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Answers to Your Kalimba Questions

Ask Mark

I get one or two dozen emails each day asking me all sorts of questions, and I answer almost every one. Some of those questions keep coming around. But NEXT time someone asks about the Alto vs Karimba, I'll be able to give them a link to this web page. —Mark Holdaway

Erik Bartels is curious about the

Note Layout on the Alto vs. African Karimba

The March Special
Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba

The Alto kalimba's note layout facilitates western harmonies. It is almost self-harmonizing, allowing for a variety of interesting harmonic combinations. So the Alto is good for western classical, folk, pop, rock music.... lots of things that I play.

The March Special
African-tuned Karimba

The note layout of the karimba came out of the kind of music that people made 1000 years ago in southeastern Africa. So it is not so good for trying to play any old song you might think of (though the instrument offers surprising potential in the right hands). The key aspect of this instrument is that it embodies the logic of ancient African music from the Zambezi Valley.

Stempu on YouTube asks

Which Key Do You Recommend for My First Kalimba?

Key is really sort of arbitrary—unless you plan to play with other instruments or recordings. In that case, pick a key that those other instruments enjoy playing in. Guitars, for example, like G, D, E and C. If you plan to accompany yourself singing, pick a key you are most comfortable singing in.

The most important thing is that you get a kalimba that you are intrigued with—one that triggers a sense of wonder—for that is the starting place where love can bloom. And as love develops, so will understanding and, eventually—hopefully—mastery. (But it is more about mastering yourself than about mastering the kalimba!)

Andy Hawkins asks

Is There Anything That Can't Be Composed/Transposed for the Kalimba?

Your Nowhere Man piece on YouTube was a real eye opener and a great demonstration of what can be done beyond creating our own harmonic pieces. So is there anything that can't be composed or transposed into a good kalimba piece? On the face of it some of my favorite folk pieces seem like ideal candidates, but my musical knowledge is very limited. —Andy Hawkins

Folk Songs are usually diatonic, i.e., they fit into the framework of "Do re mi fa sol la ti do" —or a relative mode (you get the minor scale by starting on "la" and going up to the next "la"). SO most folk songs would work on the kalimba.

Many POP songs require accidentals, i.e., notes in between the notes of the diatonic scale. To play them you need to do some sort of trick - fake out the listener, play with the chromatic kalimba (a bear!) or play with another instrument that has the notes that your kalimba lacks. OR just sing the missing note.

The kalimba that presents the greatest challenge is the 8 Note kalimba with its one octave range. The human voice is typically 1.5 to 2 octaves in range and many melodies cover a large part of that range. SO the trick with the 8-note is to find melodies that fit within its one octave range.

I am interested in writing a book of folk songs for the kalimba, so if you have any favorites, send them along—and I will tell you what the challenges are (range, scale, etc.) and what kalimba you will need to play each of these songs.

Several Kalimba Magic newsletter readers have asked

Where Can I Get Kalimba Tines?

Last month's question about getting kalimba tines resulted in a load of spring steel being sent to me, which I can resell to you. It is unplated and sort of a dark blue color. I have it in 3mm and 5mm widths, and the 5mm comes in stiffer and a less-stiff varieties (the less stiff spring steel will play lower notes). This string steel can be cut and filed and used for kalimba tines. If you would like to purchase some, contact me. I am selling it for $1 a foot, plus $5 shipping in the US.


I hope these answers are helpful to the greater kalimba community. I certainly don't know everything about the kalimba, but I know a lot, I am learning more each day, and I am happy to share this information. That is one of the things Kalimba Magic is about - sharing with the greater community! So send me your questions. In doing so, you will help to expand kalimba understanding in the universe.

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