Wild Blue Pixel
TIP OF THE DAY
July 20, 2006
The above instrument is a Hugh Tracey Karimba. What, you may ask, is the Student Karimba? There are two rows of tines on the karimba, just as with the mbira. The upper row has redundant tines. The backbone of the melodies this instrument plays usually flows through the tines on the lower row.
So, it occurred to me: why not teach young children on a simplified karimba which used only the lower row of tines? It turns out that this part of the karimba is one of the most ancient tine layouts Hugh Tracey studied, so there is the added benefit that the students feel that they are connecting with a living part of an ancient tradition.
To make a student karimba, I started with an 11-note pentatonic kalimba (on the left; I had these around from teaching kids on the pentatonic). I took the kalimba apart by sliding a butter knife under the tines and in the space between the bridge and the z-bracket, then pushing the bridge down with the knife; as the bridge moves farther down, the tines will eventually leap free from the bridge, and then you can take them off. You can then put the tines back together in the stated form of the student karimba, shown on the right (I had some spare tines laying around to help me). Another way to make a student karimba is to buy the real karimba and either tell yourself not to worry about the high notes, or to actually take them off of the kalimba (again, use the butter knife approach, it will be easier). If you take them off, save them, as you'll want them soon!
Why would you want a student karimba? I have found that many young children are less put off by an instrument with 9 notes than by the 17-note karimba. Start out simple, succeed, and then go on to the bigger and better things.
The tines of the student karimbas I used last week are tuned in G so this instrument can play with the other Hugh Tracey kalimbas:
Here is a simple piece that we did with the kids at Fenster Ranch. The tablature was helpful to the kids, but was also helpful to me to remind me what I was going to do!
One student plays the line of tablature on the left, and the other plays the line of tablature on the right. The funny symbols that look like "do not enter" signs are rests (ie, don't play).
One of the most important things I learned about teaching kids: it is good to use the solid body kalimbas rather than the box kalimbas. Kalimbas hit the ground dozens of times, but none were seriously injured. The board kalimbas are very sturdy.
If you would like to purchase a karimba, please visit the Kalimba Shop. Student karimbas are not yet available, but you can work with the regular karimba. Also, look for the new Karimba Book coming out next month! I'm pretty exciting about this book: it feels quite different from my other books, and I'm quite proud of this work.