Play Along with Any Recording on Your Kalimba
If it isn't in your key, change it!

Most kalimbas are diatonic - that is, tuned to the "Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do" scale in a particular key such as G, C, or Bb, or in the case of the Lotus-tuned Karimba, C minor or G minor (Cm or Gm). What are you going to do if you want to jam along with a Taylor Swift song in some other key? Read and learn, my friend!

Circle of Fifths
The Circle of Fifths is a useful tool for understanding related keys. The information on the outer ring of the Circle, between the "treble cleff sign" and the 4/4, is the key signature. The large letters on the middle ring are the major keys. Keys on the right side have sharps (#, or notes raised a half step). Keys on the left side have flats (b, or notes lowered a half step). The inner ring refers to the relative minor keys to the major keys. E.g., A minor is relative minor to C.

First Step: Learn to extend the keys your kalimba plays in

Let's take the standard Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba in the key of G. If the radio song is also in G, that's great... unless it is in G minor. When a key is referred to as "G", with no other marks or letters, it is implicitly the key of G major. To explain very quickly, the "do re mi" scale is in a major key, and has a happy sound; minor is different and tends to sound sad. There are actually several different flavors of minor scales, and you may want to check out the article on minor scales in this newsletter, if you can't distinguish major from minor.

But there is some slack in the system. Look at the "Circle of Fifths" image above. The progression is not A, B, C, D, E... but rather C, G, D. Why? Because G is a fifth above C - that is, G is the fifth of C (five notes above C). Check it out: if C=1, then D=2, E=3, F=4, and G=5. It gets a bit more complicated when flats and sharps are involved, but you get the idea. Now it turns out that two keys adjacent to each other on the Circle of Fifths have almost all the same notes - you can tell that by the "key signature" shown outside the outer ring - C has no flats (b) or sharps (#), meaning every note is "natural". G has one sharp (F#) and all the other notes are natural. That means that if you have a kalimba in the key of G, and a song is playing in the key of C, what you do is reset your brain to make C be the root note, and G will be the fifth (also a very important note). And since this song contains F natural but your kalimba has F#, you will just avoid the F altogether - in other words, there will be a gap in your scale.

The inner ring of this circle shows the relative minor key. G major and E minor have all the same notes. In other words, your Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba in standard tuning will play in both G major and E minor, you just need to utilize the E as the root note instead of the G. Furthermore, your G major kalimba can probably also play in the adjacent minor keys: B minor and A minor. My YouTube hit First Look Inside is in the key of B minor, and I mostly skip over the C tine, because it should be C# in the key of B minor.

If the song is far away on the Circle of Fifths from your kalimba's key, make the song come to you

To summarize so far: Your kalimba will play easily in its major key and its relative minor key, and will also play pretty well in the major and minor keys one click clockwise on the Circle of Fifths as well as one click counterclockwise on the Circle of Fifths. But what do you do if you want to jam along with a song in E major? Or C# major? Or what if you have no idea what key a song is in? A fabulous solution is Audacity sound editing software (free), which can change the pitch (i.e., key) of any sound file very simply.

Audacity is a powerful sound editing program you can download for free.

I have been using Audacity for many years, and I imagine I will continue to be surprised by what it can do. Let's look at two things that you can do to help you play along with your favorite song on whatever kalimba/tuning you have.

Changing the key of a recorded song to match your kalimba's key

Using Audacity to change the tempo of a recorded song to match your ability

There is another operation that could be handy when trying to learn a song. Your skill as a musician might be considerably less than that of the artists who played the original song. Just as you selected all and went into the Effect menu and selected the Change Pitch operation, you can also Change Tempo to slow the piece down such that it is not a challenge to play along with. Each day you could speed it up a bit and watch your skill grow. But watch out: there is another operation, Change Speed, which will not just change the tempo, but also change the pitch, aka Alvin and the Chipmunks. So no, you probably don't want to use that one.

There is much much more in the Audacity program that could be useful to your music work. But for beginners, the Change Pitch and Change Tempo operations are hugely effective at helping you play the music you want on the kalimba you have.