The Rise of the MP3 – Internet Audio Files That Changed the Music Industry

As an avid music listener and maker, it has been interesting to look back through the history of music availability and the changing formats in which music has been presented. 

With the advent of internet and computers especially into the 1990s, it introduced an entirely new way of storing music. 

There are two different categories of music file formats: lossless and lossy. Lossless, as you may surmise, indicates a file format that retains the original quality of the music whether it came from vinyl, CD, et cetera.

This includes AIFF, made by Apple, WAV, a universal format, FLAC, ALAC and APE. Most of these are uncompressed file formats, meaning there is no loss in quality or detail from the original music. 

Lossy refers to a slightly lower quality file format that is designed to save storage space, which leaves you, the listener, with more room for more music.

However, you will notice a significant difference in sound quality. This is because lossy file formats (MP3, AAC, et cetera) are typically compressed in order to make them smaller.

What matters in these formats is bit rate. If you’ve a file with a high bi trate then you won’t notice much difference, if any, between this and lossless files. 

What is an MP3?

MP3 is one of the most – if not THE most – popular file format available. It is a form of codec (COmpressing and DECompressing data).

Sometimes when people download music they look specifically for the MP3 format because it is so ubitiquitous and therefore well known, and some of us believe it is the only file format out there. Since it’s so popular, other formats like APE or FLAC can look rather daunting or untrustworthy. 

MP3 refers to a mass-produced file format that lacks proper and due quality, but people still love it. 

Its name, MP3, is short for MPEG 1 layer 3. It is an audio-coding technology that takes the information from CDs (and others), compresses the information into tiny files suitable for Internet transferring and computer storage.

This way, the music does not take up much space, allowing the user to download or copy as many songs as they please. Mostly these came from CDs.

CDs contain digital files too, but one song can be up to 40 megabytes in size, and that is a lot of space when you take into consideration a full-length CD multiplied by your entire collection.

Think of it this way: one minute of CD quality audio sound takes up about 10 megabytes. This is for full-resolution files.

The MP3 file would take up about 3.5 megabytes instead, making the files eleven times smaller. That’s quite a significant change and you can imagine the bits of detail that may get quashed during the process, since there just isn’t room for it.

However, MP3, like other lossy formats, are built on the theory that the human ear doesn’t really pick up much information to begin with, therefore it’s not even worth coding in.

In addition to allowing for more storage on your personal computer, MP3 files, being so much smaller, can be downloaded in ten minutes instead of several hours. It is important to note that once the files are compressed, the lost data is lost forever.

The sharing of music and MP3 downloading was, in 1999, as popular as people searching for sex online. 

When was the MP3 invented? 

The MP3 was developed in the late 1980s and used in the early 1990s. It was nearly abandoned, considered a dead format by 1995. It was replaced by the AAC format in 1996, a format that could get around technical limitations imposed on the MP3.

Initially the MP3 was used for sports sites. The internet however really took off in the 1990s, with tons of websites popping up that were dedicated solely to pirated music and file sharing. Remember Napster?

The MP3 was named in popular press in 1997 and fully reborn by 1999. Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS are the companies behind it. A lot of people had computers and internet service at this time.

The MP3 subsequently appeared for those who wanted to use the Internet as a new and powerful tool to share their creative works with others. It was a fast and easy way of sharing music with people all over the world. 

Its rise in popularity

When MP3 websites were first available, it was a lot of college and university students sharing files of bootlegged albums with each other since they lacked the funds to purchase CDs.

However, these young people also had passionate interest in lesser known artists and the internet was the perfect place for them to both find and share new musicians.

The very first MP3 player was the MPman, released in 1998, and then Apple soon joined the market in 2001 with iTunes and the iPod.

This meant an entirely new relationship of music and listener. The same file could be shared by thousands of people anywhere in the world, just by the click of a button, whereas previously, a cassette, vinyl or CD physically belonged to a person, and they could only share it at home with friends or family.

