Percy Mwana is a great kalimba player in New Orleans, and I fully expect that he will be recognized as a world expert on electrifying the kalimba. -Mark
"Kalimba Sacred Music to set you free,
free your mind and soothe your soul."
The kalimba happens to be one of the most difficult instruments to amplify against a band that uses electronic instruments such as bass, lead guitar, keyboards, drums, horns, etc. If you use a microphone, you have to stand close to the mic, which limits your movement. Also, feedback can be a problem when micing a kalimba. So in this situation, I use a Pintec drum trigger because there is a gain control on the pickup so I can control feedback should it arise because of the increased volume needed to be heard playing along with electronic instruments. I also try to keep my amp (a Marshall Accoustic Soloist) a good distance from my instrument and then run a compact portable amplitied speaker (ie, a hotspot monitor) close to you to hear yourself.
I also suggest mounting two pickups on your favorite kalimba as I do so you'll be prepared for any situation you encounter. With two pickups, you can send one signal through an effects unit, and the other signal can be a more acoustic sound.
And another tip: I use velcro fasteners for the pickups - that way the pickups are removable and can be used on other kalimbas.
You will find that the exact location of your pickup on your kalimba can have a strong effect on the sound quality. I recommend against putting the pickup directly behind the bridge, because this setup can result in picking up some unwanted buzzing. Try putting the pickup on the back of the kalimba, but farther away from the bridge, near the foot of the kalimba. Also, you may find that some places you put a pickup on the kalimba can effect the acoustic sound of the kalimba. So, be sure to experiment.
For playing outdoors, I recommend the Barcus Berry Insider (installed inside the kalimba) or the Barcus Berry Outsider (stuck on the bottom of the kalimba or on the narrow foot of the kalimba box. I think the Barcus Berry is best for clarity, and it isn't fragile.
The Pintec drum trigger is best for versatility. However, the Pintec is more fragile than the Barcus Berry and requires extreme care and a special guitar chord with slightly smaller than normal plug - a regular guitar chord will break the contact of the Pintec pickup, and you'll have to solder it back. The Pintec may also require repair after pluggin and unplugging many times. I just leave the chord plugged in at all times. I've had a few pickups or triggers before that had their flaws or had to wiggle the chord to get a contact.
Hart Dynamics drum triggers (from Florida, available at Mars Music outlet) were very inexpensive, ranging from $10 to $35. I used the bass drum trigger on the Alto and the smaller trigger on the Treble kalimba. While they had a very good sound, they had connection problems, and I had to wiggle them to make a contact. I don't recommend the Hart pickups because the problems developed too soon, and they were not easy to repair.
About 15 years ago I purchased a Kent pickup with a volume dial. This was a very nice pickup, but I lost it when I left my kalimba in a phone booth.
Another pickup had the nickname of Buffalo Nickle Pickup, which I believe was used by Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire. The pickup had the same shape as a buffalo nickle, but I don't remember the real name of it.
I own a Hugh Tracey kalimba from Kalimba Magic with the preinstalled pickup from AMI. The pickup is installed safely inside the board and is probably very durable. I highly recommend this and am impressed with the sound and deliverance. I run the signal through my Fishman pre-amp when playing this one.
I've tried numerous pickups that are designed for acoustic guitars, such as the Barcus Berry transducer and a Yamaha contact mic. The Yamaha mic had a weak responce - being a popular company and product, I bought it without trying it out.
I also had a very good clip-on mic I purchased for $15 about 20 years ago to put on my first kalimba. I clipped it to the sound hole on the top face of the kalimba. It had a volume dial and worked very well. I don't know the company's name, but this is one of the best I've had.
The Thin Line Pickup (designed to go under a guitar's bridge) is another possibility for the kalimba. I've heard you can cut a small groove underneath the wood under the kalimba's bridge and install the Thin Line pickup under the kalimba's bridge. This pickup is a bit expensive - over $100 - but sometimes you get what you pay for.
I decided to do a thorough sound comparison of several pickups I have. I found that the Barcus Berry 1455-3 Insider Piezo Transducer was the best - it sounds most acoustic with a bit of high end brilliance.
I'd give the Hart Dynamics bass pedal trigger second place for the most gain and volume of all, but not as rich a sound as the Barcus Berry.
