Old Albic music

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Old Albic music is the music of the Elves during the era of the Commonwealth of the Elves. Most of our knowledge of this music tradition stems from a treatise on music found in the Tresco Library.

Some basic terminology

The Old Albic word for music is dindis, the corresponding verb ('to play music/an instrument') is dindi; a musical instrument is accordingly a dindil and a musician a dindera. Laras means 'song'; lara is the verb 'to sing', and a singer a larera. A note is a dinding, while a melody is a lir and a drone or bass line a dram.

Pitches are described as mach 'big', i.e. low, or pich 'small', i.e. high. This stems from the observation that small things usually make high sounds and big things low sounds. Dynamics is expressed with nard 'loud' and sand 'soft'.


Old Albic music uses a scale based on the harmonic series, as can be produced by a natural trumpet player or overtone singer, with eight steps to the octave.

Pitch ratio 1/1 9/8 5/4 11/8 3/2 13/8 7/4 15/8 2/1
Cents 0 203.9 386.3 551.3 702.0 840.5 968.8 1088.2 1200.0
Closest note in 12ET C D E F/F# G Ab/A Bb B C
Harmonics 1   2
2   3   4
4   5   6   7   8
8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

The sharpened fourth, which is half way towards a tritone, gives Old Albic music a somewhat lydian sonority.


The basic unit of rhythm (tuphus) is a bar or 'breath' (sulus) which consists of twelve atomic units of time (blag, lit. 'blink'). Each note (dinding) is 1, 2, 3 or 4 blegim long. The simplest rhythms, such as 3-3-3-3 and 2-2-2-2-2-2 (the numbers indicate the lengths of the notes) are most common, especially in folk songs, but more complex rhythms such as 1-2-4-2-3 also occur.


Texture differs between folk music and art music. Folk music is heterophonic. There is one instrument (often a voice) performing the melody, while the other instruments play basically the same melody but embellish it in various ways, and drums mark the fundamental rhythm and sections. Art music, in contrast, is polyphonic and marked by intricate counterpoint, especially four-part vocal music.


There is a number of known instruments. They are classified as thringinim ('stringed': chordophones), phlatenim ('skinned': membranophones), pathenim ('solid': idiophones), and sulynim ('blown': aerophones).


The gidir is a 25-stringed harp similar to a Celtic harp, with an ambitus of three octaves. The naphar is a long-necked lute with two strings usually tuned to the same pitch; the left string functions as a drone (dram), while the right string is the melody (lir) string and fingered. (There have been less traditional ways of playing it where both strings are fingered.) It is a late addition to the Old Albic instrumentary, allegedly originating in Egypt and brought to the Elves by the Phoenicians. It is mainly used in folk music, but has acquired a major role in music theory as the instrument on which the relationship between string length and pitch is demonstrated (like the monochord in Greek music theory). The clithigidir is a stringed keyboard instrument similar to a harpsichord.


This category consists of several types of drums.

The tumbur is a cylindrical drum similar to a tom-tom. There are various sizes of tumbyrim. The cruph is a kettle drum (also in various sizes), and the bandar is similar to the Irish bodhrán.


The balang is a xylophone with 25 keys spanning three octaves. The dambar is an arrangement of 17 bronze bells tuned to the tones of the musical scale, spanning two octaves; they are struck with a mallet from the outside.


The siphil is a flute similar to a recorder. There are four sizes corresponding to the four voice range classes (see below). The cran is a reed pipe with a single reed and a cylindrical bore. Like the siphil, the cran comes in four sizes. Siphilim and crenim have tone holes for the scale discussed above. The blarcran is a bagpipe, with a chanter (lir) and a drone pipe (dram).

The chras is a horn, made from a cattle horn. The ulur is a bronze trumpet. Horns and trumpets have neither tone holes nor valves and thus produce only natural tones.

The siphilir is an organ with labial pipes; the cranar is an organ with reed pipes. Both organs are the size of a small upright piano, with bellows operated with the feet.

Vocal music

As in many cultures, vocal music is rated above instrumental music, and the human voice (thema) considered the most expressive and most beautiful instrument. The Elvish music tradition distinguishes four vocal range classes: pichesare 'high woman' (soprano), macasare 'low woman' (alto), pichendaro 'high man' (tenor), macandaro 'low man' (bass). These four voice types are often combined in a voice quartet.

The most highly regarded musical art among the Elves is overtone singing (léalaras, lit. 'spirit-song'). This art usually stuns listeners who do not know what the singers are doing, and has led to the common misconception that the Elves have two pairs of vocal chords (while in fact, their vocal tract is in no way different from that of other humans). The fundamental tone is called the dram ('drone, bass line') and the overtone the lir ('melody').