Kalimba Magic NEWS
Volume 3, Number 3

April 15, 2008

In This Issue:

What's New at Kalimba Magic
Interview: Kevin Spears
Chromatic Kalimba
Physics of the Kalimba
Kalimba Community

What's New at Kalimba Magic?

Classical Songs on KTabS for ALTO or TREBLE Kalimba

Classical Alto

First, to get your attention, I invite you to listen to Pacholbel's Canon on kalimba to see what you can learn to do if you get the Classical KTabS pack.

If you don't know what KTabS is, it is Kalimba Tablature Software for Windows, which helps you create your own kalimba tablature, or plays other people's kalimba tablature. Sharon Eaton and I arranged 20 well-known classical pieces for kalimba over a year ago, and we made the tablature available in KTabS. We now have a few changes to announce. First, we have posted new KTabS sound files (i.e., the sounds your computer will make when you play these files) for the classical arrangements on the KTabS page - this lets you know just what music you are getting, and the new sound files are way better than the old ones. Also, KTabS has changed their policy that previously prevented the user from editing the Classical KTabS files. I spent a few weeks learning six classical pieces for a series of concerts I was doing last month, and I realized that I wanted to change the arrangement I had made last year. I tailored the arrangement to what would spring off of my thumbs more naturally, and I thought: "Hey, everyone should have this option of changing the arrangement" - think of it as an Open Source arrangement (though the KTabS program itself is not Open Source). As of now, the Classical KTabS files are fully editable and printable, so you can change them to meet YOUR needs. Simplify, add notes, remove notes, cut and paste to extend sections - you name it!

And a reminder that all of the exercises from all the Kalimba Magic books are available in KTabS format for only $5 for each book. The KTabS player is available for $5. While there is still good reason to own the books - like the informative text and the photos, and advice on kalimba tuning and maintenance - purchasing the KTabS reader and the KTabS files for all the exercises is one of the best ways to learn how to play the kalimba.

New: the Bb and D Treble Kalimbas, only at Kalimba Magic

Bflat and D Trebles
B flat and D Treble Kalimbas.

If you are a novice working on your first kalimba, you may want to skip this article. If you are a serious musician who plays kalimba with other people and requires more key flexibility than the standard Hugh Tracey kalimba offers - or if you use the kalimba to accompany singing and require more key flexibility - or if you own an alto kalimba and are ready for the next step in kalimba evolution, then this article is for you.

As a young kalimba player, I didn't really like the treble so much, mainly because my clumsy thumbs didn't do well with the smaller treble tines, and my clumsy mind didn't do so well with the kalimba tuning, which started on B, the 3rd of the G major scale the kalimba was tuned to. I much prefered the Alto kalimba, which didn't have the same issues. To me, the ALTO, which started on the root note, G, was much more intuitive.

But over the last year, I have made a series of modifications to an old treble kalimba (the one I wrote the song Gillian Welch on - halfway through the evolution) that resulted in 1) a Bb key, 2) the root note, Bb, being in the bass, and 3) the tines are now painted just like the 15-note ALTO kalimba - but with two extra notes at the top - and now this is my favorite kalimba, WEEE!

To give you an idea of why I love this kalimba so, listen to me play Pachelbel's Canon performed on the Bb Treble Alto-style kalimba.

I have in my possession a number of Treble Hugh Tracey Kalimbas with unpainted tines, and I am prepared to offer them to you just like my favorite kalimba in the world. In fact, I can provide them in the keys of A, Bb, B, or C with the root in the bass (i.e., Bb Treble Kalimba), or in C#, D, Eb, or F (i.e., D Treble Kalimba) with the root note at the top, and the two extra notes in the bass, which means you have easy access to the relative minor. I "paint" the tines with a Sharpie marker, and coat that with clear finger nail polish - so if you need to, you can remove this with finger nail polish remover.

These special Treble kalimbas are priced at $10 above the regular Treble kalimbas to cover my labor in retuning and painting the tines:

Bb Treble Tuning
The Bb Treble tuning comes with the root in the bass, making this seem like an Alto
with two extra notes at the top. Also can be tuned to A, B, and C.

D Treble Tuning
The D Treble tuning comes with the root at the top, making this seem like an Alto with two extra notes at the bottom. While I haven't explored this tuning as much, I imagine there are many songs that are perfect for this note arrangement too - including every song you can play on the Alto. Also can be tuned to Db, Eb, and E.

