The mandola is a member of the mandolin family. It is larger than a mandolin and tuned one fifth lower. The mandola actually pre-dates the mandolin and was one of the first instruments to develop from the Lute. Mandola can be loosely translated to almond (in Italian), referring to the body shape.
A mandola is to mandolin as a viola is to violin. It is the next size up in the instrument family. Viola and mandola use the same tuning of CGDA. This is commonly used in folk styles of Italian music, Irish/Celtic music and was used during the era of mandolin orchestras.
Most mandolas will be of the flat-top style, but there are carved versions being produced. These tend to be expensive. Mandolas use double courses of strings that would normally be tuned to the same notes. There are occasions where a player may string it in octaves as well.
While the tuning of the mandola is lower than a mandolin, the intervals are the same. This means that the same technique and scale patterns are used. A mandolin player can play any song they know and it will sound one fifth lower. Playing a mandola capoed at the 5th fret would be the same as a mandolin.
Physically, the mandola scale length is around 2 inches longer than a mandolin. This is measured from the nut to the bridge and will vary by the maker. Some players think that getting a mandola and tuning it to GCDE would result in a fuller tone than a mandolin is capable of. Unfortunately, because of the longer scale length, it is not as simple as that and generally not a good idea to tune a mandola like a mandolin. The strings will be under too much tension due to the difference in size.
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