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The Hurdy-gurdy Forum was started as an online forum for hurdy-gurdy enthusiasts on the 31st of May 2006 by Scott Marshall, then a newcomer to hurdy-gurdies. Although there was an existing hurdy-gurdy mailing list in the US, Scott wanted to contact and meet players from the UK. Somehow the idea of meeting up grew into the First UK Hurdy-gurdy Festival, which took place on the 20th-22nd of April 2007 in Lancaster. Ever since the Forum has been growing and thriving, and we have new subscribers every week! It has become an important hub for friendship, discussion, resources and trade for hurdy-gurdy fans worldwide.



How it works


The hurdy gurdy (also known as a wheel fiddle) is a stringed musical instrument in which the strings are sounded by means of a rosined wheel which the strings of the instrument pass over. This wheel, turned with a crank, functions much like a violin bow, making the instrument essentially a mechanical violin.

Melodies are played on a keyboard that presses tangents (small wedges, usually made of wood) against one or more of these strings to change their pitch. Like most other acoustic string instruments, it has a soundboard to make the vibration of the strings audible. Most hurdy gurdies have multiple "drone strings" which provide a constant pitch accompaniment to the melody, resulting in a sound similar to that of bagpipes. However, most hurdy-gurdies have a unique feature, the buzzing bridge (commonly called the dog, which is an asymmetrical bridge that rests under a drone string on the sound board. When the wheel is accelerated, one foot of the bridge lifts up from the soundboard and vibrates, creating a buzzing sound.



Gurdy parts

Due to the prominence of the French tradition, many instrument and performance terms used in English are commonly taken from the French, and players generally need to know these terms to read relevant literature. Such common terms include the following:

  • trompette: the highest-pitched drone string that features the buzzing bridge
  • mouche: the drone string pitched a fourth or fifth below the trompette
  • petit bourdon: the drone string pitched an octave below the trompette
  • gros bourdon: the drone string pitched an octave below the mouche
  • chanterelle(s): melody string(s), also called chanters or chanter strings in English
  • chien: (literally "dog"), the buzzing bridge
  • tirant: a small peg set in the instrument’s tailpiece that is used to control the sensitivity of the buzzing bridge




The hurdy gurdy is thought to have originated in either Western Europe or the Middle East some time prior to the eleventh century A.D. One of the earliest forms of the hurdy gurdy was the organistrum, a large instrument with a guitar-shaped body and a long neck in which the keys were set (covering one diatonic octave). The organistrum had a single melody string and two drone strings which ran over a common bridge and a relatively small wheel. Due to its size, the organistrum was played by two people, one of whom turned the crank while the other pulled the keys upward. One of the earliest visual depictions of the organistrum is from the twelfth-century “Pórtico de la Gloria (Portal of Glory) on the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, which includes a carving of two musicians playing an organistrum.


Later on the organistrum was reduced in size to allow a single player to both turn the crank and manipulate the keys. The solo organistrum was known from Spain and France, but was largely replaced by the symphonia, a small box-shaped version of the hurdy gurdy with three strings and a diatonic keyboard. At about the same time as the symphonia was developed, a new form of key pressed from beneath were developed. These keys were much more practical in faster music and easier to handle and eventually completely replaced keys pulled up from above.

Guitar shaped gurdyDuring the late Renaissance, two characteristic shapes of hurdy gurdies developed. The first was guitar-shaped and the second had a rounded lute-type body made of staves. The lute body is especially characteristic of French instruments. In the 18th century the instrument acquired tremendous popularity among the nobility, with famous composers writing works for the hurdy gurdy. Luteback gurdyAt this time the most common style of hurdy gurdy developed, the six-string vielle ą roue. This instrument has two melody strings and four drones tuned such that by turning drones on or off, the instrument can be played in multiple keys (e.g., C and G or G and D).

TekeroThe hurdy gurdy also spread further east, where further variations developed in western Slavic countries, German-speaking areas and Hungary. Most types of hurdy gurdy were essentially extinct by the early twentieth century, but a few sorts have survived to the present day, the best-known of which are the French vielle ą roue, the Hungarian tekerőlant, and the Spanish zanfona. In Ukraine, a variety called the lira was widely used by blind street musicians, most of whom were purged by Stalin in the 1930s. Revivals have been underway for many years in Sweden, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Italy, and Portugal. The revival of hurdy gurdies has resulted in the instrument’s use in a variety of styles of music, including contemporary forms not typically associated with the hurdy gurdy.

This article is based  (shortened and simplified) on Wikipedia's Hurdy-gurdy article. 

Images in the article are taken from the Wikipedia and the Hurdy-gurdy Forum website.

For a lot more information, go to our links.


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