This also meant that people now had access to an infinite library of music. You could download another person’s entire music collection and there was no more worrying about returning CDs or scratching someone’s vinyl.

And, because people had access to nearly anything they wanted, they could acquire much more music in a shorter amount of time.

For example, instead of buying your favourite band’s new CD once a year, you could have thousands and thousands of new songs and artists to check out, all within a matter of days.

While some artists saw the amazing potential in the MP3 and this newfound ability to share music with a global audience like never before, many feared the MP3 and foresaw problems with copyright and a loss of rights for the artists or producers.

For those artists who did see the potential with the MP3, they found they could share bits of music that didn’t make it onto the album, or tease their fans with hints of new songs.

This was a bonus not just for the artist but also the diehard fans, who would appreciate tidbits of unreleased material, as a way of accessing virtually everything their favourite artists had created rather than enjoying the final cut of an album.

Record companies, being the mega-capitalists they are, with money as their bottom line, were not so jazzed about the MP3 and would beg their artists not to share the music for free.

They preferred to instead wait until they had figured out a way to make the fans pay to hear these tidbits or unreleased songs. This would force the listener/fan to not only pay to download the song, but that the file would have a limitation of number of plays before the listener had to pay again to download another file for the same song.

Of course, the smart ones would have burned everything onto CDs before the files expired.

Everyone from ultra-popular Beastie Boys to lesser known artists saw the MP3 as a way to reach the world if they couldn’t afford a tour or didn’t have a record deal. Before the days of internet music file sharing and MP3s, how were these smaller bands to get their music heard?

They would, like record companies, release a song for free to titillate the audience and then release a full album that the audience would then purchase.

MP3s are especially favoured by smaller bands and independent artists who are looking for new and exciting ways to get their music out there in the world.

If you’ve ever recorded an album or toured as musician you will know it’s very expensive to rent studio time and to then produce music and release it.

For musicians who are not signed to record labels, it is a lot easier and more affordable to record music in home studios and upload it as MP3s, which fans or listeners would find on MP3.com, one of the first major file transfer websites.

Digital distribution allows the artist to keep a much higher percentage of the sale price, too, and allow artists greater control over distribution. The MP3 file format is truly a revolutionary tool in the music industry, allowing artists to take over from the bottom up. 

However, despite all its benefits, there have been some downsides. 

Where it is now

When MP3s first came out, back in 1999 (that’s nearly 20 years ago), things were different. There was only dial-up internet. MP3s were made for dial-up internet when everything could be shared across the globe but took a lot longer than it does today.

Some artists and record companies blame the MP3 for killing the music industry, but other musicians, like Radiohead or Amanda Palmer, for example, have taken the cue and separated from their record companies; preferring to instead release their music independently, online, and letting listeners pay whatever they want, whether it’s ten cents or twenty dollars.

Today there are many, many online file sharing websites like Spotify and Apple Music. You can buy songs on iTunes for a dollar.

It really shows how music providers and artists have changed with the times, listening to the demands of the public and offering them what they want. The quality of these files is incredibly good; you just need good speakers to play them.

Of course, there are still websites where you can download music for free, and there are still record companies and musicians releasing their work through them.

And the public are still buying them.

There’s one thing online files will never have: the physical experience of interacting with music. The booklets, the artworks, the cover themes and fonts. The CD that sits like a book on a shelf with a title on its spine that you recognize immediately and pull out.

It is that very immersive and real experience that comes with physical music that you would never experience with downloaded files, and so many of us music appreciators tend to be artistic and exploratory folk.

We say immersive because it is so rewardingly consuming to sit down with your favourite record, pull out the booklet, read the lyrics, study the artwork while the music plays: to be immersed in that full experience designed intimately from the artist to the listener. 

In conclusion, we don’t hate MP3’s.  They were invented for a reason, and in the big picture, they serve a purpose or two, so why treat them with disdain?

