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Hurdy-gurdy played by a French lady of fashion, 18th century—H. Roger-Viollet
Pear-shaped fiddle, the strings of which are sounded by the rim of a rosined wooden wheel turned by a handle. A row of keys is used to produce the melody by stopping one or two strings; the remaining strings sound a constant drone. A hurdy-gurdy-like instrument existed in Europe by the 12th century; it took its present shape in the 13th century. It has long been associated with street musicians, and it is still played as a folk instrument in Europe. The name is also often used for the barrel organ, in which a hand crank rotates a barrel inside the case, on which several tunes are encoded, causing a small pipe organ to play.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on hurdy-gurdy, visit Britannica.com.
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