Tremolo: The Mandolin's Secret Weapon

godfather krech nino rota right hand technique tremolo Apr 08, 2021

"Leave the Mandolin, Take the Cannoli."

It's hard to remember which came first for me, the mandolin or The Godfather (1972).

The two seem intertwined: the mandolin-soaked mafia masterpiece; the haunting melodies that, without fail, elicit spirited Marlon Brando impressions from audience members at concerts.

Composer Nino Rota's various themes throughout the film are perhaps the most widely known mandolin recordings in the world.  And every single one of them features the mandolin's secret weapon, which is the subject of this week's lesson: tremolo. 

Al Viola, a long-time collaborator of Frank Sinatra, played the mandolin on the soundtrack.  He performed every single cue with a smooth, fast Italian tremolo.

Single note tremolo is the mandolin's trademark.  Ideally, it evokes the nuanced, sustained tones of a violin or operatic soprano.  

But, as flowing and free as it can sound to the listener, mandolin players know that effortless tremolo is in fact a difficult and elusive technique to acquire.

At the start of this video, I demonstrate my own tremolo technique on The Godfather Waltz, which is just one of many mandolin melodies featured in the film. 

Then, I'll let you take a close look at my right hand technique and explain the practice approach that helped me achieve a smooth, effortless tremolo.

And finally, I'll show you some "tremolo add-ons", other dynamic effects you can employ to add interest and emotional impact to your tremolo.  These effects include:

  • Varying the Volume
  • Varying the Speed
  • Slides
  • Vibrato
  • The “krech” or "cry" effect using pull-offs

Tim's Mando Lessons is your all-purpose, one-stop shop for honing  your mandolin skills and learning all of the great tunes to play at the jam sessions.  Join our growing Community of learners today and watch your playing improve fast!

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