Saturday’s Instrument: Hurdy Gurdy or the Wheel Fiddle

The Hurdy Gurdy is thought to be originated from the fiddle in Europe or the Middle East before the 11th century A.D. this stringed instrument, produces sound using a hand crank-turns, rosined wheel rubbing against its strings.


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Hurdy Gurdy was a common and famous instrument in the Renaissance era, it was being used mostly in Organum music, providing a continuous base pitch for the monks to sing their religious songs on it.


The hurdy-gurdy is also called a wheel fiddle because it uses a wheel instead of a bow to produce sound. Early hurdy-gurdies had a box-shaped body, but later models had a more pear-like shape.


Sitar, the Indian pluck string

The first references to fiddles in Europe are from the 9th century by the Persian geographer Ibn Khordadbeh describing an instrument that is considered to be Lyra, as a typical instrument of the Byzantine Empire.


The wheel in the Hurdy Gurdy functions much like a violin bow, and single notes played on the instrument sound similar to those of a violin. Melodies are played on a keyboard that presses tangents—small wedges, typically made of wood—against one or more of the strings to change their pitch. Like most other acoustic stringed instruments, it has a soundboard and hollow cavity to make the vibration of the strings audible.



In the Modern era especially in popular music, the usage of Hurdy Gurdy increased. Ritchie Blackmore, one of the founding members of Deep Purple used this instrument in his music, especially in his later works.


Duduk, the Armenian double-reed woodwind

In the popular neo-medieval music and generally in pop music, electric Hurdy Gurdies are being used too. In this form of the instrument, electro-magnetic pickups convert the vibration of the strings to electronic signals and send them to an amplifier, most of the time musicians use effects to alter the sound of the instrument.


Though the exact origin of Hurdy Gurdy is not known to us, we know that this instrument had a vast usage in Europe in the Renaissance era. Today the sound of Hurdy Gurdy brings folklore quality to the music, some Nordic metal bands sometimes use it to bring the medieval and folk quality into their music.


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