are going for. Much like seasons and weather, our interests change and create new visions as we go through life. Similarly, you may desire to play the banjo one day and then the mandolin the next, so why limit what you can learn if you can learn both!