The KTabS Notebook
Retuning and Transposing

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In this monthly column, I will be exploring the many features of KTabS, the totally wonderful Kalimba Tablature Software. My hope is to share my knowledge of this program with others so they too can enjoy the creative boost that KTabS affords. But if the KTabS Notebook installments dribble out too slowly for you over the months, you can always go and drink directly from the fire hydrant—check out the extensive tutorial on the actual KTabS site.

Retuning a Kalimba in KTabS

The Alto Kalimba comes from Africa tuned to G major, but many people, starting with Gary Diggins of Toronto, like to put the Alto into G minor. So let's say you want to find out what the G minor Alto will sound like, but you don't want to bother with retuning your physical kalimba. In KTabS, you can retune your virtual kalimba in about 20 seconds, which is a lot faster than retuning a physical kalimba, I assure you!

First, make sure you have KTabS installed on your computer. If you don't, you can download a free trial version of KTabS (it won't let you print or save, and it will ony work for 2 weeks). Next, download this G major Alto example and KTabS will automatically open it up. Click on the green arrow and you can hear what the little song sounds like.

example song G major
Example song in G major.

Now, click on the configuration icon just below the menu bar and between the print and "A" (author) icon, and the configuration setup window will come up. In order to retune from G major to G minor, we need to change three notes, each of which occurs twice on the Alto (once per octave on this two octave instrument): F# goes to F natural, B goes to Bb, and E goes to Eb.

Since we are about to add some flats click on the radio button "Flats" at the top. That doesn't actually change the notes, just the way they are labelled. Next, LEFT CLICK the B 3 tine - B 3 indicates the note is a B, in the piano's octave 3. This ends up being the B just below middle C. When you LEFT CLICK a tine, it plays the note it is tuned to, but you also select that tine (it is outlined in green). Now, drag your cursor over the piano keyboard, and each possible note will be highlighted in green, and the name and octave of the note will be indicated just below the piano keyboard. Move over the keyboard until you get to the note B 3. Left click it, and you will hear the same B as you played on the kalimba. But we want Bb - the black key just to the left of B. When you click the black Bb, you wil hear a slightly lower note, and the kalimba tine that is selected will change to Bb.

Repeat this action for B 4 on the left side of the kalimba, first LEFT CLICKING to select it, and then LEFT CLICKING on Bb 4, one octave higher than the first Bb.

Now find the two F# tines (actually they are now displayed as Gb, which is the same note even though the names are different), and change them to F naturals (F natural is the same as a white key F note, but "natural" is a way of making explicit that you don't mean "sharp" anymore).

Repeat for converting the two E tines into Eb tines.

retuning the configuration
The upper part of the config setup window - Gb 5 is selected on the kalimba, while F 5 is highlighted on the piano - LEFT CLICKING on the F 5 note will complete our retuning from G major to G minor.

A real easy thing to do before we leave the configuration setup window is to "play" the virtual kalimba on your screen by LEFT CLICKING each tine, from lowest to highest (i.e., zig zagging from G 3 to A 3 to Bb 3 to C 4 to D 4... ) just to make sure that all the notes are tuned to the scale you want. If you don't understand scales, just listen as you do this to make sure it sounds plausible - pay attention and learn! After you are happy with the retuning, click "OK", and you have now succesfully retuned your kalimba.

I have saved this song in G minor tuning. The tablature looks exactly like it did before, except that the note names below the tines have F, Bb, and Eb. But when you play this piece in KTabS, it sounds completely different! That is the difference between major and minor - between day and night in music.

example song G minor
An example song in Gm - it looks just like the first example, but the tines have been tuned differently, and it will sound different when KTabS plays it.

Just to recap what we did: we did NOT change the range of the kalimba. We did not change the root note, which is still G. But we did change the feeling of the G scale by flattening (i.e, turning them into minor notes) three notes. This just changes the feeling of the piece, from what musicians call major, to what musicians call minor. You may even want to save the configuration of the G minor tuning as a new template, called ALTO_Gminor, or something similar.

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Transposing to a Different Kalimba

While that was pretty cool, it ain't NOTHIN' like what we are going to do now.

