Instruments of the LOTR Soundtrack



Since Rivendell has a continued relationship with Men, Shore did not assign any unique instruments to its music. Lothlórien, on the other hand, has remained separate and aloof from those outside its boundaries. So more exotic instruments were used to convey this sense of mystery. Like much of the music, the instruments are part of a rich texture of sounds and can be difficult to make out. In the audio samples below, I provide an example of the instrument from outside the score followed by one from the score.


HS COMMENT (FOTR Audio Commentary)
HS COMMENT (TTT Audio Commentary)



Ney Flute




The monochord is an ancient instrument, dating to prehistoric times. From A Brief History of the Monochord we learn that...

The monochord consisted of a single string stretched over a sound box, with the strings held taut by pegs or weights on either end. It used a moveable bridge to change pitch, and was usually plucked. It was used as an instrument as early 300 BC by Euclid, and as a scientific instrument by Pythagoras as early as the 6th century BC. No one knows when it first appeared, as its origins extend into prehistory.

This one stringed instrument is not what we hear in the Lord of the Rings, however. Today, the monochord is used in sound therapy. A monochord table is a table that has a box under which multiple strings are strung. Each string is tuned to the same note and, as a person lies on the table, the strings are strummed, producing a drone like sound. The image at left is Sonia Slany playing her instrument. (from here)


The monochord provided a drone under Lothlórien music and was heard as the unconscious Aragorn floated down the river in Rohan.


Sonia Slany played a 50 string monochord for FOTR, TTT and ROTK.

1. Sample from Japanese Geisha drone, Anthropology, Sonia Slany

2. Sample from CR_FOTR, Disc 3, Track 2, Caras Galadhon 0:00-0:12 (metallic shimmering behind melody)

3. Sample from CR-TTT, Disc 3, Track 11, Arwen's Fate 0:00-0:14


Interestingly, Pythagoras' figures back into Tolkien. From A Brief History of the Monochord we learn more about Pythagoras and the monochord.

Pythagoras' study of ratios on the monochord led philosophers to believe that these ratios also governed the movement of planets and other cosmic matters. This provided the bridge between the world of physical experience and numerical relationships, giving birth to mathematical physics. In addition, this elevated music to one of the highest intellectual pursuits. Furthermore, since the "perfection of sounds" could now be revealed by numbers, all simple numeric ratios could be visualized as sounds. Kepler's "harmony of the spheres" is based on this, as well as harmonically resounding architecture. If the visible proportions of a building can be expressed in numeric ratios, then their relationships can be "heard" as chords. Like the "golden section" of architecture, musical harmony "imposes order in the hearts and minds of men by virtue of their simple, natural relationships". This also helped support the baroque idea that music was a reflection of the divine order (unless you were a minstrel, perhaps).


According to Verlyn Flieger, Pythagoras' concept of 'celestial harmony' was incorporated into his creation story, the Ainulindalë.

See: Splintered Light, Logos and Languages in Tolkien's World by Verlyn Flieger, Chapter 7, pg. 57-8)

Ney, Nei or Nay Flute

One of the oldest forms of flute is the ney, the endblown flute played in slightly varying forms from Morocco to Pakistan. (Howard Shore refers to it as a Berber instrument.) Each culture has it's own key of flute, it's own method of playing and it's own style of music.


The ney flute was used for Lothlórien music.


Jan Hendrickse and Alan Doherty played the ney flute in FOTR. The instrument is not listed and no artist is credited with playing it for either TTT or ROTK.

1. Sample from The Silk Road Project

Since I can't 'hear' the flute in the score, it's hard to know what sort of sound sample to provide. The flute can sound quite different depending on the sort of flute it is.

2. Sample from CR-FOTR, Disc 3, Caras Galadhon, Track 2, 3:12-3:23 (AS-FOTR: Doubling the Low String Melody)

In the spot given in the AS-FOTR as a 'listening example', I can't really discern the sound of a flute. Perhaps your ears are better than mine.


The rhaita is an double-reeded, oboe like instrument from North Africa. (Howard Shore refers to it as a Berber instrument and Doug Adams makes one reference to a Moroccan rhaita.) There are many similar types of these double-reed instruments which can be called raita, rhita, ghaita, and ghaita. The sound is loud and spectacular.


Although the instrument is strongly associated with Mordor and Sauron, Shore states it was also used for Lothlórien. HS COMMENT (FOTR Audio Commentary)  The annotated scores do not mention this so I'm not sure if Shore misspoke or if it is used in Lothlórien


Jan Hendrickse played the rhaita in FOTR, TTT, and ROTK.


The Indian sarangi, like the dilruba, is carved from wood with a goat skin or parchment soundboards. Both instruments have main and sympathetic strings over which a bow is drawn. Instead of stopping the strings with the balls of the finger (as a violin or dilruba player would) the sarangi player uses the sides of the finger nails.


The sarangi was used for Lothlórien music.


Sylvia Hallett played sarangi in FOTR, TTT and ROTK and Dermot Crehan played in TTT.

1. Sample from Thumri, Ustad Sultan Khan, Sarangi: The Music of India

2. Sample from CR-TTT Disc 2, Track 12, The Story Foretold, 2:42-3:03 (same melody as the choir)