Downtempo – A Guide to the Great Artists and Their Best Songs and Albums

What is Downtempo Music?

Downtempo is a killer subgenre of electronic music, with little to no vocals and simple beats. It’s laidback like ambient music but has a beat you can groove to, unlike ambient music.

Okay, that is a total lie. At the bottom of the article we have included several of the best downtempo artists and some of them include vocals, but for the sake of this brief introduction to the genre, and to help familiarize you with it, let’s go ahead and say that most downtempo music uses soft vocals for audible texture but not so much to tell a story.

Partygoers, ravers and clubbers will be familiar with this genre, as well as DJs, of course. 

The music is a lot more chill than others in the electronica genre. Seasoned DJs will leave downtempo to the end of the set when the party draws to a close.

downtempo music

This music is also played in side rooms of clubs or designated “take five” areas. The beats are slower and super groovy, perfect for a break from dancing or wrapping up a party.

Most clubgoers, whether they recognize and know downtempo or not, will automatically get the signal from this type of music that it’s late into the night.

If you’ve ever seen Portlandia, the theme song is a prime example of downtempo music with a chill beat that is easy to listen to and very enjoyable. There are some vocals but they’re airy and non-dominant. 

Non-dominance is a good way to define downtempo. It’s got elements of ambient music and serves listeners the same way: it can be enjoyed either as a focal point or be ignored while still providing an atmosphere. It neither overpowers nor disappears. 

It’s a beautiful genre for summer driving.

You will often hear downtempo in lounges.

It’s great for a casual hangout with friends or any time you need to relax.

A bit of history

It all started with the synthesizer. This instrument became more affordable to people in the late 1960s – early 1970’s and so musicians, being the experimental and curious artists they are, ever-searching for the perfect tool for self-expression, fell in love with it. We had the beginnings of ambient music in the 1970s; 

Electronic music really came into huge popularity in the early 1990’s. The club scene brought in all kinds of new genres after the : electronica ruled the soundsystems everywhere because it didn’t require a live band and provided dancing crowds with non-stop movement to inspire their dancing.

It was an obvious new experimentation with the synthesizer, which at the time had only been around for a couple of decades. There was plenty left to explore on that instrument with so many options.

Downtempo is usually played on a synthesizer as well as a drum machine and a few other things.

Electronica is typically faster paced, and so downtempo was created not as an antithesis but simply as an alternative for lounge areas and chill-out rooms at festivals and nightclubs. 

Dancers could go into these rooms and sit for a while, taking a break from the intense energy of the dancefloor and enjoying a drink. 

You’ll notice rather a hypnotizing element to downtempo, the same way electronica brings you in and holds you.

The genre originated on Ibiza, a Mediterranean island, well known for its nightlife and electronic music. Tourists from all over the world come to Ibiza as a destination for this type of holiday.

DJs have always known how to read a crowd (or, they should) and know how to bring up the energy and bring it down. On the island of Ibiza, where they party til sunrise, the DJs start playing downtempo to bring the crowd down after a full night of partying.

Here’s a “Best of Ibiza” chillout downtempo playlist if you want to feel a little bit of that vibe for a while.

Oh, and downtempo is sometimes called trip hop, taking elements from hip hop, drum and bass and ambient music: these are combined altogether over a lower tempo. These days the music also incorporates more melodic instrumentals.

The Artists

Now that we are familiar with the genre, let’s have a listen, shall we?

Here are some of the best downtempo artists out there. Some were around for the advent of the genre and helped shape it; others showed up along the way and furthered the genre’s popularity by keeping it alive. 

Thievery Corporation

Thievery Corporation has been around since 1995. This electronic duo has opened for Paul McCartney and worked with artists such as David Byrne and Wayne Coyne.

They bring an overtly political message with their music and actions, performing at the Operation Ceasefire concert and supporting human rights and the World Food Programme.

