The Dothraki

Introduction

The Dothraki musical tradition is one of the most recent to arise in Essos with only a couple hundred years of history, none of which are recorded anywhere, as it is a purely oral tradition.

Transcribing Dothraki music is quite challenging as there are no Westerosi ways to convey the multiple sound qualities of the Dothraki drums (or any none Westerosi drums for that matter). I will refrain from notating any of this music until I find an approach that works well enough. In the meantime, verbal description will have to suffice.

Scales

Melodic instruments are used by the Dothraki but there is no single one instrument of this kind that can be truly said to belong to the Dothraki people, as most of them happen to have been acquired as loot from their innumerable conquests and therefore change from Khalasar to Khalasar.

In spite of this, sung melodies based around very simple pentatonic scales (fig. a) are present in all Khalasars. These vocal melodies mostly have a secondary role to the drums and calling them songs can be misleading as the melodies tend to be drowned out by the drums.

Instruments

Just like for anything else, the Dothraki must rely on their horses to make their musical instruments, and so the hides of their mounts are used to create an assortment of frame drums. These frame drums require very little wood to make, of which there is not abundance in the Dothraki sea in the first place, making it difficult to create a standard size of drum. The lightness and portability of these drums make them ideal for the nomadic life-style of the Dothraki, who even play them while on horseback. The skin of all the drums comes from the hide of horses, which is stretched only over one side of the rim.

Children of both sexes play the same instrument: a small frame drum not much bigger than the span of one of both their hands combined. Upon reaching adulthood the Dothraki leave behind these simple frame drums and split into two groups depending on their sex. Men who have defeated an enemy in battle and thus braided bells to their hair as well, are allowed to play a large frame drum with bells attached to the inner side of the rim. This drum can be as large as a man’s arm and weigh a considerable amount due to the many bells attached to it. The deep and loud sound tends to overpower all other instruments in the ensemble thus receiving the name Khal Sado (Khal’s Drum).

Women who have bled for the first time are allowed to play a larger frame drum, although not as large as men’s, with a snare spanning the length of the frame drum, which buzzes against the skin of the drum when played.

Another instrument with a special significance is the Dothrakhqoyi Sado (Bloodrider’s drum). Much smaller than almost any other drum, its small size allows for a high tuning of the skin that makes it easily heard even in a large ensemble. The rim of the Bloodrider’s drum has pairs of jingles all along its circumference instead of the bells that give it a manly quality but without directly competing with the sound of the Khal’s drum. The symbolic significance of the size and sound quality of the Bloodrider’s drum mimics the role of the bloodrider in real life when a Dothraki puts aside his aspirations to become Khal when taking the role of bloodrider.

The social hierarchy of the Dothraki drums is present in most music performed by the Dothraki (fig. b), with the women, the bloodriders, and the Khal all entering at different times.

Fig. b

Forms

Traditionally songs are passed down from generation to generation within a Khalasar.  Sometimes, when a Khalasar is exterminated the songs created by that Khalasar are lost forever, but on the other hand songs can be normally preserved and passed from Khalasar to Khalasar when the women and children are taken as slaves from a defeated Khalasar. This practice has created a more or less cohesive set of traditional songs common to most Khalasars since the times of Khal Mengo. The most important of these traditional songs is “The Stallion Who Mounts the World”, a piece depicting the prophesized Khal who will unite all the Khalasars.

~ Turn the page to The Lhazareen ~