Minstruments

The Lord of the Rings Online provides players with nine different instruments to goof around with; three stringed instruments (lute, theorbo and harp), four wind (bagpipes, clarinet, flute and horn) and two percussion (cowbell and drum). I wanted to figure out just what my minstrel was actually playing and so I researched the real life counterparts of each of the nine LotRO instruments, this article is the essence of my findings.
It seems that the inspiration for the instruments comes predominately from the Renaissance period, with some influence from the Middle Ages and Baroque era.

If you would like to hear real life music using these and other related instruments, find any band which plays Renaissance or Medieval music or “music of Shakespeare’s day”, preferably one which uses period instruments. Some of my favourites are The Broadside Band, Ensemble Galilei, The Folger Consort and Piffaro.

Lute

The lute is (literally) the iconic LotRO instrument. Minstrels are denoted by a lute icon and every character, minstrel or otherwise, begins life with the ability to play the lute.
When most people think of Shakespearean or Renaissance music, the lute is the instrument which comes most readily to mind. During Queen Elizabeth I’s reign all the cool people were writing for and playing the lute. John Dowland, one of the most popular composers at that time, wrote primarily for lute and voice.
During the Middle Ages the lute was often played with a quill plectrum, but later, during the Renaissance and nowadays, it is usually played with the fingers. The LotRO lute looks to be of Renaissance design and is played without a plectrum.
The guitar and lute are similar instruments and music written for one plays nicely on the other. However, the guitar is not descended from the lute. They developed simultaneously and both enjoyed a good deal popularity during the Renaissance and the Baroque era, but the lute died out while the guitar retained its popularity and continued to evolve throughout the last few centuries.
Sometimes I think the LotRO lute sounds too much like a guitar, but one has to remember that the guitar and lute do sound very similar and that LotRO instruments are midi approximations and not actual instruments; that considered, the LotRO lute is close enough to the real thing.

Theorbo

The theorbo is possibly the most interesting of the LotRO instruments. It sounds roughly like a bass guitar (it often takes the place of that instrument in ABC music files) or like a LotRO lute brought down a few octaves. What makes the theorbo so interesting, though, is that most people have no idea what it is.
The real life theorbo was developed in the early 17th century for use in orchestras and string ensembles. The first theorbos were modified lutes; stick an extension on the neck, add a few bass stings and presto! a new instrument.
A theorbo has two peg boxes in the middle of the neck for the shorter, fretted stings and one at the end of the neck for the unfretted strings. The unfretted strings are used much like the drone pipe on bagpipes, they make one note each and are used as a sort of foundation for the rest of the music.
Like the lute, the theorbo is usually played with the fingers.
The archlute is roughly the same thing as a theorbo, only smaller. Perhaps the LotRO theorbo is actually an archlute. Our theorbo is about as tall as the character, while the real life theorbo is quite notably taller than its player.

Harp

The harp has been a very popular instrument for a very long time. Harpists have been popular in royal courts and country inns since as long as there have been courts and inns.
Harps come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, the most familiar being the concert harp (the gigantic thing with all the scrollwork which you see in orchestras) and the Celtic harp (the smaller and simpler instrument you see in Irish folk bands).
The LotRO harp looks a good deal like a Medieval or Celtic harp, and is about the size of a lap harp. I don’t believe any harp could possibly be played held in one hand the way the LotRO harp is played, but perhaps it could be played standing up if the player used a shoulder strap. Lap harps are played sitting down and are held, not surprisingly, in the player’s lap.
Of all the LotRO instruments, I think the harp has the nicest sound. It’s a midi approximation of a harp, and a rather pleasant approximation at that.

There is a Lossoth reputation woodworker recipe available for a harp called Satakieli (Finnish for nightingale, all the Forochel words are Finnish or modified Finnish). I do not have one myself and so cannot verify this, but I found this thread on the official forums which purports that the Satakieli looks like the basic harp when being used for minstrel skills but has a fancy, blue Lossoth skin which shows up when the Satakieli is being used for player music.

