Mark Holdaway's Tip Of The Day
The Hugh Tracey Kalimba is the best kalimba I know,
and we are selling several different types of Hugh Tracey Kalimbas.
Here's another site where you can
learn about playing the Hugh Tracey Kalimba
As you can see, this page is ancient history. However, the ideas that
were developed right here on this page gave rise to a new system of
which is now available in
three different books for the Hugh Tracey Kalimba.
You can also purchase
the Hugh Tracey Kalimba.
2004 Dec 31
Auld Lang Syne
Happy New Year! -Mark
2004 Dec 30
Thumb Picking on Kalimba is like Finger Picking on Guitar
People who play guitar often learn finger picking styles to
make simple chords sound really beautiful. The finger picking
style is a particular order that you move your fingers in to
play the notes of a chord one at a time.
You can do the same thing with the kalimba, except it
would probably be called "thumb picking". Once you learn
or invent a particular pattern, you can do the same pattern
for many different chords.
Here is a simple thumb picking pattern for the G chord.
Use your left thumb on the left side, and your right thumb for
the right side. Time goes from the bottom of the page to the
top of the page.
Good Picking -Mark
2004 Dec 29
Explore your Roles
Kalimba can be used in many ways:
Of course, there are other roles you can play. One important thing:
if you are playing with other folks, you need to coordinate your
roles. For example, if you are playing with a guitarist, one way to
make it work is for the guitar to play supportive chords, and the
kalimba player to play a melody or lead.
- As a melody instrument, playing the melody of
a well known song
- As a "lead" instrument, playing an improvised melody
- As a "rhythm" instrument - ie, playing an arpegio,
achoring the rhythm and letting the chords change around you.
As this happens, notes that were strong structural tones
for one chord (ie, the root or 5th) will become passing or
suspended tones (ie, the 2nd or 4th) for another chord.
- As a chording instrument, providing support for another
instrument on melody, or for a voice.
2004 Dec 28
Keep the Beat!
When playing with other people, one of the most important
things is to keep a unified concept of THE BEAT going.
If you don't know exactly what you are doing, one of the first things
to go out the window is THE BEAT -- you slow down, or introduce a
glitch into things, and anyone else you are playing with
either has to ignore you or play catchup with you.
So, relax, maybe simplify, and find a place where you and
your partner can both keep a unified concept of the beat going.
That doesn't mean you need to do the same thing, but both of
you (or all of you) need to understand where the pulse is.
2004 Dec 27
There Is Only One YOU!
Learning from other people is great. If someone
took 10 years to learn something and they can teach it to
you in 6 months, you are a factor of 20 times faster than
if you had to discover it from scratch.
HOWEVER, you are a unique person, with your own unique
head and heart and understandings and talents. Go inside
yourself over time and try to find out what is special about
YOU and YOUR ANGLE ON MUSIC. You have something to offer
the world that is your own. Good luck finding it!
You are YOU for a reason -Mark
2004 Dec 26
Playing Music With Others
When playing music with other folks, it is very important that
everyone can hear everyone else. When I play with other folks, I
usually spend more energy listening to and understanding
the other people than I spend figuring out what I am going
Build Community Through Music -Mark
2004 Dec 25
Christmas Carols on the Kalimba
Here is tablature for the first line of Jingle Bells!
- The heavy vertical line represents the division between
Left and Right thumbing.
- Time goes from bottom to top
- There should be a one-to-one correspondence between the
tines on your kalimba and the vertical white and blue stripes
on the tablature.
- The double notes can be played simultaneously with one thumb,
touching the thumb nail to two tines at the same time.
- On the first beat, you play two notes with the Right hand and
one note with the Left hand.
- The last notes played will be three notes played nearly
simultaneously. You will need to do a glissando, sliding the
thumb past the three tines you need to play.
- If you have a Treble Hugh Tracy Kalimba, you can't play the
lowest note, but the blue lines will line up the right way,
so this tablature should still be useful to you.
Merry Christmas -Mark
2004 Dec 24
How Long Should I Practice?
I tell people that you can make progress, or at
least prevent yourself from going back wards, by playing
about 15 minutes a day. This applies to any instrument.
Of course, I expect that there will be times when the
instrument just hypnotizes you, and you can't get away.
