Hurdy Gurdy Instrument

Learn about the Hurdy Gurdy Instrument, one of the most popular string instruments in Europe during the Medieval Period

The Hurdy Gurdy fell in the class of stringed instruments and functioned much like a modern day violin. Medieval Hurdy Gurdy instruments were played during famous festivals all over medieval Europe.

The Hurdy Gurdy was introduced in England during the 12th century.

Hurdy Gurdy Instrument

Medieval Hurdy Gurdy History

The medieval Hurdy Gurdy instrument is said to have been inspired by medieval musical instruments from the Medieval East such as Rebab.

Descriptions of a similar instrument are found in the work of Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih from the 9th century. An early form of Hurdy Gurdy was called organistrum which was a large guitar shaped instrument. Through the Arab East, it was introduced in the medieval Europe.

The Hurdy Gurdy remained a popular musical instrument even after the end of the medieval times.

Medieval Hurdy Gurdy Timeline

Medieval Hurdy Gurdy instrument is said to have been originated from the fiddles during the medieval times. This happened sometime before the 11th century, although the exact time is not known.

The 9th century reference in the work of personal geographer tells that it did exist at that time. In Europe, it was introduced in the 11th century and continued to increase in importance. The instrument was then introduced in England during the 12th century.


What Type of Instrument was a Hurdy Gurdy?

During medieval times, musical instruments could generally be classified into the two categories of haut instruments and bas instruments, depending on their volume. Bas instruments had low volume and were suitable for indoor performance while haut instruments had high volume and thus more suitable for outdoor performance.


Medieval Hurdy Gurdy instrument fell in the category of bass instruments which had soft sound and were thus suitable for indoor performances.

How was a Hurdy Gurdy Played?

The medieval Hurdy Gurdy instrument consisted of small keyboard and strings. The keyboard pressed the tangents which were small wedges made of wood. These tangents were pressed against the strings to change the pitch and produce the required sound. Constant variations in the pitch were possible because of the multiple drone strings of the medieval Hurdy Gurdy instrument.


Wheel Tangents of Hurdy Gurdy Medieval Instrument

Additionally, it also had a sound board which was specifically used to make the vibrations of the strings audible.

Medieval Musicians and Hurdy Gurdy

Various medieval musicians used medieval Hurdy Gurdy instruments for their music and some even wrote treatises and books on it. It was known by different names during different times and at different places.

Medieval Minstrels Music

Medieval Minstrels

Various types of musicians of the medieval times including waits, minstrels, and troubadours used this instrument. The Medieval Hurdy Gurdy instrument was one of those instruments that were also quite popular during festivals.

Medieval Hurdy Gurdy Instrument Summary

The Medieval Hurdy Gurdy was one of the most popular medieval musical instruments in Europe. Just like various other medieval musical instruments, it was inspired in part from the East and was introduced in Europe during the 11th century.

It was similar in outlook with violin but with the extra feature of a keyboard. Unlike some other medieval musical instruments, the medieval Hurdy Gurdy instrument remained poplar ever after the end of the medieval times.