Mandolin vs Lute: Which One is Easier to Learn?

The melodic spheres of the Mandolin and the Lute, two age-old stringed instruments, offer a treasury of charming musical nuances. But, the topic of mandolin vs lute is being searched a lot, and that’s why I feel the need of writing this piece.

Well, both have historical roots and a wide variety in style and origin, the primary difference lies in their soundboard: a flat one for the mandolin and a rounded one for the lute.

This unique distinction profoundly impacts their tonal character. This article embarks on a journey comparing these beautiful instruments, assisting in unlocking their mysteries.

Mandolin vs lute

Dive with us into the musical dialogue between the mandolin and the lute.

🎶Mandolin vs lute: What Are the differences?

Originating in Italy during the 15th century, the mandolin descends from the lute family in design and resonance.

Throughout centuries, its design evolved, from the ‘bowl-back’ version to today’s ‘flat-back’, for greater sound projection.

Vivaldi’s influence in the 18th century popularized the instrument, paving the way for notable musicians like Bill Monroe – the “Father of Bluegrass”.

Mandolin vs lute (detailed comparison)

The lute, an essential player in Western music, traces its roots to Arab ouds during the 8th century. As it moved across Europe, its design transitioned from round-backed to a more intricate form.

It held dominion over Renaissance and Baroque music, championed by virtuosos like John Dowland, whose works like “Lachrimae” made history. The lute’s influence dwindled during the late 18th century, yet its rich legacy inspires contemporary musicians.

Composition and Structure 

Known for a vibrant and edgy sonority, the mandolin owes its tonal radiance to its flat soundboard. Unlike its cousin the lute, the flat design enhances projection, delivering a tone that’s at once crisp and assertive.

Another noteworthy feature lies in the mandolin’s unique dual-course strings, usually totaling 8.

Strung in pairs, each course acts as a single unit, fattening the harmonics and creating a robust and distinct sound. This structure gives mandolin music depth and body, redefining the traditional boundaries of plucked string instruments.

The mandolin’s floating bridge is at the heart of an exceptional tonal range. Movable and adjustable, this mechanism sets the mandolin apart by allowing artists to alter the instrument’s sound, making it as nuanced or bold as desired, lending versatility to both its structure and sound.

In contrast, the lute takes a deep plunge into the warm and the resonant, courtesy of its rounded, bowl-shaped back. This contour sets the stage for an auditory depth, making the instrument a vessel for resounding melodies.

The number of strings on a lute varies, influenced by era and region, scaling from 6 to as many as 30. As a result, the lute has the potential to flood the ears with a fuller spectrum of sound, providing a rich assortment of tones and harmonics.

Where it diverges from the mandolin structurally is in its fixed bridge system. This bridge, rigidly attached to the body, impacts not just the tuning stability but also the overall timbre of the instrument, offering a sonic character that sings of antiquity.

At the same time, it anchors the strings in a steady embrace.

Learning Difficulty and Playing Techniques

Easier for aspiring enthusiasts to pick up and play, the mandolin boasts a smaller fretboard and a shorter neck.

This construction simplifies handling and accommodates various hand sizes, shaping the instrument into an accessible and ergonomic choice for novices.

However, proficiency in playing the mandolin requires an understanding of a specific picking technique.

The instrument is generally played with a plectrum, which demands a precise execution of strumming and plucking. By mastering control over the plectrum, musicians can leverage the mandolin’s signature, rapid tremolo effect, adding a vibrant texture to their playing.

The lute, on the other hand, poses a greater challenge for those eager to learn. With its larger fretboard and a remarkable number of strings, beginners may feel overwhelmed by its complexity.

Players must demonstrate mastery in both the left and right hands to seamlessly navigate the lute’s expansive harmonic landscape.

Furthermore, the lute demands a refined right-hand technique, differing from the mandolin’s plectrum approach.

In this case, players alternate between the thumb and fingers, allowing them to accurately draw out smooth melodic lines without tremolo. Mastery over this technique is essential to achieving the lute’s subtlety and expressiveness.

Popularity and Availability

Enjoying widespread recognition, the mandolin’s popularity has been shaped by its notable presence across various music genres, including classical, folk, bluegrass, and even rock.

This multi-genre infiltration has boosted the instrument’s appeal, drawing in a demographically diverse group of enthusiasts.

The mandolin’s popularity has also made it substantially more accessible. Music stores often stock a variety of mandolins due to their ongoing demand.

Additionally, the rise of online platforms has led to many mandolin-focused tutorials and educational resources, and many instructors offer mandolin teachings. This facilitates the learning journey for those keen on this instrument.

Contrary to the broad appeal of the mandolin, the lute enjoys popularity within a more select community, namely those appreciative of classical and early music.

The lute’s unique resonance and historical significance have carved its niche in these genres, securing its cherished status amongst purists and history enthusiasts.

However, this niche market position implies a more challenging quest for accessibility. Finding lutes, especially in conventional music stores, can be tricky due to their limited demand.

Similarly, lute-focused educational resources and experts are rare compared to those catering to the mandolin. Consequently, a lute learner’s journey could be more arduous, requiring significant dedication.