Who would want to, though? It is on those days, when you
play for an hour and start to discover things, start to
understand things, that you really start making leaps and
BUT BE CAREFUL! You can easily get RSI (repetitive stress injury)
or carpel tunnel syndrome by playing relentlessly. Rather, listen
to your body. Find the ways of holding the kalimba and striking the
tines that are easy on your hands, and if your hands cry out, put the
kalimba down for a while, or for the day.
Respect your body and its messages to you! -Mark
2004 Dec 23
How Often Should I Practice?
Practice every day. Fortunately, the kalimba can be taken
with you on a hike, or played while you wait for a bus, or played
on the way from your car to your job, or while wandering the grocery
store. I hear that in Africa, it is quite common for people to be
playing a kalimba in public places.
Become friends with your kalimba -Mark
2004 Dec 22
L-R Symmetry on the Kalimba
Take a look at the "Bm chord" from Dec 20. You see
a pattern of three notes right next to each other starting
on the low "B" on the RIGHT side. You see the same pattern of three notes
right next to each other starting on the LEFT side, but higher up.
This rule goes beyond chords: anything you learn down low on the kalimba
can be taken up an octave higher, but whatever WAS on the RIGHT side
gets switched to LEFT and vise-versa.
Become friends with the underlying logic! -Mark
2004 Dec 21
What Should I Do With These Chords?
You should practice these chords (G, C, D, Em, Am, Bm). Find one or two ways of playing
them (ie, 3 or 4 notes) that you really like and can easily remember.
Maybe experiment with different "picking patterns". Chords are the
back bone of western music, but a lot of African music is not based on
chords. The Hugh Tracey Kalimba bridges these two worlds, and is at home
in both Western music and African music.
Learn all the chords! -Mark
2004 Dec 20
Bm Chord on a Hugh Tracey Kalimba
Note that B minor (Bm) chord is very similar to the D major chord. They are two sides of
the same coin, and Bm is called the "relative minor" to D.
Learn the Bm chord! -Mark
2004 Dec 19
Am Chord on a Hugh Tracey Kalimba
Note that A minor (Am) chord is very similar to the C major chord. They are two sides of
the same coin, and Am is called the "relative minor" to C.
Learn the Am chord! -Mark
2004 Dec 18
Em Chord on a Hugh Tracey Kalimba
I show below all the notes in the E minor (Em) chord for a
Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba. First, what IS a minor chord? Well,
normal chords are "major" chords. To turn a major chord into a minor
chord, take the "third" of the chord and flatten it. If this were on
the regular piano, you would lower the note by playing a black key instead
of a white one. However, on the kalimba, we are stuck with the notes we have,
and we cannot turn a G major chord into a G minor chord. However, embedded in
the G major scale are three minor chords, Em, Am, and Bm.
Note that E minor is very similar to the G major chord. They are two sides of
the same coin, and Em is called the "relative minor" to G.
Learn the Em chord! -Mark
2004 Dec 17
Rise Up Singing
There is a great book you should own:
"Rise Up Singing".
This book has the words and simple chords to over 1200 songs. You've probably heard
between 100 and 500 of these songs before. You can pick a song and translate it into
the key of "G" and start playing the chords on the kalimba while you sing the song,
or play along with a guitar player.
Buy Books! -Mark
2004 Dec 16
1-4-5 Progressions: G-C-D
A large fraction of folk and pop tunes have just
three chords, 1,4, and 5. Exactly what chord "1"
is depends upon the key. For example, in the key of C,
"1" would be "C", then count up the numbers and letters
simultaneously, and you find that "4" is "F" and "5" is
Now, for our kalimba in "G", 1,4,5 is actually "G", "C", "D".
For example, the song "Oh Susanna", played in the key of "G",
would have these chords:
Oh I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee
G G D G
I'm goin' to Lousiana my true love for to see
C G D
Oh Susanna, oh don't you cry for me
G G D G
For I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee
2004 Dec 15
What If I Have A Hugh Tracey Treble Kalimba?
OK, the chords we teach are still of use to you!
The Treble kalimba has 17 notes, two more than the 15 note
Alto kalimba. It's lowest note is the "B" which is the third
lowest note of the Alto, so you'll just have to ignore the
lowest two notes on these Alto diagrams. HOWEVER, the
colored tines line up for the Alto and Treble kalimbas.
The middle "G" on both Alto and Treble will be colored in,
and will be on the L side for both kalimba models.
