Have you ever been in a cultural music class, and the teacher asks, “Who wants to play the Kalimba?” You are ready to volunteer, but you don't exactly know what a Kalimba is.
Luckily, you have found this article, and we intend to tell you all about this beautiful musical instrument and how to play it. By the end, you'll realize that playing this piano-looking music maker is not difficult and can be enjoyable.
What Is A Kalimba? Definition
A Kalimba is an instrument made of wood and metal. The soundboard is wooden, and the keys are metal. There are two variations if you can play: the 19-key Kalimba and the 15-key option.
It originated in South Africa and is a great tool for many African celebrations and musical efforts. It resembles a piano with its keys and soundboard and allows you to custom tune it to any sound of your liking.
This instrument has many variations that go by different names that other parts of Africa use instead. For example, the Zambian culture plays a variation called the Kankobela, which uses seven to twelve keys instead of 15.
Although it may have keys, or tines, like a piano, it is a handheld instrument you play with your fingers. The Kalimba is one of the more straightforward instruments people can learn to play.
How Do You Play the Kalimba?
Mastering the Kalimba is not complicated because you only need excellent thumb dexterity and patience. To play the Kalimba, you must place it in both hands and pluck the keys with your thumbs.
Many veteran players suggest you grow your nails before playing because they add leverage to your finger plucks. Buying a new one or having an old one that you haven't played in a while, the best to check each tine to see if they are dead.
Dead keys will not resonate once plucked, indicating they need replacing. A tine that resonates will produce additional reverberation sounds after you pluck it with your finger. The lack of resonance is very noticeable once you compare it to a brand-new Kalimba.
Although the 15-key and 19-key Kalimba are the most common, the number of keys can range from 5 to 21. The fewer keys, the easier it is to play, but using fewer keys does not allow you to play more complex songs.
Depending on how you intend to use the Kalimba, either professionally or as a hobby, you should opt for fewer keys to learn. Once you become more adept at using the instrument, you can increase the number of keys and, as a result, the number of songs you can play.
However, if you plan on using your Kalimba professionally, it would be best to know how to tune it just in case it does not deliver the correct sound when you play a particular tone.
How To Tune Your Kalimba
Tuning a Kalimba is a straightforward process and only requires a small hammer-like tool to complete. The hammer is appropriately called a “Kalimba tuner,” fits in the palm of your hand, and is relatively lightweight.
To start the tuning process, grab the Kalimba with one hand and the tuner with the other. After figuring out which key is out of tune (You can use a phone app for that), gently knock on it from the bottom to raise the pitch or from the top to lower it.
The amount of times you have to knock on it depends on how out of tune the tine is. It's always best to check the tone as you fix it to ensure you get it correctly tuned. You can place the phone app or mechanic tuner you used next to the Kalimba while adjusting to get the best results.
After tuning, put away your tuna instrument and prepare the Kalimba for a festive show or celebration.
Where Do People Usually Play Kalimbas
The Kalimba players usually reside in Africa, waiting for the opportunity to play their traditional Zimbabwe-inspired instrument for a special event. This wooden piano gained significant popularity during the 1980s with the help of Thomas Mapfumo, a famous musician.
Most people don't know about Kalimba since it is not in mainstream bands' instrument sets. However, with the rise of YouTube and helpful tutorials on how to use the instrument, the instrument has gained even more popularity, especially among college students.
While some people use it to play music during smaller celebrations, most of the time, it is a personal entertainment tool for those who want a bit of sound during relaxation time. It is not uncommon for many to lay in bed and gently pluck the keys while they rest their eyes.
What Is A Kalimba? Final Thoughts
A Kalimba is a beautiful African instrument that many people use to create faint tunes during relaxation. Depending on your skill level, you may opt to start with the 5-key Kalimba, or if you're feeling a little bold, you can go up to the 21-key option.
Using the instrument is not hard, and tuning it is even easier. Now you'll be ready for the next time your music teacher asks you to play this traditional instrument.