In a single KTabS window, open up both the files ktabs_ex1 and ktabs_ex2. You may need to download these files to your computer to accomplish this. Click on ktabs_ex1 to bring the window to the top. Now, type Ctrl-A to "select all" which will highlight the entire song in a pastel green.

transposing
We've selected all of ktabs_ex1 (highlighted in green).

Next, type Ctrl-C to copy the selected region into the KTabS clipboard. LEFT CLICK on ktabs_ex2 to bring it to the top, and type Ctrl-V to PASTE the notes we copied from ktabs_ex1. Now the magic happens. Up comes another little window asking if we want to transpose the notes higher or lower, and how many semitones, or half steps, we want to transpose by. I happen to know that G minor (the key of the kalimba we are pasting onto) has the same notes as Bb major (this is a music theory thing), and you can count on the piano keys that to go from G to Bb you need to go UP by three half steps (semitones):

transposing 2
When we try to paste, we can actually shift the notes higher or lower.

When you click YES, up comes another little window, warning us that we cannot transpose 7 of the 15 tines. This warning is true in general (i.e., the original piece had a high F#, and if we shift it up by 3 semitones to A, it will be too high to be played on the retuned G minor kalimba), but the specific number of tines that don't transpose is calculated incorrectly, so I always ignore this warning. Click YES, and KTabS will take the initial G major melody, insert it at the beginning of the ktabs_ex2 (or after any spot you selected in that song) AND transpose it up to Bb major. But there is a catch, because at the end of measure 2 there is a blank space (highlighted by the word "LOOK"):

transposing 3
The transposed music has been inserted into the first five measures of ktabs_ex3, but the high note at the end of measure 2 got transposed right off the top of the kalimba.

If you ever lose notes this way in transposing, you need to improvise—meaning, you need to find another note you've got on your virtual kalimba that will sound good. At the very least, you need to select the black space and insert a rest. If you DON'T do that, KTabS will just jump right over that beat, as if the second measure had only three beats instead of four. But I can almost always find a good note to substitute. For example, if you select the empty spot and then click on the high D tine on the left side of the kalimba, you get a nice melody. Of course, it is helpful that we have never heard this melody before, so we have no preconceptions of what it should sound like. The D works well because right before it we play an F and right after it we play a chord with Bb in it - so these three beats go from F to F to Bb, adjacent tines - which will also make this nice and easy to play.

After copying and transposing and fixing the missing note, I saved this as ktabs_ex3 which you can listen to now. The first five measures will sound exacty like our initial G major melody, except that it has been shifted up to Bb major (our inserted note aside). The last five measures will have the same structure, but they are in G minor.

With any luck, I have just given you enough information to get you into some good trouble. Go and fiddle around with tuning and transposing and cutting and pasting. If you do something you didn't intend to do, simply Ctrl-Z to UNDO (KTabS will let you UNDO multiple times). By the way, you can transpose a selected section of a piece with the TRANSPOSE function (the rightmost icon at the top of KTabS), but you will end up with more blank spaces, i.e., notes that want to fall on flats or sharps that your kalimba doesn't have—unless you go up or down by 5 or 7 semitones (i.e., one step around the circle of 5ths). But a shift that large may very well result in notes being shifted too high or too low for your virtual kalimba.

Next month, we will make further use of copy, paste, and transpose. I'll show you how to transpose a piece written for the Alto to the Bb Treble. Why would you want to do this? Well, Kalimba Magic has released a LOT of music for the ALTO, but not nearly as much for the Bb Treble. Anything you can play on the Alto can also be played on the Bb Treble JUST by transposing by 3 half steps (and you will NOT have to worry about any notes falling off the edge of the virtual kalimba). Just you wait! Or, if you think you know what to do, don't wait. Just DO IT!

By the way, you may be in a better position now (see to make use of the free zip file of over 80 KTabS templates. Save them in your KTabS/templates folder, and then just "Load Template" to be up and running on your instrument of choice in just a few seconds.

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What Are Your KTabS Questions?

Next month, we will look at transposing music into a different key, copying or transposing from one kalimba to another, and how to retune your kalimba in KTabS to see what it will sound like before you actually retune any tines.

I am just guessing what people will find interesting or useful about KTabS. While I do have a list of dozens of topics for the coming months of the KTabS Notebook, my list may 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 hear from you.