hands holding a kalimba and a tuning hammer

How to Tune a Kalimba

Tuning your kalimba is one of the first skills a new kalimba owner should learn to get the most out of their instrument.

Unfortunately, if you’re new to not only the kalimba but musical instruments in general, tuning your instrument can seem like a very daunting prospect.

In this article, we will look at the steps required to correctly tune your kalimba every time!

Tuning a kalimba is a straightforward process. You will need your kalimba, a tuning hammer or another implement to hit the tines with, and a digital tuner or a good ear.

  • Select the tine you wish to tune and decide which note you want to tune it to.
  • Strike the bottom of the tine to tune up a note or strike the top of the tine to tune down.
  • Using a digital tuner or your ear, continue to strike the tine until you’ve reached the note you want.
  • Repeat for all tines as necessary.

Let’s look at the process in more detail!

Tools You Will Need

There are a few items you will need to tune your kalimba.

Kalimba

Hopefully, you’ve got your kalimba, it will be pretty hard to tune if you don’t!

Tuning Hammer

Most kalimbas will come with a tuning hammer when you buy them. This is a small metal hammer used to strike the tines of your kalimba.

If you don’t have a hammer, there are many household items you could use in its place. Cutlery can do the job in a pinch, for example.

Digital Tuner

Unless you’ve got a really good ear for music, chances are you will need a digital tuner to help you with finding the correct notes.

There are many handheld digital tuners on the market. Make sure to buy one with a microphone and although not necessary, a chromatic tuner is preferred.

If you have a smartphone, there are several great apps that you can download completely free. I personally use Soundcorset for all my tuning needs.

Before You Tune

Before you get to work tuning your kalimba, it is important to understand what you are tuning for, why you are tuning, and what scale you want to be in.

You may want to tune the tines to fit the song you’re trying to play. It may be because it sounds out of tune or because you want to attempt something quite unusual with the sound.

Standard kalimbas are most commonly tuned to a C Major scale, however other tuning variants are possible. Your kalimba may even have the notes etched onto each tine to help you know which note they should be tuned to.​

Kalimba tines showing the notes

For simplicity’s sake, we will keep to the standard C Major scale, but the principle is the same no matter what tuning or scale you choose.

In the C Major scale, we will be tuning the tines to C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and back to C, repeating for however many tines the kalimba has.

Tuning Your Kalimba

You can start on any tine you like, it may be easiest to start from the bottom and work your way up, though.

First, place your tuner near your kalimba and pluck the tine you wish to tune. The tuner should pick up the sound and display a note and how in tune it is.

In the example below, you will see that the tuner is showing that the note is a little lower than C (we want the arrow to point in the center of the scale shown). To tune the note we need to tune up.

tuner showing an out of tune note

Grasp your hammer and gently tap the bottom of the tine a few times. This will cause the tine to slide up, making its effective length shorter, which alters its frequency (in other words it will play a higher note when plucked).​​

using a tuning hammer to tune up a kalimba

Test the new note with your tuner to see if you need to keep going, it may take a few attempts and may be a bit frustrating at first but be patient, you’ll get there!

If you find you’ve overhit the tine and the note is now higher than the one you want, no worries! Just tap the top of the tine instead to make it longer and lower the note.

using a tuning hammer to tune down a kalimba

You’ll know you’ve got it when you see the arrow dead center on your tuner, like below.​

tuner showing an in tune note

​Congratulations! You’ve successfully tuned your first kalimba tine!​

Now all you need to do is repeat this process for every tine that you want to tune, simple right?

Depending on the quality of your kalimba, you may find that as you reach the higher notes (the tines at the sides of the kalimba) that it becomes harder and harder for the tuner to pick up the note. This is a common problem with the shorter tines, fortunately there are some steps you can take to fix the issue.

Final Thoughts

Tuning a kalimba can seem like a daunting prospect if you have never done it before, but the actual process is quite straightforward once you get the hang of it!

After reading this article, you should now have a good idea of how to tune a kalimba and will be able to play all your favorite songs, no matter what tuning they are in!

For a fun mystical twist, try tuning all the F notes to F#!