How To Tune Every Type Of Kalimba – In-Depth Guide

Whether you are a beginner or more experienced kalimba player, you will still need to keep your instrument in tune if you want to play it. Without proper tuning, it will be nearly impossible to enjoy the beauty this instrument is.

Fortunately, tuning kalimba is not a complex task, and you’ll be able to master it in no time. You will, however, need tools to perform this task. To tune kalimba, you will need to reposition each of the tines to ensure they are giving a proper note.

But you can also change the tuning completely, and create something new and unique that fits your playing style and your desire. 

Kalimba Tuning App

The first thing you might need is a tuning app. There are so many apps available online, and they are compatible with any smartphone. While you won’t be able to find a kalimba specific tuner, you can find any chromatic one that you like. It is essential to find a chromatic tuner to be allowed to tune accurately since others might not work on kalimbas.

You can also get other types of tuning devices, even physical ones. Just keep in mind that you need to tune kalimba, so don’t get ones that can be used on guitars only. Furthermore, some kalimbas have a pickup and output. This means that you can get an electronic (or digital) tuner as well. 

The tuner is a must if you want your instrument to be playable, since tuning by ear can be rather difficult, especially for beginner players. Moreover, you will need a tuner regardless of the type of kalimba, and a number of keys your instrument has. 

Kalimba Tuning Tools

The second tuning tool you might need is a tuning hammer. Some kalimba packages offer an instrument along with a hammer. However, if you bought things separately, you will need to get a hammer as well. 

The core purpose of the hammer is to allow you to move tines in a specific direction. This way, you will effectively change the length of the tine, and allow it to ring in a different key. Some manufacturers use a steel pipe instead of the hammer, which means that you will need a real hammer besides this tuning tool. 

Another tool you might need depending on the type of instrument is Allen wrench or hex key. Some models of kalimba have hexagonal sockets that are used to fixate the tines. Their goal is to ensure the kalimba stays in tune for a longer period of time. 

How To Tune A 17/11/12/10/9/7/6/5 Note Kalimba

The basic principle is the same for each model of kalimba regardless of the number of tines it has. You will use the same method if you have a five-note kalimba, and if you have the one with seventeen keys. It is essential to count the tines and understand the key your instrument is in. After you determine these two things, you can proceed to tune. 

Let’s take a look at a 17-note kalimba, for example, tuned in the key of C. The reason why we will start with this one is that it’s the most common type and the most common key you can find in the market. All of the tines on this instrument should be in the key of C, and the lowest note is the root. So, if you pluck the longest tine, it should show on your tuner as a C note. 

If the note shows as a C, you will proceed to the next tine, which is D (in our example). So, let’s assume that the second tine is not showing is a D, or if it’s not exactly on the spot. What you need to do is to take the hammer, and gently tap the tine either on the bottom or on the top. If you tap the tine from the top of the instrument (opposite of the part you’re plucking when you play), you will slightly move the tine to the bottom, and lower the tone. On the other hand, tapping the tine from the bottom will make the key higher. 

Based on what the tuner showed you will use one of the two options. For tapping the top part of the tine, you will use the flatter side of the hammer, and for the bottom part, you will use sharper. 

Notes On The Seventeen-Key Kalimba 

If you have a standard kalimba, it is most likely in the key of C. This means that the longest tine is the C. From there on, you will move alternatively to find other notes. The first one on the left is D, the first one on the right is E, and so on. You will take one note on the left side, and one note on the right side to follow the C major scale. 

The instrument with seventeen keys has two and a half octaves, which means that it starts with C4, and ends with E6. The proper tuner will show you exactly which C you’re playing, so you will have an easier time tuning the instrument. 

Other Types Of Kalimba

Even if you have an instrument with a different number of keys and in a different key, the principle is the same. You will tap the tine from the top if you want your note to be lower, and from the bottom, for it to become higher. 

The smaller kalimbas often have a chord, instead of the scale, and you will follow the exact principle as with the C major scale. This is why it’s essential to know the key your instrument is in, and the type of tuning you want to have. 

Can You Tune A Kalimba To A Different Key?

Yes! You can pick any tuning you like. Following the example I previously mentioned, you can change the pitch of each tine to create any tuning you imagine. This way, even if you get bored from the C major scale, you can change the length of tines to create some different key, scale, or anything else. 

It is such a great way to explore the instrument and learn more about the possibilities that come with it. It would be a good idea to remember the original tuning, just in case you want to revert to old settings. 

Furthermore, some kalimbas have a different bass and root note. The bass note is the lowest note on the instrument which is also the longest tine. The root note shows the key the instrument is in. Sometimes these two notes are the same, as with C major kalimba, and sometimes they are not. 

Experimenting with different keys is always an exciting idea, but you should make sure you understand the basics of music theory before doing all the work by yourself. If you want to learn more about different tunings, you can always search them online to learn more about exciting tunings you can try on a 17-note kalimba.

How To Fix Buzzing Tines

It is not rare to happen that some tines are buzzing after you’ve finished tuning the instrument. Fear not, it is a common issue, and you’ll be able to fix it in no time. For kalimbas that have hexagonal sockets, you will need a hex key to loosen or tighten the tine. Naturally, you will only touch the one that’s causing the buzz, and ignore others. 

What you want to do is to either loosen it or tighten the tine, and the buzzing will stop. Your goal is also to make the same distance between each tine. If they are too close, or too tight (or too loose), the buzzing will happen. 

Naturally, if your kalimba doesn’t have hexagonal sockets, you will simply shift the problematic tine to a position where it won’t cause noise. 

How Often Should You Tune Kalimba

You should tune your instrument as often as needed. If you notice that some of the keys are out of tune, that means that you need to tune it back. Usually, kalimba will hold the tuning for a couple of months. This means that you won’t need to worry about it quite often.

Of course, if you drop an instrument, or gets caught up with your clothes, you will probably need to tune it more often. But still, the chances of tuning it more then once a month are slim. 

Furthermore, the amount of playing will also have an effect on the tuning stability. The more you play the kalimba, the more often you will need to tune it. So be sure that you understand how everything works since you will need to tune it at least once in a while. 

Other Methods To Change The Key And Tune Kalimba

It is still possible to use your fingers to pull or adjust the tine that is out of tune. However, this method is not exactly precise, and you might need some practice before you perfect it. Using a tuning hammer is quite easier, so there is no reason to use other tools. 

Of course, you can always change the tuning or the key of the kalimba by filing down the tines. While it is still a possibility, it might not be the best idea since the process is messy and non-reversible. If you take too much off, you can ruin the instrument, and you will have to get either a replacement for the tine or for the entire kalimba. 


Making sure your kalimba is in tune is essential, and you won’t be able to create music without it. Fortunately, to tune this thumb piano, you will need just a tiny bit of practice. Furthermore, you will need a chromatic tuner and a tuning hammer. 

To make the key higher, you will tap the tine from the bottom side (or the one you pluck), and to make it higher, you will tap with the hammer on the top. There is no reason to hit the instrument hard, and small light taps will be enough. Keep progress and changes on the chromatic tuner, and your kalimba will be ready in no time.

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

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