"I feel as if I was inside a song"The Presence of Music in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Songs and Poems set to Music

The Presence of Music in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Songs and Poems set to Music

Hobbits routinely play instruments, as it seems. When Bilbo holds his party at Bag End, he distributes musical crackers, which produced small musical instruments “of perfect make and enchanting tone” (LotR, 29). These instruments are supposedly of Dwarven origin, so we cannot say whether or not the Hobbits themselves built such instruments, but they were certainly able to play them very well. Some Hobbits formed an impromptu orchestra and began playing dance tunes, which not only proves that they were able to play, but also that there was a good number of instrumental music regularly played by Hobbits, otherwise they would not have been able to play together without any rehearsal. This goes in line with the description of Hobbit music detailed before: If this music was somehow similar in its build to modern folk or bluegrass music, such an impromptu performance would have posed no difficulties.

We can also assume that either the crackers did not contain any instruments that were not regularly played by Hobbits, or if they did, that no Hobbit would have taken any instrument not known to him when forming said orchestra. There were “trumpets and horns, pipes and flutes, and other musical instruments” (LotR, 29), so those instruments were common among Hobbits, as it seems. We know that Hobbits liked merry dance tunes and often played in inns, so the "other instruments" most likely would be some sort of bass instruments (for example Viols), small drums (comparable to the bodrhán, maybe) and possibly even plucked instruments. Lutes are mentioned in the course of the First Music, so maybe those were common, too. Hobbits would prefer rather small instruments because of their body height, so we can safely exclude double basses or other similarly large instruments, possibly even guitars. With the average Hobbit being about two to four feet tall, a very small guitar would be necessary. Hobbits may therefore use instruments resembling mandolins for chordal accompaniment as well as for playing melodic phrases. Fiddles seem to be identical to what we know as fiddles (regular violins, sometimes with a slightly flatter bridge), so other instruments may as well. If they are, the "Hobbit mandolin" would have the same tuning as the fiddle, making it easy to learn and play for someone familiar with the either instrument.