Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Differences Between Mandolins and Banjos

There are several differences between a mandolin and a banjo that differentiate them within the family of string instruments. Both instruments are chordophones, which means that they have strings and can be plucked, bowed or struck with a hand or plectrum. The banjo is used in country and folk music while the mandolin is a remnant from the Renaissance period and used for secular songs.

Strings

The mandolin has four sets of strings for a total of eight while the banjo can have four or five strings. The double strings on the mandolin help to give it some of its unique timbres. Musicians will use a pick or plectrum to pluck the strings of the mandolin; it is rarely strummed with the fingers. The banjo, on the other hand, uses extensive strumming techniques and can be played with the fingers or by using a plectrum.

Body

The body of both instruments is significantly different. Both instruments have a hollowed center that acts as an acoustic chamber. The shape of this chamber helps to differentiate the mandolin from the banjo. On a banjo, the body is a cylindrical drum with a flat bottom and top; the top can be covered with animal skin or a hard cover similar to a drum. The mandolin, on the other hand, has a circular back that curves inward toward a flat top and is always made out of some form of hardwood, such as maple or spruce.

Pitch

A mandolin is generally tuned lower than a banjo and the strings are spaced in musical intervals of a fifth. Mandolins can also play higher pitches than banjos. The banjo can vary greatly from model to model. Five-string banjos are generally tuned in fourths. Other types of banjos consist of only four strings. The tenor and Irish banjo are tuned in fourths and the plectrum banjo is tuned with a fourth on the bottom and thirds between the top strings.

Neck

Mandolins and banjos both have frets on the neck of the instrument. A fret allows the player to determine the exact location to finger individual notes. By placing the finger between the two metal frets, the length of the vibrating portion of the string changes, which makes it possible to play different pitches. The banjo has a longer and skinnier neck than the mandolin. The thicker neck of the mandolin is due to the fact that there are more strings on the instrument.