The Treble kalimba goes higher than the Alto: the Alto ends
on a high "G", while the Treble goes on to "A-B-C-D". These
diagrams don't tell you explicitly what to do, but if the chord has "D"
in it, you can also play the high "D" that goes beyond the Alto
2004 Dec 14
D Chord on a Hugh Tracey Kalimba
I show below all the notes in the D chord for a
Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba.
Learn the D chord! -Mark
2004 Dec 13
C Chord on a Hugh Tracey Kalimba
I show below all the notes in the C chord for a
Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba.
Learn the C chord! -Mark
2004 Dec 12
G Chord on a Hugh Tracey Kalimba
I show below all the notes in the G chord for a
Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba. You can't play them all
at once, but you can:
- Play an arpegio, which means play the
notes of a chord one note at a time in quick succession,
from bottom to top or top to bottom.
- It is easy to play two notes at the same time: either
adjacent notes, or a pair of notes on opposite sides so you
play with L and R thumbs.
- Or, you could do a glissando to quickly cover three
different notes (you can also play one or more notes with
the opposite thumb).
Learn the G chord! -Mark
2004 Dec 11
I am experimenting with Tablature for kalimba.
Tablature is like musical notation, but instead of being
general so any instrument can read it, it is specifically
tied to the physical nature of a particular instrument.
For example, on guitar tablature, you have six lines instead
of a staff of 5 lines, one line for each string.
In the coming weeks, I'll be experimenting with kalimba tablature.
I'd appreciate hearing from you on how effective the experiments are!
Try It! -Mark
2004 Dec 10
Can I Get Kalimba Lessons?
I do give lessons on a very limited basis.
However, let me tell you a story. I play the
hammered dulcimer, totally "by ear", never taken
a lesson or read anything about how to do it.
The notes are arranged in a very strange way, but it
makes certain kinds of note patterns very simple to
do. Unfortunately, other note patterns seem like
bending over to touch the back of your head to the
floor! Well, I ran into a great dulcimer player
while vacationing in Portland, and I watched him
play for about 30 minutes. I paid great attention
to what he was doing, how he was stretching, but
doing it naturally. When I got back to Tucson,
I sat down and wrote a song based on how I had seen
this player move. Hey, he gave me a free lesson, and all
I did was pay attention to what he was doing!
Of course, YOU can come and pay attention to what I'LL
be doing at one of my upcoming concerts:
Open your eyes! -Mark
2004 Dec 9
What if you DO break your thumb nails?
Last week, I noticed that my thumb nail had just torn.
The right third of my thumb nail had a tear right where
the nail joins the skin under the nail. If I left it that
way, it would all by itself (or with my help) tear all the
way across, and I'd have no nail left to play my big
concerts on Dec17 and Dec 18 and Dec 25. So, I got out
the clippers and clipped off that part of my nail, clipped
just beyond the tear so that it wouldn't get any worse.
I've still got about half of my nail left. If you find yourself
this way, you will need to "re-calibrate" your thumb, shifting
it a bit and striking the tines a bit different. Glissandos
are a bit hazardous in this state, as your half-thumb nail
could snag on the tines as you try to slide by. However,
if you are careful and practice a bit, you can actually
do fine with half a thumb nail.
2004 Dec 8
Thumb Nail Length
If your thumb nails are TOO SHORT, your thumb tips
will be hurting, so let those thumb nails grow.
Clip your finger nails, but spare the thumb nails.
On the other hand, if you let them get TOO long, they
will sooner or later rip and you will be back to
square one. To reduce the possibility of
thumb nail rippage, you might want to clip them back
to about 2-5 millimeters. Actually, right after
clipping, my thumb nails don't sound right on the
kalimba tines, so I prefer to file them down.
Keep it just right, -Mark
2004 Dec 7
Well, if you follow the suggested
technique in the Tip of Dec 6, you may develop
callouses near the tip of your thumbs near your nails.
They will toughen up.
Easy, now, -Mark
2004 Dec 6
Thumb Nail Technique
I use my thumb nails to depress the kalimba tine,
and then when the nail slides off, it produces a
very clean sound. One technique to avoid: if the
tine is already vibrating and you touch your hard thumb nail
to it, then it will make an unpleasant grating noise.
This implies another technique: when you FIRST touch the
tine, do so with the fleshy part of your thumb near your thumb
nail. This will deaden the vibration, and then slide your
thumb nail down to depress the tine, and let it
quickly slide off to make the clear tone.
