The kalimba is a simple, beautiful instrument. It has a rich, warm tone that captivates the listener and keeps them mesmerized. It’s a relaxing, calming instrument if played in moderation, and it’s very enjoyable and fun to boot.
It’s crazy how many great songs you can learn on the kalimba. Here we will look at some of the easiest kalimba songs you can pick up fast.
“Can’t Help Falling In Love” by Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” is a rock and roll ballad essential, and like some of the other songs mentioned here, it has a melody that was based on deeply rooted traditions. And any song that reprises melodies that are a part of the fabric of culture serve as a gateway to deeper musical study.
It sounds quite beautiful on the kalimba, as the video demonstrates.
“Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day
Punk rock band Green Day started to take things in a more pop oriented direction in the mid-2000s. But it was mostly to good effect, as it gave way to songs like “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” No surprise that it would be the very picture of simplicity, though, and that makes it a quick study on the kalimba.
The arrangement featured in the video below is sophisticated, though, and there are easier versions out there.
“The Sound Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel
It’s hard to think of a folk duo more important to American music than Simon & Garfunkel. “The Sound Of Silence” is just one of many songs that have remained a staple for multiple decades, but “The Sound of Silence” is likely their haunting best. The harmonies make it a great tune to learn inside and out. Nice and simple too.
“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen
Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen wrote some true classics. He will be remembered most for “Hallelujah,” but the truth of the matter is that most of his songs featured very slow and moderate tempos. No surprise, then, that the melodies to his songs are so easy to pick up and play, on just about any instrument, including the kalimba.
“You’re Still The One” by Shania Twain
For country-pop fans, Shania Twain’s love ballad “You’re Still The One” should make for a fun little undertaking on the kalimba. The slow-paced melody is gentle and easy, and of course, highly recognizable. A great tune to play for your friends.
“Careless Whisper” by George Michael
In my opinions, there aren’t too many artists that can pull off melodrama without coming off self-important or cheesy. George Michael was one of those rare talents, and “Careless Whisper” is the proof in the pudding. This ballad’s memorable melody is the kind that gets stuck in your head, and its guilty conscience lyrics are relatable to many.
“Imagine” by John Lennon
Often mistaken for a Beatles song, John Lennon’s “Imagine” prompts us to imagine a strange, utopian society that only a hippie could dream up. Ultimately, though, I like to think of it as a song of unity and harmony, a song about erasing the lines of division. And in that sense, it couldn’t be more relevant.
The adage “all Beatles songs are easy” don’t always hold up to scrutiny (most are more complex than today’s top 40), but “Imagine” is a great song for beginner musicians of any persuasion to study and assimilate.
“In The End” by Linkin Park
Here’s a fun project for a kalimba if there ever was one. Many kalimba players have observed that transferring “heavier” rock and metal songs over to the instrument produces a rather stunning, dramatic effect. Minor melodies just sound so good on the kalimba.
Linkin Park’s “In The End” was one of their earliest hits, and the definitive angst and depression ridden rockers they will always be remembered for.
“I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz
Laid back, beach bum acoustic guitar driven music was in vogue as artists like Jason Mraz, Dave Matthews, and Jack Johnson rose to prominence in the mid-2000s. Most of these artists possess true talent. I will not comment on who I think doesn’t.
“I’m Yours” is perhaps overplayed, but the song still shines through, and Mraz always injects his music with strong melodic hooks, and usually, positive mantras and messages too.
“Heal The World” by Michael Jackson
“King of Pop” Michael Jackson proved to be a rare talent with widespread appeal, and his music validates his legacy through and through. “Heal The World” is certainly a product of its time, the socially conscious and self-referential 90s, but the message feels authentic for Jackson.
The moderate pace of “Heal The World” makes it a relatively easy piece to pick up for musicians of any persuasion, and a beautiful melody for the kalimba.
“Zombie” by The Cranberries
Depending on the arrangement, The Cranberries’ “Zombie” can be a challenging piece. That said, it is a fun minor-key song to try, it sounds great on the kalimba, and as you’ll see in the video below, it is possible to adapt the various riffs, chord progressions, and melody parts to the instrument. Seek easier arrangements if necessary.
“With Or Without You” by U2
Irish punk rockers U2 burst onto the scene with a pent-up, youthful energy, and a politically, socially, and spiritually charged message to deliver to the world. They would ultimately come to find more success, though, with their airy, atmospheric, pop friendly sensibilities as heard on ballads like “With Or Without You” (Brian Eno played a major role in that).
