hand holding a kalimba beside a kalimba tab

How to Read Kalimba Tabs

Kalimba tabs are an easy and convenient tool that you can use to learn new songs on your kalimba. If you’re a new kalimba player, however, you may not know what kalimba tabs are let alone how to read them!

In this article we will look at how to read kalimba tabs and the three main ways this can be done.

Of course, if you are really new to kalimba, you may want to learn all about the kalimba musical instrument first before reading on.

Standard Kalimba Tablature

Standard kalimba tabs or tablature are the best way to learn new songs on the kalimba.

The standard kalimba tab is shown as a series of vertical bars which represent each of the tines on the kalimba. Along these bars are dots which represent which note should be played.

Starting from the bottom, you play each note on the tab in order working your way up the page, if you’ve followed it correctly, you should recognise the song.

Below is an example of how kalimba tablature typically looks with a kalimba beside it for comparison. 

Kalimba next to kalimba tabs

Notice how the tab looks like a drawing of the kalimba, both have 17 bars and the letters which symbolise the notes are the same.

Let’s look at some examples of how to read kalimba tabs.

Playing a Single Note

kalimba tab demonstrating a single note

In the picture above, a dot can be seen on the kalimba tab on the C note. This dot means that this particular note should be played, pretty simple right?

In kalimba tabs whenever you see a dot above a particular note, then that is the tine on the kalimba that you should play.

Playing Chords

kalimba tab demonstrating a C chord

In the picture above, you will see that now there are three dots side by side, this is how a chord will look in a kalimba tab. In this particular example, the C, E, and G notes are played together to form a C Major chord.

Whenever you see dots on the same row, this means that they are to be played at the same time. Note that they won’t always appear side by side, sometimes they could be at opposite sides of the kalimba!

Playing Melodies

kalimba tab demonstrating sequential notes

Next, we must learn how to play notes one after another to form songs and melodies.

As mentioned, kalimba tabs are read from the bottom up, meaning you will always start with the note or chord on the bottom row, then move to the second, third, and so on.

In the example above, the tab says to play the same notes as the C Major chord we played previously, but this time we will play them one at a time, starting with the C, then the E, and finally the G.

And that’s all there is to it! Why don’t we try an actual song now?

Have a go at the kalimba tab below and see if you recognise the song!

kalimba tab for twinkle twinkle little star

Did you get it? If you read the kalimba tab correctly, you will have recognised the song as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”.

If you didn’t get it, that’s ok, just go slow at first and keep practicing, you’ll get there in no time!

How to Read Kalimba Numbered Notation

If the standard kalimba tablature isn’t for you, you could also try numbered notation instead.

Numbered notation uses a numbering system instead of the notes or letters for each tine and is read from left to right.

Here’s “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” again but written in the numbered notation format.

1    1   5    5   6   6   5
Twin-kle twin-kle Lit-tle star

4   4 3    3   2    2   1
How I wond-der what you are

Numbered notation can be useful as it allows the notes to be lined up with the lyrics of a song as shown above. For some people this can be a more convenient way of learning a new song.

Chords are usually shown in one of three ways when reading numbered notation.

It is common to see all the notes of a chord shown in brackets, for example, the C Major chord would be shown as (1 3 5).

Alternatively, you may also see a chord written using dashes rather than brackets. In this case, the C Major chord would look like 1-3-5.

The final way is to have all the notes stacked on top of each other, like so:


It’s completely down to personal preference which way you want to read chords in the numbered notation format.

How to Read Kalimba Letter Notation

Letter notation is almost identical to number notation with the obvious difference that the numbers are replaced by letters.

Let’s look at “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” again but this time using letters instead of numbers.

C    C   G    G   A   A   G
Twin-kle twin-kle Lit-tle star

F   F E    E   D    D   C
How I wond-der what you are

Chords are also shown in the same three ways, as demonstrated below with the C Major chord.

(C E G)





Again, it’s all down to personal preference, there’s no right or wrong way to read kalimba tabs or notation.

Final Thoughts

Reading kalimba tabs and notation is a very easy process once you get the hang of it.

Hopefully this article has helped you understand the three main ways in which kalimba tabs are normally written and you’ll now be able to decide for yourself which one you prefer and start learning some new songs!

If kalimba tabs and notation aren’t for you, however, you may want to consider learning sheet music instead.

Sheet music is the industry standard and will allow you to learn songs no matter what instrument you play.