The Real Difference: How Hard is Mandolin Compared to Guitar?

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As a musician, I often hear the question: “How hard is mandolin compared to guitar?”. It’s a tricky question, as the two instruments are quite different. Both require dedication and practice, but the mandolin can be particularly challenging. In this article, I will explore the differences between the two instruments and offer some insight into which one is harder to play. Read on to find out if mandolin really is harder to play than guitar.

Overview of Mandolin

Overview Of Mandolin


The mandolin is a stringed musical instrument that is part of the lute family. It has an oval body and a fretted fingerboard with eight strings in four courses. Mandolins originated in Italy in the 1800s, and gained popularity in the United States during the early 20th century.


Mandolins are tuned in fifths, which is different from the guitar. The strings are tuned in the order of G-D-A-E, with the E string being the highest pitch. This tuning is easier to play than a standard guitar, as it requires less effort to reach the notes.


Chords on the mandolin are typically strummed with either a pick or the fingers. The chords are often simpler than those on a guitar, as the mandolin has fewer strings. This makes it easier to play, as fewer strings require less effort to reach the notes. This also means that chords on the mandolin are often easier to learn than those on a guitar.

Overview of Guitar

Overview Of Guitar


The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six strings. It is held flat against the body, and played by strumming or plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while simultaneously pressing the strings against frets with the fingers of the opposite hand.


Guitars are usually tuned in a standard tuning, where the open strings are tuned to the notes E2-A2-D3-G3-B3-E4 (from low to high). However, they can also be tuned to a variety of alternative tunings.


Chords are typically formed by pressing down multiple strings at the same time. Chords are usually constructed from the notes of a scale, and are played with either the strumming of the strings or plucking with the fingers.

Comparative Analysis

Comparative Analysis
Mandolin is a stringed instrument with eight strings in four courses of two strings each. Mandolin music is typically played at a much higher pitch than guitar, making the mandolin more difficult to play. The strings are thinner and harder to press down against the fretboard. Mandolin playing requires more accuracy, as notes can easily sound out of tune due to the higher pitch. Additionally, mandolin requires more precise finger positioning and advanced techniques such as tremolo, which is a rapid change in the pitch of a note.

Guitar, on the other hand, has six strings and is typically played at a lower pitch than mandolin. Since the strings are thicker and the pitch is lower, it is easier to press down the strings against the fretboard. Additionally, guitar allows for easier playing of chords, as the strings are more spread out and easier to press down.

Overall, mandolin is harder to play than guitar due to the higher pitch, thinner strings, and more advanced techniques. Additionally, the differences in string spacing and string thickness make it more difficult to form chords on the mandolin compared to the guitar.

1 Instrument Size

1 Instrument Size

The mandolin is a small instrument in comparison to the guitar. It measures approximately 24” long and 10-11” wide, while the guitar measures approximately 38-40” long and 15-16” wide. The mandolin’s small size makes it easier to hold and play for a longer period of time.

Instrument Length Width
Mandolin 24” 10-11”
Guitar 38-40” 15-16”

2 Fretboard

2 Fretboard
The mandolin has a much shorter fretboard compared to the guitar. On a mandolin, you have 8 strings that are tuned in pairs, in a fifth interval. As a result, the fretboard is much shorter and narrower. This makes playing barre chords more difficult. Additionally, the strings on a mandolin are much closer together, which makes playing fast passages and intricate fingerpicking patterns more difficult. This can be especially challenging for guitar players who are used to having more room between the strings.

3 Strings

3 Strings

  • The mandolin has 8 strings, 4 courses of two strings each, tuned in unison.
  • The guitar, on the other hand, has 6 strings and is tuned in fourths.
  • This means that the mandolin has more strings to choose from, making it more difficult to play than the guitar.

4 Tuning

4 Tuning

Mandolin Guitar

Mandolin tuning is different from guitar tuning. The mandolin has a typical tuning of G-D-A-E, while the guitar has a typical tuning of E-A-D-G-B-E. The mandolin strings are tuned an octave higher than the corresponding guitar strings. This difference in tuning makes playing the mandolin more difficult than playing the guitar.

5 Chords

Mandolin Guitar
G Major G Major
A Minor A Minor
D Major D Major
E Minor E Minor
C Major C Major

The difficulty of playing the mandolin compared to the guitar depends on the chords. Both instruments use the same chords, but the mandolin is smaller and the strings are closer together. This can make it more difficult to play the chords and to keep the strings from buzzing or muffling. G Major, A Minor, D Major, E Minor, and C Major are all chords that are used by both the mandolin and the guitar.

Frequently Asked Questions

How difficult is it to learn to play mandolin compared to guitar?

Learning to play the mandolin can be more difficult than learning to play the guitar due to its smaller size, higher string tension, and the smaller fretboard spacing. The mandolin requires more precise finger placement and requires more pressure to be applied to the strings in order to play notes accurately. Additionally, the mandolin has eight strings compared to the six strings of a guitar, making it more challenging to learn and master. However, with practice and dedication, it is possible to learn to play the mandolin.

What are the differences between mandolin and guitar in terms of playing difficulty?

Mandolin is generally considered to be more difficult than guitar. It has a much narrower fretboard, making it harder to play chords, and the strings are tuned differently, making it harder to play certain scales. Additionally, the strings are tuned to a higher pitch, making them harder to press down on the fretboard. Furthermore, the sound of the mandolin is brighter and more treble-heavy than the guitar, which takes some getting used to for players more accustomed to the mellow tones of the guitar.

Are certain techniques more challenging on a mandolin than on a guitar?

The mandolin is a much smaller instrument than a guitar, with thinner strings, and a different tuning. This means that certain techniques, such as bending strings, are more difficult to achieve on a mandolin than on a guitar. Additionally, since the mandolin has fewer strings than a guitar, it can be more challenging to play complex chords and progressions on the mandolin. However, with practice, these techniques can be learned and mastered.

How long does it typically take to learn how to play the mandolin?

The mandolin is an instrument that requires a lot of practice and dedication to master. Generally, it takes between 1-2 years to learn the basics of the mandolin such as scales, chords, and essential techniques. Depending on the individual’s commitment and skill level, they can progress more quickly or take more time. Advanced techniques and styles can take many more years to perfect.

Are There Any Tips or Tricks to Make Learning the Mandolin Easier?

To make learning the mandolin easier, start by learning the notes of the open strings and understanding the basics of finger placement. Invest in a quality instrument and practice regularly, even if only for a few minutes at a time. Look for online tutorials, instructional books, or group classes to further develop your skills. Find a mentor or experienced player to help with more advanced techniques. Experimenting with different tunings can also help. Lastly, join a local mandolin group or jam session to learn from other players and have fun.


Mandolin is, in many ways, more challenging to learn and master than guitar. Its smaller fretboard and strings require more precision and advanced techniques, and its sound tends to be more complex and intricate. Those with a solid guitar background may find the transition to mandolin easier than those without, but the learning curve is still steep. With the right approach, dedication, and guidance, anyone can learn to play the mandolin.


About the author

Country Music Singer, Tayo Reed, grow up listening to Country Music as a child in sweet home, "Alabama". "I am authentically a true country girl at heart. I have only desired to sing one style of music. I have never wavered, in spite of disappointments, delays, rejections, and detours."

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