Almost everyone just learning to play the kalimba goes through a stage lasting between
about one week and one year where the kalimba's tines make your thumb flesh hurt.
Over time, you will probably develop small callouses on your thumbs. I have one
right under my right thumbnail, but my left thumb doesn't have one for some reason.
I recommend that people play with their thumbnail instead of the thumb flesh.
Playing with your nail will permit you to play for hours without pain.
Actually, I recommend that you lightly touch the tine first with your
thumb flesh, to deaden any vibrations that might be ongoing (so the
hard nail doesn't make an ugly sound when it touches a vibrating tine),
and then drag the nail off of the tip of the tine, angling down as you
come off, but not pushing down very hard at all.
A good length for a thumbnail.
This playing technique requires that you know a bit about thumbnail care.
Fortunately, we have a series of
Thumbnail Care tips that will help you become an expert
in no time. For your convenience, we have condensed that series into the following list of quintessential thumbnail recommendations:
- If you can't grow your nails (you are a massage therapist, for
use Alaska pics, which are available in guitar shops in your town
or at the
Kalimba Magic Shop.
- If you break a nail, you can
perform thumbnail 'surgery' by clipping around the crack, or you
can actually glue the nail back together using super glue.
- Speaking of super glue, you can actually paint your nails
with super glue to strengthen them and help prevent breaks and to help
slow nail errosion due to lots of kalimba playing.
- When you purchase super glue, be sure to get some that
comes with a brush applicator, just like nail polish.
- If you play kalimba hard for an hour or two in one day,
you will find that the thumbnail wears away at the place you tend to strike
the kalimba tines. You will want to
file your nail
even to improve your playing the next time you play.
- If your nails are too long, they are liable to
break. If they are too short, you can't do the glissando, or you will
wear them down too quickly. So, there is an
optimal nail length that gives you enough to work with, but not
so much that you will break it off to nothing.
- I recently broke a nail while hauling equipment for
a live performance - well, it only broke half way across, still attached
to the other side of the nail. I did not have
super glue, which would have solved the problem, so I folded the broken
part of the nail under the solid part of the nail it broke off from, and it
held for the hour-long performance.
- You can
shape your nails differently for different kalimbas. The Pentatonic
kalimba likes flatter nails, while the Treble kalimba with its small and close tines might
prefer pointier nails.
- If your nails are too long and are not very stiff, you will hear
them slapping back when you play - not a very nice sound. You can avoid that
by painting with super glue, filing them back, or playing closer to the left or
right side of the nail.
- After you clip your thumbnails, you will find there is
a clicky attack to your kalimba playing. It will take a few days
of life or a few hours of kalimba playing to smooth your nails enough to eliminate
that clicky sound.
If the tips and links offered here don't address your questions
about thumbnail care, feel free to
Last updated Nov 2011