The hurdy-gurdy is a stringed instrument that produces sound by a crank-turned, rosined wheel rubbing against the strings. The wheel 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 sound board to make the vibration of the strings audible.
Most hurdy-gurdies have multiple drone strings, which give a constant pitch accompaniment to the melody, resulting in a sound similar to that of bagpipes. For this reason, the hurdy-gurdy is often used interchangeably or along with bagpipes, particularly in Occitan, Catalan, Sardinian, Cajun French and contemporary Galician and Hungarian folk music.
Many folk music festivals in Europe feature music groups with hurdy-gurdy players. The most famous has been held since 1976 at Saint-Chartier in the Indre département in Central France. In 2009, it relocated nearby to the Château d’Ars at La Châtre, where it continues to take place during the week nearest July 14 (Bastille Day).