Here Now! The First Ever Kalimba Magic Catalog.

Kalimba Catalog Cover

Kalimba Magic is proud to present our 2008 Kalimba Catalog. This 16 page catalog includes photos, information, and prices of all the Hugh Tracey Kalimbas we carry (the Bb Trebles didn't make it in), the Catania and Hokema kalimbas, as well as the kalimba books and CDs that we carry. If you would like us to send you one, just send us a note and we'll get one out to you right away. A huge thanks goes out to Glen Davis for photographing the kalimbas and to Robert "Swami" Peizer for helping me create this landmark in the evolution of Kalimba Magic.

If you would like to get our catalog, please contact us!

Kalimba Magic at Western Region American Music Therapy Association

If you play kalimba, you already know that the kalimba is a healing instrument. Last week, I attended the WRAMTA's annual meeting in Seattle. I offered a 5 hour kalimba workshop and continuing education training, as well as presented as a vendor. The workshop was a great success, and I hope to offer this kalimba training to Music Therapists at the national AMTA meeting in November.

Many music therapists purchased 8-Note Catanias for children to use, Hokema Sansulas for their own use, and Hugh Tracey kalimbas for mixed use. These MT's got turned on to the possibilities of using the kalimba to make peace, beauty, and excitement in the world. A lot of people are just now getting it that the kalimba is a real musical instrument, and not just some sort of "portable wind chime" or drum. And they are getting the tablature and understanding its simplicity, elegance, and power in transmitting kalimba music and ideas - no longer do you need to learn directly from a kalimba master. You can learn straight from a book.

But the thing that really made my day was when Mary B. came up to my table. She was there with her MT partner. She herself was a singer, a lover of music, and a former violin player - former, because she has muscular distrophy which restricts her to a motorized wheelchair and has taken away all the muscle in her fingers. She picked up up each kalimba I had on my table and played each one, seeing how they fit in her hands. With her fingers in a permanent state of being curled up, the Sansula - a kalimba mounted on a frame drum - fit naturally in her hands. She was really taken by its angelic sound, and chose the Beautiful E Tuning, a major and uplifting modfication to the instrument which ships from Germany in the A minor Ake Bono scale. As she was concerned that she might drop it, she opted for the Deluxe Sansula, a more expensive model which uses a goat skin head which is more robust.


Then the real magic started. She turned to me and asked if there was any music for it. I referred her to my Thursday Tips of the Day which featured the Sansula between May 2007 and March 2008, and also to the Sansula videos on You Tube showing space playing and retuning to the Beautiful E tuning. But what she wanted was hymns. She sang in the choir in her church, and she wanted to be able to play beautiful sansula music with her choir.

This seems like a stretch to many people, but I immediately knew what to do. I picked up the Beautiful E Tuned Sansula and thought for a moment, and to my delight I realized that this tuning had all the notes required to play Amazing Grace, and so I did. I told her that Sharon Eaton was working on a hymnal for the Hugh Tracey 11-Note Diatonic Kalimba, which has a similar range, but has two more notes. (Sharon is in the process of translating the Treble Hymnal to several different kalimbas.) As the Sansula only has 9 notes, I estimated only a third of Sharon's 50 hymns would work -- it turns out that about 35 of the hymns are close enough. Mary has a wonderful voice, and on some hymns the Sansula part misses a melody note or two - so it plays a supporting or harmony note, and Mary's vocal melody will carry the song.

I am so looking forward to hearing what Mary does with this instrument. She has the musical intelligence to make this work. In just a matter of weeks, she will take this instrument and these songs beyond what I can do with them as she makes them her own. She will fly where no one has gone before.

You can get free downloads for the KTabS files for the hymnals at:


Interview with Kevin Spears

Kevin Spears

This isn't much of an interview, as we were pretty busy - but I was so impressed with Kevin Spears' new CD that I had to have some words from him. Here, listen to a collage of his music while you read his words.

------Original Message------
From: mark@markholdaway.com
To: Kevin Spears  kalimbaman7("at")yahoo.com
Sent: Mar 26, 2008 4:21 PM
Subject: RE: Cd

Man o Man!

What a great sound you have.
I could tell you were very good from what you did on the
first CD, but I really like the music on this one.

Tell me some more about how you put this music together.

The solo tracks are great too!

What is the low kalimba on track 2?

Excellent job, man!

I should interview you for the newsletter.