2004 Dec 5
The emotional content of the Kalimba
As I indicated before, if you can free your mind from
thinking, then you can spend your mind on feeling.
The kalimba is simple. If it ISN'T simple for you,
maybe you are trying too hard to figure it out.
DON'T impose your will on it, but rather let it
teach you in the ways that are easy for it. Sit
back. Relax. And FEEL your feelings deeply, and
let those feelings come through the kalimba.
2004 Dec 4
What if I need an Accidental?
An accidental is a note that isn't in the
key you are playing in. For example, it could be an
odd note that is meant to build tension or draw attention
to itself. Or, a phrase or section of the song could
change keys briefly, and then return to the original key.
Joy to the World does not have any accidentals,
you can play it completely with a diatonic kalimba.
The Star Spangled Banner has an accidental:
a raised fourth on the "LY" of "the dawn's earLY light".
So, what do you do if you need an accidental that you
just don't have?
Be creative, -Mark
- FAKE IT! for example, try a nearby note in place of the
note you don't have, often a "third" away from the one that
you wish you had -- that way, the note you play will at
least harmonize with the note that is really in the
melody, so it won't clash with the note that people "hear"
in their minds if they know how the melody is supposed to go.
- You could play with another musician, like a guitarist (the guitar
has ALL the notes), and get THEM to play the missing note, or
more likely, give them the whole phrase or section, and just
play some kalimba notes that fit and stay out of the way
of the accidentals.
- I have actually played a song with two different
kalimbas tuned to different keys: when I got to the
accidental, I jumped over to the second kalimba (which had that note), and then
jumped back to the original kalimba to finish the song. Tricky!
- Or, if you are recording, you could SAMPLE the missing note and
just insert it where it needs to go!
- But usually, if a song NEEDS an accidental, I don't need to play that
2004 Dec 3
There are no rules. If it sounds good, it IS good.
I just saw a 5 tine kalimba, a very simple instrument.
The tines were not AT ALL in tune. I will have
an opportunity to play with another person playing
this 5 tine kalimba, so I just tuned each note to
the closest note in the G scale (ie, the key of
my blue Hugh Tracey kalimba). The notes are not
arranged systematically, they skip around a bit,
but they are in tune, and they have their own sort of logic.
You don't need to understand how electricity works to use it.
Similarly, you don't need to understand how music works
to make music. This kalimba has its own song, just sit down
and explore its own little world.
Wild Wonder!, -Mark
2004 Dec 2
Why would you want a pentatonic scale?
You may just happen to OWN a kalimba which already has a pentatonic scale.
The pentatonic scale is used all over the world in traditional music:
across Africa, among Native American groups, in Indonesia, in Australia,
everywhere. There is something very primal and essential about it.
One way to think about it is that you don't have to THINK so much
when playing in this scale -- all the hard choices have been
removed, and everything left sounds pretty good. SO, you can
FEEL more deeply while playing in this scale.
One particular kalimba I have only has 8 tines. It
was obviously designed to be a one-octave diatonic kalimba.
Well, I wanted it to have a wide range from lowest to highest
note, so I retuned it to the pentatonic scale, starting on
5, and I got one and a half octaves out of it.
2004 Dec 1
The Pentatonic Scale
The pentatonic scale is the five-tone scale.
It is a simplification of the diatonic scale.
If the diatonic scale is "Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do" (or
1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8), the pentatonic scale is made by removing
Fa and Ti, or "Do Re Mi __ Sol La __ Do" (or 1-2-3-5-6-8).
Try your best to sing those two scales, or play them on
a piano or guitar if you can.
Hugh Tracy kalimbas, and many other kalimbas made in the US,
are in the diatonic scale. However, I once met
a famous kalimba player from Uganda, and his kalimbas were just
tuned to pentatonic scales -- he didn't know what to do with
my diatonic kalimba from South Africa! Also, I've made a few
kalimbas which are tuned to the pentatonic scale.
So, whats good about the pentatonic scale?
It is REALLY SIMPLE! Have you ever played with JUST the
black keys on the piano? That is the pentatonic scale.
It is also called the "no-fault" scale.
2004 Nov 30
Mark Holdaway's Rule of Thumb
Pick two notes directly accross from each other on the
kalimba. About one third of the tines on a Hugh Tracy kalimba
will be painted, blue or red. This way, a note is either painted, one above
a painted tine, or one below a painted tine, and this helps you
keep your place. The painted one on the right will be one note
higher than the painted one directly across from it on the left.