It probably wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that U2 guitarist The Edge invented the guitar sound that has become so associated today with adult contemporary / easy listening / alt-rock bands like Coldplay and Snow Patrol. It is even imitated by pop bands like Marianas Trench.
“With Or Without You,” while simplistic, is underpinned by a strong melody.
“Hey Jude” by The Beatles
The melody to The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” can be played very simply on the kalimba. If there is anything difficult about it, it would be the fast melody that accompanies the lyrics “Take a sad song and make it better,” especially the “make it better” part. Either way, it’s a great song to study and add to your kalimba repertoire.
“Take On Me” by A-ha
A-ha’s “Take On Me” might require fast fingers (especially if you plan to work on the signature synth riff), but it’s fun to think that you could transfer it over to the kalimba, even if just for fun. And here’s a crazy thought – you can!
The trick will be to start slow and gradually build up speed as necessary. Anything can be learned one note at a time, and as your muscle memory starts to kick in (with repetition and practice), it will only get easier.
“I Want To Break Free” by Queen
Queen’s “I Want To Break Free” has a unique quality when played on the kalimba. It sounds just a little mysterious and indecisive, but certainly not in a bad way. It’s the perfect song for beginners to develop their skills on the kalimba too.
“The Scientist” by Coldplay
Colplay’s “The Scientist” is a great starting point for beginner kalimba players. There are some fun melodies, but they are mostly uncomplicated and easy to follow. If you’re struggling with other tunes on this list, then perhaps give this one a try first.
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is one of their most memorable, if not most memorable, power ballads. It opens with Slash’s famous “guitar finger exercise that was never meant to be turned into a song” riff, and then unfolds with the addition of the full band.
From the opening riff to the melody, there are at least a couple of areas worth studying here.
“The House Of The Rising Sun” by The Animals
The Animals’ rendition of the traditional folk “The House Of The Rising Sun” is certainly the most well-known, and among the best versions of the song. It’s evocative and brooding.
On the kalimba, it isn’t necessarily the easiest tune, but it is breathtaking. A good one to work your way up to!
“Numb” by Linkin Park
The angsty nu metal of Linkin Park knew no bounds in their heyday, and “Numb” is just one of many songs that reflected their restless energy. “Numb,” specifically, addresses a toxic relationship and how it affects one’s psyche.
Oddly, it sounds a little bit like a lullaby on the kalimba. The arrangement in the video below probably isn’t the easiest to pick up, but it doesn’t sound great. Of course, you can always learn one thumb at a time.
“True Colors” by Phil Collins
English progressive rock band Genesis is one of the all-time best-selling artists. What is surprising, then, is how singer Peter Gabriel and drummer Phil Collins’ more pop-oriented solo careers essentially eclipsed the band’s popularity. Of course, rockers will always learn more towards Genesis’ considerable body of work for satiation.
Here we find Collins covering Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” originally written by American songwriter Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. In this case, it doesn’t matter much which version you pick, Collins’ or Lauper’s, both songs are quite close in cadence. But I do have a slight personal preference for the Collins version, which I deem more melodic overall.
“Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran
Modern pop fans will rejoice at the presence of this song’s inclusion here. Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” is simplistic in composition, and it is far more pop than his sappy and sentimental acoustic-guitar crooners.
I know there are those who would disagree with me, but I find it hard to tell the difference between the Sheerans and the Biebers of the era… I feel like there were only four or five songs propagated in 2017 with slightly different arrangements depending on the artist.
Anyway, you should find “Shape Of You” an easy song to get under your fingers.
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” sounds quite authentic on the kalimba, and thanks to the moderate pace of the song, it’s not hard to play either. If anything, the kalimba gives the song a bit of an Asian flavor, or perhaps more accurately, brings out the Asian flavor in the song you didn’t necessarily know was there.
“Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes
Fueled by a youthful punk rock attitude, The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” has fast become a widely recognized, modern-day garage rock classic. And I still can’t tell whether I should be thrilled or appalled (mostly because I think there are better Jack White songs).
It’s a simplistic song, to be sure, and probably the best part about it is singer and guitarist Jack White’s “let me strangle this impossibly hard to play guitar” approach to playing. It certainly gives the song flavor.
