Introducing the C Alto
(what a difference retuning F# to F can make)
And a new 66-Song Download for the C-Alto

C Alto kalimba
Dots indicate the "C" tines, or root notes.

In a way, this is the most underwhelming new tuning of them all. Probably 90% of kalimba owners could do this retuning themselves. (And you probably aren't going to mess it up or get it into a state that won't let you bring it back home to where it was before.) All you need to do is lower the standard Alto kalimba's F# tines to F natural, bringing the note down a half step. When you do this, F# is no longer the leading tone to G, all the notes are "natural" - no flats and no sharps. And so, voila, you have the key of C!

Most kalimbas have the "root note" in the lowest note tine and sometimes also in the highest note tine. For the C-Alto, however, the "root note" or "C" (designated by the "1" in the adjacent figure) is neither the lowest or highest note.

C Alto kalimba tuning
C-Alto Tuning.
Dots indicate the "C" tines, or root notes.

In the key of C, the G note is the 5 (to get that, count up in your mind from C = 1, to G: C-D-E-F-G = 1-2-3-4-5 = "Do Re Mi Fa So"). As the 5 is one of the strongest forces in western music, it is actually pretty handy to have it in the bass note (i.e., the low G). It is also handy to have it in the highest note on the far right. As such, this kalimba plays a bit different style of music than the standard tuned Alto, but I assure you there are thousands of songs that this kalimba can play.

A "side effect" of retuning the Alto to the key of C is that none of the songs you knew how to play on the standard G-tuned Alto will sound right. You will, of course, have to relearn them with totally new thumb patterns on your C-tuned Alto!

C Alto chords

The chords on the C-Alto are mostly the same as for the standard-tuned G Alto. However, their meanings are different. The G chord is no longer "home bass", but is now the V or dominant chord - the chord that you are least comfortable staying on for too long. The G chord pushes us home to the tonic chord, which is C. And at least for me, the hardest chord to learn to play was the F chord, which fills the role of the subdominat of IV chord.

Why would you want an Alto in C tuning?

Some people have been asking that their Hugh Tracey Alto kalimbas be tuned in C ever since we opened shop in 2005, and I am sure people have been tuning them to C on their own for much longer. It is one of the first alternative tunings most people would think about trying. I finally put my Alto Kalimba with Pickup into the C tuning so I could play it with Baba Marimba, my world beat dance music band that uses a diatonic baritone marimba in C for its bass lines.

Playing with Baba Marimba: C-tuned Alto comes in first, then a C-tuned Bb Treble.

My success in the studio aside, it took me quite a long time to "master" the C Alto. I had 28 years of practice on the standard G-tuned Alto to get past (I don't want to unlearn any tuning - each tuning has different music and musical possibilities, and I want them all to stay open if I can swing it).

That said, if you are trying to make the journey to C-Alto yourself, or if you have already done so and you are looking for some music written for this "exotic" kalimba tuning, look no further!

Music for the C-Alto Kalimba

The 66 Songs for the C-Alto Download is now available. It has the same song stock as the 66 Treble Songs, 66 Bb Treble Songs, and the 66 Songs for 12-Note Kalimba: a mix of Christmas, African, folk, peace, Americana, hymns, and classical.... sorry, no opera, heavy metal, or bagpipe music. You can downlod the 66 C-Alto Songs "Readme" File to see exactly what you get with this download.

Here is my new composition "The Four Chambered Heart" just for the C-Alto kalimba. By the way, all that ugly-looking paper - actually "US Priority Mail" stickers - is on my tines to selectively reduce sustain. I find the reduced sustain, especially on the low notes, produces better results when I plug into an amplifier.