Sep 5, 2015
Vol 10, Num 4

Kalimba Magic NEWS

Message from Mark
Tunings 'R Us!

A kalimba's tuning defines its universe of possibility. A simple retuning can transform your kalimba's voice, giving it the ability to speak a startlingly fresh language and dramatically transport your playing into a breathtakingly new musical dimension.

Almost nobody else in the world is shipping kalimbas in non-standard tunings, but about half the kalimbas we ship from Kalimba Magic are in alternate tunings. Over the years, we have taken the initiative to explore beyond the conventional, to move a tine away from where a manufacturer said it had to be, to develop the skills required to ensure and maintain the acoustic integrity of instruments after retuning.

Many of the tunings we now offer were developed by Kalimba Magic, but many we culled from the genius within the planetwide kalimba community. Below, I share a brief descriptive chronology of the tunings that we have invented or collected in the last decade and a half:

Mark Holdaway

So - think outside the box! Contact us about that alternate tuning you have in mind or one we can help you choose for your new or older kalimba, and begin to discover the mind blowing kalimba multiverse!

—Mark Holdaway

P.S. Btw, if you are that guy traveling in South America who needed a Sansula tuned to your wife's Hang Drum - so sorry for letting you down, but that Hang Drum was one odd tuning. Yes, I was mystified. We are not perfect. But we do a lot of other things that nobody else does.


The Middle Eastern tuning

My first alternate tuning

Hard to believe it took me so long, but I played kalimba for about 15 years before experimenting with alternate tunings.

Post September 11, 2001, America was faced with the tragedy of Al Qaeda attacks on U.S. soil. Unfortunately, President George W. Bush took this as an opportunity to launch war on Iraq - even though no evidence linked the World Trade Center attacks to Iraq and these attacks had been carried out by a microscopic slice of the Arab world. In the weeks and months that ensued, anti-Arab rhetoric and sentiment surged in the U.S., lynch mob hatred was cropping up everywhere. One day in a meditation, news of local anti Arab violence filled me with grief. I picked up my Treble and felt led to explore my first alternate tuning, the Middle Eastern tuning:

Listen to "Prayer for Peace" by Mark Holdaway

Karimba in G minor tuning

G minor Alto, G minor karimba tunings

Shortly after Kalimba Magic started shipping kalimbas in 2005, Sound Healer Gary Diggins requested that I tune the two Alto kalimbas he ordered from G major to G minor. Why? Because he felt the minor tuning assisted more in supporting and encouraging deep vocalizations from the people he was working with.

When I had started to learn to play the African-tuned karimba, I realized that the "Africanized" notes in the tuning - the 3rd, 6th, and 7th - were in between the major Western intervals and the minor Western intervals. Andrew Tracey informed me that people who play these traditional instruments in Africa prefer the major intervals over the minor, and that traditional repertoires are often played on a karimba that has had these notes tuned up to major Western intervals.

So the minor/Western-tuned karimba was unexpected - like a whole new instrument! I grew more curious about the possibilities afforded by tunings...

C Major alternate Sansula tuning

Sansula tunings

Very early in Kalimba Magic's tenure, we started to sell the Hokema Sansula. The Sansula is a charming 9-note kalimba with an enchanting tuning. It is great if you want to just pick up the instrument and magically be able to play wonderful music without any music knowledge.

But if your desire would be to work at it and develop musically, this instrument did not seem to lend itself to musical growth... until I and other folks such as Rick Tarquinio started to invent new unique and interesting tunings for the Sansula.

I have since documented these tunings in the Sansula book for the standard tuning, the Beautiful E Sansula Music Book and the Heavenly A Sansula Song Book. These tunings give the musician multiple different approaches to the Sansula.

Explaining the Bb Treble Family of Kalimbas

Bb Treble and a family of diatonic tunings

Next came the Bb ("B flat") Trebles and the system of retuning the Treble and Alto kalimbas.

This system covers all 12 Western major keys in a logically consistent manner that does not require any relearning from one key to another.


8-Note kalimba tunings

Next, tunings from Japan, the Middle East, and Africa we made available for the Catania 8-Note kalimba. Most people just use the 8-Note kalimba in its "do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do" major scale tuning, but this kalimba is also a great laboratory for developing new tunings and exploring new scales.

Thomas Bothe 2B kalimba

Thomas Bothe tunings

Then came the Thomas Bothe kalimbas. Thomas is an artist and could barely bring himself to make more than one kalimba of the same design. In order to keep his sanity, he insisted on tuning each one to a different scale and, for several years, we meticulously documented each tuning he sent us. Eventually, he did begin to re-use tunings/designs - after several dozen unique innovations!


12-Note tunings

Next came the set of six alternate tunings we created for the Catania 12-Note kalimba.

By the way, when we come up with new tunings, they are not proprietary - we share them with everyone! The previous link is to a newsletter article that shows you what each tuning is, how to achieve it, and what it sounds like.

The 12-Note Kalimba Exercises Book shows you the scale, chords, and a representative song for each of these six alternate tunings. Really, each of these tunings is its own little universe of possibilities, and each one could warrant an entire book to show you how to play it. In other words, there is ample room for you to explore.

SaReGaMa's Air-tuned Karimba

SaReGaMa's karimba tunings

And by now, everyone knows about the great success of the SaReGaMa Lotus-tuned Karimba and its cousins the Air and Freygish tunings. And by the way, when we put out a new tuning, we don't just make the tuning - we study it in detail so we can learn how to play it, and even more important, so we can show you how to play it.

To date we have published a Lotus instructional book, we have a Freygish download and are very close to having a Freygish instructional hardcopy book. At the moment, we have only a free 12-page instructional download for the Air Karimba but something longer will be available in the future.

Most recently, we have modified the inexpensive but smooth-playing Goshen kalimbas to achieve the SaReGaMa Lotus, Air, and Freygish tunings.


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