“Bring Me To Life” by Evanescence
Here’s another “heavy” song whose melody is easy to transfer over to the kalimba, with rather surprising results. It probably helps that, at its core, it is a classically inspired rocker.
Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life” was a product of its time, and a legitimate entry into the 15-second nu metal corridor (which isn’t saying much). It’s in retrospect that things seem to fall apart a bit, at least for me, with the one chord staccato guitar riff, vocalist Amy Lee’s over the top melodrama (how much can you take?), and the “wake me up / can’t wake up” male vocal chants. It doesn’t hold up, at least for me.
The kalimba version, on the other hand, is a refreshing take.
“How Deep Is Your Love” by Bee Gees
“How Deep Is Your Love” shows the softer, tender side of the Bee Gees. Of course, they always had a way with their voices, and this song showcases mesmerizing, cascading, layered harmonies that dazzle the ear. It has a nice flavor on the kalimba too.
“Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas
American progressive rock band Kansas found considerable popularity with singles like “Dust In The Wind,” and of course, this, “Carry On Wayward Son.”
The song is probably “intermediate” in terms of difficulty. There are some fast notes that might take some getting used to, but that is the hardest part.
Overall, a very fun song to tackle.
“Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” is largely considered one of the greatest rock songs of all time. There are no measuring sticks competent enough to be the definitive judge of such a thing, but there is no denying that it’s the perfect storm of mood, surprise, and anthem.
“Stairway To Heaven” is a bit of a project for any instrumentalist, so don’t expect to learn it all without putting the effort in. Most would say, though, that the effort is worth it.
It sounds quite authentic on the kalimba too.
“Fly Me To The Moon” by Frank Sinatra
Jazz standards can often strike one as intimidating, but it’s not so bad when you adapt it to your thumbs, especially when it’s as straightforward as “Fly Me To The Moon.”
In terms of difficulty, the following tutorial is well-suited to beginners. The melody should strike you as familiar, so when learning the song that doesn’t hurt one bit.
“Let It Be” by The Beatles
The gentle pace of “Let It Be” makes it a great choice for the kalimba. As with any other song, there are both simple adaptations and more complex ones. The video below represents a more complex version, but if you take it slowly, you can likely pick it up a little bit at a time.
What playing “Let It Be” on the kalimba shows you is just how classic the melody to the song is.
“(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” by Bryan Adams
Bryan Adams is like the Canadian Def Leppard. His rock songs contain intentional pop elements, unexpected modulations, and surprising arrangement choices. All without deviating from simplicity.
“(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” for the most part, is a straightforward power ballad, and that makes it easy to play as well.
“All Of Me” by John Legend
John Legend’s piano love ballad “All Of Me” isn’t exactly my style. That said, it is well-suited to beginner students. Some of the melody parts happen kind of rapidly, but aside from that, it’s not too hard to play. Enjoy!
“Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” stands as one of his most iconic ballads. The opening guitar riffs are memorable and are relatively easily duplicated on the kalimba. The song progresses at a gentle pace as well, so this one should be a shoo-in for beginner players.
“Yesterday” by The Beatles
The melancholy melody of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” transfers perfectly over to the kalimba. The arrangement featured in the video is perhaps a little more intermediate oriented than beginner oriented, but it’s a great piece for you to work on regardless to develop your skills.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen
Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the very pinnacle of rock opera tunes. As such, as with “Stairway To Heaven,” this song will likely be a bit of an undertaking for the budding kalimba player. That said, it is an incredibly rewarding and fun song to learn, and that doesn’t hurt the learning process any.
Even on the kalimba, it is instantly recognizable.
“What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong
As one of our reader’s pointed out (here’s a wink and a nod), jazz legend Louis Armstrong’s melody to “What A Wonderful World” is based on none other than the melody to popular English lullaby, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
And given that most songs for kids, lullabies, and nursery rhymes are easy to play on most instruments, this song shouldn’t put up too much of a fight either.
“Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” can be played one note at a time, so in that sense, it’s quite easy. The note changes can be kind of fast, but that generally comes with practice and repetition. So, gradually build it up to speed if it’s too fast and you will do well!
“Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People
Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” quickly rose to the top of the charts to become a radio friendly hit. Its subject matter is grim, and the cheery pop melodies contrast with the tune’s story.
It doesn’t get terribly exciting until the chorus, but either way, a fun song to learn and easily recognizable.
“Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson
There’s something about Michael Jackson songs that just make you want to get up and dance, and “Billie Jean” has such a great groove that, how can you not get up and start moving to it?