Sound and Pitch

Conveying a sense of brightness and crispness, the mandolin’s sound occupies a high, sharp pitch domain.

Distinguishing the instrument further is its ability to achieve a fast tremolo – a rapid and repetitive plucking technique.

When expertly executed, the mandolin’s fast tremolo adds energy and vigor to a performance, intensifying the listening experience with its characteristic sonic signature.

The lute presents a lower, rounded, and softer pitch in a gentle contrast. Renowned for its velvety tonal qualities, this instrument predominantly relies on smooth, sustained melodic lines rather than the trembling tremolo in the mandolin’s musical vernacular.

The lute’s sonic idiosyncrasies stem from its construction and playing technique, exuding refined expressiveness with a sophisticated touch and delivering a highly nuanced, dynamic auditory experience.

Different Musical Eras and Genres

A stalwart in diverse cultures, the mandolin has secured a significant standing in several music genres worldwide. It’s frequently seen in folk and bluegrass settings, contributing to these genres’ energetic and earthy tone.

The mandolin maintains the vibrant cultural heritage as a key instrument in Italian and Greek music.

Moreover, its incorporation in American music, particularly in the country and bluegrass scenes, anchors mandolin’s multicultural influence and underlines its global appeal.


At the heart of early Western music, the lute reigned supreme during Renaissance and Baroque eras. Its delicate and nuanced sound made it an integral part of the musical vocabulary, shaping the sonic landscape of those periods.

While the lute is primarily associated with classical settings, it’s worth noting that there was a lute revival in the 20th century, notably within the folk music scene.

This resurgence sparked a broader interest in the instrument, widening its audience and providing a fresh perspective on its usage.

Despite its more niche than the ubiquitous mandolin, the lute’s unique charm still attracts a passionate and dedicated following.

🎶Choice: Mandolin or Lute?

When deciding whether to choose the mandolin or lute, several factors can influence your selection, depending on your preferences, musical goals, and budget.

Desired Sound

Evaluate the desired sound you wish to produce, as both instruments have distinct tonal qualities. If you’re looking for a sharp, bright, and energetic sound with rapid tremolo, the mandolin is ideal, as it thrives in folk, bluegrass, and even rock.

However, the lute better aligns with your goals if you prefer a softer, more nuanced sound that excels in smooth melodic lines and hails from the classical music realm.

Learning Difficulty

Consider the learning curve and challenges associated with respective instruments. The mandolin offers a simpler start with a smaller fretboard, shorter neck, and dual-course strings.

The lute, by contrast, demands mastery over a complex right-hand technique and navigating a larger fretboard with numerous strings, presenting a steeper learning curve. Assess the time and dedication you will invest in learning and perfecting your craft.

Cost Considerations

Lastly, take into account the financial implications of your choice. The mandolin’s widespread popularity often translates to more affordable and accessible options within the market.

Lutes, catering to a niche segment, typically bear a higher price tag and are not as easily available.

Furthermore, the prevalence of mandolin instructors and learning resources reduces knowledge acquisition costs. In contrast, given the limited number of specialized resources and instructors, lute instruction may demand a higher investment.

Assess your budget constraints and determine which instrument suits your financial situation.

By considering these factors, you can make an informed decision, paving the way towards fulfilling your musical aspirations with an instrument that resonates with your goals, preferences, and resources.

🎶Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is the mandolin a lute?

No, the mandolin and the lute are distinct instruments with unique attributes. However, they share similarities as both belong to the stringed instrument family and are plucked. The mandolin features a rounded body, a fretted neck, and eight strings arranged in courses. In contrast, the lute, often with a teardrop-shaped body, carries anywhere from 6 to 19 strings, not typically configured in courses.

Can you play lute music on a mandolin?

Yes, you can technically play lute music on a mandolin, but it may not fully capture its nuanced and distinctive character due to the different sound and playing technique. The mandolin has a brighter, sharper tone with tremolo, whereas the lute offers a warmer, rounder sound using steady melodic lines.

What is the closest instrument to a mandolin?

The bouzouki is the closest instrument to a mandolin in terms of construction, tuning, and playing technique. Originally from Greece, it shares the mandolin’s double string courses and is commonly used in folk and traditional music, much like the mandolin. The main difference is that the bouzouki often has a longer neck and larger body.

What is the closest instrument to the lute?

The closest instrument to the lute is the theorbo, also from the string family. Like the lute, this classical instrument played a significant part in Renaissance and Baroque music. It has a larger size, longer neck, and more strings than a typical lute. Its deep and resonant sound provides a harmonic base in early music.


Choosing between the mandolin and the lute ultimately depends on personal preferences, musical ambitions, and practical considerations.

While the mandolin’s lively tremolo and accessible learning curve make it a versatile choice for many music enthusiasts, the lute’s sophisticated expressiveness and historical richness attract dedicated classical and early music specialists.

When deciding, one must consider their desired sound and playing style, learning difficulty, and cost considerations.

Whichever instrument you gravitate towards, remember that mastery depends on practice, passion, and patience.

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