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The Catania 12-Note kalimba is a great second kalimba for people who started on the 8-Note. It is also a great place for real musicians to start making real kalimba music, a very economical alternative to the Hugh Tracey 15-Note Alto kalimba. They are fairly robust and can be used in the classroom, and travel well to gigs

Demo of the Catania 12-Note Decorative Kalimba.

Cat 12Standard  Tuning

The 12-Note Standard Tuning

The 12-Note is usually tuned to the C major scale, but the lowest note is G - or the 5th of C. While there is something very intuitive about putting the root in the lowest note, it is not required. (See below: the 12-Note Alternative Tunings do have the root note in the bass.)

The black line in the center of the tuning diagram represents an invisibile line between the left and right side tines, and you will immediately notice that the longest tine and lowest note - G - is on the left hand side of the Catania 12-Note kalimba. Why?

Remember that this is the big brother to the 8-Note? The 8-Note runs from C (second tine to the right of the center line) up to the high C to the far left - in fact, the 8-Note kalimba is contained within the 12-Note. Anything you can play on the 12-Note can also be played on the 8-Note by ignoring the central three tines and the top right tine.

We call this a "left-handed" kalimba, because the lowest note belongs to the left hand, but anyone, left handed or right handed, will be able to play this kalimba just fine.

Books and Download for the 12-Note Kalimba

The Kalimba Magic 12-Note Kalimba Exercises is a tablature-based book that explores different scales (ie, different "colors" of the kalimba's playing) with several patterns around each. This book shows you many chords and how to build up complex riffs from simple patterns, includes many exercises and patterns to help you learn the kalimba like the back of your hand, and offers examples of different approaches to songs, i.e., melody only, with harmony accompaniment, with rhythmic counterpoint, etc. In other words, this book teaches you the nitty gritty of getting really good on the 12-Note Catania kalimba. 62 pages. This book does not come with a CD, but when you purchase this book you will have free access to a web page with the MP3s of each song in the book - so you can download the music files to hear what each song sounds like.

The 66 Songs Download for the 12-Note Kalimba. Tablature for 66 Songs for the 12-Note Kalimba: PDF, KTabS, and MP3 formats. African, Classical, Folk, Peace, patriotic, Christmas, African American Spirtuals, Reggae, ETC! This monster download of songs for the 12-Note kalimba will keep you busy for months, or more likely years! Instead of releasing one release for each type of music, we just threw it all together into one big download. Learn which 66 songs are included in the download.

SONG BOOK FOR THE 12-NOTE CATANIA KALIMBAS When Steve Catania started making kalimbas many years ago, he knew right away that he needed a method for teaching people how easy it is to play. The method he devised numbers the tines on the kalimba (with marker or just conceptually) "1" through "12", from lowest to highest. And that is pretty much all you need to make sense out of this book.

Check out this example of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." The numbers above each syllable indicate which kalimba tine to pluck:

         6  5  4  5  6   6    6 
        Mar-y had a lit-tle lamb

I myself have a minor quibble with this numbering method. I like this numbers method for the 8-Note book, becuase the numbers 1-8 have musical meaning - Mary had a little lamb is "3 2 1 2 3 3 3". However, the "1" note in the 12-Note book is actually the 5th of the scale, the "4" note in the book is the root note, which is usually thought of as the 1 of the scale. If this is of no concern to you, or if you just want something easy that will work, go for this book!

The SONG BOOK FOR THE 8-NOTE CATANIA KALIMBAS can actually be used to instruct you on playing the eight notes ranging from C to C (that is, neglecting the lower G, A, B, and the upper D). In some ways this may be a superior way to learn, because the numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, will also refer to the degree of the scale, so the tine labeled "5" will play what musicians call "the fifth" of the scale. The only drawback? This book isn't as long as the 12-Note book. But we make up for that by providing you with a great CD I made, playing the 8-Note songs in this book through once as written and a second time showing you what is possibile if you want to flash it up a bit.

The 12-Note Kalimba Instructional Download
uses kalimba tablature, which is a map of the kalimba that six year olds (and up!) can decipher. This set of exercises will show you dozens of patterns, all the chords and scales available to the 12-Note, arpeggios, and a lot of great riffs that will have you understanding your kalimba in so many new ways.


Other 12-Note Resources

  • Counterpoint on the 12-Note Kalimba - a tip of the day that explains how going from 8-Note to the 12-Note opens up a huge world of possibilities - melody and counterpoint together.
  • Interview with Jeff Willet, a percussionist and recording artist who uses the 12-Note Catania gourd and board kalimbas in his recordings.

