How Hard Is It To Learn To Play The Kalimba By Yourself?

Learning something from scratch can always be challenging, and kalimba is no different. If you are looking to learn a new instrument, specifically so-called thumb piano, you probably wanted to learn more. 

But how hard is it to learn to play the kalimba by yourself? It actually is not that hard to learn to play this instrument. If you never had any experience with music, learning how to play kalimba might be the best option for you.

Before you hop on to the local music store, there are several things that you need to know, that might be important for your learning.

How Is The Kalimba Played

The instrument consists of metal tines or teeth that the player will pluck with their thumbs – thus the name “thumb piano.” Usually, kalimba has a resonating box, but it is not rare to find ones with only a simple board with tines attached to the top. 

Kalimba or mbira can have various numbers of keys as well. You can find simpler ones with seven or eight tines, and more advanced ones with seventeen or more. 

The most common type of kalimba has seventeen keys, and you will get one based on the tuning of said keys. 

When you start playing the instrument, you will hold it with both hands, with thumbs over the resonating box. Kalimba is held from the sides, and you should place it in the palms of your hands. 

Furthermore, you can use your index finger to provide more support. From there on, you will use your thumbs to pluck tines and play music. 

Fingernails can have an important part in the playing, and some techniques are not achievable without them. Naturally, when you start learning you will do so using the flesh on your fingertips, gradually progressing towards the fingernail technique. 

How Long Does It Take To Learn How To Play The Kalimba?

There is no secret that kalimba is one of the easiest instruments you can learn. Unlike the regular piano, you won’t have dozens of keys, and complex chords and scales you should learn. 

This means that beginners that possess even a hint of musicality can learn to play something in a matter of minutes. 

Of course, if you aim to become an expert, you will need both time and practice. While the basics of the instrument are simple, more advanced techniques are not as easy to learn. Needless to say, it is still simpler than learning a violin or a piano. 

But either way, you will need to dedicate time and effort to learn everything you can about kalimba. 

Today, you can find so many lessons and tips online, that could help you improve faster, in case you are learning all by yourself. It is always a good idea to learn a bit about music theory because it can help you so much along the way. 

Because kalimbas come in all shapes and sizes, music theory can get you a better understanding of how the instrument works, and what you should do when you encounter a different type of kalimba. 

Even though the music theory is recommended, it is not necessary. Kalimba is one of the rare instruments that you can actually learn without going to music school, due to its simplicity. 

Can You Play Any Song On Kalimba?

Because kalimbas have a limited number of tones, you will be able to play only certain songs. Furthermore, based on the number of tines (or tones) your instrument has, the number of playable songs could rise. 

For example, simple kalimbas with five or seven tines will be able to play basic and simple songs. You won’t be able to play Moonlight Sonata without stripping most of the song. 

The second important aspect is tuning. Kalimbas have a similar idea as harmonicas, where you will get one in a specific key, like C, for example. While you can play songs that aren’t in the key of C, you might have to modify them a bit or switch the key. 

The same rule applies to more complex songs. Even on seventeen-key kalimbas, you won’t get all the notes the piano has. However, you can strip the song to make it more playable and approachable. 

One of the ways to achieve this is to look at the kalimba as a solo instrument. You won’t be able to play the complex or rhythmic parts with every note included. However, you can play the tune, and everyone will know what the song is. 

What Type Of Kalimba Do You Need?

There are so many factors that can be important for you if you are looking to get kalimba. Among the questions you need to ask yourself is what kind of musician you are.

 If you are a beginner that never had experience playing any musical instrument, then a simpler kalimba might be a perfect choice for you. You can get ones with five, six, seven, or eight keys. 

This way, you will learn more about music, how instruments work, and you won’t have a hard time navigating and improving. Naturally, this is not the rule, and even beginners can buy 17-key kalimba if they want to avoid buying a new instrument when they grow out of the old one. 

That leads us to the second type of players – people who had experience playing music but are new to the world of the kalimba. If you are one of them, you can skip the beginner instruments, and buy something like Alto kalimba. 

This thumb piano has two octaves and fifteen keys, and they can be a nice starting point for you. 

Furthermore, if you are a skilled musician, who already had a lot of experience playing kalimba, then you should undoubtedly buy a “serious” instrument. While the number of keys won’t often go over 17, you can still get a higher-quality instrument. 

Finally, based on your musical preferences, you should seek a kalimba that fits your style and personality. Whether you love hymns, classical music, modern songs, or anything else, you can find a kalimba that perfectly fits your taste. 

So, be sure to know what you want to play and where you want to be as a kalimba player. 

What Do I Do Once I Have A Kalimba?

Once you find the instrument that is perfect for you, you should know how to take care of it and make it sound as best as possible. This includes tuning it, maintaining it, and keeping it safe. 

You can also create a list of the songs you want to learn, and start progressing to your musical goal.

There are so many songs available online that you can learn, and today, there are even tablatures for this instrument. Similarly to the guitar tabs, you won’t need to be a musical expert to know how to read this specific type of music sheet. 

Tabs for kalimba are popularly called ktabs, and they show you exactly which tines you should pluck based on the kalimba you have.

Another important thing is to keep your kalimba in tune. If the instrument is out of tune, you will have a difficult time learning and improving. Fortunately, tuning your kalimba is rather easy, and mastering it won’t be a real challenge for you.

Moreover, you can always find lessons online if you don’t want to get a teacher. While learning with a teacher is always a great idea since they can point out your mistakes and help you improve faster, learning by yourself is also an option. 

This way, you can dictate your own tempo, and select on which type of music you want to focus on. 

Most importantly, try to avoid rushing it as much as you can. If you learn things slowly, they will remain in your memory for a longer period of time. You should always try to focus on the quality of learning instead of quantity. So, take your time, and enjoy learning this incredible instrument. 

There Are No Wrong Notes 

One of the things you should remember is that each kalimba comes in a specific key. This means that you won’t have notes that are not in that particular key, which means that you can’t go wrong. 

Take your time, and play with the instrument. You don’t need to be an expert in music theory (although basics will help), and you can focus on creating music. 

Kalimba is known to be a relaxing, almost meditating, instrument. So, focus on your ear and listen to what notes you should play. You can improvise over the songs you play on your PC, and play along with it.

The best thing is, kalimba is not loud. So, you can practice as much as you like without disturbing your family or neighbors.


If you are looking to learn how to play kalimba, you should know that it is one of the simplest instruments to learn. You won’t need to spend hours and hours on practice, nor will you have to spend a fortune on classes. All you need to do is get a kalimba that is perfect for you and start practicing. 

Since the instrument is rather simple, you will be able to learn a few songs in a couple of hours. From there on, you can continue improving, and learning more difficult and complex songs. 

Naturally, if you aim to become a master of the instrument, you will need to dedicate yourself and practice to reach this goal. 

The time needed to learn kalimba depends on the amount of practice and how much you are willing to invest in it. Kalimba is a great starting point for beginner musicians, as well as a new and exciting instrument for more experienced players.

If you found this article useful you may want to save this pin below to your Kalimba board

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