The AMI pickups that are installed in the new Hugh Tracey kalimbas are tied for third place with the Pintec triggers. The pintec has a more natural sound than the AMI, but the AMI had more high end brilliance.
After you have selected a pickup for your kalimba, there are pre-amps, effect units, and sound modeling units which can give you a fullness of sound and an extra edge that can take your kalimba to a whole other level.
The kalimba is a soft spoken instrument, and a pre amp or an EQ unit helps it be heard clearly.
Here are some of the effects units I've owned (I lost a lot of equipment in Katrina, and I've sold some).
Before you buy an effects unit, go to a music store with your kalimba and pickup, and bring a small portable recorder. Play your kalimba through several different devices and record yourself playing, speaking the name of each device before and after you play through it. Make sure you place the recorder far from the acoustic sound of the kalimba and close to the amplifier. Be sure to use the same amp when trying out different effects units. Then take the recorder home and listen to all the different effects units, and determine which unit fulfills your desire for the sound you want to hear. I have made the mistake of buying effects units that interested me while I was playing them, but they didn't sound so interesting when I got them home.
Your pickup, drum trigger, or contact mic is only as good as your amplifier. I highly suggest an acoustic amplifier because they won't feedback as much as a regular amp, and they will maintain a rich acoustic sound. I prefer the old Marshall Acoustic. I recently tried a new Marshall that was more powerful and cost more, but I was not impressed. Just last week I played through several acoustic amps, and my first choice was the Fender Acoustic, then Peavy and third was the Fishman Acoustic. These amps cost from $400 to $600. There are a few top of the line acoustic amps that jump up tp $1000 or $2000, but for the difference in sound it isn't worth it.
I used to amplify my kalimba through a Peavy 210 Guitar Amp with on board effects that were so warm and effective, but the sound wasn't as full as my Marshall Acoustic.
If you have to use an inferior amp for financial reasons, try to use a keyboard amp or a bass guitar amp. An electric guitar amp is not recommended.
If you like playing kalimba in the park, I suggest:
Percy Mwana can be emailed at email@example.com
Next year, I want the workshop to be “Healing with the Kalimba”, but this year the workshop is “Using the Kalimba in Music Therapy”. This reflects where I'm at and where I hope to be.
Basically, we'll be looking at all kinds of ways of having fun with the kalimba.
Or, in more detail: in this 5 hour workshop, participants are introduced to a variety of kalimba types and a variety of scales. We'll learn a bit about where the kalimba comes from, because its traditional spiritual uses in Africa suggest ways it can be used today. You'll learn a simple kalimba notation and learn or write a song and perform it. You'll explore games you can play with the kalimba and explore different modes of using the kalimba with creativity work. I'll share a number of informal case studies of people whose healing has been enhanced by or even led by the kalimba, and we'll discuss other possible therapeutic scenarios for the kalimba.
Lunch and kalimbas will be provided, and kalimbas, books, and CDs will be available at a special workshop price.
KM: It certainly is an exciting time to be playing kalimba right now. AMI, the maker of the Hugh Tracey Kalimba, is coming out with kalimbas with pickups and new models, several great new books are available, and there is fantastic new software called KTabS which helps you write your own kalimba tablature on your Windows computer. This month's interview is with Randy and Sharon Eaton, the creators of KTabS.
I'd like to start by thanking you both for making this great computer program. This is a great tool that puts any kalimba player in the driver's seat, and potentially revolutionizes the kalimba world.
Sharon: We had a lot of fun creating this program, and it has totally changed the way I play the kalimba. So we are very happy that other people are enjoying the program, too. And Mark, I really want to thank you for inspiring us with your kalimba tablature. It has opened up a huge door of musical possibilities that I am having so much fun exploring.
KM: First, tell us a bit about yourselves, as you work as a good team. What do you each bring to KTabS?
Sharon: I have always been drawn to music, and I love playing instruments, especially the kalimba. I have always liked computers, too-- I can remember programming my little TI computer when I was a kid so it would play music. But that is the extent of my computer programming experience.
Randy is about as much of a musician as I am a computer programmer. He took some music classes as a child, but never really developed a passion for it. He is the computer expert of the family-- he has been a programmer for over 20 years. Randy is a much more analytical thinker than me, and he really thrives on solving complicated problems. So, we were the perfect pair to create KTabS.