12-Note Models Available from Kalimba Magic

  • The plain Catania 12-Note Kalimba is one of the most economical instruments we sell, coming in at just over $4 per tine. It sounds great and offers a fair bit of musical complexity.
  • The decorative Catania 12-Note Kalimba has essentially the same sound as the plain 12-Note, but it is so beautiful! Worth the few extra dollars, and if you decide not to play kalimba, you can always use this one as a cutting board.
  • The Catania 12-Note gourd piano is really the best of the 12-Notes. Mounted on a gourd, it not only looks cool, it also sounds better - it is louder, and the big sound hole on the front and the two sound holes on the side permit the "WAH WAH" effect.

12-Note Alternative Tunings

These altenative tunings have rich ethnic sounds. Please note, however, that the Catania instructional book and our instructional download are designed to be played in the standard C ("do-re-mi....") tuning. On the other hand, if you need some help with these exotic tunings, go ahead and ask - we have limited instructional material for some of them, and could write some for you if we have time.

Below are the notes for several different tunings with sound samples of the Catania 12 Note Gourd kalimba playing each tuning. Basically each tuning carries a different feeling or range of emotions. By shifting to other tunings, you increase the expressive potential of your kalimba. OR if you want the different sound without having to retune yourself, we can tune your kalimba to the tuning you want.

Cat 12Standard  Tuning

The Standard C Catania 12 Note Tuning

Listen to standard C tuning

This is the way the Catania 12 Note kalimba comes from Steve Catania's place. Why is the low note on the left? Well, the 8-note kalimbas have the low note (C, the root) on the right side - the Hugh Tracey convention. Hey, Hugh knew a LOT about African music - Christian Carver says there are reasons for everything in African music, so I don't second guess Hugh's convention. BUT for the 12 note kalimba (and also for the Goshen 11 note, which have the same sort of deal) they add three notes lower than the C: B on the left, A on the right, and G ... on the LEFT! SO, putting the low note on the left side is a natural result of putting the root C on the right.

An important concept to grasp - the low note G is NOT the root note - OR, if you make that low note become the root note, you are now playing in the G mixolydian mode - the Grateful Dead Dark Star mode, which is beautiful and mysterious just for having a flat 7th (F). It is almost the major scale, with only the first hints of funkiness and melancholy.

By the way, some people get so confused by this setup that they retune their Catania 12's and Goshen 11's to put the low note on the right instead of the left. There is enough "slack" in the tines so you don't have to take them apart and trade tines left to right, you can just retune the tines in place if you want.

On the other hand, on the Alto kalimba the low root note is on the right, and then in the next octave every note is switched around to the other side, so it doesn't really matter if the kalimba is "right handed" or "left handed."

Cat 12 G Major Tuning

The G Major Tuning

Listen to G major tuning

Having the root note in the bass is very suggestive and powerful. The easiest thing you can do to retune the Catania 12 Note kalimba is to actually put it in the key of G by raising the F to F#, which makes G be the root note.

This is now like the lower 12 notes of the Alto kalimba, except it is a mirror image. Most people won't care one way or the other. If you play the Alto and know songs on it, you could choose to retune it so it is exactly like the Alto (i.e., so you will know songs on this one too), or you could take it as a challenge to help symmetrize your brain - i.e., in order to play songs you know on the Alto, your left hemisphere will have to learn your right hemisphere's part, and vice versa.

Cat 12 G minor Tuning

The G minor Tuning

Listen to G minor tuning

Have you ever played a Native American flute? While there are some exotic tunings, probably 90% of the NAFs are tuned to a minor scale. In fact, there are just a whole lot of people who love the minor scales. People who sort of thought they couldn't play music, and then they discover the minor scale and realize that this is a whole new world waiting for them to discover. Some of them play kalimbas too. Maybe this is you?

Well, you'll never know until you try! You can go straight to G minor without ever passing through G major if you want to. The minor scale has a flattened (or minor) 7th (F natural, i.e., the flat 7th of the G mixolydian, which is in the standard C tuning), 3rd (Bb), and 6th (Eb). While you are changing the tuning, stop and pick up the instrument before you tune the 6ths down to Eb. With minor 7th and 3rd but major 6th (E natural) you have the G dorian scale - a cool and jazzy form of the minor scale. You may love it. But if you are after melancholy, tune the 6th to Eb.