Kevin Spears replied:
Mark thank you for the kind words !!! Does this mean I get an endorsement deal, (smile). 1st I must say that from the very beginning God meant for me to express my life and music thru Kalimba no doubt no question! As a child thru adulthood when you mix frustration, mental pain, joy and happiness and especially gratefulness toward God and your only outlet beside singing is Kalimba, one has the great "motivating" factors to push into unseen territory. In terms of creating music, I really consider myself just a vessel through whom God will work in spite of my imperfections. The usual scenario is that it happens when I'm up jamming/communing (which oddly do coexist, haHa) around 1-4 in the morning and I hear a mini idea/lick that moves my spirit. I will immediately record it so it won't escape me. Then I basically build and embellish it until it's finished. Most of my music is expressed in the way Africans have been doing for thousands of years and that is to play the music in a cyclical yet stylized manner. It is generally speaking the same approach that contemporary jazz musicians call "the Groove". When the performer and listener can depend on or anticipate a pattern of notes within the music that is an agreeable timbre, it allows you to "hook" on and spiritually travel with the music. Forgive me for my style of explanation but it's the only way I can accurately explain it. When I close my eyes and play, music looks like a large outer rotating circle and within are smaller rotating circles and the closer you look you see smaller and smaller circles that all have organic string-like matter that sometimes brush against each other to create short brief musical "qualities". The most beautiful part is that all of the "circles" have their own axis yet all travel around a common axis in the center of the greater circle! As a musician AND engineer it's a blessing to speak with you Mark re my observations because I know you understand.

Track 2/The Scribe, except for the drum track that I created is all Kalimba including the fleeting effects in the background. Re the bass tones, I can only say that's a trade secret (haHa).

Seriously I've applied for a patent for the device that produces those tones so I'm not able to say much about it. Although I've never mentioned it (or really saw the need to) I've made various experimental musical instruments including some very beautiful exotic Kalimbas for about 10 years. I use a lot of exotic woods and other materials and have sold several to art collectors around the country. Maybe I will send you a couple of photos of my work. In closing I want to say that for over 20 years I played Kalimba exclusively in isolation in the privacy of my own home, not having any desire to play publicly because I didn't think people would understand what this beautiful instrument means to me. So now I thank God for firmly "persuading" me to share this gift with the world! Now I want to be "Heavens best Kalimba player" (haHa). Mark, again thanks for such kind words re my music/playing, your words mean a lot !!!


Kevin Spears' CD
We will be carrying Kevin Spears new CD in a few days. You can order Kevin's CD here.



In Search of the Elusive Chromatic Kalimba

Here are some interesting designs for a ground-breaking chromatic kalimba - if you are interested in purchasing a chromatic Hugh Tracey kalimba, I am taking orders now!

This is a long and interesting article, but if you feel you don't have time for anything but the meat of the issue, or if you need something to justify wading down all the alleys I've explored here, I suggest you watch this video of Sharon Eaton playing the prototype Hugh Tracey Chromatic Alto Kalimba.

99.xx percent of all kalimbas are NOT chromatically tuned. Many are diatonically tuned (do re mi fa sol la ti do, in some key, often not C). Many are pentatonicaly tuned - 5 unique tones per octave, though there are many different penatonic scales. Many kalimbas are tuned to some African scale where the notes don't fall on western intervals. And many kalimbas - especially the copies of the Hugh Tracey treble kalimbas made in Pakistan - are just not tuned at all.

Most music played in the west - or at least a lot of pop, folk, and rock - can be mostly played on a diatonic instrument. What if you want to play a song that ISN'T so simple? One example is "I'm looking over a four leafed clover". In the key of G (i.e., for Hugh Tracey kalimba), the second line, ".. that i've over-LOOKED before", requires an A major chord, which contains a C#, and the word "LOOKED" is sung on the note C#. The only problem is that C# isn't in the key of G, and won't be on your G-tuned Hugh Tracey kalimba. What is one to do?

