World-building: Musical Notes

 Comp-lute score close-up

The hunt is on. Somewhere in my files is the key to what notes on the bearing score I created mean. Notes on notes. Not how they work—that’s already in two published stories plus two more in progress set in the same milieu.

I love music, but my musical ability usually falls in the please-do-something-else-dear category. My only success is in learning to play a mountain dulcimer (a forgiving instrument for my limited repertoire) and a kalimba (ditto previous aside).

Otherwise…well, my singing voice has wonderful range—distressed cat yowl to grumpy bear growl—and probably qualifies as audio assault. Bam! The judge’s gavel echoes, and his sonorous, melodious voice pronounces the sentence: permanent house-arrest with duct tape for my mouth if I even attempt Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Relationships with most other musical instruments were brief and/or disheartening. Two months of accordion lessons ended when my dad got mumps and the teacher refused to return to our house. Guitar efforts took a lengthy hiatus when a chair leg impaled my guitar during a move. My teeth were too bad to continue clarinet lessons in 6th grade. I can annoy the dogs with my ocarina, but I’ve never advanced beyond an almost recognizable rendition of do-re-mi. And so on.

Still, the principles of music aren’t foreign to me, and time spent learning them wasn’t wasted.

Numerous authors incorporate music into their story worlds, whether this world (as in Anne Rice’s Violin or Elaine Bergstom’s Nocturne) or another milieu (J.R.R Tolkein’s Middle Earth, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern sub-series about Harper Hall, Louise Cooper’s Indigo series).

The writing books on worldbuilding have much to say about developing geography, history, religion, politics, but when it comes to culture, music rarely receives more than a paragraph or so (if any) about including it in a milieu. How strange is that? Consider how music is present in every aspect of our own lives even when it’s only somewhere in the background.

World-building notes now incorporate music as a major cultural aspect for any milieu I create.

Thus, in the pre-Scattering milieu of the AiFanir, melodies of harp-ships ring out across the oceans even as their notes serve as a type of sonar to judge water depths. Navigators on those ships plot bearings by music, and one learns to travel the bearing scores of leylines, a blend of music and pseudoscience.
My milieu of Kamanthia reveals musical similarities and differences as a character travels there. It also briefly explores non-human music (a stone creature singing?).

Music is in several of my stand-alone short stories, too.
The many voices in “Shell” are punctuated with snatches of sea shanties and ballads.
“Étude on the River” features the main character’s love of music and his concertina.
“Flipside” has a dj spinning strange but somehow familiar tunes.

I can’t make much music myself, but I can certainly write about it. And maybe make my worlds just a bit more well-rounded.

(Thinking about trying percussion. Bongo drums? Tambourine?…)

Leyfarers and Wayfarers is at \

Under Every Moon is at

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