You may have heard a buzzing sound in your favorite hurdy-gurdy song, and not know where it came from. You may think it is a problem with the audio, a problem with the instrument, or that a swarm of angry bees are outside your window.
This sound is actually a unique feature of the hurdy-gurdy, called the trompette. More specifically, a trompette is a string on the player side of the instrument that sometimes has a loose bridge called a “chien”. The chien is the part of the hurdy-gurdy that actually makes the buzzing sound. It is not attached to the instrument, but rather held in place by pressure on the string.
The trompette string is pulled at a 90° angle by a piece of thread called a “tirant string”. The tirant string is attached to a tuning peg that goes through the tailpiece. Adjusting this tuning peg increases or decreases tension on the trompette string, which changes the sensitivity of the buzz. A few angles of the tirant string and tuning peg below:
There is another type of system, primarily used on tekeros (Hungarian style hurdy-gurdies). This system uses a wooden wedge to add tension to the trompette string in a similar fashion. The sensitivity of the buzz is controlled by adjusting the wedge itself. This article will focus on the tirant/chien system, not the tekero system, but you can see examples of the tekero parts below:
The actual buzzing sound is caused by the chien moving up and down on the soundboard, hitting it over and over like a hammer. You can see the action of the chien in this below video, watch carefully as the chien moves up and down from the vibration of the string:
Examples of Trompette Usage
Here we have an example of the trompette being played by Nigel Eaton, without a melody:
Here we have an example of the trompette being played by Steve Tyler, with a melody:
Trompette sounds vary by instrument and by player, there are many different tones they can take on. From strong in-your-face buzzes to light background buzzes.
The trompette is one of the hardest parts of learning the hurdy-gurdy. You can find tutorials on learning individual coups, as well as putting them together in a song on our tutorials page. A lot of new players start off not liking the sound of it, but it eventually grows on them – so don’t write it off first thing! Come in with an open mind. Most players consider it a core part of learning the instrument.
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