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Mandola vs. Mandolin — What's the Difference?

By Urooj Arif & Fiza Rafique — Updated on April 8, 2024
The mandola is a larger, lower-pitched cousin of the mandolin, with a longer scale length and deeper sound, whereas the mandolin is smaller, higher-pitched, and widely recognized for its bright, penetrating tone.
Mandola vs. Mandolin — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Mandola and Mandolin


Key Differences

The mandola and mandolin are both members of the lute family, with a rich history in folk and classical music. The mandola, often considered the alto voice in the mandolin family, offers a warm and mellow tone, thanks to its larger size and longer scale. In contrast, the mandolin, with its brighter and more resonant sound, occupies a soprano role in the same family.
The tuning of these instruments highlights their differences. The mandola is typically tuned to C-G-D-A, which is a fifth below the mandolin's G-D-A-E tuning. This difference in tuning accounts for the mandola's deeper, richer tones compared to the mandolin's sharper, clearer notes.
In terms of physical characteristics, the mandola's larger body and longer neck not only affect its sound but also its playability, requiring different techniques than the mandolin. Meanwhile, the mandolin's compact size and shorter scale length make it slightly more accessible to beginners.
Musically, the mandola is used to provide harmonic depth and texture to ensembles, often playing a supporting role. On the other hand, the mandolin frequently takes the lead in musical arrangements, delivering melody lines with its distinctive, penetrating tone.
Despite their differences, both instruments share a common heritage and are celebrated for their ability to convey emotion and complexity in music. Whether through the mandola's rich harmonies or the mandolin's lively melodies, both instruments contribute uniquely to the musical landscapes they inhabit.

Comparison Chart


Larger, with a longer neck
Smaller, with a shorter neck


Lower, offering a deeper sound
Higher, known for its bright tone


Typically C-G-D-A
Typically G-D-A-E

Role in Music

Provides harmonic depth, often in a supporting role
Often takes the lead with melody lines


Requires a technique adapted for its size
Considered more accessible for beginners

Compare with Definitions


A stringed musical instrument, larger than a mandolin, used in folk and classical music.
The quartet featured a mandola to enrich the ensemble's sound.


Characterized by its bright, resonant tone, tuned to G-D-A-E.
She played a lively melody on her mandolin, its bright tone cutting through the ensemble.


Often used in ensemble settings to complement higher-pitched instruments.
In the orchestra, the mandola complemented the brighter sounds of violins and mandolins.


Frequently leads with melody lines in musical arrangements.
The mandolin's melody soared above the rest of the band, drawing everyone's attention.


Tuned to C-G-D-A, offering a deeper, warmer tone.
He tuned his mandola carefully before the performance.


Plays a prominent role in many musical traditions around the world.
From Italian folk songs to American bluegrass, the mandolin's versatility is celebrated globally.


Known for its role in adding harmonic depth to music.
Her composition utilized the mandola's rich tones to create a layered effect.


A small, stringed musical instrument in the lute family, popular in folk and classical music.
His mandolin playing captivated the audience with its clarity and speed.


Requires specific playing techniques due to its size.
Learning to play the mandola demands mastery of its unique finger placements.


Its compact size and accessibility make it popular among beginners.
Many musicians start with the mandolin because of its straightforward playability.


The mandola (US and Canada) or tenor mandola (Ireland and UK) is a fretted, stringed musical instrument. It is to the mandolin what the viola is to the violin: the four double courses of strings tuned in fifths to the same pitches as the viola (C-G-D-A low-to-high), a fifth lower than a mandolin.


A stringed instrument related to the lute, usually played with a plectrum


(musical instruments) A stringed musical instrument resembling the mandolin, but of larger size and tuned lower.


A mandolin (Italian: mandolino pronounced [mandoˈliːno]; literally "small mandola") is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family and is generally plucked with a plectrum. It most commonly has four courses of doubled metal strings tuned in unison, thus giving a total of 8 strings, although five (10 strings) and six (12 strings) course versions also exist.


An instrument closely resembling the mandolin, but of larger size and tuned lower.


A small lutelike instrument with a typically pear-shaped body and a straight fretted neck, having usually four sets of paired strings tuned in unison or octaves.


An early type of mandolin


(music) A stringed instrument of the lute family, having eight strings in four courses, frequently tuned as a violin, and with either a bowl-shaped back or a flat back.


A kitchen tool for julienning vegetables.


A small and beautifully shaped instrument resembling the lute.

Common Curiosities

Do the mandola and mandolin play in the same musical ensembles?

Yes, they often complement each other in ensembles, with each playing roles suited to their tonal qualities.

What genres of music are mandolas used in?

Mandolas are used in classical, folk, and occasionally in modern ensemble music.

What is the main difference between a mandola and a mandolin?

The main difference is size and pitch, with the mandola being larger and tuned lower than the mandolin.

Can a mandolin player easily switch to mandola?

Yes, but it requires adjusting to the mandola's larger size and different tuning.

Is the mandola tuned like a viola?

Yes, the mandola's tuning (C-G-D-A) is the same as a viola's.

How does the sound of a mandola differ from that of a mandolin?

The mandola has a deeper, richer sound due to its larger size and lower tuning.

Can the mandolin lead an orchestra?

While uncommon, the mandolin can lead in small ensembles or as a solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment.

Why is the mandolin more popular than the mandola?

The mandolin's brighter sound and accessibility make it more prominent in a variety of musical genres.

Do mandolas and mandolins use the same type of strings?

They use similar types of strings, but the mandola's strings are thicker to produce its lower pitch.

What is the learning curve like for the mandola?

Similar to the mandolin but requires mastering the differences in scale length and tuning.

Can a mandola be used as a solo instrument?

Yes, the mandola can be an expressive solo instrument, especially in pieces that utilize its deep, resonant tone.

Are there famous mandolin compositions that include the mandola?

Yes, some compositions and ensembles specifically arrange parts for the mandola to utilize its unique sound.

Is the body shape of a mandola different from a mandolin?

They share similar shapes, but the mandola's body is larger to accommodate its longer scale and deeper sound.

Which instrument is better for a beginner?

The mandolin is often recommended for beginners due to its smaller size and simpler playability.

What makes the mandolin ideal for folk music?

Its bright, penetrating sound complements the vocal and instrumental arrangements typical in folk music.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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