The kalimba is a mesmerizing and easy-to-play instrument from Africa. Usually made of wood, kalimbas have long metal strips that can produce high and low notes when pressed. If you want to play the kalimba, you must first make sure the instrument is in tune. Then you can create your own melodies by playing simple notes and chords. Once you get used to playing the instrument, you can learn to play songs by reading the tablature.
Tune your kalimba ?
1. Start by downloading a tuner.
Before you can play the kalimba, you need to make sure it's in tune, otherwise it won't sound right because some of the notes will be wrong. You can download a simple tuning app on your phone or you can buy a digital guitar tuner. Once you have the tuner, turn it on and place it next to your kalimba.
The most popular tuning apps are PanoTuner, Cleartune and DaTuner.
You can buy a guitar tuner online or at a music store.
Digital guitar tuners cost between $10 and $40.
2. Refer to a kalimba blade chart to determine the appropriate notes.
Blades are the long pieces of metal that run from the top to the bottom of the kalimba. Most models come with a blade chart that shows which notes correspond to which key, and some kalimbas even have the notes engraved on the blades themselves. If you don't have a chart, search online to find one that matches your kalimba.
For example, if your instrument has 8 blades, look for settings for 8-blade kalimbas.
Starter kalimbas usually come with 8 notes or 8 blades.
More advanced kalimbas have 17 notes or 17 keys.
3. Press the center blade and look at the note on the tuner.
Find the center blade and press it lightly with your fingernail while watching the tuner. The blade should vibrate and a note should sound.
The blades are like keys on a piano.
On most 8 blade kalimbas, the center blade is a C.
The middle note is usually a G or a C on a 17-note kalimba.
4. Tap the blade up with a tuning hammer if the note is too low.
A kalimba tuning hammer is a small metal hammer that can be purchased online, often supplied with your instrument when you buy it. Lightly tap the bottom end of the blade upward to raise the note. Play it again and see what note it is. Continue to gently tap it and readjust until it is the right note.
For example, if you are using an 8-blade kalimba and the tuner says C♭, that means the note is too low and the blade needs to be repositioned.
You don't have to use a lot of force to tap the blade. Do it very lightly to make slight adjustments.
5. Tap the blade down with a tuning hammer if the note is too high.
If the tuner reads ♯, it means the blade is sharp and needs to be lowered. Tap lightly on the top of the blade to lower it. Play the key again to see if it is in tune.
For example, if you are using an 8-blade kalimba and the center blade reads C♯ , this means the note is too sharp and the blade needs to be lowered.
6. Tune the rest of the kalimba.
Repeat the process on the rest of the kalimba, following the key chart to make sure each blade is in tune. Once you have placed all the blades in the correct position, your kalimba should be in tune and ready to play.
How to play your "finger piano"?
1. Hold the kalimba in both hands.
Place it in the palm of your hands with the blades facing you. Place your thumbs on top and wrap the rest of your fingers around the back of your instrument. You can also place the kalimba on a flat surface rather than holding it.
Do not cover the two holes on the back when holding the kalimba, or it will not sound right.
2. Press a blade with your thumb to play a note.
To get a good sound, press the blade with your thumb. The blade should vibrate after you press it. Practice playing the blade with your fingernail until the note sounds.
At first it may become painful if you play the kalimba for a long time, but our nails will eventually get used to playing the kalimba if you practice.
You can also buy and use a toothpick instead of using your nails.
3. Alternate between the two thumbs to press the blades for a progression.
Unlike the piano, the kalimba notes alternate, fanning out from the center of the instrument. By playing the corresponding blade at the opposite end of the kalimba, one can play a whole step, or a whole note up or down. Try playing different blades on the left and right of the instrument to play a progression of notes.
For example, on an 8-note kalimba in standard tuning, the blade to the left of center is a D and the blade to the right of center is an E.
4. Press 2 adjacent slats to play a chord.
By playing 2 slats that are right next to each other, you are playing a chord. Use your thumb to play both slats at the same time to play the chord. Experiment with different blades on the kalimba to create a series of chords, called a chord progression.
5. Combine notes and simple chords to create your own song.
For example, you can play the middle blade 3 times, then play a chord 4 times, then play the middle blade 3 more times for a complete progression. Try other progressions and chords to create your own song.
Playing the kalimba with the tablature
1. Find the right tablature for your instrument.
Look for kalimba tablature that matches the number of blades on your kalimba. For example, if you have 8 blades, look for "tablature for 8 blade kalimba". Look for a song you want to learn to play and pull up the tabs for it.
You can even find kalimba tablature for popular songs like "This Is What You Came For" by Calvin Harris and "24K Magic" by Bruno Mars.
2. Listen to the song to remember the melody.
The tablature will tell you which blades to play but will not tell you how long. That's why it's best to listen to the song before you start playing it.
Usually the tabs have a link to the song.
If the tabs don't have the song, you can view it online on websites like YouTube.
3. Read the tablature from bottom to top.
The center line through the tablature represents the center line of your kalimba. Each vertical line to the right and left of the center line represents each blade of your instrument. Look at the tablature to see how it is constructed before you start playing.
4. Press the corresponding blades on your instrument.
Each dot on the tabs represents the note or blade you are to play on the kalimba. Read the tabs from left to right, top to bottom and play the blades in order. Continue reading the tabs and play the song. Practice until you get each part of the song down.
It can be helpful to master one part of the song and then move on to another part of the song as you begin.
5. Practice playing different songs.
Once you have practiced a song enough times, you can memorize how to play it. To get better at playing the kalimba, practice each song until you master it.