So, pick those two notes, straight across from each other, and play
them at the same time. Chances are, they are too "close" to each
other in pitch to sound very good. Mark's "Rule of Thumb" is: if
you want to play two notes at the same time with both left and
right thumbs, they should NOT be directly opposite each other.
Move one thumb lower (longer tine, lower pitch), and move the other
thumb higher (shorter tine, higher pitch). They should sound good
Now do the opposite; start with the thumbs directly across from each
other, and let the low thumb go high and the high thumb go low.
Play around. Once you find a good configuration, let both thumbs
go up until one reaches the top, or let them both go low till
the other reaches the bottom.
Wild Wonder!, -Mark
2004 Nov 29
When a trombone starts fully extended at a low note
and then slides up to a high note, that is called a glissando.
Harps also make a glissando when the harpist whooshes
from one end of the harp to the other. Well, kalimba can also
make a glissando. In fact, to make chords with more than two notes,
a very easy way to to do a glissando.
Pick a note near the center, place your right thumb on it,
now imagine that note and the next two notes further right.
Try to slide your thumb nail quickly over those three
OK, it may be hard to stop at exactly the third note, and if you
do four or five, they probably sound good too!
Why three notes? Three adjacent notes on the kalimba will make
a triad, a 1-3-5, and will make a nice chord. Add a forth, and
you get 1-3-5-7, which will usually be nice too. Add another,
and you have 1-3-5-7-9. which is getting a bit jazzy, and may or
may not work, depending upon your degree of skill and luck!
Practice your glissandos! Find out which groups of three, four, or
five notes you like together.
2004 Nov 28
Easy Chords on the Diatonic Kalimba
Two notes that are too close to each other "get in the way"
of each other. Think of a guitar: the strings are tuned
a "fourth" apart- ie, if one string is a DO or 1, the next string
will be a FA of 4. That is sort of the typical distance between
notes in a guitar chord. If you want to play a chord on a piano,
you generally play every second white note for some stretch; you've
got to skip some. Well, the way the kalimba is layed out, two
tines right next to each other on either Left or Right will
actually skip a note (this is sort of saying the same thing
as the Back-and-Forth rule; if you need to trade sides to get
notes that are next to each other in a scale, then if you want to
get farther apart on the scale, play two tines that are adjacent
to each other on the kalimba). Try playing two notes at the same
time, touching both with your thumb nail. Pretty much any two
will sound great together!
2004 Nov 27
Back and Forth on the Kalimba!
If you have a diatonic ("Do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do")
kalimba, you probably play a scale by going from
Left to Right and back: L-R-L-R-L-R-L-R, or
back and forth. On the one hand, this is a
pain. A scale on the piano is simple, to get this
right, you have to go in two directions at once!
But here is the advantage of the kalimba being
layed out this way: if you try to play fast,
you won't do very well by staying on the same
side: Right-Right-Right can only go so fast.
But if you stick a Left in between each of those Rights,
you will be able to go fully TWICE as fast. Try it.
Back-and-forth, or Left-and-Right, is one of the
main things you do on the kalimba.
2004 Nov 26
WHY the "Wah-Wah" works
On Nov 24, we learned how to make the kalimba
do a "wah-wah" effect. How does that magical sound work?
A fancy way of saying it is that your thumb and fingers
waving in front of the holes are changing the resonant
properties of the air inside the box. It is very much like
having a sweepable mid-range filter, which is exactly what
a wah-wah peddle is.
Here is a way to understand it. Just like a string vibrates
at certain frequencies, the air inside the kalimba box will
also vibrate at certain frequencies. Find the notes that sound
the loudest on your kalimba. These are most likely the notes
that correspond to the resonant frequencies of the air inside the
kalimba box. The "wah" should work best with these notes.
If you closed those holes, then DIFFERENT notes would be louder,
and these ones will be softer. So, waving your fingers in front of
the holes is a lot like turning a tone knob.
2004 Nov 25
Be Thankful for the Kalimba!
I played some wonderful kalimba music on Thanksgiving day.
The kalimba has been such a tremendous gift in my life,
and I give thanks to the unknown people in Africa
who created the first kalimbas, those people who
pionered the music of the kalimba, those people who
refined it and made it what it is today!
Music sounds SO MUCH BETTER when you play with a
spirit of thanksgiving.