Visit the Thievery Corporation official website


Flume

Flume is a young’un, born in 1991 and has been making music since 2004. He has risen to popularity rather fast, having remixed several famous songs by artists like Lorde and selling 40 000 tickets for his first national tour.

He is from Australia and his work incorporates many electronic elements from hip hop to dub. Here is his self-titled debut album. 

Visit Flume’s official website 


Blue Sky Black Death

Another duo on our list, Blue Sky Black Death hails from San Francisco, California. They produce their music with a drum machine, sampler, keyboard, synth and guitar. They’ve been on the scene since 2003.

The phrase “blue sky black death” is a skydiving phrase alluding to beauty and death. They got their start making beats to rap over but soon gave up rapping to pursue producing. Below you can hear their third full-length album, Noir.

 Visit the Blue Sky Black Death Bandcamp page


Kruder & Dorfmeister

Kruder & Dorfmeister get automatic points from us for their G-Stoned cover, which resembles the famous Bookends cover by American duo Simon & Garfunkel.

Peter Kruder & Richard Dorfmeister comprise this Austrian duo and have been making music together since 1993. They got their start playing big festivals and were instantly loved by the audience. They have gone on to tour the world and continue producing music to this day. They’ve also put out their own solo albums and albums under aliases. They have at least 9 studio recorded albums available.

Here is their first album, G-Stoned.

Check out the Kruder and Dorfmeister Facebook page


Samantha James

Samantha James stands out from others on our list for her vocal style. Many downtempo artists are producers and rarely feature vocals in their work. Rather the vocals are presented as a soft ambience over the beat.

Samantha’s singing is incredibly soulful and gives a whole new life to this style of music. Coming from Los Angeles, she became involved with the underground dance scene there as a teenager.

She has been making music of her own since 2007. Her first single, Rise, was an instant hit in 2006 and she has since toured the world with her wonderful blend of electronic and soul music.

She has two full-length albums and has reached #1 on the US dance charts.

Listen to her first album, Rise, here:

Check out Samantha James on Om Records


Helicopter Girl

Helicopter Girl is a Scottish musician and has been active since 1993. She gives downtempo a unique spin incorporating elements from several genres, including dance music, indie pop and jazz.

Helicopter Girl is widely revered for her vocal style and the lyrics offer a listening experience that speaks utter truth. Straight badass. You’ve just got to give a listen and experience this for yourself.

We’ve included a link to her video for Glove Compartment but we also recommend listening to her song Angel City.

Glove Compartment is mysterious and fateful; Angel City is rockier than everything else on this list, but the vocals are cool, calm and sultry, chilling you right out with icy proclamations.

Check out Helicopter Girl on Dharma Records


Portishead

Portishead are one of the better known artists on this list. They remind us of Helicopter Girl a bit – with their infusions of other genres like indie rock laid on top of downtempo – and a bit of sex appeal.

This is music you can throw on for driving or grooving out at home, and works just as well in a lounge setting. Portishead has been around since 1991, taking a brief hiatus from 1999 through 2005. They took up music again after the break.

They’re an English band, well known in this genre because they were one of its pioneers. Despite their dislike for press coverage, their music has been successful internationally.

Even Rolling Stone referred to them as Gothic hip-hop. They’ve been around so long making this kind of music that they have been played in all kinds of underground clubs and gothic scenes.

Visit the Portishead website here

10 Synthwave Artists You Should Know

 

Synthesizers! They are so cool, right?  You take the most reliable aspects of a computer – programmable, reliable in its mathematics – attach a keyboard; amplify the sound through electronic speakers and be taken to another dreamy and sometimes intense world.

What are the Different Types of Mandolin?

There are a few different styles of mandolin available on the market, each of which evolved from the early musical models of the lute in the Middle Ages.

Typically players will use either an A style or F style, but there are other similar instruments invented for the purpose of mandolin orchestras, which is an orchestra that features primarily instruments from the mandolin family.

