Backing Tracks from Kalimba Magic Videos

You can jam along to these tracks with several different kalimbas

Backing Tracks

When I make a video of the kalimba, I often feel the kalimba needs support from other instruments, so I add some guitar or bass or rhythm tracks to get some lower sounds in the mix.  I have remixed those support tracks from five of my recent videos.  Most of them have a few seconds of kalimba in the beginning to help you get oriented in the song, and then the kalimba drops out and all that is left is the supporting instruments that should sound really good when you add your own kalimba playing.

How do you know which kalimba to use for which track?  We give you hints about several different kalimbas or tunings that will work for each.  You may very well have a kalimba that will work with one or more of these songs, and if you are willing to retune your kalimba, you can definitely make it work.

I’ll also share a little secret about how I record this music – it will probably surprise you! 

Most of the kalimbas that work with these backing tracks are Hugh Tracey kalimbas.  If you are interested in getting one, remember to take advantage of the 16% coupon for any Hugh Tracey kalimba:  HT16

Freygish-Tuned Karimba: Farewell Song

The tablature for this song is available as part of the Freygish Download. While the book does start out simple, this is one of the harder songs near the end of the download.

The song is in C melodic minor. Kalimbas that play in C minor include:

Here is the video with the full audio – karimba plus backing track.

Use the following link to hear it on mp3:

Listen to Backing Track

Strong Malian Riff on the minor Pentatonic Kalimba

The first few phrases of kalimba are included in the backing track to help you orient yourself. I will eventually write out the tablature for this song, as I really love it!

The song is in G minor and can back up several different kalimbas:

Here is the video with the full audio – kalimba plus backing track.

Listen to Backing Track

Peaceful and Mysterious Kalimba – Ake Bono Tuning

A mysterious waltz, with bass and two guitars.

The song is in G minor (G Ake Bono is a form of G minor) and you can jam along on several different kalimbas:

Here is the video with the full audio – kalimba plus backing track.

Listen to Backing Track

G Major Pentatonic

This has drums, bass, and guitar in a laid-back country rock groove.

First, the song is in G major so you can play along on a G major pentatonic kalimba, the standard tuned Hugh Tracey Alto or Treble kalimbas:

Here is the video with the full audio – karimba plus backing track.

Listen to Backing Track

Mahororo on G Karimba

“Mahororo” is a song that is in the 11-Trad. African Karimba Download, though I changed the key and the arrangement considerably. Furthermore, no tablature exists for this version, but I will eventually get it into tab. The karimba can be heard in the first two cycles to help get you started, but it fades out after that, leaving bass, shakers, and guitar.

This performance is in G major. You can play along with a G-tuned African Karimba, or the Hugh Tracey Alto or Hugh Tracey Treble kalimbas.

That said, here is “Mahororo” in the key of A; I have Pitch Shifted the Backing Track up to A so you can play in the standard A-tuned karimba as well.

Here is the video with the full audio – karimba plus backing track in G.

Listen to Backing Track

First, I like to record things in stereo – you can tell that from the graphic at the top of this story. I have met engineers who have refused to record the kalimba in stereo, as they don’t imagine that one mic will have any different sound from the other mic. But I can hear it. When the kalimba is recorded in stereo, you can hear the instrument move around, giving it more presence. Furthermore, with one mic closer to the left side and the other mic closer to the right side, you can actually hear that some notes are on one side and some notes are on the other. So, recording in stereo puts the listener in touch with the physicality of the instrument in two ways, capturing the instrument’s movement as well as reflecting its note arrangement.

I usually stereo mic the guitars and percussion as well, but I record the bass with a mono track.

In the mixdown, I try to tell a story with the placement of the instruments – which instrument is supporting which other instrument, and how they speak to one another. Bass is almost always in the center, but if there are two guitars, I put one somewhat on the left and the other somewhat on the right. The kalimba could be central, or it could be mixed more to one side (for example, opposite the guitar, or even opposite the bass). By “opposite”, I don’t mean hard left and hard right – the instruments might only be 20% left or 20% right. Simply doing stereo “micing” will give each instrument a nice breadth, so the mix does not require a hard pan to one side or the other.

But the most important thing in my recording is that the kalimba comes first and the other tracks are added afterward to more perfectly fit the kalimba.

Not everyone does it this way. I am sure that in the studio, Earth Wind and Fire laid down the band tracks first, and then added the kalimba after. A lot of people do it that way, but I don’t.

After fighting the concept of a click track for about 20 years, I am finally at ease with playing to one. A click track is a series of audio cues used to synchronize sound recordings, sometimes for synchronization to a moving image. The click track gives you a steady reference. Even though I believe that I have great rhythm, perhaps my timing is just not so good. I have wasted many hours in the studio recording “without a net” – i.e., without a click track, and when I add another instrumental part, the tracks often don’t line up! So, I have accepted the value of the click track.

But if you are going to use a click track, it is essential to get a good click track that really works with the music you are trying to play. Click tracks are basically dead and boring, so what I actually like to do is to record about a minute of a simple drum part that is “in the groove” with the kalimba. How to get that is the subject of several of my blog articles, so for now just use your imagination. From that minute of drum track, all you need to get is one or two measures where you do it perfectly, and then you can loop that perfect 10 seconds of drums for 5 minutes, or the length of your song. Important considerations for a good click track: tempo, time signature, accents, precision, swing, volume, openness (i.e., not too many beats), or the opposite of openness – does the fine structure of the click track support the groove?