KM: Sharon, how long have you been playing kalimba?
Sharon: I got my first kalimba three years ago. I was totally on my own with it for two years, and this last year has been one of huge growth for me with the instrument.
KM: This is amazing! Usually, in order to make a major contribution to an instrument's culture, one needs to have played for decades. OK, what are some of the ways that KTabS has changed your kalimba playing?
Sharon: Before KTabS, I played my kalimba by ear. I would try to work out different harmonies as I played. I would play only songs I already knew, and I never just sat and played random sounds with the kalimba.
For me, KTabS has become a link to the world of music I didn't already know. I am now teachable-- I can download songs from other kalimba players and see how they are playing the kalimba. Just seeing new music is a huge learning experience. I'll look at a new piece and say "Oh, I didn't think about using that chord!". Or I'll realize that it is ok to play both thumbs on one side of the kalimba sometimes. Hearing a new piece with KTabS before I try to learn it is so valuable -- some of the more difficult pieces I don't think I would ever be able to learn just by looking at the tablature. I have to hear the song in my head to really get it right on the kalimba.
My experience with KTabS has changed my whole way of thinking about the kalimba. I realize now just how many different ways there are of playing it. I'm not afraid now to just sit and enjoy the kalimba, not worrying about whether I'm following a melody.
The other thing KTabS has done for my playing is allowed me to actually write new kalimba music. It doesn't come easily for me, so without a quick way to write down a melody I have discovered, it would be lost for ever. I use KTabS to develop melodies into more complete songs, which I print out as sheet music to play from.
I went from having just a few songs I could play by ear on the kalimba to having a whole sheet music collection for the kalimba with at least a hundred songs to choose from. And now that I know I can write my own music, I feel like the possibilities are endless. It is hard to describe what a change it is has been for me. It is like going from living alone on an island to being dropped off in the big city. I am just looking around in amazement, thinking "Where do I want to go next?"
KM: Wow, thats a mouthful! Your reply takes me in 10 different directions at once:
KM: I spent 10 years just improvising, then 9 years writing pieces that I had to entrust to memory as I wrote them (ie, First Look Inside from my CD "Two Thumbs Up" was the first repeatable kalimba piece I wrote). Then I had a year of working with my tablature "by hand" - and now we've got KTabS, which literally lets 3rd graders write their own kalimba music, and it has taken my work to a whole new level. With KTabS, you have basically gone through my 20 year learning cycle in 3 years!
Sharon: Well, I'm still just a beginner but now I have the tools to really make the most out of my kalimba playing. My mind is now open to a whole world of musical possibilities-- I just have to train my thumbs to keep up!
KM: All the ways of playing kalimba - since starting Kalimba Magic, I have been exposed to dozens of great kalimba players out there, and I find that they all have their own ways of understanding the instrument - what a wonder!
Sharon: Isn't the kalimba amazing? I look at it and think, "This is just a piece of wood with metal prongs attached to it." Simple, right? And it can be if you want it to be. But if you want more out of it, there are layers and layers and layers to uncover.
KM: "Where do I want to go next?" -- ah, that captures the spirit of the words on my business card: "Where will the kalimba take you?" To the Shona people of Africa, the kalimba was a doorway to the spiritual world, and I truly feel that it is an instrument that can take us to wonderful places that do not exist in the physical realm (these words from a Physics PhD)!
Sharon: The more I get into music, the more I feel like it is a realm all its own that we have lots of different ways of interfacing with. For me, the kalimba is the perfect interface. Sometimes I'll write down a melody with KTabS, and then later in my head I'll hear it being performed with violins, or trumpets, or whole symphonies. It's like the music is bigger than the kalimba, but the kalimba is my tool for getting to the music. I could not ask for a more pleasant instrument for doing musical exploring than the kalimba.
KM: Have you ever played kalimba with another kalimba player in the flesh?Sharon: The only time I have ever played a kalimba with someone in person is when I let my ten year old niece try out my Treble kalimba. I gave her some tablature to follow, and then I joined in with her with my Celeste. I don't know anyone locally who plays, so KTabS is my lifeline to other kalimba players. I know that you and I have done some great interactive writing.
