Instruments of the Dwarves...and Gnomes


Staff member
When most people think about what Dwarves or Gnomish musicians (usually their PC bards) use for instruments, I’ve noticed there’s a strong tendency to pick bagpipes or some kind of frame drum.

But there’s a lot of instruments out there thatnare naturals for beings who are so familiar with hammer, forge, and fire. With stone and metal. With engineering.

In fact, this idea first popped into my head when I was playing a Dwarven Warlock in 4Ed, and the Shadow Walk ability was jokingly described as “Dwarven capoeira”. Instantly inspired, I responded that his clan did indeed enjoy steel drums.

I mean...why not? What is a steel drum if not a modified circular shield?

Some are well known instruments of old. Others are more modern inventions, but might nonetheless fit those cultures. I’d like to explore them all.

So post videos of acoustic instruments, old or modern, Dwarves or Gnomes might like and could create.

I’ll start with some modern ones, like playing pipes as a percussion instrument.

Or the Yaybahar, an instrument which combines percussion and bowing to deliver unearthly tones:
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Staff member
The idiophone family of Instruments would seem a natural. This first video shows the differences between the main members of the family:

But then, there’s the lithophone!

Ralif Redhammer

The band Kaiku uses a kantele and sings songs about the Kalevala. I got to see them live years ago and they were great. So fun and energetic.

My vote goes for the hammered dulcimer. I could totally hear it echoing through the halls of a dwarven cavern.

I picked a kantele ( Kantele - Wikipedia ) as my dwarven bard’s instrument. The Finnish legend of making one from the jawbone of a giant pike made me think of dwarves making them from the bones of underdark monsters.


Staff member
Another one for the Gnomes..the Pyrophone!

There are a lot of variations on these out there, including some that vary tube length, and others that change notes by dropping and raising tubes over flames. Here’s a sample:


aramis erak

For Dwarves, I've always assumed the woodwinds get restricted to metal or bone bodied versions.
A metal bagpipe sounds different from a wood one... the same kind of difference as tinwhistle vs blokflöte.
All-metal lutes have a nifty sound... but not as clearly different as the winds.

Of course the dwarves have brass aplenty. Noting that when the tech is comparable, human brass was tunable (adjusting the length) but only played its tonic, and the specific harmonics from that tonic; adding playing slides (as opposed to tuning slides) in the 14th or 15th C, and valves in the 19th C... but of course, dwarves and gnomes will make valves in a D&D style setting.

metal pitched percussion, too.

Now, gnomes... on krynn, them damned tinkers will built air-elemental powered calliopes, sometimes self-propelled, and the typical tinker bard is going to be using a late 19th C style 1-gnome band...

Non-tinkers, lots of wood instruments, often hidden. Lots of mellow stuff that can be mistaken for animal calls.

And, of course, balilaika and banjos. In a variety of shapes and sizes.


Heretic of The Seventh Circle
my favorite hurdy gurdy player is
Anna Murphy of Cellar Darling and Eluveitie. Eluveitie uses a wide range of traditional instruments to make rad metal songs, but I prefer Cellar Darling as a bard in total.


Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The Harpejji is a rad instrument that could be used by gnomes for sure!

Here it is being used by Walk Off The Earth to cover I can’t Feel My Face.