Sep 5, 2015
Vol 10, Num 4

Kalimba Magic NEWS

Practical Guide to Minor Scales
Playing the E natural minor scale or A dorian mode on the Alto and Treble kalimbas

Last month's newsletter spelled out exactly what notes and intervals are in a variety of minor scales. In this article we will show you specifically how to play the E natural minor scale or the A dorian mode on an Alto or Treble kalimba.

Minor scales on Alto
Minor scales on the Alto kalimba
On the 15-note Alto:

The 15-note Alto kalimba has a G at the lowest note and also a G at the highest note, and is in the key of G major (unless you have yours tuned to another key, which is rare). To play the G major scale on the Alto kalimba, start on the middle G (the painted tine on the middle of the left side) and then go to A (the painted tine on the middle of the right side) and alternate Left - Right going outward and upward. Or, just follow the black numbers, 1 through 8 in the diagram.

To play in the relative minor, or E natural minor, locate the starting G in the major scale, and move down (toward the center) by one tine to E, and then proceed up the scale, 1 through 8 (blue numbers), in an alternating Left - Right manner.

The A dorian mode is another minor scale that is accessible to the G-tuned Alto kalimba. Start on the A and by now you know what to do (follow the red numbers). Notice how this scale sounds slightly different from the natural minor - one of the notes in the scale is different. Which one?


Minor scales on Treble
Minor scales on Treble kalimba
On the 17-note Treble:

The 17-note Treble kalimba starts on B, so the first (and only) continuous 8-note major scale starts on the "middle G" on the left. To play the G major scale on the Treble, start on the middle G (the painted tine on the middle of the left side) and then go to A (the painted tine on the middle of the right side) and alternate Left - Right going outward and upward. Or, just follow the black numbers, 1 through 8 in the diagram.

To play in the relative minor, or E natural minor, locate the starting G in the major scale, and move down (toward the center) by one tine to E, and then proceed up the scale, 1 through 8 (blue numbers), in an alternating Left - Right manner.

The Treble kalimba is missing the low A of the Alto, the note we started on to make the A dorian mode. We can still play the A dorian scale, but we need to start on the middle A, on the right side of the kalimba, and follow the numbers 1- 8 in red.


If you have a Bb or D Treble - that is, if you have six painted tines on your 17-note Treble kalimba instead of five painted tines as is the standard setup for the Treble kalimba - then your kalimba is more akin to the Alto. You can do the same types of scales starting on the tines relative to the painted tines as in the Alto diagram, but the names of the notes will be different.


Most important take home point: Every kalimba can play in both the major and the minor scale - or actually, in more than one minor scale. The converse is also true: even if you have a minor-tuned kalimba, you can still play a major scale on it. Why then are some kalimbas tuned to a minor tuning even if the minor scale is always accessible even if you tuned to a major scale? There is a strong psychological force behind the lowest note. We tend to make the lowest note be the root, or "1". If we have to go somewhere special and a bit odd on the kalimba (E or A for example) and make that be the root, we need to know that and we need to be a bit sophisticated in our playing.

Of course, I know that a lot of my readers are sophisticated in their playing.

And for the next step in sophistication: When you play music, live within one scale (the G major for example) for a while. Then switch to another scale or mode (E minor or A minor) and sit there for two or four phrases. Each of these scales uses exactly the same notes, but the notes are used differently. Emphasize the root or "1" by starting and stopping on it, or by moving from the "5" to the "1", or even by moving from "7" to "8" (both the 5 and the 7 point to the root note). Then after you have been away from your starting key or scale for a while, go back there, in as dramatic a manner as you can muster. This home - away - back home motion is present in a wide variety of musics from around the world and is a principle device in Western classical music as well.

Next month, I'll show you two other major-like scales you can play on your kalimba without any retuning. This will bring the number of scales you can play on your diatonic kalimba to five. Each of these scales will have its own mood and feeling, and will inspire different musics. If you want to get the most out of your kalimba, you owe it to yourself to do a bit of work to be able to understand and to use these scales.

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