Bagpipes

The varieties of bagpipes in real life are nearly innumerable. It’s as if every country in the world came up with the idea of sticking a flute on a bag of air to produce a continuous, loud sound.
The sort of pipes which come most readily to people’s minds are the iconic Scottish Highland pipes, which are gigantic and very loud. LotRO minstrels, however, are clearly not using highland pipes. LotRO pipes are small, the bag is hardly bigger than the character’s head and the sound is much softer and less harsh than Highland pipes.
I was going to try to figure out exactly which sort of pipes LotRO minstrels are using, but in the interest of getting this article published before MMOs are obsolete, I confined myself to a cursory search. I looked only at European pipes and didn’t bother with the ridiculously obscure ones, which means I sifted through pictures and descriptions of a few hundred different types of pipes. Within these parameters, it seems that LotRO minstrels are playing something very similar to Welsh bagpipes or the German hümmelchen.
LotRO bagpipes don’t sound like any real pipes I’ve ever heard, instead they sound like a Casio 2-octave keyboard. Because of this, they are ideal for annoying the heck out of everyone in earshot, and they pair nicely with the cowbell for impromptu nonsense parties.

Clarinet

The mouthpiece of a LotRO clarinet does resemble that of a real life clarinet, but the resemblance ends there. A real life clarinet is covered with a complicated mass of metal keys, whereas a LotRO clarinet is a simple tube of wood with holes drilled in the top and no keys at all; it looks very much like a recorder. The Clarinet dates from the early 1700s, later than most of the inspirations for Tolkien’s stories and Turbine’s game. The recorder, while thought of today as a children’s instrument, was incredibly popular during the 1500s and early 1600s, and we see much influence from this time period in the game, notably in some fashions (such as the ridiculously awesome brimmed hat) and in the technology of the Shire (the styles of the mills and ploughs, for example).
The sound of the LotRO clarinet is an electronic approximation of some sort of woodwind, and could easily be either a clarinet or a recorder.
For these reasons, I have decided that the LotRO instrument isn’t a clarinet at all, but a misnamed recorder.

Flute

The flute is one of the very oldest instruments in the world. In fact, some of my sources claim that the flute is the oldest instrument in the world (although drums are another contender for that honour). There’s nothing fancy about a flute, it’s just a tube with holes in it.
Many woodwinds are actually types of flutes. In fact, the recorder discussed above is a kind of flute, and the bagpipes are flutes with trappings.
The LotRO flute is some sort of wooden transverse flute (meaning the mouthpiece is on the side of the instrument instead of at the end) and has no keys; it looks roughly like a non-keyed version of the standard concert flute. The sound is an electronic approximation of some sort of high pitched woodwind (it’s the same sound as the clarinetrecorder, only much higher), at its higher ranges it could very well be a piccolo, but the LotRO flute is much too large to be a piccolo so I’ll leave that be.
Taken all in all, and considering that the LotRO “clarinet” is a recorder, I conclude that the LotRO flute is a Renaissance or Medieval wooden flute.

Horn

The LotRO horn looks like a very tiny, extra curvy alpenhorn with holes down the front and sounds like that same toy keyboard from which the LotRO bagpipes borrowed their voice (although it could be argued that the LotRO horn is supposed to sound like a saxophone, and I think it sounds like a very bad shawm).
The real life instrument known as the horn is a brass instrument, it’s a coil of tubing with plenty of valves and keys and it looks and sounds nothing like the LotRO horn. The LotRO horn is a wood instrument and I was hard pressed to find its real life equivalent. If I set aside the word “horn” and looked for large, low pitched woodwinds, the basset horn, alto clarinet, oboe, bassoon and shawm were all plausible candidates. But the basset horn and alto clarinet have far too many keys, the shawm is straight instead of curved, the oboe has keys and is straight, and the bassoon is straight, has keys and doubles back on itself in such a way that the mouthpiece projects from the side of the instrument.
After a great deal of digging, I was able to turn up a rather obscure instrument called the cornett or cornetto (the more familiar cornet is a completely different affair). The cornett is actually a type of shawm and is sometimes straight, sometimes a bit curved and occasionally S-shaped like the LotRO horn. It was a popular woodwind during the Renaissance and then, like so much else, it faded into such obscurity that even someone like me, who enjoys Renaissance music, didn’t know what the thing was. I have to thank Turbine for introducing me to the cornett (although I suspect it was an unwitting introduction).

