The KTabS Notebook
Getting Started with the Powerful Tool KTabS

KTabS Logo

Beginning with this newsletter, we're going to do a series of articles that will explore the many features of KTabS. This is meant to supplement the extensive tutorial on the KTabS site.

What is KTabS?

KTabS (Kalimba Tablature Software) is a Windows program that is a super effective tool for learning and composing music on the kalimba. The full program is currently $30. You can get the KTabS Reader, an abbreviated version of KTabS that only plays existing KTabS music files (doesn't allow most edits or creating new files), for $5.

There is a growing library of tunes and exercises available in KTabS, much of it for free. Many of the Kalimba Magic Tips of the Day include free KTabS files, and all of my books offer KTabS files for an additional $5 or you can get them for free from the KTabS website. And recently I have begun offering music downloads consisting of KTabS files.

Please note that Kalimba Magic does not profit from KTabS; they are their own business entity. KTabS gets the Kalimba Magic seal of approval simply because it is such a powerful tool for composition and for learning how to play essentially any type of kalimba. I have run KTabS for hours, accessing dozens of different files, performing thousands of simple and complex operations. KTabS has proved to be a robust program and I have come to rely on it for my own kalimba work.


History and Background of KTabS

I invented a new kind of kalimba tablature at the start of 2005. First, I did it with pen and paper, then I used a graphics program on the computer to create my tabature. This tablature was the key element that made it possible for me to then develop kalimba instructional materials. When Christian Carver contacted me in summer 2005, I was ready to go and Kalimba Magic was born. In the first six months of being in business, I wrote three books based on the tablature: Alto Fundamentals, Treble Fundamentals, and Christmas Carols for Alto and Treble.

Randy and Sharn Eaton
Randy and Sharon Eaton

Sharon Eaton found Kalimba Magic on a web search (which was not so easy in early 2006 - I think I was on page 55 of the Google search results for "kalimba") and bought my Treble Fundamentals book in March 2006. She then began asking me lots of wierd questions over email, such as "What is the fastest note a kalimba can play?" I didn't understand what was up until May 2006 when she sent me an email asking me to try a new program for Windows computers that her husband Randy had written to her specifications. At first I was scared - a stranger asking me to download strange software onto my computer! What would you do? Well, it took me a week to take the risk and trust Sharon. What I saw was something of a miracle - my own kalimba tablature in a computerized form. When I clicked on a tine, I could HEAR the tone, and a quarter note would appear on that tine in that spot! If I wanted a shorter note, I could select an eighth or sixteenth or 32nd note from a menu. I could cut and paste. And when I was done with a song, I could have my computer play it for me, showing me the notes to play as the song scrolled on my screen.

KTabS, the Kalimba Tablature Software
KTabS is an excellent tool for learning kalimba

There were a lot of features that KTabS didn't have that I wanted. At first, it only did tablature for the Treble - not my favorite kalimba. In the end, through my pushing for the functionality that I knew would be useful to me, through Sharon's negotiations between my pushing and her husband's knowledge of what he could do, and through Randy's great software talent, KTabS became an absolutely incredible program. The kalimba community is truly blessed to have such a wonderful tool at our disposal. KTabS went public in the summer of 2006 for the reasonable price of $30.




Getting Started with KTabS

KTabS is available by download from the KTabS website. To get it, go to the KTabS website, register with your email address and a password, and download the demo version. This trial version has most of the functionality of KTabS, but you can't print or save songs, and this version expires in two weeks. If you like the trial program, you can then pay a one-time fee of $30 to get a registration code. Enter the registration code into your trial version, and BOOM, it is the fully functional KTabS program.

Once you download the KTabS software, there are two types of KTabS files you will be working with:

When you start up KTabS without opening a specific *.ktb file, the configuration window pops up. The default configuration is the 17-note treble kalimba, but this configuration window can be edited for any kalimba. If you don't have a *.ktt template file for your kalimba, see if you can get one. I have dozens that I can share with you, or check out my earlier article which shared template files.

