The kalimba is a great instrument to learn if you are just starting out on your music journey. If you’re a complete beginner, it’s only natural that you may have some questions about the kalimba.
In this FAQ we will answer some of the most common questions about the kalimba to help you understand your instrument better. And remember, we also have many more articles on the kalimba, so if you don’t find an answer to your question here, why not check the rest of the site!
Let’s get to it!
What are the Notes on a Kalimba?
Most modern Kalimbas are tuned to the C Major scale, this means that the notes will be C, D, E, F, G, A, B and back to C, and will not include any sharps or flats.
For comparison, these are the same notes as the white keys on a piano.
Of course, it is possible (and very easy) to tune your kalimba to any notes or key that you prefer. This is a common way to alter your kalimba to suit a certain song that you may want to learn that is not in the key of C Major.
What are Kalimba Stickers for?
If you’ve recently purchased a new kalimba, you may have noticed a pack of stickers that came with it. These stickers will be long and thin and are intended to be placed on the kalimba tines.
The purpose of the kalimba stickers are nothing more than to help you visualize and track which notes you are playing.
With many kalimbas having 17 or more tines, it can be very easy to lose track of which note is which. The stickers act as a visual placeholder to help you know where on the kalimba you are.
They are not necessary, however, and many kalimba players don’t use them at all. It is completely up to you whether you want to use the stickers or not.
Why is my Kalimba Buzzing?
Kalimba buzzing is a common complaint for many kalimba players and can occur for a few different reasons:
- Dirt or Debris under the tines.
- Stiff tines.
- Dead tines.
In some cases, the buzzing can be fixed, or at least reduced depending on the underlying issue. Read my in-depth guide to fixing kalimba buzz, where I explain in more detail.
What Country is the Kalimba From?
The kalimba traces its origins to Africa and is inspired by the family of Mbira instruments that are popular across many regions of the continent.
The modern Western Kalimba was invented by Hugh Tracey after spending time in Zimbabwe and experiencing the traditional music played here.
What are Kalimba Tines Made of?
Kalimba tines are typically made of metal, specifically steels such as spring steel or plated steel.
Unfortunately, manufacturers are not particularly forthcoming with information on this, so it is difficult to accurately state what materials are used in the manufacture of kalimbas.
It is possible for kalimbas to have tines made from other materials too, such as bamboo. This will completely alter the sound of the instrument.
What is the Best Wood for a Kalimba?
There is no right or wrong wood to use for a kalimba, simply each different type will produce a different tonal quality.
Traditional kalimbas are made from African Hardwood, typically Kiaat, which is described as an African Teak. If you’re looking for the most traditional kalimba sound then this is undoubtedly the best wood to choose.
Other common woods typically used in kalimba manufacture are bamboo, mahogany, spruce, or birch.
What is the Difference Between a Kalimba and a Mbira?
Both the kalimba and mbira are part of the family of instruments known as lamellophones and more specifically thumb pianos.
Although both are incredibly similar and you could be forgiven for thinking they are the same instrument there are some important differences to consider.
The main difference between a kalimba and a mbira is in their tuning. The mbira often comes in a variety of tunings and utilises varying numbers of tines. The tuning is often very traditional and specific to the region it was made.
The modern kalimba, however, tends to be more standardized. With both tunings and number of tines being the same from kalimba to kalimba, the tuning itself often being more common Western diatonic scales such as G Major or C Major.
More generally, the modern kalimba can be thought of as an evolution of the traditional mbira, taking many of its design elements and adapting them to Western music.
This is by no means an exhaustive list to every kalimba question out there, but it should at least answer some of the bigger questions most people ask.
Hopefully it answered some of your questions too! If not, feel free to explore Saorsa Music further, we have many articles on the kalimba and one of these may be what you are looking for!