Next Steps for 8-Note Kalimba Players

Catania 8-Note

The 8-Note kalimba is the most popular entry level instrument we sell at Kalimba Magic. Kids do wonderfully on the 8-Note, and adults who are new-to-the-kalimba find this instrument helps them quickly get their heads around the idea that notes alternate from right to left going up the scale.

But what if you feel you have outgrown the 8-Note kalimba and are itching for more of a challenge? Fortunately, there are other kalimbas that are logically related to the 8-Note, which means you can take everything you learned on the 8-Note and use it on another kalimba that has more tines. The extra tines can open up new worlds for you, while the similarity with the 8-Note acts as a powerful stepping stone.

Then again, you may not have realized the range of things possible with this deceptively simple instrument. Though relatively inexpensive, the 8-Note is far from a toy. I often use the 8-Note in performances, i.e., real music is possible on the 8-Note! In fact, you could decide you don't need a new kalimba at all, you just need to stretch the limits of your 8-Note a bit further. This article suggests two logical next instruments and explains four different ways that you can expand your 8-Note horizons.

Cat 12 and Cat 8 Note

The Catania 12-Note Kalimba

The Catania 12-Note is an extension of the 8-Note, i.e., within the 12-Note kalimba is an 8-Note kalimba. The 12-Note has one more note up top (the high D on the far right) and three extra low notes (the G, A, and B in the middle). Once you understand this, you can do everything on the 12-Note that you can do on the 8-Note - and more. More harmony notes, more counterpoint notes, and more songs that use the notes that you don't have on the 8-Note.

Two modifications to your 12-Note can help you to visualize the 8-Note kalimba hidden within your 12-Note:
1) If you have a numbers-based book for your 8-Note, write 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 on the appropriate tines.
2) If you used the tablature book for the 8-Note and painted the tines, or if you own a Hugh Tracey 8-Note kalimba, which already has painted tines, you can paint four of the tines on the 12-Note to remind you how the 8-Note sits inside the 12 tines.

By the way, we have a numbers-based 12-Note book and a tablature download for the 12-Note kalimba.

Alto and Cat 8 Note

The Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba

The Hugh Tracey Alto is far and away our most popular kalimba, but it isn't the right choice for everyone. If your hands have grown since you got your 8-Note Kalimba, or if your confidence has grown, maybe you are ready for the Alto. You should be aware, first of all, that the Alto and the 8-Note are in different keys, so they don't like to play with each other (unless you tune the 8-Note up or down to the key of G). However, the pattern the 8-Note tines make, with notes 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 alternating from right to left, is the same pattern that the central (lower in pitch) eight notes of the Alto make. In other words, any song you know how to play on the 8-Note can be played in the lower octave of the Alto kalimba. If your 8-Note kalimba has painted tines, they will line up with the painted tines on the Alto. If your 8-Note doesn't have painted tines, you could write in the numbers on the Alto tines.

You will find that the extra octave of the Alto kalimba opens up many, many possibilities, even though you have just under twice as many notes on the Alto as the 8-Note, you can do about 100 times as much music! It really is a whole new universe. And because you know how to work the lower octave already, you need not be intimidated by the possibilities!

There are many books and downloads available for the Alto Kalimba, making it a great choice for an instrument if you are interested in life-long learning.

8-Note Tunings

Alternative Tunings to Expand Your 8-Note World

If you feel you have conquered the 8-Note's "Do Re Mi" layout, or if this tuning is too pedestrian for you, there are several tunings from around the world that can open up new music, new sounds and new ideas. We have tunings from Africa, the Middle East, and Japan. You can even make up your own tunings!

Click here to download the 8-Note insert with a short list of alternative tunings. Retuning the kalimba will require some hand strength, an electronic tuner, and adult supervision for kids under about 12. You can learn more about retuning your kalimba here. The main thing to remember when retuning is: BE CAREFUL! Kalimba tines will trump your thumbs in most conflicts.

I will point your attention to one particular tuning for the 8-Note kalimba which I will call the Primal Karimba, or Student Karimba. The African-tuned karimba is a 17-Note instrument made by African Musical Instruments, and in a way this instrument summarizes the entire career of Hugh Tracey's son, Andrew Tracey. Andrew's research indicates that this is among the oldest of all note layouts of the African kalimbas. Well, the upper row has notes that are bent up, and these notes were probably added between 500 and 1000 years ago. However, eight of the notes on this instrument are thought to be the original note layout of the first metal-tined kalimbas in Africa, dating back to 1300 years ago. I call these eight notes the Student Karimba because young students can begin to learn the Karimba songs on this instrument, and I call it the Primal Karimba because these notes mirror the very first metal-tined kalimbas.

8-Note Books

But Have You Fully Explored the Standard Tuning?

There are a lot of songs you can play on the 8-Note even in its standard tuning! Here are some inexpensive materials where you can learn more songs and more ways to play those songs:


Go Electric!

Another way of opening new possibilities without adding any notes is to get a Hugh Tracey 8-Note Kalimba with a pickup. The pickup is hooked up to a 1/4 inch jack that accepts a guitar chord, which you can plug into an effects processor or an electric guitar amplifier. Rather than play different notes, you can play different sounds.

The kalimba in this video is actually a HotShot-11, with three more notes than the 8-Note, but the video gives you an idea of what sounds await you, should you go through the electric kalimba door.

Catania Gourd 8 Note

Go Out of Your Gourd!

If you have been playing a board-based 8-Note kalimba and you love it, but are looking for enhancement, you may want to look into the Catania 8-Note Gourd Piano. The notes are exactly the same as what you already know, but the sound is a bit louder, and the voice is a bit richer. The large sound hole on the face wood and the two small sound holes on the sides of the gourd can be covered and uncovered by your thumb and fingers to create a wah-wah sound to provide a new level of expression to your kalimba playing. The gourd piano is a bit larger than the board-mounted kalimbas, and it is not easy for small hands to hold, but this kalimba comes with a neck strap so you can wear it like a necklace to help hold it up.

While there are many possibilities for growth in many directions away from the humble 8-Note, you should not feel required to depart the friendly domain of this instrument. You can make perfectly wonderful music with it. Not to mention, there are many unwritten songs waiting for you and your 8-Note to find them. Sometimes the simplest songs are the most powerful. Best of luck!

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