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A Mandolin By Any Other Name: Ancient Origins

Many know of a mandolin, and its close relations to a lute and guitar, but not as many know of the fascinating history of how the mandolin came to be, let alone what came before it.

Dating back to 13000 BCE, cave paintings depict what could be assumed as a musical bow, one of the first stringed instruments in recorded history that we know of. From the musical bow (a hunter’s bow with one string that was plucked), came bow harps, harps, and lyres.

 

ancient mandolin players

Eventually, the bow harp was stretched out and made into what we now know as the first lutes. These early lute-like instruments were depicted in Mesopotamian art dating back to 3100 BCE or earlier.

As time passed, the lute traveled around the Mediterranean, eventually becoming the “oud” or “ud” in Islamic regions. A famous oud player known as Abu I-Hasan “Ali Ibn Nafi” or also known as Ziryab, was credited with adding a 5th string to his oud and establishing the first school of music in Córdoba during the 9th century.

Eventually, the lute traveled across the Mediterranean to Italy during the 12th century, gaining popularity that undoubtedly spread to German-speaking countries. In France, the mandore was developed during the 1580s, and although a close relative to the gittern, and the Greek and Byzantine pandura, the mandore was much more. The mandore, as it spread across Europe and the Mediterranean, was modified in every country it visited, evolving from the lute family in Italy during the 17th and 18th century.

ancient mandolinIn Sicily, the Italians modified the mandore into the first Baroque mandolin, which is credited to the Vinaccia family who modified the mandolina into a metal-string mandolin in roughly 1774. Pasquale Vinaccia then modernized the mandolin, creating the Neapolitan mandolin c. 1835. Over the years since then, the mandolin has slowly evolved into the many variations of the instrument we know today.

Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg bring this ancient instrument to new life through ArtistWorks Mandolin courses. Learn everything from the origins to the theory by partnering with these musical masters. You can access more information here.

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