The way I see it you have several options. The first and easiest option is to just not play any songs which require these odd notes. A second option is to find another note that harmonizes with the missing note. A third option is to just ignore the problem and play the nearest note - ie, a C natural in the Four Leafed Clover song - often that will not be acceptable to you. Here is a clever fourth way: I have performed the Four Leafed Clover song on kalimba by singing the melody and playing an accompanying chord part on the kalimba. BUT the G-tuned Hugh Tracey doesn't have the C# required by the A major chord (it has C natural, making it A minor, which doesn't sound right at all). SO, I play an ambiguous A chord, playing only the root (A) and the 5th (E) - skipping the C in between them (i.e., NOT playing a glissando), and when I sing, my voice hits that C# on the word "LOOKED". Laura Barrett turned me on to this technique - she often uses her beautiful voice to complete a chord which is otherwise not accessible to her kalimba, thereby achieving harmonic complexity in the overall music even though the kalimba she is playing cannot produce that harmonic complexity on its own.

But the highest solution is to get a new kind of kalimba that has the note or notes you are missing. If you only need one note, you could actually retune your kalimba to cover that one note - and this isn't totally crazy, as there are many songs that you could do just by adding one more note. The master kalimba player Kevin Spears uses his own invented tunings, which have the minor scale, plus the "tri-tone" - the bluesy note in between the 4th and the 5th notes of the scale. Kalimbaman Scotty Haywood also must use a similar tuning scheme when he plays Für Elise, a classic Beethoven piece. But I have heard significant interest in a totally new sort of kalimba - a fully chromatic kalimba.

What might a fully chromatic kalimba look like? Some already exist, so we can look at them. For example, the Array Mbira is a fantastic instrument that is fully chromatic - actually redundantly chromatic - over three or four octaves. The downsides of the Array Mbira include its high price tag ($2000+), and its note arrangement - laid out in the circle of fifths is logical, but not nearly as intuitive as a linear arrangement such as you get on a piano or guitar - though neither issue has slowed Patti Broussard at all.

Array Mbira
The Array Mbira is fully chromatic. Click for enlargement.

Another option, suggested by many, most recently by Joshua Jackson, is to lay out the notes linearly. One difficulty with this arrangement is that it is very easy to strike adjacent notes simultaneously, which will sound like sonic mud (bad). So, to simplify the playing and to reduce the risk of producing mud, we had the idea of bending the chromatic notes up, as in the karimba or sansula. While this made the instrument much easier to play (it looks just like a piano keyboard, only not in white and black), it still produces sonic mud. Why? Here's the rub: when you play a note on the kalimba, it actually makes the adjacent tines vibrate too. The vibrations get transmitted to the adjacent tines via the bridge and tine support mechanism. With the normal kalimba note layout - the notes on the diatonic scale alternate from left to right - so, physically, adjacent tines will be either a major or a minor third apart, and they will harmonize with each other beautifully. When you play a single tine on the kalimba, the adjacent tines also get stimulated, though 10-20 dB lower in amplitude. GET THIS - these harmonizing vibrations act as synthetic harmonic overtones (read the article on the physics of the kalimba below to understand that the true overtones are anharmonic but disappear very quickly - these synthetic overtones add richness to the kalimba's sound and I would say are characteristic to the Hugh Tacey's sound). Now, when the note layout is a linear chromatic one such as the kalimba design pictured below, whenever you play a note, the adjacent notes are also excited, and you end up with SONIC MUD again. When I play this instrument, I just have this vague feeling of illness. The Array Mbira avoids this issue by arranging the notes in the circle of fifths. So, this is a simple and intuitive note layout, the instrument is inexpensive, but the sound makes me sick. I don't recommend this one!

Linear Chromatic Kalimba
The linear note layout is simple to play, but doesn't sound so good.

Back to the circle of fifths, here is a hypothetical note arrangement that has full chromatic coverage over some part of the kalimba's range. Actually I stole the idea for this arrangement from the Cloud Nine Marimbula. One could build an inexpensive kalimba to this note layout, and it would probably sound pretty good as the adjacent tines will produce notes that harmonize, but it is non-intuitive. In praise of the Cloud Nine Marimbula (a bass kalimba), it is a totally intuitive instrument for playing bass lines - any three adjacent notes make a IV-I-V pattern, so it is very simple to play the bass lines to 80% of popular songs in several different keys. But for intuitively playing melodies or chords, this note arrangement is probably not so great.

Chromatic Kalimba Circle of 5ths
A design based on the circle of fifths which will sound pretty good, but will be non-intuitive for melodies.

