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 kalimba tablature 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
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.

thumb picking for the G chord

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.

Explore! -Mark

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.

THUMP! -Mark

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 to play.

Build Community Through Music -Mark

2004 Dec 25
Christmas Carols on the Kalimba
Here is tablature for the first line of Jingle Bells!

Jingle Bells on the Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba


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 bounds.

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.

Bm chord on the Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba

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.

Am chord on the Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba

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.

Em chord on the Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba

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 "G".

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:

     G                                    D
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

Learn! -Mark

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 kalimba scale.

Expand! -Mark

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.

D chord on the 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.

C chord on the 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:

G chord on the Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba

Learn the G chord! -Mark

2004 Dec 11
Kalimba Tablature
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! email me!

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.
Careful! -Mark
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.
Careful! -Mark
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
2004 Dec 3
Other Tunings?
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
Pentatonic Kalimbas
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.
Enjoy!, -Mark

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 Samite, 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.
Cool!, -Mark

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 together now.

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 notes.

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.
Dude!, -Mark

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!
Explore!, -Mark
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.
Dude!, -Mark

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? Stay tuned!

Take care,

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).

Dude!, -Mark

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 pretty well.

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 good together.

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:

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.

Take care,

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 recommend against:
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.
Take care, -Mark
2004 Nov 16
Kalimba Glossary
Life will go more smoothly for all concerned if we agree on a few definitions:
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.

Any questions? 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 tomorrow!
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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