2004 Nov 24
How Do I Get That "Wah-Wah" Sound From my Kalimba?
The kalimba was invented by one or more people in Africa
between 600 and 1000 years ago. The kalimbas were all over
Africa when the first Portugese arrived, and they were
surprised to see something that nobody in Europe had thought
about before. Now, when I play this 1000 year-old type of
instrument, I get a wonderful synthesizer-type sound, like
a wah-wah peddle, or a phase shifter. Here's how you do it.
If your kalimba has a hollow box with holes, you can get the
"Wah" sound. Play two or three adjacent notes on the kalimba
and as soon as you do, wave your thumb in front of the sound hole.
If you have holes on the back, wave your fingers in front of them
in time with your thumb. Imagine the music is an elastic substance
sitting in the box. When you push your thumb and fingers into the
holes, imagine pushing against the spring of the musical substance.
Note that the "Wah" effect does not work equally well for every
note - some notes will not be affected at all, and some notes,
usually in the mid-range of the instrument, will be drastically
affected by the thumbs and fingers in front of the holes. Why?
2004 Nov 23
If The Kalimba Is So Easy, Why Aren't I Getting It?
OK, most kalimbas are organized quite differently than most
western musical instruments, so if you know ANYTHING about
music already, you may have to unlearn a bit of that.
The piano is the essential western instrument. It is LINEAR,
the further to the left you are, the lower the pitch. The further
to the RIGHT you are, the higher the pitch. Very simple.
The guitar does the same thing on each string, the higher you go on
the frets, the higher the note. Other instruments modify that theme
in other ways.
But most kalimbas are BI-LINEAR. The shorter tines are higher pitched,
the longer ones are lower pitched. Most kalimbas are low in the middle
but get high on BOTH the far left and the far right. SO, our brain now
has a totally different concept to sit with. If you are just trying to
make some nice sounds, the kalimba is wonderfully easy. But if you
are trying to perform an actual SONG, the kalimba is not so easy,
a really new concept, because two notes that sound like they should be close
to each other are actually on opposite sides of the instrument.
We will find that there are some interesting tradeoffs that occur
when we arrange the kalimba this way. Some things are harder -
playing a scale requires L-R-L-R back and forth action. But
some things are easier - any two adjacent notes will be part of
a chord, and any three adjacent notes will be a triad (assuming the
two or three notes don't straddle the central, or lowest note).
2004 Nov 22
Why Is The Kalimba So Easy?
If your kalimba is well-tuned, then it is easy because
there are no wrong notes. It is like playing just the
white keys on a piano - all the notes fit together
Consider the complexity of music in all its potential. There are
so many notes that can be played in so many combinations in so many ways.
WOAH! It is a bit terrifying, all the possibilities! How can
someone who doesn't know a great deal already make any progress at all?
In mathematics or physics, if something is too complicated,
we reduce the number of variables or dimensions. We can do that
in music too.
The simplest thing to do is to make a kalimba that plays
one chord, three or four or five notes that sound pretty
The next simplest thing to do is to make the pentatonic,
or five tone scale. You can't play many standard songs in
this scale, but everything you play will sound great!
The Hugh Tracey Kalimba, and a great many others, are
tuned to the diatonic scale, or the regular "Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do"
scale. Some notes (Mi and Fa, Ti and Do) are very close together
and can sound bad when played at the same time, but pretty much
there are NO WRONG NOTES! They all sound pretty good together.
Make some BEAUTY in this world!,
2004 Nov 21
De-buzzing the Kalimba
After several months of playing your kalimba, some of your
notes may develop a slight buzz. In Africa, the buzz is
often cultivated. In America, most people prefer clear
sounds without the buzz.
If I get a buzz, I get rid of it
by cutting out a strip or paper about 1/8 inch wide by
1-2 inches long. I lift up the buzzing metal tine off
of the metal bridge, insert the paper between the two
metal surfaces, and slowly let the metal tine down.
Then I tear off the rest of the paper and stick it inside
my kalimba so I can retrieve it later when I need it.
Sometimes the paper deadens the note too much. If that
happens, take off the paper - you might not need it
anymore, or try putting in a smaller piece of paper.
You might develop a buzz in the middle of a performance. I've
been able to eliminate the buzz by either pushing down hard
on the tine or by sliding the tine from side to side and bringing
it back to the initial place. Imagine that one of the pieces
of metal is a bit dirty or rusty, and you are sort of grinding
that rust away to make a clean vibration. This method can work
for a short time, perhaps 5 minutes, perhaps 5 hours, perhaps
not at all.