The two most commonly found mandolin types in current times include the A style and F style mandolin. You can also find the occasional antique bowl-back mandolin.

With this article we will delve into some brief history on how the different shapes emerged, as well as price points and musical styles that work best on each.

There are both bluegrass and folk mandolins. Bluegrass mandolins have differently shaped sound holes that allow the instrument to produce a good chop (chords that leave no open strings).

Folk mandolins have deeper, larger bodies with oval sound holes, as opposed to bluegrass mandolins that make use of f-shaped sound holes.

In folk mandolins, you will most often find flat tops and backs without carving.


A Style

The A style mandolin has a pear- or tear-shaped body, or A-shape, which is where it gets its name, of course. This instrument is very streamlined and simple in design, which puts it at a lower price point than F style mandolins, for example.

Due to its simple design and lower cost, the A style tends to be better for beginner players. This shape has been around since the mandolin was invented, but the instrument used to be made with a bowl back.

This rounded back lent to an interesting sound but created some difficulty for the player holding and using it. In the early 1900s, during a great peak in mandolin popularity after the Paris World Fair of 1892, Gibson redesigned the instrument.

It was also at this time the F style was invented. A style mandolins today share a similar profile with a guitar. The sleek and flat back makes them very easy to hold against the body.

A style mandolins are favoured among beginner players, but also lend nicely to folk styles and Celtic music.


F Style

F style mandolins get their name from Florentine style.

F style mandolins are favoured by bluegrass, roots and professional players. They feature fancier design work including a scroll and point, and are at a higher price point.

They may not be ideal for the beginner player on a budget, but they are beautiful instruments that add a great deal of flare to the playing experience.

The F style mandolin was designed by Gibson in the early 1900s as a top of the line instrument, incorporating traditional mandolin design and sound while giving it a flat back and scrollwork on the body.

These extra design elements to the F style put it at a higher price point that the simpler A styles.

These mandolins have, in addition to their lavish embellishments, two f-holes like a violin or a single oval hole. The extra curlycues in the body increase the body volume, which contributes to the overall sound.

This extra element also makes it easier to place the instrument on one’s thigh, so when the player is seated and playing, the instrument stays in place without much effort.


Bowl-back/Neapolitan

The bowl-back is exactly as it sounds: a fretted string instrument with a very round back that sits against the player like a bowl. It is the style of mandolin often depicted in film or television as a stereotype of the instrument.

It is also known as a taterbug or watermelon. This is a very old-fashioned style of mandolin that resembles early Italian lutes, the instrument from which the modern day mandolin evolved.

The deep bowl makes for deeper tones than the flatback styles, but they are rare to find. Often they are antique lute-violin hybrids and run a high cost.

They are less practical for playing purposes, but have undeniable strong tonal resonance.

Other Instruments in the Mandolin Family

Mandola/Tenor mandola


The mandola is tuned a fifth lower than a mandolin, and is slightly larger. It is tuned CGDA.

Bouzouki/Octave mandolin

This instrument is one octave below a mandolin, using GDAE tuning. The Bouzouki is tuned an octave below the mandolin, like an octave mandolin, but has a longer scale length.

It has pairs of strings, but the lower strings (G and D) are tuned one string an octave above the other.

Mandocello

This instrument was invented by Gibson for mandolin orchestras, tuned an octave below the mandola at CGDA. It is similar to the bouzouki but has thicker/heavier strings to produce the deep sound.

Mandobass

The mandobass only has four strings that are tuned EADG. It was invented in the early 1900s by Gibson for mandolin orchestras.

How to Tremolo Pick a Mandolin

If you are into the mandolin and have done some reading, you will have come across the word tremolo. You’ve no doubt heard the tremolo picking in a song. With this article we’ll explain the tremolo picking, its place in music and how you can master this key mandolin technique.

What is tremolo?

