Kalimba is a fun instrument, and more people are interested in discovering more about it by the day. But due to the nature of kalimba, playing some songs might prove to be challenging.
So, can you play any song on the kalimba? It depends on the kalimba because it is confined to a specific key and the adjustments you can make are limited. Most of the kalimbas sold on the C major key in which there are a lot of songs that you can play. There is a very high chance that the song you wish to play can be played on a C major kalimba.
But if not you will have to do some adjustments to the instruments. and make it playable on the kalimba you already own. Of course, you can always get another instrument that will cover a different key, but that’s not something many will choose to do.
Kalimbas And Different Keys
Each kalimba covers a single key. If you are a beginner, there is a high chance that your instrument is in the key of C major. This means that there is only a limited number of songs you can play on your instrument.
The problem lies in sharps and flats, and the reason why C major is such a great key is that it has neither sharps nor flats available. There are seven different notes you will find on your kalimba, and they are C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.
If you want to play a song that is in, let’s say, A major, you will need C#, F#, and G#. Playing regular notes without sharps is not really an option, and you will need to find a way to work around it.
One of the most important things about scales is that the distance between the notes is the same for each scale. There is a full step difference between the first and the second (or between C and D), and it is the same for every scale.
What you can do to ensure that you have all the notes you need, the safest option is to change the key to the one you have. If the song is in A major, and you need all three of those sharps, you can move it to C major instead. C# will become E, F# is A, and G# is B.
All you need to do is count the letter on a scale, and use the same number in the scale you have on your kalimba.
This way, you’ll be able to play any song, as long as it is in the major key.
You are probably wondering what happens if the song is not in the major key. There is still a way to go around it and play the song even if you have just one kalimba.
Each major scale has its natural minor. This means that there is a minor scale that has the same notes as the major one, and all you need to do is find it.
The only difference between the major and its natural minor scale is in the distance between the notes and the starting point.
For the C major scale, the natural is A minor. As you can probably guess already, the notes in the A minor scale are A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. The major scale has a full step distance between the first two notes, while there is only half a step in a minor one.
This means that you have all the notes you need to play songs in A minor, even if your kalimba is in the key of C major.
Similarly to the previous situation, all you need to do is convert the song to the A minor, and you’ll be able to play it on your C major kalimba.
The whole process is a lot easier than it seems, and all you need to do is check the key of the song, and move it to A minor if the song is in the minor key.
Some people practice having a couple of different kalimbas, and this way, they are able to cover different tunings as well. While beginner kalimbas are usually in the C major, the original, Hugh Tracey kalimba, is often in G major.
It is possible to change the tuning of your instrument, and some people find it easier to just switch kalimbas instead of changing the key of the song. One of the major advantages of this method is that you’ll be able to play along with the song since they are in the same key.
While changing the tuning of your kalimba is simple, it’s still not something you can do on the go, and you might want to keep it in a specific tuning.
There are many different types of tunings you can explore, and major and minor ones are just the tip of the iceberg.
Each tuning will offer you something different and unique, and you’ll be able to play the kalimba as if it was a brand new instrument.
Alto Vs Treble Kalimba
If you are not willing to get two of the same instruments just to keep them in different tunings, you can always get both alto and treble kalimbas.
While the basic principle behind these instruments is the same, there are a lot of differences between the two that you might consider them separate.
The treble kalimbas are the beginner ones I mentioned. They have seventeen keys, and they are often in the key of C. Of course, it is possible to find them in other tunings as well.
The alto kalimba, on the other hand, is a bit larger. What is interesting is that alto kalimbas have fifteen tines instead of seventeen, and each tine is a bit wider compared to the treble one. The tines also have a larger space between them, and the standard tuning is G major.
Both of these versions of kalimba have their pros and cons, and it is up to a personal preference to choose which one is better for you.
But you can always get both of them and experiment playing with different tunings and their respective number of notes.
While experimenting with different keys and tunings is great, there is one solution that will cover everything you’ll need to play any song. The answer is, of course, a chromatic kalimba.
This type of kalimba follows a chromatic scale, which means that there is every note at your disposal, including sharps and flats. You will be able to play any song and any scale without having to retune or adjust anything.
Naturally, playing something like this is a bit more complex and you might experience difficulty if you are an inexperienced player.
Chromatic kalimbas are almost two-in-one instruments since there are two sets of tines. The first one is on the front and it looks almost identical to the regular kalimba.
But on the back side, there is a second set of tines which will offer you all the sharps and flats.
This means that you will need to use your thumbs for the front set of tines, and use your index fingers for the sharps and flats on the back.
As you can probably expect, this requires additional concentration, coordination, skill level, and practice if you want to master it.
Learning how to play this specific type of kalimba is probably the best option since you’ll be able to play any song you want.
The final option you can try is to use magnets. If there are only a few notes you’re missing, you can use magnets to temporarily tune the specific tine. Find the one you don’t need, and place the magnet on the top of it.
Based on the location of the magnet, you’ll be able to adjust a single tine to get the note you need.
To do this, you will need a tuner and a small magnet. The size of the magnet shouldn’t be bigger than the width of a tine, and all you need to do is place it on top of the tine.
After that, just slide it up and down the tine until you find a perfect position. Naturally, you will also need a tuner to know what this perfect position is. Once the note is on the pitch, you’ll be able to play the note you were missing.
It is a quick and simple solution, and it doesn’t require you to change the tuning of the kalimba.
The alternative would be to use a tuning hammer and retune a single note. But this might seem like too much if you want to play one or two songs in this specific tuning.
Using magnets might be the best option if you are switching to a tuning that has just a few differences compared to your original tuning.
A perfect example is the G major scale since the only difference between the G and C major is that G major has F# instead of F.
If you were wondering whether it is possible to play any song on the kalimba, the answer is yes. For some songs, you’ll be able to play it with ease, but others might require some additional adjustments.
Each song is in a specific key, and if that key is different from the tuning on your kalimba, you can always change the key of the song, and adjust it to fit your instrument.
For example, if you have a C major kalimba, and the song is in the key of G major, you can always transport the notes to fit the key you already have.
Naturally, you can also retune the instrument to allow yourself to play along with the song. You should also remember that each major scale has its natural minor, and the notes in both scales are identical.
This means that you can play any minor song by adjusting it to the natural minor of your instrument.
Finally, you can always get a chromatic kalimba that has every note you’ll need to play the songs you like and enjoy.
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