KM: On New Years Day, you sent me a wonderful solo kalimba piece in KTabS called "The Dance of Time". I heard it and imediately fell in love with it. I asked if I could add some parts to it, you gave permission, and it turned into what may very well be the best kalimba music I have ever written out. So, I can truly say that your seed, my additions, and the collaborative process were all made possible by KTabS! What does Randy think about this, a prime example of what his work has made possible?
Listen to KTabS playing The Dance of Time. Confession time: I am running KTabS on a Windows computer I bought in 2000, so I think the slow CPU results in the little timing inconsistencies you can hear in this piece with three kalimba parts.
Download the Alto II part to The Dance of Time. Note that this kalimba has a different tuning to facilitate the chord change.
Sharon: "The Dance of Time" was really a pivotal piece of music for me. I had recently resolved to start creating more of my own original kalimba music, and I was pleased with this piece. Then you turned it into this amazing Bach-like arrangement for three kalimbas, and I felt like something really wonderful had happened. It made me think I was moving in the right direction. And it gave me a glimpse of what beautiful things can be done with the kalimba.
Randy: When we created KTabS, our vision was that everyone would exchange music with the software. "The Dance of Time" was a great example of what this type of exchange can produce. Our website has a "MyKTabS" page where people can post their own original KTabS compositions, and I hope more and more people start using this to share what they are doing with other kalimba players.
KM: Sharon, I have seen incredible growth in your music. If I compare the first pieces you wrote in KTabS to the music you are producing now, I am just blown away - and that is over a period of less than a year! You must feel as if you are riding on a wave!
Sharon: I am having the best time with music these days. I am learning a lot about myself as well as the kalimba. You don't know what's in you until you have a way to get it out, so now that I have the kalimba and KTabS I am discovering there is music in me I didn't even know about. I am really loving every minute of it.
KM: Well, we've almost turned your interview into a KTabS infomercial. But its all true. For example, I already had the Treble and Alto parts in my head for Carol of the Bells, and using KTabS it took me about 10 minutes to write down 2 minutes of music for two different kalimbas. Thats close to "in real time". It is a great tool for getting the ideas out of your head and into the computer or down on paper.
KM: So, what is next for your work with KTabS?
Sharon: One of my original goals when we first began work on KTabS was to get down into tablature some of the hymns I know and love to play on the kalimba. The kalimba is many things, but one thing it is to me is a beautiful instrument of worship. I now have fifty hymns arranged for the kalimba, and I want to make these hymns available on the KTabS website. And with your help, Mark, hopefully we can create a book version-- a "Kalimba Hymnal."
As for the KTabS program itself, we are looking to the kalimba community to help us shape it in the future. The program has come a long way in the past year, and many of our improvements were based on feedback we got from our users. So we hope to continue to hear from people who are using KTabS so we can help them get the most out of the program.
Sharon: By the way, I have a song to share with you. Recently I decided to really work on learning "Gillian Welch", which is so beautiful but a bit of a brain teaser for me. I decided I needed to commit my Celeste to that tuning so I could really get a handle on it. I really like this tuning, and was delighted to see you had also written the "John Renbourn Song" in that tuning. I tried my hand at writing something of my own. I call it "Spelunking in D minor", although I know so little about music I can't even be sure the song is in D minor. Maybe you could tell me what key or keys I was in?
[ed. note: The song Gillian Welch is on the CD Between the Light and the Dark, and it is written out in tablature in the Kalimba Duets and Trios Book, but it first appeared as a Tip of the Day under the name Starry Night, a name Sharon suggested.]
KM: OK, Sharon - this kalimba is indeed in D minor, but as you have started on the G, it is actually in the "G Dorian Mode". You have just demonstrated that a musician doesn't need to understand about what mode they are in to make beautiful music in that mode! And my, what a nice piece of music!
You can see more of the work that Sharon and Randy have been doing by going over the the KTabS Web Site. Thank you so much, Sharon and Randy!
The next time you'll see a sale like this at Kalimba Magic will be in June, so take advantage of the 15% savings while you can.