Take care, -Mark
2004 Nov 20
Why Would You Want to Retune Your Kalimba to a Different Key?
There are several reasons I can think of:
- You may be playing with a singer (or even sing yourself). The
typical human voice has a range of about two octaves, and most songs
have a range of about one and a half octaves. That being said, it is
like a Cadilac in a parallel parking space - there is not a lot of
room to move around! You often can't raise or lower the key of the
singing to match the kalimba, you've instead go to tune the kalimba to
match the singer's key.
- You may want to accompany someone on another instrument (or even
have them accompany you). Lets say you are playing with a guitar
player. They may want to play in D or A for a specific song, and
your kalimba is in, say, G. You could learn which notes in the
key of G are not in A or D and avoid those "klunkers" -- or you may
want to retune, adding a sharp or two to fit well with the guitar.
- Even if the kalimba is king, and the other instruments are
servants to the kalimba, you may want to retune to add variety to
the kalimba music. I've got an entire CD of
kalimba music which is in the
key of G (ie, G major, or E minor, or B minor [avoiding the C
naturals], or A minor, or D mixolydian -- we'll get to find out
how these are all forms of the G major scale later). Anyway,
someone listening too long might get bored with this, because there is
not very much harmonic diversity. Next time, I'll retune in the
middle of the CD!
- You may just want something new to help you break out of old
patterns. After playing the kalimba for months or years, you might
think you know everything, or might have a hard time figuring out
new kinds of things to do. A sure way to get you out of that space
is to retune your kalimba to a different key. First of all, the old
familair thumb patterns should still work, but they will sound
different! And second, in order to do things like you used to, your
thumbs will need to do something different, and you'll accidentally
discover new things while trying to do just the same old stuff.
- Your kalimba may have a not at the top or bottom that just doesn't
sound any good. The kalimba has a natural range of notes that will
sound good on it, and if you make a tine go higher or lower than that
natural range, the note won't sound so good. SO, you may want to
lower or raise all of the notes for that reason. If you DO want to
tune ALL the notes, you may want to consider moving the bridge
a bit up or down to get the right approximate change in all the notes,
and then fine tune each note as required. Some kalimbas' bridges
don't move (like a guitar), but the Hugh Tracey has a movable bridge
(like a mandolin). You will want the help of a friend: one of you
will lift up all the tines to release the tension on the bridge, and the
other will actually shift the bridge up (to make the freely
vibrating part of the tines longer and lower pitch) or down (to make
the tine length shorter, or higher pitch). This is like minor
kalimba surgery, and should not be attempted unless you know what you
are doing or your kalimba is sick and needs the change.
Once you have had a bit of practice with retuning your kalimba,
you should be able to change the key by adding one or two sharps or
flats in about a minute -ie, it is possible to do on stage between
songs. Electronic tuners are a big help, but if the other notes are
not getting retuned, many musicians will have good enough ears
to make it work without messing with the electronic tuners.
2004 Nov 19
Re-Tuning the Kalimba
My High Tracy kalimbas all came to me
in the key of G. On occasion, I've needed to play in other
keys. First, the obvious way to retune the kalimba that I usually
If you wanted to tune from G to
A, one possibility is to take every metal tine and push it in
so that it is one whole step higher. The advantage of this method is
that all the relationships between the tines are preserved through
this process. In other words, if your lowest note used to be a G, the
root, your lowest note is now an A, which is the new root.
any song you learned before, you can still play, but a guitar
player accompanying you will need to put a CAPO on, or change
from G to A. The disadvantages: it is a whole lot
of work, and sooner or loater, you will push the tines beyond
their ability to sound good - there is a highest and a lowest
note that the kalimba body, mounting system, and metal tines
can play, and if you make your tines too short or too long,
they will just not sound right, or won't sound at all.
The retuning method I recommend is to change the least
number of tines you can get away with. The key of G
has one sharp, F#, while the key of A has three sharps,
F#, C# and G#. To change from G to A, you
just need to change any C and G to C# and G#. If you have a
two octave kalimba, that probably means retuning only 4
tines instead of 15! A chromatic electronic tuner can
help you out in this work (see the Tip for 2004 Nov 16).