Cowbell

Real life cowbells are bells which are worn by cows so that a herder can tell where his cows are from a long way off.
In music, cowbells are a novelty instrument. You just take a cowbell (or several cowbells of various sizes and tones) and ring it in time to the music.
Some cowbells are clapperless, meaning they don’t have the bit of metal suspended inside, and are hit with a stick instead of rung. This is the sort used in LotRO.
Of all the LotRO instruments, the cowbell is the closest in sound to its real life counterpart, they both sound like hollow clanging metal.
A real life clapperless cowbell has a short range of pitch, different tones can be produced depending on where the bell is hit with the stick or where the player’s hand is one the bell. The LotRO cowbell, however, only produces a single tone.
The moor cowbell looks and sounds just like the other cowbells but is held above the character’s head whereas the basic and Lothlorien cowbells are held at the character’s chest.
The LotRO cowbell with its signature atrocious din is a staple for annoying your fellowship and reminding them that they have a minstrel in their midst.

Drum

The LotRO drum is a small, hand held drum with the drumhead on one side of the shallow frame and a crossbar on the other side, it is played by striking it with a double-headed drumstick. This is also a description of the bodhrán; a quick glance at the LotRO drum shows that it must be bodhrán, there aren’t any other contenders.
The bodhrán is the traditional drum used in Irish Folk Music, it’s the drum you see at ren fests and hear in almost any recording by an Irish Folk or Celtic band.
Oddly, although drums have been used in traditional Irish music since forever, and the bodhrán itself is a good few hundred years old, it did not become a staple of Irish folk music until the 1960’s (The Chieftains helped with that, my thanks to them); before then it was merely a noisemaker.
Most real life drums create a sort of pounding din, but the bodhrán has a remarkably smooth and almost lyric tone. The LotRO drum, regrettably, sounds like an assortment of percussion instruments and noisemakers including a bass drum, a tambourine, a gourd and a pounding din.

Update 5 addendum!
(added 16th December 2011)

Pibgorn
Update 5, released only a few days ago, gave us a new instrument to play around with, the pibgorn.

If you thought theorbos and shawms were obscure, well, theys are obscure but they’ve got nothing on pibgorns. I like to think I know a good many obscure and archaic instruments, but even I only found out about the pibgorn earlier this year. I stumbled across it while I was researching obscure woodwinds for the horn section of this very article.
The pibgorn is a Welsh hornpipe, and the word means simple “pipe horn” (leeks, pibgorns, the Dunlending language — someone at Turbine has been reading a lot about Wales). The instrument looks like a wooden flute with cattle horns stuck on either end. The smaller horn is a mouthpiece, you blow into it and it funnels the air through the reed. The larger horn serves as an amplifier.

A real pibgorn  sounds somewhat like a bagpipe with not unpleasant hints of kazoo and harmonica.  As for how the LotRO pibgorn sounds,  lotrostrategery  said it “sounds part synth, part violin, part stepping on cats”. There’s also something screwy with the scale, a few of the notes are not the notes they should be, but I’ve bug reported it and I’m hoping it will be fixed soon.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Eler
    Jul 31, 2011 @ 01:19:48

    Well put and interesting :)) Good Job :)))

    Reply

  2. Your Fav Hobbit
    Jul 31, 2011 @ 02:50:06

    Interesting and quite a fun read.

    Little LotRO fact with the Lute. For the first year (or maybe even more) no matter what instrument a Minstrel equipped, in game animations would show and “sound” like the Lute. It was a welcome relief to Minis everywhere when they finally patched it with the animations/sounds for the rest of the instruments that we now enjoy today.

    A real Harp is indeed quite the instrument. I have had the opportunity to see a live performance of such on a few occasions. I am unsure if it would be a full concert sized one, and in fact I doubt it was. But it was a floor standing one that the user sat in front of and leaned towards oneself to play. Like for anyone untrained in something, it possesses a certain level of magical/wondrous appeal to witness such an instrument up close and personally. Naturally in my curiosity I engaged the instrument’s owner in conversation and from that found a source of some lovely new music. Check it out here: http://www.harpchickcanada.com/ if you’d like. 🙂 Now I have to find a Forochel rep’d woodworker…

    Cowbell comment… do Cows really ‘move’ around enough to set off a cowbell so that a herder, at a distance, would be able to hear it? These things we’ll never know. 🙂

    And in closing, what Time Zone is this website in? It’s not Sunday yet!! 😀

    Reply

  3. Gerard Gouault
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 02:14:42

    re: Cowbell
    I have heard them in Switzerland. The herd usually has a collection of tuned bells and yes.. You can hear them from very far away. Because the cowbells are huge and attached to a leather collar, they hang down just under the cow’s mouth and ring when the animal is grazing.
    I have seen collection of Cowbells ranging from the very large Bass (about 18 inches across) to the tiny high note ones.

    Reply

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