Wednesday, April 18, 2007
The Ake Bono Japanese Pentatonic Scale
on the 8-Note Kalimba

Last month, John Nepture Kaison was visiting his family in Tucson, and I got to hear him play music at Quaker House. He is one of the world's best Chakuhachi players. The Chakuhachi is a traditional Japanese bamboo flute that plays simply in a 5-note, or pentatonic, scale, but by using half notes and odd fingerings, it can play chromatically or even micro-tonally. John was born on the U.S. mainland, went to school in the 70's in at the University of Hawaii, studied Chakuhachi with a zen monk, and eventually landed in Japan where he is considered a living national treasure for his mastery of his chosen instrument.

What does this have to do with kalimba? I bring this up for two reasons. First, the particular pentatonic scale that I heard in some of John's traditional Japanese music was the Ake Bono scale, which is today' Tip of The Day. Second, I feel an affinity to John's situation. He is not Japanese, but he has become a Japanese living national treasure. It doesn't matter what color his skin is, it doesn't matter where he was born. He was chosen by the spirits to carry on this tradition. I feel the same way about the kalimba.

As I mentioned above, the Ake Bono scale is a five tone scale. The pentatonic scale that most of us know has no half-step intervals, but only whole step or 1.5 step intervals. The Ake Bono scale has two half step intervals, between the 2nd and minor 3rd, and between the 5th and minor 6th. This is how you would tune your 8-Note kalimba to play the Ake Bono scale:

Ake Bono 
8-Note tuning

Listen to the 8-Note Kalimba in Ake Bono Tuning

You do have to retune all but the two lowest notes to go from C major to C Ake Bono, but it is a most beautiful scale and well worth the 5-10 minutes of effort it will take you the first time. Try it!

Many thanks to Kevin Roddy in Hawaii who is the first person to order an 8-note kalimba in Ake Bono tuning; I am sure he won't be the last to do so.