We’ll have 72 of our most popular chromatic kalimba model available again very soon!
It’s time to celebrate! On July 4 we Americans celebrate Independence Day. (Although I would actually rather be celebrating Interdependence Day – because the one truth that I have learned about the world economy is that we are all in this together.) I celebrate in this article with a short video of the patriotic American song “Stars and Stripes Forever” played on the Alto Chromatic Kalimba.
And there is another reason to celebrate: the Box Alto Chromatic Kalimba will be back in stock by July 12, 2019, available for shipment by July 15!
The Alto Chromatic kalimba’s front side looks and sounds exactly like the Alto kalimba. That means that if you have ever played the Alto kalimba, or if you have ever played one of the newer 17-note Chinese kalimbas, everything you learned on one of those kalimbas can be immediately played on the front side of this kalimba.
The regular old diatonic kalimba is really a great instrument – mainly because, without the flats or sharps, or the notes that are out of the key, the diatonic kalimba is a fun and fairly easy instrument to play. There are thousands of songs you can play on the diatonic kalimba, so you have a lot of musical freedom with a reasonably low investment in learning the instrument.
That said, you can only go so far dodging the required, but missing, chromatic notes (the chromatic scale includes the diatonic notes plus all the flats or sharps in between.) If you are ready for the full chromatic kalimba experience, it might be time for you to get one of the Hugh Tracey Chromatic Kalimbas.
The Hugh Tracey Chromatic Alto kalimba has a very interesting design, with the “flats” on the back. Each tine with a dot on its playing tip has its “flat” right behind it. In order to play the flats, you use your finger nails, on the back side. Think about a “squeezebox” when you play, squeezing (plucking) the front with the thumb and the back with your fingers. I use my middle fingers on the back, though some players use three or even four fingers on the back side.
Admittedly, not being able to see the back side tines is a distinct disadvantage when learning this instrument. You do need to be able to play “by feel,” which is difficult and takes time. And I can give you four useful tips to assist you in learning to play the back side notes:
- Use the dots on the front side tines to indicate which tines have flats behind them, as this helps you understand the instrument’s layout, intuitively and visually.
- Look at the back side tines in the photo. They are not all parallel, and here’s why: When holding the kalimba in my hands, looking at the black dots, I reach for the back side tine with my middle finger. If I don’t find it, I assume that is because it is in the wrong place for my hands. So, I push those tines around on the back side until they are in the right place for my “guessing” fingers. Remember that when you slide a tine to the left or the right, it will probably go slightly out of tune, so adjust the tuning after you are finished adjusting the left-right orientation of the tines to match your fingers’ idea of where they should be.
- Conceptually, think about the chromatic notes as “flats.” Not every use of the chromatic notes is conducive to this (secondary dominant chords require you to think of the chromatic notes as sharps, which puts the note on the opposite hand as the un-sharped tine). However, most of the uses of chromatic notes in the “Stars and Stripes” video can be conceptualized as ornamental flats. I go back and forth between the unflatted tine on the front and the flatted tine on the back. How can you tell I am playing a back side note? When you hear a note played but don’t see the thumb playing… you can usually see me move my hand and you can figure out when I play the back side notes.
- Practice, practice, practice. There are thousands of little common chromatic riffs for you to do. If you take one of them and do it a thousand times, your mind and body no longer has to think of the individual notes strung together. Rather, your body and mind know this chromatic riff as a single musical thing. The intro to “Stars and Stripes” has two back side notes in a little ascending chromatic run. Do that every day for a week, and you will know that. Next, maybe pick a chord, like A major (which is usually a minor on the diatonic kalimba in G), learn where the C# is on the back, and just experiment with ways of playing the A major chord until it flows naturally off of your thumbs and fingers.
The chromatic kalimba is a complicated instrument that defaults to something simple on the front side, but when you integrate the chromatic notes on the back you will possess an instrument that can challenge and gratify you for the rest of your life as you become adept at playing (at first) partially and then fully chromatic music.