Another design for a chromatic kalimba is based on a two bridge design which is used in some Goshen kalimbas. One bridge is further up the face wood than the other, and the tines from the upper bridge stick up in much the same way as the bent tines stick up on the linear chromatic design I made. Usually this kalimba is tuned with an octave between the upper and lower bridge tines. However, we can take this kalimba and rearrange the tines such that a) they are organized linearly from low on the left to high on the right, and b) putting the "black" notes on the upper bridge and the "white" notes on the lower bridge. We end up throwing a few tines off of the upper bridge of the kalimba. This may be a bit better than the linear design where all the chromatic notes are on the same bridge. I am currently waiting for a few of these kalimbas from Goshen - they had a busy Christmas season, and it takes them a few months to recover from that and to fill some orders. (By the way, I have played Goshen kalimbas in the distant past, and they are both inexpensive and good quality. I just assumed that they were out of business because they have no web presence at all, but Duncan Seymore was able to hook me up with Peter, the maker of the Goshen kalimbas, and he assures me they are alive and well. We wil be carrying some Goshen kalimbas - including this one - soon.)

Now, here is an elegant solution to the chromatic kalimba problem which may or may not end up being intuitive and useful. First, I need to back up a step. The very layout of the diatonic kalimba results in an insrument which is highly non-intuitive for people who are experts at linear instruments such as the keyboard. Rather, you need to develop a whole new intuition. You need to learn how to do the back and forth motion required by scales, and of course chords are made by adjacent notes. It takes a while, but the diatonic kalimba has its own internal logic which is simple, and after playing for a while, you internalize this intuition. Patti Broussard has internalized the logic of the Array Mbira, and she can probably play "Under the Sea" in any key now. And this interesting design for the chromatic kalimba will have the same sort of thing - you need to develop a bit of intuition, but the step is small compared to the step of learning the left-right thing that you already need to do for the regular old kalimba.

Hugh Tracey Chromatic Kalimba
The Hugh Tracey Chromatic Kalimba, first suggested by Sharon Eaton.

Hugh Tracey Chromatic Kalimba
On the front you have 15 notes, or two octaves, of diatonic scale in C. The front tines are played with your thumbs.

Hugh Tracey Chromatic Kalimba
On the back, the Hugh Tracey Chromatic Kalimba has two octaves of pentatonic scale, or the notes missing from the front to provide a full two octaves of chromatic scale. Notes on the back are played with the fingers.

A few years ago, Sharon Eaton, the co-creator (with husband Randy Eaton) of KTabS, the totally wonderful Kalimba Tablature Software, suggested that a chromatic kalimba could be made by putting the piano's white notes on the kalimba's front in the regular Left-Right alternating layout, and putting the piano's black or chromatic notes on the back. You play the notes on the front with your thumbs and the notes on the back with your fingers. Andrew Tracey, Hugh Tracey's eldest son, was probably the first to come up with this idea - so you are in good company, Sharon! AMI, African Musical Instruments, the makers of the totally wonderful Hugh Tracey Kalimba, built a few and sent them around to key kalimba players like Sharon and myself.

At first, I didn't think this was a good design. I couldn't make it work at all, and it seemed to take the simple and intuitive kalimba and turn it into something on which it was possible to make horrible noises. In some ways that is just the reality of chromatic instruments - you can do anything on them, including make bad sounds. But when I visited Sharon Eaton in February, she pulled out her chromatic Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba with the chromatic notes on the back. You see, the people at AMI who built it didn't do it exactly as she had imagined - the pentatonic kalimba on the back was layed out exactly like a pentatonic kalimba is, which put the notes on the opposite side to what Sharon had envisioned. So she retuned the back side notes, and put the flatted notes underneath their counterparts on the front. If you don't totally get it, just be assured that there is an intuitive way of understanding this chromatic note layout. It is inexpensive - a bit more than the cost of an Alto, as there is more metal hardware and more work to build it, but the cost will be much less than twice as expensive as an Alto. For argument's sake, lets say this one will cost $150, though I don't really know the price. This design does not suffer from the ill feeling I get from the linear design where the adjacent chromatic notes all vibrate and make sonic mud. And it is fairly intuitive.

To illustrate intuitive, I invite you to view Sharon Eaton playing Für Elise on the Hugh Tracey Chromatic Alto Kalimba.

