RELEASE DATE: 6/6/2012

By Kurt Maclnnis

Italian_Music_for_MandolinItalian Folk Music for Mandolin is a fun and flavorful book, with lots of music carefully presented on the written page and on audio CD. Its forty tunes span a variety of Italian folk music from North to South, Sicily to Sardinia, and also from the thirteenth century to more recent time. Some of the pieces are instrumentals, and some are songs with lyrics. All of the arrangements are for mandolin and guitar and are shown in staff notation and tablature. Many of the pieces have duet mandolin or guitar parts written out, and all have suggestions for accompaniment and short descriptions of their origin and significance. The full forty tunes don’t fit on the one CD, so ten are offered as a free download at the publisher’s website. Oddly, the book doesn’t explain how to do this, but it’s easily done. The page for the book includes a Download Tab with a big red button “Download Extras.” It contains a .zip file so you will need a way to unzip it. It’s a great way to preview the book’s content. The author plays all of the instruments on the included CD, overdubbing the tracks but avoiding for the most part the “canned” feeling one-man bands can generate. The CD makes for good listening, with the playing accurate and clear but still lively and exciting.

While I wouldn’t recommend this as a beginner’s first book without a mentor, there is sufficient coverage of the rudiments of music and notation to guide the reader. There are also two charts of strumming and finger-plucking patterns, with suggested patterns for each tune, making it easier to get an authentic sound. Musicians of a wide range of ability will find the book both pleasant and challenging, whether they prefer the tablature or the staff notation. Experienced readers may wish for a more compressed format, with fewer page turns, but the variety and number (40!) of tunes presented should quell their clamor. There are some minor distractions from typos and unclear chart markings, and the CD seems to be a tad flat at A436. But the typos are harmless and the chart numbering easily guessed, and many guitar trainer devices and programs can shift the pitch to A440 or wherever else your accordion may be pitched. The trainers can also slow the tempo, making it possible to play along and learn by ear.

Italy has such a long history and rich musical culture that many things an American might think are “traditional folk” are actually pop music from another century. The famous Neapolitan songs Funiculi, Funicula and O Sole Mio are so familiar that one might forget that they were composed for a mass market and were at one time on top of the hit parade. True Italian folk music changes sharply from place to place, and the music can sound surprisingly Arabic (in the south), Celtic (go figure), or even Tyrolean (up north). This book shows that variety. I have a good library of the more readily available Italian tunebooks and have not seen this material duplicated elsewhere. All in all, I find the book carefully written and well organized. Its 135 pages give the magazine-folded (lays flat) book genuine heft. There is also an eBook format that’s available for tablet readers. In all this book is a very welcome addition to my shelf. It is lots of fun to play through, and I think it’s an excellent buy for anyone that wants to explore a familiar yet exotic musical tradition, learning how to play in a true Italian style.

The Curious and the Driven may want to look into Mr LaBarbera’s earlier book Traditional Southern Italian Mandolin and Fiddle, or perhaps the recent book, Northern Italian & Ticino Region Folk Songs for Mandolin by Carlo Aonzo. Mel Bay has many more books, CDs and DVDs that are useful in exploring all aspects of mandolin playing.

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Kurt MacInnis has taken time off from his busy schedule at the Luddite Press to write for us. He lives in Santa Monica California and enjoys playing the guitar and the mandolin.