What is the Hurdy Gurdy and How Does it Work?

what is the hurdy gurdy and how does it work

Image: Wikimedia Commons

What is the Hurdy Gurdy?

The hurdy-gurdy is an instrument with a very long history, and it’s experiencing a resurgence in popularity in both America and Europe. Find out what it is, what makes it special, and how it works.

A Medieval Instrument

The hurdy-gurdy has been around at least since the 15th century. In France, it’s called the vielle a roue. It didn’t get the name hurdy gurdy until the 1800’s, and that occurred in England.

It’s a stringed instrument, and it makes music when you turn a crank. The crank turns a wheel inside that rubs against the strings like a bow does on a violin.

Here’s a diagram of one:

In the 13th century, it was commonly used to play folk and dance music. It was known as a peasant’s instrument. It was very popular all over Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Under Louis XIV’s reign (1660-1715), though, it made its way into the upper class and even appeared in the royal court. Composers such as Vivaldi and Mozart wrote music for the hurdy-gurdy.

During the French Revolution, its popularity declined, and it was once again just a street instrument.

The Hurdy Gurdy’s Music

The hurdy-gurdy makes a unique timbre that kind of sounds like a cross between a violin, a kazoo, and a set of bagpipes.

Here’s a video talking about how the hurdy-gurdy makes its unique-sounding music:

The Hurdy Gurdy Today

The popularity of the hurdy-gurdy has increased not only in America but in many countries in Europe as well as the Slavic countries.

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A person who plays the hurdy-gurdy is called a hurdy-gurdyist, or a viellist.

There’s an annual hurdy-gurdy festival in Washington state every September.

There are several styles and shapes of hurdy-gurdies, and there are even electronic ones now.

If you want to learn to play the hurdy-gurdy, Olympic Musical Instruments in Washington makes them, but it’ll cost around $2800 for one. Hurdy Gurdy Crafters make them, too, and prices start at around $1500. Alterwind in Oregon also makes them, and prices range from $1000 to over $4000.

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Michele Swensen is a writer and web designer who loves learning, animals, writing, reading, and playing the piano. She’s a member of Mensa and a college graduate.

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Michele Swensen is a writer and web designer who loves learning, animals, writing, reading, and playing the piano. She’s a member of Mensa and a college graduate.
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