When the kalimbas come into our warehouse, they are tuned to their standard tuning: Altos and Trebles are in G, 8-Note kalimbas are in C, Sansulas are in a special type of A minor. But one of the really great things about the kalimba is that you can tune it any way you want. Here at Kalimba Magic, we are developing many different tunings for all of the kalimbas. We are exploring some of those tunings in the recent Tips of the Day. However, not everyone feels that they know how to retune a kalimba. So starting now, you can order your Kalimba, Karimba, or Sansula in a special tuning at no extra cost.
The 8-Note Kalimbas are the first to have a "Tuning Menu" on the Kalimba Shop, but the other menus are coming as we determine which tunings to offer. Of course, several of our customers have specified their own tuning - such as the guy who needed a kalimba tuned to E Flat to play on a techno track a friend had given him.
What key do YOU need?
Now, all the top level pages on the Kalimba Magic web site feature a Google site search box. If you enter a word or phrase into this box and hit the "Search" button, this Google search engine will scan the hundreds of pages in the Kalimba Magic web site and return a list of links to all pages within this website that include an occurrence of your search word. This utility will make the Kalimba Magic web site that much more useful.
I started using Constant Contact to manage my mailing lists back in June 2006. When I started, I had only about 200 email addresses on the kalimba list. But yesterday, we just added our 1000th person to the kalimba mailing list! That means in the last 8 months, over 800 people have bought kalimbas from Kalimba Magic or expressed interest in or amazement with the kalimba ("over" because some people who purchase a kalimba opt out of the mailing list).
I think these monthly kalimba emails are going to every state in the US (especially Hawaii and Alaska) and to a couple dozen countries like Canada, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Isreal, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, and all across Europe. We now have 16 different mailing lists, one for the Kalimba Newsletter, one for local music announcements, one for the Tip of the Day, one for Music Therapists, one for each type of kalimba, etc. (Not all of these lists are activate, but they will be.) Would you like to be on one of these other interest lists? Please let us know!
Of course, Kalimba Magic will never sell or give your email address to anyone.
The tines are the regular karimba layout that works with our great karimba book, but the wood is shaped like the AMI trademark, making this model fit nicely into a gourd or a bowl for resonant sound enhancement. This is not a new Hugh Tracey model, but we are very happy to have this model in the Kalimba Magic lineup. Tuned to the traditional 2 octave African scale, from A-1 to A+1.
This is a good beginners kalimba (except that we don't have a book for it yet) - with 11 wide tines and some extra space between the tines, it is a good mix between not-to-hard and not-too-little. The 1.4 octave diatonic scale permits a lot of music. If you have done well with the 8-Note kalimba and you are looking for the next step, this might be a good way to go. Or if you are a first-time kalimba buyer with some music experience looking for a good place to start, this is a nice kalimba to start with. I am an experienced kalimba player, and I am using this kalimba on a couple of techno-kalimba recordings - it has its own mild personality which I am enjoying greatly. Range: D+0 - G+1
This kalimba has the same 15 tines and tuning as the Alto and TM Alto kalimbas, but it has the minimum amount of wood. Hence, it is easier to hold in your hand and it is easy to reach the tines. If you are accustomed to playing the celeste kalimbas, this one will fit perfectly into your hands. If the weight or size of the kalimba is an issue for you, this one may be the kalimba you are looking for - a small size, yet with the level of complexity and harmonic power of the Alto kalimba. Range: 2 octaves, from G-1 to G+1
This kalimba is similar to the Hugh Tracey Celeste Diatonic Junior - they are both intermediate steps between the simple 8-Note kalimbas and the fuller Alto and Treble kalimbas or the Karimba. The range is from G-1 to D+1. They are not only beautiful, they are also among our most economical kalimbas too!
New additions to the Kalimba Community include Michael Williams (world class mbira player and educator from South Carolina, and author of what several people have told me is "the best book on learning to play mbira"), Michael Mironov (kalimba player, percussionist, and grower of very interesting trees from New Jersey), and David Bellinger (kalimba builder and inventor). If I seem to have passed you over for membership into the Community Pages, its me being disorganized, not you being inadequate. So, just bug me a bit and we'll see if I can't fix it.
Andrew Masters, the kalimba maker from France, has created a very cool short annimation, using kalimba music as the soundtrack. I think I've watched it 5 times.
If you have any questions, or if you have suggestions for future newsletter topics or Tip Of The Day ideas, please share them with me! -Mark