Creativity and Kalimba Tunings

Click to learn more about how to adjust your kalimba’s tuning


Most people who play kalimba quickly discover a set of musical tricks that are easy to do and sound good… but sometimes, they get stuck in a rut and don’t really know what else to do. To get out of the rut, they could get a new kalimba with a different number of tines or a different note layout, as the new kalimba would provide new vistas and new opportunities for creativity. Most people who play kalimba for more than a few years will end up getting multiple kalimbas.

However, there is an easier way to get the feeling of a new kalimba, without paying for anything: have you considered trying a brand new tuning on your kalimba?

New tunings can loosen up your conception of the kalimba and help you be more creative. We present alternative tunings for: 17-Note Kalimba in C, Alto Kalimba, Sansulas, African tuned Karimba, and 8-Note and 10-Note Kalimbas.


We go a step further though. Rather than just leave you to discover what sort of music is possible with your new tuning, we actually have a number of different downloads instructing you on the music of the exotic tuning.

These are full length PDF ebook downloads with live links to the sound files, each ebook filled with dozens of songs, patterns, and exercises. They represent my own discovery on these exotically tuned kalimbas, and here I make them available to you.

Just to be clear of the path I am suggesting: get good at tuning and retuning your kalimba, and jump into an alternative tuning for a week, or a month, or a lifetime. You can learn the alternative tuning from the downloads I provide. And when you get tired of that tuning? You can tune the kalimba back to the original tuning, and it will feel new and sparkly all over again!

Middle East Tuning of the 17-Note C Kalimba


This is a lovely tuning, able to play in both a E Middle Eastern mode and in the A harmonic minor. It permits music that otherwise isn’t ever played on the kalimba. Lovely and enchanting.

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C Minor Tuning of the 17-Note C Kalimba


When I hear a minor-tuned kalimba, I am totally struck by how charming this little instrument can sound. The G minor Alto download will work for the C minor tuned 17-Note kalimba, but the sound recordings will be a 4th lower than the C-based kalimba.

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G Minor Tuning for the 15-Note Alto Kalimba


The Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba has a very nice happy sound. To change the kalimba’s mood, you can try an alternative tuning. One very simple retuning is to go from G major to G minor. In the diagram, all of the minus signs indicate minor intervals. Bb = B flat is the minor 3rd of G. The central, low tine, G, is still the root note, but now the feeling is minor, and totally different music is played by this tuning. And I have a nice little PDF ebook that will show you how to use this tuning.

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C Tuning for the Alto Kalimba

When retuning only two tines by just a little bit (the two F# tines are flattened by a half step to F natural), you judo-flip your Alto kalimba into a different instrument that will play different songs. And it flips the hemispheres of your brain a bit too, as the root note just flipped from the right side to the left side. Of course, I have an instructional download for this C-Alto tuning.

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C Major Tuning for Sansula

Most of my alternative tunings for the Sansula are in the major. The standard A minor tuning of the Sansula is dark and mysterious and brooding, while these major tunings are light and delightful. I especially enjoy the C major tuning for the Sansula.

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Beautiful E Tuning for Sansula

The Beautiful E tuning was the first really successful tuning I invented. It builds on the thumb patterns that are natural to the Sansula… but the major tuning transforms these patterns into lovely sounds.

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Heavenly A Tuning for Sansula

The Heavenly A Sansula Tuning was invented by Rick Tarquinio, in response to my invention of the Beautiful E Tuning. As far as Sansula tunings go, this one is pretty capable and can play a lot of songs, considering it has only 9 notes.

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Dennis in the UK writes: “Hey, I just retuned my second Hokema Sansula to the Moroccan E tuning. The haunting desert sound soon brings my mind to a meditative state. This tuning easily lends itself to improvisation. Thanks a lot!”

I don’t have an instructional download for this one yet, but it has been in my mind for a few years now.


A minor Tuning for African Karimba


The traditional African tuning for the karimba – also known as the mbira nyunga nyunga – has intervals that are in between the major and minor western intervals. However, they can be westernized to either major (which sounds closer to the African) or minor (which sounds enchanting and mysterious). I happen to love the minor tuned karimba, and I have written some music for it.

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Lotus Tuning of the African Karimba

The SaReGaMa Lotus tuning was invented when SaReGaMa, a new age musical recording artist, started messing around with his African tuned Karimba. NOTE: to do this tuning, you need to take the karimba apart and move the tines around, matching the longest tines to the lowest pitches, and the shortest tines to the highest pitches. It is doable, but not for everybody. This is the most famous alternative kalimba tuning to date!

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Freygish Tuning

The Freygish tuning is a C harmonic minor tuning popularized by SaReGaMa. It offers unique, enchanting, romantic music that is not available from other kalimba tunings.

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Sansula Tuning for 8-Note Kalimba


The Sansula is such a great instrument. First of all, it looks beautiful. It is wonderfully engineered, and has cool special effects from the frame drum. And the Sansula has a resonating mystical tuning. As one of the notes is redundant (there are only 8 independent notes in the standard Sansula tuning), you can tune any 8-Note Kalimba to the notes of the standard Sansula tuning. This ebook shows you what you would do with such a kalimba.

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F Tuning for the 8-Note Kalimba or 10-Note Kalimba


This book will work with an 8-Note or a 10-Note kalimba in C but the lone B tine will get retuned to B flat (Bb), tuned down one half step. This flips the F into the root note, making the low C be the 5th of the F scale. It turns out that there are actually more songs you can do on the 8-Note (or 10-Note) kalimba after you retune it this way. In other words: this is the simplest possible retuning (just one note by a half step), which results in a larger repertoire of songs for the new tuning. Good deal!

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