Tremolo is rather simple to explain: it refers to the rapid picking of one note in an alternating picking motion (down, up, down, up). The trick to playing a good tremolo is to play as quickly as possible. It can be difficult to learn at first, as you have to maintain a steady rhythm while picking with great speed. There are two kinds of tremolo:

Free tremolo

This type of tremolo is a very expressive one that allows for varying speed in order to effectively emote through the mandolin. For example, you may speed up and then slow down to express elevated emotion, to intensify the feeling given through the music. This is a style used in music without defined or strong beat, like ballads and classical music.

Measured tremolo

As you might guess from its name, this tremolo involves a measured or steady and intentional rapid picking. For example, you will find this style used in bluegrass, where the strong beat, inspired by rock n roll, will use four strokes per beat in a fast tempo, six strokes per beat for medium tempos, and up to twelve strokes for slow tempos.

Why use tremolo

As mentioned before, tremolo is used to accentuate moments in the song to express an intense feeling. It is also a great way to showcase your talent on the mandolin. Tremolo is very useful when there is one sustained note (with long duration): it breaks up the note and accentuates it within the song. Tremolo sounds especially beautiful on the mandolin since the strings are in pairs. When you stroke down and up you create a unique ringing that has come to be known as one of the main characteristics of mandolin.

Tremolo is the only way to keep a note going on the mandolin, due to its acoustics. It is also a very effective way to express a feeling through the strings.

How to play tremolo

Tremolo is a rather difficult technique when you are new to the instrument, but with significant practice you will be able to master it soon enough.

Listen to examples of a bow on a violin: this is the effect you are going for. Rapid sound produced by picking down and up repeatedly, in order to sustain a note or intensify it.

In addition to physical practice, it is very useful to listen to audio examples of tremolo so you know what sound to produce. The trick is all in the right hand and more specifically, the wrist. The trick to good mandolin playing is keeping a very loose wrist and loose hold on the pick. Open, loose movement will allow you to play tremolo easily and without straining your muscles inappropriately. Beginner players will often anchor their right hands by setting their pinky and/or ring finger down. Remember, as you hold the pick, to curl your fingers in toward your palm. Believe it or not, this will greatly increase your wrist flexibility and help you practice the proper picking technique.

To begin, we have provided exercises that are easy on the left hand in order to focus on the right hand technique.

Select a note with your left hand anywhere on the fretboard. When you have selected your note, tap your foot to a steady beat counting 1, 2, 3, 4, or use a metronome. Pick the string down and up, down and up, going slowly at first. Try to fit 4 strokes into a single beat.

This technique will be achieved with great patience and practice. Make the note last long enough to practice by counting to four as you pick up and down. This will keep you on a steady tempo. When you reach four, move to a second note and repeat: count to four while you pick down up, down up. It helps to keep one’s pick on the strings at all times, in order to reach your next note and keep a consistent musical flow to your playing/the sound you’re producing.

Tremolo underlies many if not most mandolin compositions. Listen to any classical Italian mandolin composition and you will recognize the technique right away. It’s undeniable!

The more you practice, the more natural it will become. You will be able to move more by feeling than a concentrated application of pick to string. Tremolo is a picking method that comes from deep feeling, and is thus communicated through an organic flow: you will feel the music and flow with it.

The more you practice, the faster you will be able to go. Remember to exercise patience and work tremolo into your every practice, for it is perhaps the most crucial mandolin trick to learn.

Here is a video that should help show you how it’s done.

5 Famous Jazz Mandolin Players

Mandolin takes 20th century root in American bluegrass and jazz style, both of which utilize tight improvisation and quick movement. With this article we take a look at five famous mandolin players who make/made significant contributions to the jazz mandolin style.

 1. Jethro Burns

Kenneth Charles Burns earned the name Jethro after touring as comedic duo Homer and Jethro back in the 1930s, with Henry D. Haynes. He brought humour to his mandolin acts, telling jokes between songs. His great energy and humour combined with impeccable mandolin picking and original style made him a mandolin legend.