At this time, I am preparing a kalimba order for May - actually, I probably won't see the kalimbas until June. And part of that order will be for an unspecified number of Hugh Tracey Chromatic Alto Kalimbas. The kalimbas I will be ordering will have the box resonator - like the photos, and unlike the celeste model in the video. The range is G3 to G5, the same range as the good old diatonic Alto kalimba. If you are interested in purchasing a Chromatic Hugh Tracey Kalimba - I would say the chances of being $150 or under is 75% (I haven't gotten a price from AMI yet, but just adding it all up in my mind, I get this price) - you can secure your order by prepaying $50 to Kalimba Magic before April 20. I will bill you for the remaining... um.. about $100... when I recieve the kalimba order in.... likely June. OK - if you can't deal with uncertainty, you probably don't have any business owning a chromatic kalimba anyway. I've never done anything quite like this before, but then again, uncertainty is my middle name. Maybe.

You can reserve your Chromatic Hugh Tracey Kalimba here.


Physics of the Kalimba

New Article on Mbira Tine Vibrations

Vibrating strings and columns of air (i.e., guitars or flutes) have overtones that harmonize with the fundamentals, and so are very pleasing to the ear. For example, the first overtone of the vibrating string is an octave above the fundamental frequency. Vibrating bars (i.e., marimbas) or rods clamped at one end (ie, kalimbas) have overtones that don't harmonize with the fundamental. Physicists in the 1800s figured out how to analyze a uniform vibrating tine that was firmly clamped (i.e., no motion at all) at one end. This analysis put the first overtone at 6.27 times the fundamental, which is an out-of-tune minor 6th two and a half octaves above the fundamental. The second overtone is 17.55 times higher than the fundamental frequency, or about a whole step more than four octaves. YUCK!

However, most kalimba tines aren't firmly clamped at one end - the Hugh Tracey kalimba tines have very complex boundary conditions at the bridge and the z-bracket. And mbira tines are not of uniform thickness. Recently, David Chapman has made good progress understanding kalimba tine vibrations theoretically, while Daniel Ludwigsen has made good progress as an experimental sound physicist. David turned me on to an article on the physics of Mbira tine vibrations written by L.E. McNeil and S. Mitran. I have read in more than one book that in the tuning of mbira tines, the pitch of the overtones was also important. One of the conclusions of this new paper is that the upper mbira notes are not tuned to the overtones of the lower notes.

David Chapman has suggested that the "out-of-tune" kalimba overtones are part of what makes a kalimba sound like a kalimba. My own research on this topic, using only Hugh Tracey kalimbas, indicates that the non-harmonic overtones are really only important in the attack phase of the kalimba's sound. These high frequency overtones die out very quickly, like in 0.1 or 0.2 seconds, leaving a nearly pure fundamental vibration which can last for 5 seconds or more. I have found that young children, who I suppose still have excellent hearing in the high frequencies (i.e., sometimes above 20 kHz), are sometimes bothered by the harsh sounding kalimba attack, while older people, who tend to loose a significant amount of their high frequency hearing, and consequently these older folks are not bothered by the kalimba's attack.

Meanwhile, Matt Bartlett is an instrument maker in northern California who makes bass kalimbas. As the overtones of these low notes are at a lower frequency than in the case of Alto or Treble kalimbas, they are more problematic, and perhaps something about the details of his bass kalimba design results in the overtones sustaining longer. We all know that the fundamental pitch of a kalimba tine can be tuned by shortening or lengthening the tine. One can also tune the fundamental by changing the distribution of mass or stiffness along the tine - i.e., putting bees wax or more metal on part of the tine, or even shaving off part of the metal near the bridge to make the tine less stiff. Between these two methods - changing the distribution of metal (or stiffness) on the kalimba tine and changing the length - we have the capacity to tune both the fundamental tone and the overtones. This is exactly what master marimba builders do, and this is also what Matt does with his bass kalimba tines.


The Kalimba Community

Kalimbas on Tiles

Blank Kalimba Tablature

Gary Bauchman writes:

I just want to tell you that I'm enjoying that alto Kalimba immensly! A friend of mine from Kenya saw mine and wants one, so I gave him your card. He calls it an 'Umberra'. I went through the 'Kalimba Fundamentals' book and did the excercises. The notation you use for the alto Kalimba is easy to read and logical. Now, I want to write down some songs that sound good on this instrument. How can I get the blank sheet music for the Kalimba?
Yours musically, Gary


First of all, this is very interesting - the word mbira is a Shona word for a specific type of traditional kalimba-like instrument, but it is used in the west as a generic name for all traditional African lamellaphones (i.e., thumb pianos). There are allegedly over a hundred different instrument styles and instrument names that have been documented across Africa. Apparently the generic usage of mbira is in Africa too.

