(Note: The following article contains descriptions of fanmade theories. It only reflects the opinions of the writer and of the architects of said theories, and not ZeldaInformer as a whole. This article relates to songs that are played by characters in-game. It is not about background music or theme music.)
Songs and musical instruments have played a part in Zelda games ever since the Recorder in the original Legend of Zelda. They have been used to travel through time, clear obstacles, teleport, and cast other various spells. However, where do these songs get their powers? What separates these songs from regular music? What role does the instrument play in regards to the abilities of the song? And just how important are songs to the world of Hyrule? These songs are quite likely prayers to the gods of Hyrule. When Link plays a certain melody, he asks the gods or lesser deities for their help and power. Further examination of these songs also reveals that the instrument he uses affects the level of ‘spells’ he can receive from the gods.
Prayers to the Gods
There are multiple instances that suggest that songs are used as prayers to specific gods or deities. Majora’s Mask shows this during a flashback just before the moon crashes into Termina at the end of the first three-day cycle.
If Link plays the Song of Time, then the Goddess of Time will hear him and turn back time before the moon face-smashes him. The fact that the effect varies by situation is what makes these songs seem more like prayers and not the actual facilitator of the spell. Once again, the Song of Time is the best example. As previously mentioned, it will send Link back to the Dawn of the First Day in Majora’s Mask. It can also be modified to play the Inverted Song of Time and the Song of Double Time, which slows down and speeds up time respectively. In Ocarina of Time, Link can open the Door of Time by playing the Song of Time with the three Spiritual Stones. Then if Link plays the Song of Time near one of the blue ‘boxes’ with the Door of Time symbol, the box will teleport elsewhere, typically so Link can jump across some large gap, or to move the box from blocking his way. It would seem strange for a regular spell to vary so frequently depending on conditions. It makes more sense to say that the Song of Time is an ambiguous call for help to the Goddess of Time.
Songs are not only used to pray to the great Goddesses, but can ask for help from lesser deities. This is also prominently featured in Majora’s Mask. For example, the Oath to Order can be played to summon the four guardian giants. Another example, the Song of Soaring calls upon the owl sage(1) Kaepora Gaebora to transport Link between owl statues. In both A Link to the Past and The Minish Cap, Link can use a flute to summon a bird to assist in a similar manner by flying him to certain areas.
However, The Wind Waker most prominently shows the aspect of praying to lesser deities. Melodies are inscribed on the shrines of the wind gods, Zephos and Cyclos. Using the Wind Waker to conduct the songs allows Link to control the winds. This is a prime example since the actual gods appear and tell Link that they’re lending him their help.
Origin of the Songs
Many of the songs in the world of Zelda are from days long past. Zelda’s Lullaby in Ocarina of Time, for example, is supposedly passed down from generation to generation in the Royal Family. However, Ocarina of Time does give us some insight into the nature of their creation. The ghosts of the Royal Family’s composers, Sharp and Flat, describe some of this mysterious process.
One might think that the magical songs were given to the Hylians by the Goddesses, which may be true depending on the song. After all, with the exception of the Oocca from Twilight Princess, Hylians are said to be the closest to the gods and that their large, pointed ears allowed them to hear their messages. Regardless, the quote from the composer brothers may suggest that these magical songs could be created by mortals. In this case, they refer to the Sun’s Song. The first quote may make it seem like the Song of Time, but the second one describes something more similar to the effects of the Sun’s Song. Besides that, the Song of Time seems to have much more ancient roots. Either way, the use of “study” in the first quote implies that the composer brothers went through some process to figure out how to control time. Then there is the fact that they are composers and not historians. It seems to reject the idea that Sharp and Flat looked into Hyrule’s history to find a record of a time-controlling song bestowed upon the Hylians by the gods. However, this does not speak for all songs in the Zelda world. It merely suggests that Hylians are able to create magical songs to the gods. The gods may have taught other songs themselves.