He was a country musician, but played jazz style on the mandolin, using clean, single-note melodies rather than bluegrass style. He was responsible for introducing jazz melodies and methods of playing to country mandolinists. Growing up in the big band era, he took a lot of influence from Cole Porter and Duke Ellington.

Over the decades and into the 1970s he had inspired an entire younger generation of acoustic musicians. In this same decade he wrote several columns for Mandolin World News on both music and humour.

He toured with Haynes, Ken Eidson and Steve Goodman. He was a great entertainer, a master teacher of mandolin jazz, and was inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

  1. Paul Glasse

Paul Glasse grew up in New York. As a young person he was drawn to the acoustic sound of the mandolin. Growing up he listening to bluegrass, old timey and New England traditional music, and moved to Austin, Texas in 1977 to sturdy under Tiny Moore who taught him Texas Swing. This genre is quick in tempo and blends early country with jazz harmony, a la 1930s swing. To this day, Paul is known for this style.

In the 1980s he won several mandolin contests for his master picking including the Buck White International Mandolin Championship. His signature skills include improvisation and head, where he takes on the lead of a song, or its main theme.

  1. John Reischman 

John Reischman has a large repertoire of songs and styles, whether he is writing original pieces and touring with his band the Jaybirds, re-inventing old-time tunes, or playing bluegrass. He is renowned for his mastery of the mandolin, which he began playing in the 1970s, and helped build the new acoustic sound.

He was highly influenced by early bluegrass mandolinists such as Jethro Burns and David Grisman. Over the years he has collaborated with many artists, creating new hybrids of cross-cultural sounds on the mandolin due to his interest in musical rhythms and stringed instruments.

In addition to his collaborative albums he also has three solo albums, on which he performs both original songs and traditional tunes. He stands at the forefront of American Bluegrass style, but his mandolin style is very jazzy in the sophisticated interplay between himself and other instruments, and his ability to improvise.

  1. Tony Williamson 

Tony Williamson is a mandolin virtuoso, bringing his extensive knowledge of musical intruments and their histories to his playing. For 40 years he has delighted audiences across the globe with his superb mandolin playing, and when he is not playing he is selling vintage and pre-owned instruments. This originated with his grandfather, who made musical instruments and inspired his grandchildren Tony and brother Gary, on banjo, to begin playing in 1957.

By 1969 Tony and his brother were child sensations and won World Championship. He received his degree with highest honours at University of North Carolina where he was born and raised, and after graduating, went on tour with the Bluegrass Alliance. From there he played in a number of bands utilizing classical, folk and jazz styles on his mandolin.

His work with the mandolin is largely responsible for its modern-day popularity, as he is immensely talented as a player but also highly knowledgeable. He shows his collection of vintage guitars and mandolins to crowds, demonstrating their tone and craftsmanship. It is rare to find instruments like these being used, as opposed to sitting in museums. He continues to record, using F-5 mandolins from the 1920s (around the time Gibson had invented this model). 

  1. Don Stiernberg 

Don Stienberg has been playing mandolin for fifty years, and in this time period he has also performed, written, recorded, produced and taught. He was born in Chicago and is based there. As a child he was gifted a mandolin, and was sent to study with Jethro Burns, who became role model, mentor and friend. Don lived and breathed mandolin and played in a bluegrass band called The Morgan Brothers, and later in The Jethro Burns Quartet.

He is currently regarded as a trailblazer for the jazz mandolin style. His working band is called The Don Stiernberg Trio, with whom he recently recorded his ninth music project. The trio has performed across North America and in Germany and Brazil. He participates in The Mandolin Symposium in California and several mandolin and acoustic camps across the United States, Italy, Germany and Brazil.

5 Famous Female Mandolin Players

Sierra Hull

 Sierra Hull is an American bluegrass musician. She sings and plays guitar and mandolin. She was signed to Rounder Records at the very young age of 13 and released a debut album three years later at 16, which hit #2 on the Billboard Top Bluegrass Albums chart.

