Seven Ways to Tap Into the Mandolin Subculture - dummies

Seven Ways to Tap Into the Mandolin Subculture

By Don Julin, Scott Tichenor

The mandolin isn’t the world’s most popular instrument, so mandolin lovers need to go to great lengths to satisfy their appetites. If you run into a stranger with what looks to be a mandolin case, and if doing so seems appropriate, introduce yourself as a student of the mandolin. Don’t be surprised if you’re treated like a long-lost friend from school. Mandolin lovers just can’t get enough mandolin.

Here are seven ways for you to move more deeply into the world of the mandolin.

Attend acoustic music concerts and festivals

An acoustic concert doesn’t need to be mandolin-specific; many acts use various instruments, and mandolin may be just one. You may get exposed to musical mandolin styles that you never considered, resulting in a broadening of your mandolin horizons.

Concerts and festivals are good places to network with like-minded musicians. Many concerts have an after-show reception or party where you can make new friends; some of these events are invitation-only, but many aren’t.

Try out mandolin workshops

Mandolin workshops certainly allow you to increase your mandolin skills, but they’re also a great way to get deeper into the mandolin world. Meeting other mandolin players and talking mandolin is a big part of the mandolin subculture. Discussions among mandolin players often include topics such as different types of tunes, picks, strings, and so on, along with conversations about new recordings or upcoming mandolin concerts.

Join a jam session

Playing with other people is the best way to improve as a player and to network with other musicians, even if some of them don’t play mandolin. Public jam sessions and mandolin orchestras enable you to meet like-minded players.

Ask people who work at local music stores if they know of any jam sessions or open-mic nights in your area. Even if you’re not ready to perform in public, you may meet someone to begin playing with. This type of playing can be good for you because sheet music is rarely used: all the playing is by ear.

Read mandolin magazines

Mandolin-focused magazines are great places to dive deeper into the world of mandolins. Here are a few options:

  • Mandolin Magazine ( is a quarterly publication featuring a wide range of mandolin styles.

  • Bluegrass Unlimited ( is published monthly and covers all things bluegrass.

  • The Fretboard Journal ( is a quarterly oversized magazine with high-quality photos and stories relating to guitars and mandolins.

Use the Internet

The Internet is a great place to pick up mandolin-related info:

  • The Mandolin Café is an absolute wealth of everything mandolin, with stories and interviews with many of the greatest mandolin players of today, mandolin-related news, and a vibrant discussion forum. Some of today’s top performers and educators give advice or share sage knowledge about mandolin playing. The classified ad section of the Mandolin Café is one of the best places in the world to find new and used mandolins in all price ranges.

  • specializes in jazz techniques for mandolin. Music-theory buffs can find much instructional material on this website, along with reviews of innovative mandolins by rising stars in the mandolin-building world.

  • is a relative newcomer to mandolins, although the site concept has been around for a while for banjos, fiddles, and flatpickers. This site features mandolin discussion forums, links to lessons, and a place where mandolin players can post videos of themselves playing, allowing other mandolin players to comment.

  • is another new kid on the block, from Oslo, Norway. This website links to stories from other mandolin sites as well as creating new ones about all things mandolin. The site is relatively small and looks at the mandolin from a European perspective.

  • is an online digital record shop. With a growing library of titles and independent artists, this division of the Acoustic Disc record label is an oasis of good mandolin music. Music downloads are available in different sound qualities ranging from standard MP3s to full studio-quality files.

Join a national mandolin organization

The Classical Mandolin Society of America (CMSA) is a national organization with a mission to promote and support the art of classical mandolin playing in North America. Started by Norman Levine in 1986, the CMSA provides grants and scholarships for mandolin education and recruitment. It also publishes a quarterly newsletter, Mandolin Journal.

CMSA holds a yearly conference where mandolin players (not all classical) gather to study with some of today’s finest classical mandolin players and teachers. The conference activities include masterclasses, faculty concerts, lunchtime concerts by CMSA member ensembles, late-night jamming or sight-reading events, and the final-night concert where attending members can participate in the En Masse Orchestra of over 100 mandolins!

Across the Atlantic, the British BMG (that is, banjo, mandolin, and guitar) Federation is a great source for mandolin networking in the UK. The Rally is one of the BMG’s main events and consists of a weekend-long conference featuring workshops and competitions. The Summer School is the other event organized by the BMG and is a yearly weekend event that includes classes and performances on mandolin, guitar, and banjo.

Explore your own town

You might be surprised by what you can find in your own backyard. You can make a mandolin connection at the hairdresser’s, at the supermarket, or at church. Looking for mandolin culture is a bit like hunting morel mushrooms. At first you don’t see any mushrooms, but after a while you start to see them in the same patches of woods that seemed empty before. Go out and explore!