The Use of Instruments
Many instruments are played throughout the Zelda games. There is the Ocarina of Time, the Wind Waker, and the Eight Instruments of the Siren, for instance. The games seem to suggest that the potency and effect of a song is directly affected by the instrument used to play it, though one is not necessarily needed to produce an effect. Additionally, certain songs must be played on a specific instrument to produce a desired effect.
Look back at the quotes from the ghostly composers, Sharp and Flat. They claimed that they found a way to control time with the tones of ocarinas. By specifically using the term “ocarinas”, it can be inferred that one was needed to perform the effect. Furthermore, Ocarina of Time adds to this theory yet again with the Ocarina of Time itself. The Ocarina is needed to open the Door of Time blocking the Master Sword. If this wasn’t the case, then why would Princess Zelda throw it to Link when she was being chased by Ganondorf? He already had the Fairy Ocarina. This is because the Fairy Ocarina did not have the power to pray to the Goddess of Time. The Ocarina of Time did, and was created with that purpose in mind. The Ocarina of Time is shown to have multiple magical properties such as the ability to change form along with Link in Majora’s Mask.
Other examples include the Wind Waker and its wind-controlling talents, or the flute from Adventure of Link that wakes the River Devil. Sometimes though, Link’s lone instrument is not enough. One example is the Eight Instruments of the Siren mentioned earlier, which must all be combined to wake the Wind Fish in Link’s Awakening. There are also occasions when Link must perform a duet such as in the Wind Waker and Spirit Tracks. In the case of The Wind Waker, the two Sages who protect the power of the Master Sword are needed to restore it to its original power. In Spirit Tracks, the Lokomo are needed to energize the Spirit Tracks. If the songs are indeed prayers then the Sages and Lokomo can be looked at as facilitators themselves. They are able to focus Link’s songs for a specific purpose, calling out for the restoration of the Master Sword and the Spirit Tracks, respectively. Combining multiple instruments does lead to different effects, but sometimes an instrument is not needed.
Twilight Princess shows a different perspective. Link can use reeds and grasses to call his horse, Epona, and hawks respectively. And when Wolf Link talks to a hawk, it explains that it is compelled to do anything the player of the song orders, such as being launched at Wolf Link as a projectile. One might argue, however, that this is not a magical effect as animals respond to certain calls all the time. Wolf Link’s howls, on the other hand, can produce magical effects as shown by the summoning of the Hero’s Spirit who trains Link.
Twilight Princess shows that songs do not necessarily need an instrument to produce an effect. Although, it is not necessarily clear whether only Wolf Link’s howls can summon of the Hero’s Spirit. Conversely, Ocarina of Time gives examples of songs that do need a specific instrument to produce an effect. It is safe to assume that the need for an instrument varies depending on the song.
Songs are a cornerstone of Hylian culture. They are used to identify a messenger and unlock the Door of Time, two aspects that are obviously tied to the Royal Family of Hyrule. In the majority of Zelda games they provide vital help. Just what gives power to these songs is never clearly stated. It is arguable that the songs work as prayers to gods and that their effects are bestowed by the respective gods. These songs, while divine in power, are able to be created by mortals. Thirdly, certain songs require a specific instrument to perform a desired effect, such as the Ocarina of Time.
Songs permeate Hylian culture so deeply and have so many versatile uses, that it is not hard to speculate that they could affect the very nature of the Zelda universe itself. The games do not give in depth explanations of Hylian culture and religion past the roles of the three Goddesses, nor do they hint at the possible evolution over the course of the timeline.
There are many spirits, fairies, and otherworldly creatures, yet they are all disjointed and separated into small groups. Analyzing more songs and associating them each with a theme might very well reveal connections that went unnoticed, or help confirm those connections which lack substantial evidence. It is unclear whether Nintendo will ever release a Legend of Zelda game that will delve any deeper into the mysteries of the series’ songs. Until then, one can only try to piece together the clues scattered across the games, waiting to be found.