Cat 12 MidEastern Tuning

The G Mideastern Tuning

Listen to G mideastern tuning

This is a wonderful tuning that has ambiguous features of both the major and the minor scale. I was listening to a world music program on the radio around 2005, and Matt Moon was saying "When most people think of Iraq, they think of chaos, instability, bloodshed, war. But when I think of Iraq, I think of all the beautiful music they have there." Music can always give us a different way of looking at any problem, and playing in this scale is actually a way to develop and exercise respect and love for the people of the Middle East.

There are actually several different Middle Eastern tunings, but the two variations suggested here will get you started.

Cat 12G pentatonic  Tuning

The G Pentatonic Tuning

Listen to G pentatonic tuning

The pentatonic tuning is a whole new thing. Pentatonic scales cover an entire octave with only 5 notes (the earlier scales used 7 notes, and the 8th note is a repeat of the root note). This means that on average there is less distance in pitch space between each note's pitch, and if you keep the lowest note the same G, the top note will be very much higher than the scales we've seen so far.

In the previous tunings, we were leaving the lowest and highest notes in the same spot, so the retuning did not affect the range at all. In general there will be a lowest good note and a highest good note on any kalimba. If you tune much lower than G on the Catania 12 Note, it will start sounding odd because the body of the kalimba and the air inside won't resonate with that low note, and you'll hear the an-harmonic (i.e., bad sounding) overtones. If you tune the high D a lot higher, eventually you will tune to a note that just goes THUD because the metal and the support mechanism can't sustain that high a frequency vibration. In addition to these two limits of the kalimba, each tine has a physical limitation - you cannot tune it lower than a certain low note, because it will fall off the kalimba!

That all said, the G pentatonic tuning works on the Catania 12 Note kalimbas. This is a whole new thing because a lot of retuning is required, unlike other tunings that require only a few notes to be retuned.

Note: We have a book for the Hugh Tracey 11-note Pentatonic kalimba. The first half of the book is in G Major, the second half is in G minor - and if you tune your Catania 12 Note kalimba to the G Major pentatonic scale, you can totally use the Hugh Tracey book. HOWEVER, you do need to do something about the mirror image issue. Idea 1: Retune to a right handed version. Idea 2: Look at the tablature in the book IN THE MIRROR and read it, and that will effectively reverse the tablature to work with this left-handed G pentatonic tuning.

Cat 12 G minor pentatonic Tuning

The G minor Pentatonic Tuning

Listen to G minor pentatonic tuning

Once you have made the jump to the G Major pentatonic, you might as well try the other pentatonic scales - you've already done the bulk of the work, and this scale represents a minor departure from the G Major pentatonic tuning. The G minor pentatonic is a very popular scale.

Note: We have a book for the Hugh Tracey 11-note Pentatonic kalimba. The first half of the book is in G Major, the second half is in G minor - and if you tune your Catania 12 Note kalimba to the G minor pentatonic scale, you can totally use the Hugh Tracey book. HOWEVER, you do need to do something about the mirror image issue. Idea 1: Retune to a right handed version. Idea 2: Look at the tablature in the book IN THE MIRROR and read it, and that will effectively reverse the tablature to work with this left-handed G pentatonic tuning.

Cat 12 Ake Bono Tuning

The G Ake Bono Tuning

Listen to G minor Ake Bono tuning

The Ake Bono is an ancient Japanese scale - do you know the song Sakura? The cherry blossom song - well, if you've watched cartoons, I'm sure you've heard this song many times before. Sakura is played in the Ake Bono scale - which is also the scale used by the Sansula. You can hold some serious drama with this scale.

One important feature to note about the Ake Bono scale - while it is a pentatonic scale, it is very different from the regular major and minor pentatonic scales which don't have any half-step intervals. The Ake Bono scale has two half step intervals (2 to minor 3, and 5 to minor 6). So this scale will work great with another Catania 12 Note in regular G minor, or in G minor pentatonic, even though both of those scales have notes that this exotic scale lacks. There will be no nasty clashes, I assure you!

Do you already have a 12-Note kalimba that you would like to retune? The Kalimba Doctor can retune it and mail it back to you for $20. Or you can retune your 12-Note yourself (give it a try!). By the way, a substantial retuning of the Catania kalimbas can be aided by unscrewing the two pressure bar screws by half a turn, then retuning, then retightening by half a turn.

Still Have 12-Note Kalimba Questions?

If you still have questions after reading this, please send me a message to let me know what you need to find out.


Last updated June 2012