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~ The Hurdy Gurdy Explained ~

IV: The Trompette

The trompette

Click on the hurdy-gurdies below to hear:

click here to hear the trompette first without then with buzz
Trompette alone, first without then with buzz

click here to hear the trompette with all drones first without then with buzz
Trompette together with all three other drones

A feature so prominent in hurdy-gurdy music that it is often listed as a fundamental characteristic of the instrument is a percussive rhythmical buzzing that accompanies, at the player's will, the melody and drones. This sound is produced by a mechanism involving the fourth, highest-pitched drone string, called the trompette (A), and its special little bridge (B, and inset), called the "dog" due to its profile.

Just as the three other drone strings described on the previous page do, the trompette runs from an anchor (H) (which it shares with the mouche) across a bridge, against the wheel, along the keybox and across a nut and finally through a hole in the pegbox side to a tuning peg.

The major difference between the trompette and the other drones lies in its aforementioned bridge. The nose, as it were, of the little dog rests on an ivory plate (C) inset into the instrument's top. The other end of the dog fits loosely into a slot in the side of the larger bridge (I) of the mouche.

When the wheel turns (clockwise as viewed from the crank-end of the instrument) the trompette, due to friction, is pulled along a bit. Eventually, its tension overcomes the friction and it slips back down, only to be pulled along again anew. The distance involved in this very rapid cycle is of course minute, but it is in fact this action that produces vibration in, and thus sound from, the string. (This is the process by which sound is produced not only by all of the strings of the hurdy-gurdy but also by all bowed strings.)

As can be seen in the above photo, the geometry of the trompette and wheel is such that the trompette is pulled upward by this action. This lightens the downward pressure of the string holding the dog's nose against the ivory table. The balance of the dog is such that any additional lifting of the string actually causes the contact between the nose and the plate to break. Then when the string moves downward again so does the dog's nose, striking the plate like a tiny hammer. As the process repeats rapidly, a loud buzzing thus results.

The additional lifting of the trompette string by the wheel is created quite simply by speeding up the wheel's rotation. Slowing the wheel back down eliminates the effect, and the trompette then sounds only a normal tone, without the buzz. In playing, use of this is made by flicking the wrist at appropriate times while turning the crank; this produces the (hopefully) rhythmical interrupted buzzing. The technique sounds easy in theory; in fact it is very difficult and playing "detache" well requires much skill and practice.

The mechanics of the trompette are touchy as well. The balance of the system is sensitive to a number of factors - the rosin on the wheel, the elasticity and tuning of the string and so on. Furthermore, the music or the player's style may call for the threshold of buzzing to occur with greater or lesser wheel acceleration. Sensitivity is set with the aid of a device consisting of a very thin cord (D) tied to the trompette and running to a peg (E) set into the hurdy-gurdy's tailpiece. Tightening or loosening this string upsets the balance of the trompette one way or another, thus allowing adjustment.

When the trompette is not wanted during play it can be taken out of contact with the wheel by pulling it over a little ivory peg positioned on its outboard side. But usually the hurdy-gurdy is played with this string active, for it is so much a part of the soul of this magnificent instrument.

French Terminology:
On this page, those parts commonly referred to by their French names, even outside of France, include: the high drone string (A), trompette; the dog (B), le chien; the playing of the rhythmical buzz, detache.

The next, final page deals with the miscellaneous features of this hurdy-gurdy.

Next: Miscellaneous Bits

Previous Page: Drones

Beginning of the Hurdy-Gurdy Section

The Universe of Bagpipes Front Page

Text and photographs on this page are original works by Oliver Seeler and are copyright 1999, Oliver Seeler.