If you can't get one, then you'll have to make one. Start clicking on things in the configuration window, starting with number of tines. Next, tune the tines in your "virtual kalimba" by first clicking on the tine you want to tune, and then clicking on the piano keyboard's note that you want to tune the tine to. You cannot tune the tine to a note in between Western notes, which in my mind would be a useful improvement to the program.

After you do all the work setting up the template for your kalimba (the first time you do this could take you 10 to 30 minutes), you will want to save this configuration in a KTabS template file. Next time you start up KTabS, you can load this template file in 2 seconds, and THEN you are on your way writing your own music.

KTabS Configuration Window
The KTabS configuration window - click for enlargement.
Expect Periodic Updates

A couple times a year, a newer version of KTabS becomes available. I usually find out that there is a newer version when I download new music from Sharon Eaton and try to run it and the KTabS program tells me a newer version of KTabS wrote this file. So I go to the KTabS website, log on, and download the new KTabS version.



Los Lobos Ticket

Playing Two Parts at Once: Saint Behind the Glass

On New Year's Eve, I was at the Los Lobos concert in Tucson, AZ. Los Lobos is the quintessential Hispanic American rock band and, even though their music rocks, they span a lot of genres, including several kinds of Mexican music. The song that really got me on their side was "Saint Behind the Glass", which I heard in the movie "Nachos Libre." I thought the move was a waste, but I did get a song and a band out of it.

I liked "Saint Behind the Glass" so much that I arranged it for the Treble kalimba and the Cloud Nine marimbula (bass kalimba). This is what KTabS sounds like playing both parts of Saint Behind the Glass. If you like this music, I invite you to learn how to make KTabS play the two different parts at once.

Each *.ktb file represents a different part. First, open the Treble file by double-left-clicking on it. Of course, this won't work unless you have downloaded the KTabS program—instructions for that are in the previous section. Next, click on the File menu and Open the Cloud Nine file. You should be able to see both parts in your KTabS window. Select one of the parts by clicking on its window. If you click the "play" icon at the top - the large green arrow pointing to the right - the selected part will play. Now click on the red "stop" icon, select the other part, and play it.

Now, let's learn to make KTabS play both parts at once. Between the green "down" and "up" icons and the "midi" icon at the top of the KTabS window, there are two icons that both look like two pieces of paper. The right one is "tile windows". Click on that, and you should be able to see both parts in the KTabS window. If there is not enough space, resize your KTabS window and click it again. Now click on the left icon - "tie all views together" - which is the action which actually makes the different windows play at the same time. If you had four parts open, all four would play.

KTabs Window
The control icons for operating the music playback in KTabS - click for whole window.

KTabs Window
The KTabS window - click for enlargement.

Before you actually click the "play" icon, note in the lower left corners of the Cloud Nine and Treble parts that the tempo (133 BPM) and the time signature (3/4 time) are the same. If the tempos aren't the same, the two parts will gradually drift apart. Also, before you click "play", select each window and the click on the "down arrow" or "Home" icon - this rewinds to the beginning. Each part will have a highlighted note which indicates where you are in the play back, and if you stopped playback in the middle of the song, the highlighted notes will not be in the same place. Finally, after you have clicked on "Home" ("down arrow") to rewind both parts, you can click "play". You should see both parts scrolling and being highlighted as they play. And it should be beautiful. I keep playing this song with the KTabS program - over and over again. I am going to have to learn how to play this song because I want to perform it!

Come Back Next Month!

I am hoping this exercise made a few lights come on inside your head. You can do this sort of multi-part treatment with your own music. But you will need to get good at using KTabS. We'll do more in that direction next month.

Also next month, we'll go into the details of writing your own music in KTabS, but don't wait for me! I'm sure you'll figure out exactly what to do with a few minutes of trial and error. By the way, if you need more help, there is an extensive online KTabS tutorial which can help a lot.


What Are Your KTabS Questions?

I am just guessing about what people would find interesting or useful about KTabS. While I have a list of dozens of topics for the coming months of KTabS Forums, my list might not include your ideas. You can help steer this ship by sending me your ideas and suggestions about what you would like to learn about KTabS. Similarly, you might have a great use for KTabS that Sharon and I haven't figured out yet! Hope to ehar from you.