Of course, this is just a rule of thumb
I often get asked “Hey, what kalimba should I get for my kids?” My response is to say that it depends on how old they are. And the rule of thumb above is a good one.
People love to think of their kids as more advanced than they actually are. Maybe what we parents do is to see our child’s potential rather than their actuality. I know for a fact that I was sometimes disadvantaged by my own parents’ excessive belief in my abilities, and I did get a lot of gifts that were, frankly, a bit beyond me. In the beginning it’s often better to be great on a simple thing than to get lost in a complicated one.
OK – so what kalimba will be right for your kids?
Here is a little story about Sharon Eaton. Sharon is an adult. After Sharon acquired a 17-Note Hugh Tracey kalimba, she got her husband to write the KTabS program to notate kalimba tablature, and then she persuaded the Hugh Tracey people to start building chromatic kalimbas. In other words, Sharon is a real mover and shaker in the kalimba world.
Yet for all that, she always felt that 17 notes was just way too much for her to wrap her head around. At some point I sent her an 11-Note kalimba, and it totally changed her kalimba experience. With just a few notes more than an octave, she felt that she could finally understand and control the notes on the kalimba.
The moral of this story is that more tines is not necessarily a good thing.
I strongly believe that it is better to get too few tines and have a successful kalimba experience, and after that get a larger kalimba… than to get too many tines and have a frustrating kalimba experience.
And now: The Kalimba Magic recommendations on kalimbas for your kids:
Hokema 5-Note Kalimba
Three of the four kalimbas in the video at the foot of this article are 5-Note kalimbas.
One 5-Note kalimba, all by itself, is not a lot to write home about. But we do something really special with them: we sell them in sets, tuning each 5-Note kalimba to a different chord. Sets come in different compatible chords, and players take turns to create beautiful melodies structured around arpeggiated chord progressions (playing each note of a chord in succession rather than all at once). Just by taking turns playing, you and your children can sound like you really know what you are doing and feel downright grand doing it. A great way to have fun with kids and instill positive feelings about making music!
Recommended for kids 4 – 10.
Hokema 7-Note High Kalimba
This is a new, solid kalimba with a pentatonic scale. Robust and sweet, the high 7-note kalimba is one octave higher than the low 7-note.
Recommended for ages 5 – 10.
Hokema 7-Note Low Kalimba
This is a new, solid kalimba with a pentatonic scale. Robust and sweet, the low 7-note kalimba is one octave lower than the high 7-note.
Recommended for ages 5 – 10.
Goshen 8-Note Box Kalimba
This 8-Note kalimba has exactly one octave of the D major scale – but you can ask us to retune to C major. This small instrument is a great general introduction to western music. We have one book and one instructional download for this kalimba.
The Goshen Box model costs a bit more because of the wood box, but it is definitely worth it – the box gives it a louder, richer tone and lets you do the wah-wah effect by covering and uncovering the front and side sound holes, and the wood is so smooth and beautiful!
Recommended for kids 6 – 12… but adults will still enjoy this beautiful kalimba.
Hugh Tracey 8-Note Kalimba
The Hugh Tracey 8-Note is made in a classic traditional shape, on a solid piece of beautiful Kiaat African hardwood.
Recommended for kids 6 – 12.
Hugh Tracey 8-Note Kalimba with Pickup
The Hugh Tracey 8-Note is made in a classic traditional shape, from beautiful Kiaat African hardwood. And this one has the built-in electronic pickup, so your child… or you?… can plug it into a guitar amplifier and wail!
Recommended for kids 6 – 12, or anyone bigger!
Goshen 9-Note Student Karimba
This is a modern version of what is thought to be the most ancient kalimba tuning known. As such, it has an extensive repertoire of traditional African music. This is a fantastic introduction to traditional African music. It comes with a free “for kids” booklet; a more extensive book and CD are also available.
Advised for kids ages 7 through 13… but I actually perform a few songs on this instrument! Older kids can probably handle the full 17-Note African-tuned Karimba.
Hugh Tracey 9-Note Student Karimba
This is Hugh Tracey version of the student karimba, in the traditional African instrument shape. Andrew Tracey calls this “the original mbira” and the “kalimba core” – that is how central these notes are to a family of African instruments such as the karimba and mbira, and how central these notes were to the development of the ancient kalimbas. Can be tuned to G, A or C.
Advised for kids ages 7 through 13… but I actually perform a few songs on this instrument! Older kids can probably handle the full 17-Note African-Tuned Karimba.
Kalimba Magic 10-Note Heart Kalimba
This is a great kalimba for kids. It has a lot of instructional material available for it. The tines are very smooth, and the wide tines have a reasonable amount of space between them, making this kalimba easy to play. This kalimba also has a resonating sound box to play a bit louder, and its sound hole permits the wah-wah sound effect. For such a small instrument, it is very capable. For example, there are 28 carols in the Easy Christmas download for the 10-Note kalimba. Wow! And this kalimba is not that expensive.
Recommended for kids ages 8 and up. This is also a great instrument for adults who are not musically confident. Have a successful musical experience with this kalimba!
Hugh Tracey 11-Note Pentatonic Kalimba
The pentatonic scale is a two-edged sword. It is a simplified scale, so most songs you might consider cannot be played on this instrument. And yet, the pentatonic scale gives you great freedom in improvising. It is at the same time “dumbed down” and “liberating.” I have seen young teens with great dexterity go to town on this kalimba.
Recommended for kids age 10 and up.
Hugh Tracey 11-Note Pentatonic with Pickup
Ah, yes, the pentatonic scale. It turns out that when Hugh Tracey did an inventory of all the kalimbas he could find in southern Africa, 40% of them had a pentatonic scale. The pentatonic scale is ubiquitous in primitive cultures around the world.
This kalimba has an electronic pickup, permitting you to plug into a guitar amplifier so you can be liberated and very loud at the same time.
Recommended for kids age 10 and up.