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.
USE IN SOUNDTRACK
The monochord provided a drone
under Lothlórien music and was
heard as the unconscious Aragorn floated down the river
played a 50 string monochord for FOTR, TTT and ROTK.
1. Sample from Japanese
Anthropology, Sonia Slany
2. Sample from CR_FOTR, Disc
3, Track 2, Caras Galadhon 0:00-0:12
(metallic shimmering behind
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).
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)