She is from Tennessee, where she attended high school before accepting a scholarship to study at Berklee College of Music.

She began playing mandolin at the age of eight, and was surrounded by a family of music lovers who play with her and took her to bluegrass festivals. She performed with Alison Krauss at the White House in 2011.

Her talents are recognized internationally: she has received five International Bluegrass Music Association nominations and received the Bluegrass Star Award in 2013.

This award is given to musicians who serve to advance traditional bluegrass music by bringing it to new audiences while preserving its heritage.

Rhonda Vincent

Rhonda Vincent is an American multi-instrumentalist, singing and playing mandolin, guitar and fiddle. Her career has spanned more than four decades, achieving success in the bluegrass genre in the 1970s, exhibiting progressive chord structures and multi-range vocals. In this time her peers were mostly male, and they respected her for her outstanding vocal and instrumental talents. Over the years, she has appeared on records with Dolly Parton, Alan Jackson and Tanya Tucker.

Her entire family is musical; the family sang on the Sally Mountain Show. She began playing mandolin at the age of eight, guitar at 10 and later the fiddle. She lived in a small town, but her family was full of musicians, so whenever she was home, they would all play together.

She sings bluegrass, folk and gospel, performing solo as well as with her band Rhonda Vincent & The Rage. She has won several awards from International Bluegrass Music Association and Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America. She is known as the Queen of Bluegrass. 

Sarah Jarosz

Sarah Jarosz is another young musical prodigy on our list. Born in Texas in 1991, she began playing mandolin at the age of 10 and released her debut album Song Up in Her Head, which she co-produced.

This album was released in 2009, and in the same year she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music, graduating with a degree in Contemporary Improvisation.

To this day, she has released four studio albums, her most recent winning a Grammy award for Best Folk Album. She has seen a lot of success and has been widely received with awe and admiration at her talent.

She has been referred to as a contemporary-bluegrass prodigy and is revered as one of acoustic music’s most promising young talents.

In addition to mastering the mandolin, Sarah also plays the clawhammer banjo and octave mandolin. The octave mandolin has four pairs of strings in G, D, A and E, but is an octave below the mandolin.

She has covered many well-known songs in addition to her own written pieces, and has collaborated with many artists such as Jerry Douglas and Darrell Scott. Critics greatly anticipate what is yet to come of this young woman.

Caterina Lichtenberg

Caterina Lichtenberg was raised in Germany and graduated from the Music Conservatory in Cologne with the highest honours, where she now teaches as Professor of Classical Mandolin. Interestingly, this is the only position of its kind in the world today.

For over two decades, she has been recording, teaching and touring throughout the world including Europe, Japan, Taiwan, and South and North Americas. She is regarded as one of the most important mandolinists on the planet. She has covered pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach and collaborated with Mike Marshall, American mandolinist, combining their bluegrass, classical and jazz styles.

Caterina has released 10 albums to date, all in chamber music settings. She is a specialist on early period instruments, and has recorded on a 1775 mandolin as per invitation from the Ferdinandeum Museum in Innsbruck. She has performed with many orchestras internationally, and festivals. Her talents have also landed her positions of juror and lecturer at mandolin conventions and academies.

Sharon Gilchrist

Sharon Gilchrist is an American mandolin player and instructor. She also sings and composes in the bluegrass style. She was raised in Texas and began playing mandolin when she was eight years old. At just nine years old, she and brother Troy Gilchrist played in a band together, which went on for another seven years. she had even played in this band with forming members of what would become the Dixie Chicks.

She moved to Nashville Tennessee to study mandolin after graduating high school. Since then she has performed and arranged music for several musicians. After her band Mary and Mars disbanded, she joined Uncle Earl, a team of female musicians who incorporated dance into their performances.

She plays bluegrass/Americana roots style, and is currently writing and recording music for films. She also teaches private lessons and mandolin workshops at music camps.