Once I have a supportive click track, I need to be absolutely sure that it is the right tempo and right volume. If it is too soft, you will ignore it at some point. Too loud and you will be a slave to it – you want to be able to hear it but you want to sail over it. I play along with the click track for 5, 10, 20 minutes, adjusting the tempo, sometimes by as much as 10 bpm, and sometimes by as little as 1 bpm or less.

Finally, when I feel the click track is totally supporting my kalimba playing, I record the kalimba. If I am lucky, I already know what the kalimba part is going to be. More often than not, I only have an idea. Sometimes all I know is that I want to record a particular kalimba. It is probably irresponsible for me to recommend you record this way, but it is my method. While recording the kalimba, I will almost always stop the recording in the middle of the take a dozen or more times, and will usually delete part of the track. I am ruthless and unattached. But each time I record, I develop a better picture in my mind of what the music is about, how the song is structured, where it turns, harmonically, energetically, and melodically. I also get a better idea of where I mess up and how to get beyond that in the next take. The song writes itself through the process of recording and deleting, recording a bit longer and starting over again, seeing a bit more clearly and knowing a bit better what to do.

I firmly believe that my subconscious mind is smarter and deeper than my ego-led mind. I open my mind to the winds, and I see where I am blown. When my thumbs make a “mistake”, rather than pretend it didn’t happen, I follow where the mistake leads me… it could be something fantastic that I had not even imagined… or I could go down a hole, or completely fall off the horse – in which case it is time to stop the recording, delete, and try again.

The downside is that I could spend an hour doing 50 partial takes with nothing good to show for it. If this happens, I make sure I save a few of the takes and listen to them the next day to see if there is anything good in them. Upon later listening I might get an idea of what I was doing wrong, or how to change it to make it easier.

It likely goes without saying, but this technique works best when I am really comfortable and familiar with the instrument. If it is a brand new kalimba or tuning, I probably have to sit with it and play it every day for a week or more – and that is from a kalimba expert. If you are not familiar with the kalimba, your personal time may be a month or a year.

As you endeavor such high wire recording without a net, you do have control over how much risk you are willing to take. You might find you need to “dial the risk back” to a very small amount, and then your playing will be more solid. If the playing is too boring, try dialing the risk factor up higher. So, seek a balance so that most of the risks you take are paying off.

While I am in the ditches of improvising, trying to create structure out of nothingness, failing and deleting, I do eventually get an entire track recorded. I am not a piecemeal recording guy; I like to get the whole track at once. Of course, digital recording provides a great many ways you can fix any imperfections in that track. I prefer not to trade sections in and out, but I would be lying if I told you that I never insert a note that my thumb reached for but just couldn’t get to. Another common error is “right note, slightly wrong time”, and it is not difficult to digitally slide a note over to put it at the right time. But if I need to do that for more than just a few notes, I hit delete and try again for perfection.

After I have recorded the entire kalimba track, I go back and listen, with the click track loud enough to see if my timing is consistently good, or if my playing is slipping behind, speeding ahead or otherwise wavering. Is it right on, or is it just OK? I am close now, so I might choose to keep that attempt and try another one. The most important thing that distinguishes a good track from a bad track is timing. If your timing is great, anything you add will be able to fit perfectly with the kalimba track. The other thing that distinguishes good and bad tracks is inspiration… which again is a whole series of articles for the future. The good news is that if you record an inspired take, you will know it!

When I finally believe that I have a truly good kalimba take, the real fun starts. I listen again, and more often than not, I know that I want two or three more instruments. Often I will add a bass line to better define or even change the chord progression. Some pieces require more rhythm than the kalimba brings. Some pieces require more melody or more interest or some focus. When assembling these different tracks, I always try to put the music into the context of a story so I have an idea of how the parts work together.

How do I know when it is done? That’s for another blog article. Today, I give you the short answer: life is short, and I would much rather be done with this recording tonight than to work on it for a week. In recording, after being so indulgent of my kalimba track, I turn into a minimalist on the supporting tracks. This may not strike you as very consistent, but I have my logic…

Most people create supporting tracks – backing bass, rhythm and guitar tracks – and then create and record the kalimba part while listening to those combined backing tracks. I do the exact opposite. Almost always, I will record the kalimba first and then go back and generate the supporting tracks around it. I see the kalimba as a sketch of the entire piece. It has strong rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic elements. For me, the kalimba is the skeleton of the music, and I can flesh it out with the other instruments.

You may be realizing something…now that you have heard all about the specific steps in my creative process, I have reversed it and made available all of these “backing tracks” so you can jam along with them. Well, my original kalimba track was the “front” backing track for all of these support tracks, and this project is to provide a great teaching and facilitation tool – hopefully it will afford you a base for your own creative process to emerge.

Will these backing tracks actually support you and your kalimba? I think they can. Just try it and see. If you play with the backing track and each time through, you sound better or get closer to doing what you want to do, then you are on the good path, and it is working. Best of luck to you!

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