Hokema B11 Kalimba – Alternative Tuning Strategies

A common theme: the more notes you have, the more musical possibilities you have. The flip side: if you are overwhelmed by the possibilities, get a simpler kalimba with fewer tines. And yet another theme: kalimbas with restricted numbers of notes and restricted possibilities can explore new spaces of possible music simply by changing the tuning. That is the main reason why I explore new tunings.

Here are two fundamentally different ways of approaching kalimba tunings:

Three different B11 Tunings

Above Video, Left: Standard B11 Tuning (G Major)

The standard tuning has just over a two octave range. If you were to have every note in the scale, that would require 16 tines. The standard tuning has just the low G (the “1”) and the low D (the “5”, a 5th above G) in the lower octave. The upper octave is complete – 8 notes of the upper octave, plus one higher.

Why the big gap? This tuning follows the leading of the hang drum, which has a single extra low note, called the “ding”, right in the center, which is usually an octave lower than the second lowest note. And it is also following the lead of the karimba, which skips some notes in the lower octave.

Having those two low notes helps support the melodies in the upper octave. The upper octave notes alternate left to right, from the outer lower row first, and then on the upper row, starting from inner and going outward left and right to ever higher notes.

Middle: B11 in Dajari F Tuning (F Major)

Why does this tuning exist? Because Dajari needed a B11 tuned to F, to go along with his hang drum. Instead of having two notes in the lower octave, there is only one note – the low F. The other 10 notes give us an octave plus two more notes of the F major scale. Basically, this is like a 10-Note kalimba, plus an extra low drone note an octave below. If you have been paying attention, I have been making the case for how much music you can play on the 10-Note kalimba. OK, the 10-Note Kalimba doesn’t bother with two rows of tines… but other than that, the notes are laid out the same way. Anything the 10-Note can play can also be played on this kalimba.

These two B11 kalimbas follow the same general scheme – 9 or 10 continuous notes in the upper octave, and a sparsely populated lower octave with key helper notes.

By the way, if you need a special tuning and you aren’t sure how to do it, you can contact us!

Left: B11 in Bothian C Tuning

This kalimba tuning is inspired by Thomas Bothe, a German kalimba maker who would often create kalimbas with two rows of tines. Bothe would tune the lower row to one chord, and the upper row notes to a different, related chord. This is similar to the native tuning of the Sansula… but more beautiful and expansive.

In the Bothian C Tuning, the lower row tines are tuned to C major 7, and the upper row tines are tuned to D minor 7.

You don’t have to segregate your playing tines into upper and lower. You can combine lower and upper row tines. But you can always go back to playing the lower row tines for a few seconds, then just the upper row tines for a few seconds.

There is a key lesson here, even if you play a kalimba where the notes are on the same level: to make a little bit of music, you don’t need to use all the notes… but rather just about half the tines, or less. But then, the framework changes, and it is a different subset of tines that you will play.

Yes, The B11 has a Great Pickup

The pickup on the Hokema B11 kalimba adds $61 to the price. This means the pickup is a high quality piece of equipment. As you can hear in this video, as all three B11 kalimbas are being played through my 1975 Fender Deluxe Reverb amplifier. I think they sound great!

Get a B11 Kalimba, Pick Your Tuning

Get a B11 Kalimba Elektra (with pickup)

Explore the instructional resources for the B11 Kalimba


The B11 in G Major has a great book that culminates in music like this!


The Wizard tuning is another example of an alternative B11 tuning.


How to Play the Hokema B11 Kalimba

Exotic B11 Tunings Overview

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