A Mandolin (Italian: mandolino) is a musical instrument in the lute family (plucked, or strummed). It usually has four courses of doubled strings. The (usually) two strings in each course are tuned in unison. The courses are tuned in a succession of perfect fifths, and plucked with a plectrum (pick). It is the soprano member of a family that includes the mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello, and mandobass. It descends from the mandore.
There are many styles of mandolin, but three are common, the Neapolitan (bowl-backed) mandolin, the carved-top mandolin and the flat-top mandolin. The carved-top or arch-top mandolin has a much shallower, arched back, and an arched top—both carved out of wood. The flat-top mandolin is similar to a guitar, using thin sheets of wood for the body, braced on the inside for strength. Each style of instrument has its own sound quality and is associated with particular forms of music. Neapolitan mandolins feature prominently in European classical music and traditional music. Carved-top instruments are common in American folk music and bluegrass music. Flat-top instruments are less specific to a music genre but are commonly used in Irish and British folk music.
Other mandolin varieties differ primarily in the strings, and include Milanese, Lombard language, Brescian, and other six-course types, as well as four-string models (one string per course), and the Sicilian twelve-string (three strings per course) model. There have also been made instruments with sixteen-strings (four strings per course).
Much of mandolin development revolved around the soundboard (the top). Pre-mandolin instruments were quiet instruments, strung with as many as six courses of gut strings, and were plucked with the fingers or with a quill. However, modern instruments are louder—using four courses of metal strings, which exert more pressure than the gut strings. The modern soundboard is designed to withstand the pressure of metal strings that would break earlier instruments. The soundboard comes in many shapes—but generally round or teardrop-shaped, sometimes with scrolls or other projections. There is usually one or more sound holes in the soundboard, either round, oval, or shaped like a calligraphic F (f-hole). A round or oval sound hole may be covered or bordered with decorative rosettes or purfling.
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