Back to your question: you can find PDFs of the blank tablature on the tablature page. But a better thing to do is to get the KTabS program. This software permits you to write kalimba tablature on your computer and hear the notes as you lay them down. It is a great bargain at $30, and it works for virtually every sort of kalimba, and you can even change the tuning of the kalimba in software (ie, before you push the tines around!) And you can play it back in slow motion to learn it - so you can write above your playing ability, and KTabS will help you pull your playing ability upwards.

Take care

Kalimba Classes for Kids in Virginia

Author and musician Mary Triola teaches kalimba classes through homeschool groups and other organizations in the Fredericksburg, VA area. The kalimba is a beautiful instrument and is also one of the least costly of musical instruments. It's a great way to begin making music and learning music skills that can be applied to other instruments as well. Kalimba classes can help with team building skills for any group looking for a fun activity for about a dozen or so people. Classes can be tailored to the needs of the group.

For more information about kalimba classes, email Mary at marytriola@yahoo.com

Hymns on the Kalimba

Sharon Eaton has a new book of 50 hymns for the treble kalimba, and she writes of her new 11 note celeste diatonic kalimba, for which she is translating the hymnal:

A friend of my mother's came to visit yesterday and I played my 11 note diatonic kalimba for her. She said she was struck by its quality and it made her immediately think of church and prayer andsoothing healing. Whenever I play the kalimba for a guest, I always have them try "Amazing Grace" from tablature, because even when they are sure they won't be able to do it they can do it and are pleased that they tried. I speak of you and your tablature often, and with great pride. - Sharon

While a hard copy of the Treble Hymnal is available from Kalimba Magic for $15, you can download the KTabS files for your Windows computer for free from KTabS.

Making a Wood Kalimba Cover

Andrew Ellis in Australia has a really cool accessory he made for his 1973 Alto Hugh Tracey Kalimba - isn't it cool that after 35 years, his instrument is still in great shape? My old Alto kalimba is about 20 years old, and has probably logged over 10,000 hours of music. Or, at the current market price of just over $100, that works out to a penny per hour. Though I don't know how much Andrew uses his Alto, odds are that he's gotten even more use out of his kalimba. By the way, if you have an old kalimba that ISN'T in such great shape, you can always send it to The Kalimba Doctor.

Kalimba Cover
Click on the photo to learn how to make it.

Frank Rankine had a dream that told him to get a Kalimba.
And he did.

Oral history of the kalimba in Jamaica, circa 1955

I received my Kalimba today (Thursday). It is a beautiful instrument. You would not believe how long I have been searching for it. It is a long story. But my major drawback was I did not know its name since I was introduced to it at age 9 in very rural Jamaica; where I grew up. An old African had one, he taught me to play it, made me one for my birthday at 10. He died when I was 11 or twelve. My Kalimba broke but the sound of that thing has haunted me all my life.

I will be 61 This month. Out of the blue last week I dreamed about the African and in the dream he said to me "finger Mash (crushed) don't cry Kalimba". That's a line from one of the songs he used to play, but it never occurred to me. Again my sincere thanks and I really appreciate the personal touch you add...

As far as I can recall Baba the old African did not specifically call his instrument a Kalimba. Kalimba was just a word in one of the many crazy songs he used to sing. His songs did not make any sense then and still don't. The instrument he had and the one he made me were crude compared to the Hugh Tracey's work of art. However, the principle was the same, hand held, sound, etc. I distinctly remember that the notes ran in a different order than they did on a piano, because about the same period I briefly did music lessons on the piano.

The other thing I remember is that he had a bass counterpart of his instrument. It was a rectangular box with larger and thicker tines which he played between his legs while sitting on the box, I remember he called it a "Rumba Box". I would try to play a song on the hand held and he would hold the bass line on that old thing. It sounded like a bass guitar. He played it a lot, especially when he smoked his sensi in a bong through his Martels Brandy.

Oh ! I listened to the CD at work last light. It gave me Chills. Is that you ?

Mark: Yup, that's me.

New Kalimba Video

Each month, we try to feature about a dozen new kalimba video spots on the web. People are always sending me links to great kalimba stuff, and I am always discovering new things.


And that wraps up
one of our best newsletters to date.
If you missed any of the articles, you can go back:

What's New at Kalimba Magic
Interview: Kevin Spears
Chromatic Kalimba
Physics of the Kalimba
Kalimba Community


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