Ask Mark
Answers to Your Kalimba Questions

Ask Mark

I get one or two dozen emails each day asking me all sorts of questions, and I answer almost every one. But some of those questions keep coming around, and those are the ones that I am addressing first in this new column. —Mark Holdaway

Sansula
The Sansula

Maia wants to know:

Will the Sansula work with my D minor PANArt hang?

I have a PANArt hang (integral - D minor - notes are D3, A3, Bb3, C4, D4, E4, F4 and A4) which I would be interested to combine the sounds of the Sansula with. I have been told and have seen on YouTube that you can retune the Sansula, but I am interested to hear your thoughts on that. I read that you tune it to A minor because you feel that is the best tuning. Would it lose much if tuned to D minor? I am thinking A minor would probably work quite well with D minor anyway? Also, my partner has native american indian flutes - F, G, C, F# drone and D drone (all pentatonic except for the D which we had custom made to play with the hang). I would be interested to know how the A minor might work with those. — Maia

Sansula
Sansula tuning for playing with Dm Hang

Maia,

D minor is close to A minor - the standard key for the Sansula - but why settle for "pretty good" when we could invent a tuning just for your Hang?

I have a suggested tuning. The numbers in the tuning chart to the right refer to root = 1, fifth = 5, and account for the original Sansula tuning being in A and the new one in D. Note placement is informed by your octave number.

There is one option left for you to decide - the standard Sansula has a redundant A note, and you can actually tune it down to a G - the 4th, which is not in the Hang, but is in the NAF - the 4 is a very useful note, and I recommend you take it, as it will increase the potential musical complexity of the instrument AS WELL AS the Hang - Sansula duo. ANYWAY, there are four notes that need to come down by a whole step, and the sansula tines have enough slack at the top to permit that.

—Mark

If you have a special musican situation, such as one or more rare or exotic instruments that you would like to play the kalimba with, contact me and we'll figure out a good way to set the kalimba up - just for you!

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David wants to know:

I want to learn to play the Kalimba and would like to know which one is the best for me? I have an 8-note thumb piano that I have played for a couple of years now. I want a good one so that I won't have to buy another later on.

David,

The lower octave of the Alto kalimba is just like the 8-Note, and then there is another octave above that (but it is in the key of G instead of C, which your 8-Note Kalimba is probably in.

traditional kalimba

SO, playing the Alto you are able to build on things you have learned for the 8-Note - you could do the exact same thing on the lower 8 notes, and then you need to figure out how to decorate that melody by playing upper octave notes while also playing the lower 8-Notes.

By the way, Kalimba Magic's special for July is 20% off both the traditional shaped, board-mounted TM Alto and TM Alto with Pickup. This Alto or the Hugh Tracey Alto should last you many years - it was my favorite kalimba for almost 20 years!

—Mark

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traditional kalimba
A 20-Note kalimba of unknown tuning.
Andrew asks:

I've got a great 20-note kalimba - how should I tune it?

Andrew,

Many such kalimbas do not come tuned in any traditional way. I'd play it to see if there is any particular tuning that it is already in, or to see if it wants to be tuned some particular way - one hint might be to line up the top ends of all the tines and see what you get.

I have also seen kalimbas that have been thrown together but the tines are too short or too long to sound good, so I recommend this process:

Determine the lowest and highest good notes on your instrument first.

Pick the longest tine, which should play the lowest note. Then push it in a bit (like a wholestep) and see if it sounds any better. Next pull it out, but not so far that the top of the tine slips off the wooden backstop. At all three positions of the lowest note, make a note in your mind of how good that note sounds, and how loud it is with respect to the other notes. You will want to take the lowest note that still sounds good - though if that were a C#, you might want to go down to a C natural or up to a D, just because those are more common notes for other instruments (should you choose to play with others).

Next, do the high notes sound good? Play with the highest note a bit, seeing if coming out or pushing in improves the sound. At some point, you will make the tine so short that it no longer sounds good. Find the highest possible note that still sounds good. You have just discovered the possible range of this instrument.

Now, we have 17 (as you are missing a tine) notes between the low and the high note that we need to assign. You may find that you don't want to use the whole possible range of the instrument. Does the diatonic (do re mi fa so la ti do) scale fit within this range? You could tune it to that scale, either starting at or near the lowest possible good note, or ending on the highest possible good note, alternating the notes in the scale from side to side. If the range is greater than the diatonic scale can cover, you could go to a pentatonic scale, skipping some of the notes in the diatonic scale. And if the range is less than the diatonic scale requires, you could choose to double some of the notes, or even choose to have some chromatic notes.

—Mark

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I hope these answers are helpful to the greater kalimba community. I certainly don't know everything about the kalimba, but I know a lot and I'm learning more each day—and I am happy to share this information. So send me your questions. In doing so, you will be helping to expand kalimba understanding in the Universe.

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