05 April 2017

The "Clocks" riff from Coldplay, on Karimba and Alto

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Learn to play a kalimba version of the piano ostinato in Coldplay's "Clocks"

Click the link at bottom to hear Coldplay's "Clocks"

An ostinato is a motif or phrase that persistently repeats in the same musical voice.  Almost everybody knows the piano ostinato that provides the foundation for Coldplay's compelling song "Clocks," written a decade ago.  Evocative and haunting, this song seemingly brings to life a dream world.  (Click on the link below this post to hear it.)  While I've enjoyed this song since it came out, it never occurred to me to play it on kalimba until recently at a music therapy conference.  One of the attendees started playing "Clocks" on ukelele, and I realized she was playing it in D mixolydian mode, which has the same notes as the key of G major. This is also the same key in which a lot of Hugh Tracey kalimbas are tuned.  I ran and got my Alto kalimba and immediately jumped in. 

Would you like to learn how to play the riff to "Clocks" on the kalimba?  We have tablature for both African karimba and Alto kalimba.


The riff/ostinato in "Clocks" provides us the chance to learn about inverted chords.  An inverted chord is simply a chord that has been rearranged; and rather than having the "1" in the bass, it typically has the 3 or the 5.  The "Clocks" riff is made entirely of arpeggiated, inverted chords, making it a great introduction to inversion of chords.  A post that discusses the subject in depth is in the works, but this one provides a first look at inverted chords.  

A chord is created when you play two, three, or more notes at the same time; you are playing an arpeggio when you play the notes of the chord, one after the other.  The notes on a kalimba will sustain long after they are played, so when you play an arpeggiated chord, all of its individual notes will sustain and will be heard together as a unified chord.  Pleasing and beautiful.  Playing the arpeggiated inverted chords of the "Clocks" riff demonstrates the power of using these techniques together.


"Clocks" on Karimba

While there is much debate among contemporary karimba players of the world, many traditional players use their right index finger (in place of the right thumb) to play the upper right side notes - that is, the E and D tines represented by gray columns in measures 1, 2, and 3. If you use your right index finger for those notes, it makes the two right-side notes very easy to play. Using the right thumb for two notes in a row will limit your tempo, but the right thumb (G# in measure 1) followed by the right index finger (E in measure 1) works very well.

While the right index finger can help you greatly in measures 1, 2, and 3, the music in measure 4 requires you to play two left notes in a row. This will be the must difficult part of the riff, but it only lasts one measure. I had a professor who said "The Uncertainty Principle can actually be violated, but not for very long." More relevant to the present moment: your thumbs can actually move faster than possible, but only for short periods of time.

"Clocks" on Alto Kalimba

If you play Alto or Treble kalimba, you likely know the rule of thumb that any three adjacent tines will make a beautiful chord. The root note of the chord is the longest tine, or lowest note.

The chords used in "Clocks" are inverted, and their lowest note is not the root note. This also means that two notes of a chord will be on one side of the kalimba and the third note will be on the other side. The first chord is a D major, which has the notes D, F#, and A. The lowest note played in this inverted D major chord in measure 1 is F#, which is not the root note of this chord. Keep in mind that an inverted chord will have some note other than the root note in the bass. The bass note is the lowest note played.

These inverted chords can be a bit tricky to play on the kalimba. To help guide you, pay careful attention to where each note falls with respect to the painted tines; these are your main landmarks. It may feel very unnatural at first, but if you play it hundreds of times, it will eventually become easy to play. Practice develops the connection between the mind and body, and pretty soon your fingers will know what to do without a moment's thought.

About the Author

Mark Holdaway

Mark Holdaway

Mark Holdaway has been playing kalimba for over 30 years.  He invented his kalimba tablature in 2004, and has been writing books and instructional materials for kalimba ever since.  His business, Kalimba Magic, is based on the simple proposition that the kalimba is a real musical instrument capable of greatness.  Mark's kalimba books are a down payment on this proposition.

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