The disadvantage? Well, your lowest note used to be
G, the root of the key of G. Now after retuning,
the lowest note is G#, which is the 7th of
the key of A. It is Oh-So-Natural feeling to have
the root on the bottom, and this 7th at the bottom may
not be so nice for you.
Ah well! Life is a trade off! Try something and see which advantages
and disadvantages you can live with!
Take care, -Mark
2004 Nov 18
Tuning the Kalimba (part II)
OK, so the electronic tuner is only half the battle.
Turn it on and set it down near your kalimba and
strike a note.
The tuner will tell you the name of the closest note to the
tone you just made, and will inform you if the note is
low (flat) or high (sharp) compared to what the rest of
the world has agreed upon. Assuming that is really the
note you want to tune to, you then need to do the
work. If you are flat, wriggle the metal tine back and forth
while gently pushing it to make it slide up, making it shorter
and higher sounding. Test again with the tuner. If it is still
flat, keep going. If you are sharp, come back a bit. I find that
some plastic pens have an end which will sort of hold the tine,
so take that pen and gently push from the top end, perhaps while
rocking the tine back and forther with your other hand, and the
tine will get longer or lower in pitch.
The first time you try this, it will take you a good
30 minutes or more for a 15 note kalimba. After a bit of
practice, you should be able to fine tune a mildly de-tuned
kalimba in about 5-10 minutes.
Take care, -Mark
2004 Nov 17
Tuning Kalimba (part I)
Many people out there in this
country actually have kalimbas, but they may have been sitting around
for years and years, and are now out of tune. I play mine every day,
and need to retune about once a month. You can't make good music on a
poorly-tuned kalimba, and the best and easiest way to tune a kalimba
is to buy an electronic chromatic tuner (KORG makes one for about $25
-- make sure it is not a "guitar tuner" which only understands the
notes E A D G B E, as you probably want a few other notes on your
kalimba). If your kalimba is only a little out, it will be obvious
what the notes are supposed to be. If your kalimba has been dropped
or banged, you may have no idea what the notes are supposed to be, and
then you'll either have to make a musically-informed decision about
what key to tune it to, or you may need a bit of help from an informed
musician. If you are in that boat, drop me a line and I'll give you some
suggestions for what notes to tune your kalimba to.
2004 Nov 16
Life will go more smoothly for all concerned if we agree on a few
box: the resonant cavity or body of the kalimba. Note that the kalimba's cousin,
the mbira, has no box, but just a flat and solid sound board.
sound board:mbiras and some kalimbas don't have a box, just
a flat piece of solid wood I will call the sound board.
tine:or prong, or boinger, or whatever you like to call the
piece of metal of varying lengths that makes the actual notes. Long
ones play low notes, short ones play high notes. If you know high
school physics, that is all F=ma and simple harmonic oscilation.
bridge: the metal or metal and wood contraption that holds the
tines in tension and conducts the vibrations from the tines to the
box or sound board.
holes: if your kalimba has a box, it probably has holes. You
can do wonderful things with these holes, experiment covering and
uncovering them while you play.
bottom note: the lowest note your kalimba plays, which should
be the longest.
top note: the highest note your kalimba plays, which should
be the shortest.
diatonic scale: the most common scale in western music,
we know it as "Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do". If you can start
SOMEWHERE on your kalimba and make that scale without any
klunker notes, it is almost surely a diatonic kalimba.
root: the root note is the first note of the scale.
If you have a diatonic kalimba, and you are playing it in
a major key, then your root will be the note that is "Do"
in the "Do-Re-Mi". Note that for the 15-note High Tracy
Alto kalimba, the root is G and the bottom note will be the
root also. However, the 17-note Hugh Tracy Treble kalimba
is also tuned to the key of G, but, the bottom note is actually a B,
which is the 3rd (G=1, A=2, B=3). You don't get to the root note
until the third lowest note on the left, G.
Please e-mail me!
2004 Nov 15
Here's a meta-tip (that would be a tip about tips): when you read
the "Tip of the Day", your web browser may have yesterday's
"Tip of the Day" in cache, so click on the window and refresh
this frame. (I use Mozilla to view web pages, and I right click in the frame, scroll
down in the menu to This Frame, move over the the sub-menu,
and click on Reload Frame.)
OK, thats not a musical tip, but we'll get rolling
Take care, -Mark
If have a suggestion for
a future tip, or a comment or question regarding these tips,
please email me!
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copyright 2004 Mark Holdaway