This exotic scale sounds “WOW” on the Alto Kalimba
I remember being 8 years old, getting to stay up late to watch “Lawrence of Arabia” on TV. Even as I drowsed, I found myself listening attentively to its dazzling music.
How grand! The music’s sumptuous scales sounded ethnic and different. It was moving and magical. Did the composer actually understand middle-eastern music and scales? Or was he just “making it up”? Probably both.
The cool thing about the kalimba is that you can just “make it up.” Here, I have made up the “Hitzaskiar” tuning for the Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba. The Hitzaskiar is an actual ancient scale from Persia, but how many times has it been played on the Alto Kalimba? At least once (!)
The music you hear is from a video showing the Hitzaskiar scale on the Alto kalimba. A friend of mine got tired of the key of “vanilla C,” and to remedy this, I retuned less than half the tines on my friend’s kalimba by a half-step. This is not a difficult retuning, and you could probably accomplish it yourself. And here it is!
The first 10 seconds of the video plays only the notes that haven’t been retuned – it sounds just like the standard G major-tuned Alto kalimba.
At 10 seconds, you get the first glimpse of the scale, which is seriously minor in nature.
The music before 10 seconds is like defining home base. This is where we will keep returning to, the safe refuge, the start and the end point of the journey. The red dots represent this home base – the G tines. The G chord is made by playing these red-dot tines along with the two higher adjacent tines – you can see that pattern played repeatedly.
There are other places to go, away from home. One of them is a mirror image of the G chord. It is the Ab (A flat) major chord, which in and of itself is not spooky – but played right next to the G major chord, the Ab major chord is spooky.
And one other significant place to go away from home is the C minor chord that comes in firmly at 0:39 in the video. The black dots here are on the C tines, and the C minor chord is played by playing the C notes and the two next higher tines.
There are no rules for using colored dots on the tines to help you. Pick a few notes that are important to your playing, and mark them to remind you to come back to those tines. They hold a special place, or fill a special role. These dots are like targets you can aim for when you are at sea. You can see this in action at 0:39, where first I am fumbling in empty space, and then jumping on to the black dots.
I love daydream-traveling around the world, imagining what life is like in another place and another time, making my own middle-eastern sound track on my Hitzaskiar-tuned Alto kalimba.