But how does it come across on the kalimba? That is the real question, right?
Obviously, the song does need to be adapted to the instrument, but as you’ll hear in the video below, it can sound quite cool!
“Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers
A melody all kalimba players and instrumentalists should endeavor to learn. “Unchained Melody” is very beginner oriented and easy to play.
“Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls
Goo Goo Golls’ “Iris” has an unforgettable melody, and it just so happens that it’s perfect for the kalimba. Playing it on the kalimba basically turns it into a lullaby.
“Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson
Beach-dwelling, acoustic guitar slinging Jack Johnson sung songs about paradise, and the simplicity of it all was refreshing in a time when angst-ridden alt-rock and nu metal was still alive and well on the charts. Jackson’s voice is a little too relaxed for my taste, but his songs are the living image of easy.
“Brown Eye Girl” by Van Morrison
Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” showed us all that an anthem could tell a story, contain multiple hooks, have dedicated singalong sections in the bridge, and still be cool. No cover band in their right mind wouldn’t at least consider “Brown Eyed Girl” for their set, as it’s still very much a part of the zeitgeist.
“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ode to Alabama – a State famous for its southern hospitality – somehow became a universal hit about everyone’s favorite State. And that might have more to do with the incredibly talented band and their knack for arranging catchy tunes that are easy for everyone to sing along to than anything else.
Again, no cover band would be caught dead without this on their set list (past or present), and it’s a good study for beginner to intermediate musicians too.
“Truly Madly Deeply” by Savage Garden
The popularity of Australian duo Savage Garden came and went, but in retrospect, they are one of few groups that came to epitomize the 90s pop sound. Their debut album birthed multiple hits, along with the sappy balladry of “Truly Madly Deeply.”
There’s nothing “special” about the song, but it isn’t horrible either, and it has a lullaby like quality that makes it fun and easy to play on the kalimba.
“Wind Of Change” by Scorpions
The Scropions’ “Wind Of Change” is very easy to play on the kalimba. A great tune for everyone starting out on the instrument to learn!
“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
Speaking of barroom singalong classics, few karaoke nights end without someone selecting Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and belting it out along with everyone in attendance. The call and response vocal and horn section seems to have embedded itself into the very fabric of cultural consciousness.
“Dust In The Wind” by Kansas
We’ve already looked at one Kansas tune, and here we have the far more depressing, existential “Dust In The Wind.” Then again, it became a hit for a reason, and it endures to this day.
The video below shows the “hard” version, but there are easier versions out there.
“Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica
Few Metallica songs can be described as “straightforward,” and that goes for “Nothing Else Matters” too. But the minor melodic strains make for a haunting yet beautiful song to hammer out on the kalimba.
“All To Myself” by Marianas Trench
Modern pop rock band Marianas Trench originally had more learnings towards punk rock, and some of their earlier hits, like “All To Myself” show this. Repeating melodic figures make it a fun one to tackle on the kalimba, and it’s undeniably catchy, even if you don’t like the genre.
“Hysteria” by Def Leppard
No surprise that we should pick one of Def Leppard’s most infamous power ballads for this list. “Hysteria” is beloved by most, even those who would consider it a guilty pleasure and would never admit it to anyone else. It sounds cool on the kalimba.
“Rock And Roll All Nite” by KISS
KISS’ trademark “Rock And Roll All Nite” features an infectious, three-chord chorus that’s hard to get out of your head once you’ve heard it. The verse melody does contain a bit of movement though, so take that slowly, and you should be fine.
“I Can’t Tell You Why” by Eagles
The Eagles, along with many of their same-era cohorts, had a knack for turning simple songs into complex ones by adding layers of instrumentation on top. At the heart of every song, though, is always a dedication to simplicity.
“I Can’t Tell You Why” features a great melody and is worth tackling.
“Hey Ya!” by OutKast
There’s simply no way that OutKast’s four-chord wonder, “Hey Ya!,” with its tight melody, could be a hard song to play. But there is more to it than you might expect. So buckle up before giving this one a go.
Easy Kalimba Songs, Final Thoughts
Although we’ve primarily focused on pop songs here, it’s worth pointing out that there are plenty of classical compositions, traditional folk songs, nursery rhymes, and Disney songs that are also easy to pick up and play. If you’d like to go deeper into the world of kalimba, you will benefit from a deep dive into these areas as well.