Polish Language Blog

Hurdy Gurdy in Polish folk music Posted by on Mar 29, 2022 in History, Music

Have you ever heard of Hurdy-Gurdy? In Polish called lira korbowa (crank lyre), it dates back to medieval times. It is definitely an interesting instruments that is becoming popular again.

In Poland, the hurdy gurdy appeared in the 17th century and it gained extraordinary popularity in the nineteenth century. This instrument played an important role in sacred music, it was one of the favourite instruments of the aristocracy. Later, it also found its way to ordinary people. It was a symbol of itinerant musicians (wędrownych muzykantów) , poets (poetów), soothsayers (wróżbitów), singers (śpiewaków), beggars (żebraków) and blind people (ślepych ludzi). These artists, who would often play themselves, were proud of their occupation even though they were from the lowest of social classes. Many saw them as wise individuals who knew legends, prayers and magical procedures.

The hauntingly beautiful instrument (zniewalająco piękny instrument) looks like a guitar held horizontally on the musician’s lap. It is played with one hand that rotates the crank and the other plucking the strings.

Hurdy Gurdy. Image by Kasia Scontsas

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 and hollow cavity 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.

Hurdy Gurdy is an instrument with a long and rich heritage. Although it has dropped off the map in the past few centuries, dedicated fans of the instrument still strive to maintain the use of them in modern music.

Below are two videos. One is an old Polish wedding song, sang to the tunes of hurdy gurdy. Another one is a traditional Polish folk song sang to the tunes of a guitar and hurdy gurdy. Two different folk approaches, both beautiful.


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About the Author: Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew near Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with their Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they were born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.


  1. Krystyna Hollis:

    I really enjoy your posts! As a small child l spoke only Polish until l was 5 and went to school…… so l like to add to my vocabulary and to remind myself of customs I knew as a small child ❤️