Have a Magical Experience Playing Kalimba!

A Journey through Kalimba Land – Where can you go?

Original artwork by Tim and Mark Holdaway

There are two broadly different types of gifts one can get for the holidays: one can get things, or one can get experiences.  When we fill our lives up with things, we can actually feel emptier.  When we fill our lives up with experiences, we are enriched.  We remember our experiences better than we remember our things.  And we are more present to our experiences.

To some, the kalimba looks a lot like a thing.  If you hang it on the wall or leave it on your coffee table as an ornament, it may just be a thing.  But the kalimba has a voice, and it has encoded intellegence.   If you put some time into it, the kalimba is really quite a fun experience.

Let me share with you what I mean.


When you take your brand-new kalimba out of its box, you will immediately know that this is indeed a magical instrument.  While there are many ways to play your kalimba and many ways to relate to it, I suggest you start with the softest, gentlest touch you can.  I invite you to step into a magical space where time stands still.  Pluck a single note and let it ring in that space.  As the note’s reverberation fades, let the kalimba suggest the next note to you, and invite that note into your magical space. 

The kalimba is like a magical playground for adults.  To me, playing the kalimba is so full of imagination and playfulness.  The kalimba brings me to a land of make-believe where I can pretend I am walking with the ancestors, or I am working on my deepest psychological needs, or I am reaching out to God, or that I am playing music right beside Bach and Beethoven and the Beatles.  I may imagine that I am soothing someone with a broken soul who is in need of comfort.  Or I see that my playing can bring joy and delight to a child, or inspire someone who feels their life has lost its sparkle.  I imagine the kalimba’s music can blow on the embers of a heart left untended and reignite the flames of passion and compassion.  When I imagine that I am doing these things, I open myself to the possibility of them. This is the magic that the kalimba works on me – its music is so full of wonder and possibility!

I may imagine that I am some particular animal, and ask myself how that animal would traverse the kalimba tines. What sound would a snake make on my kalimba?  What are the notes of a gazelle, gracefully bounding across the tines?  What is the sound of a whale song resonating on my kalimba?

I like to pretend that I can create the sound of some magical experience – that my kalimba can simulate the soaring of a hot air balloon on a hot summers day.  Or my kalimba can create the notes of a firework exploding, spreading its sparkles across the sky.

I like to imagine that my kalimba can capture some particular feeling and rebroadcast the feeling through its song – loneliness, sadness, loss — but just as I can imagine these down feelings, I can turn instantly and transform the feelings into light, joy, and connectedness.

I fancy I can see the kalimba, in its particular tuning and setup, is like a crystal.  My attention to the kalimba – how I look at it, how I touch it, how I move my thumbs over the tines – is a special type of light that I shine into the crystal.  The kalimba-crystal transforms that light into rainbow patterns and geometrical designs that are then cast upon the screen of the imagination.

I conceive of my kalimba as a magical key to some foreign land in some distant time.  The kalimba’s voice is at once both primal and futuristic.  The kalimba can take me to the past to visit ancient Africa, or it can take me into outer space to visit the future, where they have discovered the calming affect the kalimba has on alien races.

And while I play the kalimba I love to move to its sound – swaying or walking or even dancing with the music.  Of course, the best is when the strains of kalimba music can inspire others to move and dance to the music.  The kalimba is such a wonderful way to explore and engender movement.  Furthermore, different types of body movement can inspire different types of kalimba music.

I like to hike in the canyons and imagine that the cliff walls form a great resonant chamber, waiting there for so many centuries for me to walk forward with my kalimba.  I strum a few notes and the Earth echoes with delight.  I like to imagine that these notes have a healing energy, that Mother Earth can hear and feel my intention to make things right again with her.

I climb up to the top of a ridgeline or mountain and imagine the notes I play are carried upward by the wind and are received by Father Sky, or that God finds this a pleasing gift.  I like to fill my notes with grace and appreciation and happiness.  For I have been given a great gift in the kalimba, and I wish my gratitude to be present in every note.

As I walk the city streets I like to strum my kalimba and imagine that some harried, unhappy commuter rushing by hears it, and the arrow of my kalimba music bypasses their armor and strikes home, delivering a bit of delight to them. Maybe they will walk to the bus humming the gentle melody I just gave them, and maybe their ride home or their evening will be a bit better because of the magical music that touched them in passing.

Sometimes I imagine the ancestors are looking over my shoulder as I play, whispering in my ear, showing me the subtleties of the ancient music that is emanating from my kalimba, so many centuries after they played it.  I even like to conjure that maybe the ancestors looking over my shoulder are taking notes, learning from me new variations to their ancient songs!

I often imagine my mother looking down upon me, softly rejoicing in how far I have come – how I still play some of my best music on my second-ever kalimba, the one that she gave to me for Christmas so many years ago.  When I play that kalimba, I still think of her and her love and support.

I like to be in the wilderness with a friend and go to a place where perhaps nobody has sat for days or weeks, where perhaps nobody has played music for months or years or centuries.  We will take out our kalimbas and explore the edges of our souls and touch each others’ hearts.  I imagine that my notes ring true and touch the very soul of my friend. 

And I love to imagine myself as a great player, who can weave multiple strands of kalimba music simultaneously.  I dream that I my skills are so perfect that I am like a machine that can create music almost automatically, without thought, without concern or worry – like I was built to create this music, like a music box made by God.

And just by imagining them, I have taken a step toward making these things become true.

And when I return to my structured daily life, I am not quite the same person I was before I took my imagination-ful trip through kalimba land.  Having been touched by a magical music, I will remember the journey.  Having discovered something of import about the way my heart works, or of my connection to the past, I walk forward, transformed in small or large measure. 

What do YOU like to imagine when you play the kalimba? 

And whatever you imagine when you play with your kalimba, I will add that your imaginings can go much farther if you have taken the time to develop your kalimba skills.  One of the easiest ways to do that is to learn songs and exercises from the tablature that we give away on our website and sell in our books and instructional downloads. 

We have created so many great resources for so many different kalimbas.  Do the work, learn the patterns, the notes, the songs… and then when you imagine and play and have fun, you will be playing from strength.  It takes both approaches to become a great player, both the technical and the playful / spiritual / imaginative / magical – left brain AND right brain.

The resources below provide much excellent information that can help you learn the technical aspects of eight different kalimbas.  These are the tools you need to learn the ropes and step up to the possibilities that await.

By the way, this song, “Growing Flower” is available on my CD “Two Thumbs Up.”

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