Over the Rainbow

Free Tablature for Alto, Treble, and Chromatic Kalimbas – and learn about the Secondary Dominant

I never really understood the big deal about “The Wizard of Oz” when I was growing up. We had a black and white TV, and I remember in high school, a friend asked me “Hey, you know how when Dorothy lands in Oz, everything is suddenly in color?” I answered “No…” and suddenly realized part of why I had never gotten the movie! The music from this movie did not become a favorite part of my life as it did for so many.

But when you are a performing musician, it is not always about what pleases you most. In music, you also are playing for the audience. And I can tell you, no song succeeds in touching listeners’ hearts quite like “Over the Rainbow” played on a tiny little music box (the kalimba).


“Over the Rainbow” is a really good song to know how to play on the kalimba. It is one of those songs that spans generations, and makes them all happy. If you are playing in a retirement community, you will find many people who first heard the song in the theaters in 1939, when the movie first came out. You will find people my age who learned the song from a music box, or from watching the movie for years on TV. You will find young children who learned the song as their mothers sang them to sleep with it.

It is a song that touches a deep and collective nostalgia, makes us cry, and yet makes us feel that everything will work out for us.

Below, I present the opening bars of “Over the Rainbow” for the Alto and Treble kalimbas.

OverTheRainbow Treble OverTheRainbow Alto









Click on images to download full tablature PDF’s

Do you know your intervals by ear? If not, “Over the Rainbow” is a good song to tuck in your back pocket. The big opening word some – where” spans an interval of one octave… on this tablature, from middle G to high G. (The E notes on the syllable ” – where” are harmony notes.) This is an excellent strategy for ear training. You already know how the melody goes: “Some-where  ov-er  the  rain-bow.”  Now you have a name to go with that huge jump between the first two notes – it is an octave interval, so essential to the understanding of music in general and the kalimba in specific.

If this opened your eyes, your next assignment is to find songs whose opening notes form other important intervals – or work backwards, finding memorable songs with opening intervals that stick in your memory and touch you in some way, and then figure out what those intervals are.

Enough about octaves and intervals – back to the song:

As you are likely aware, most kalimbas are diatonic – meaning they have all the notes in one particular key, but cannot play very well outside of that key. There is one place in “Over the Rainbow” that goes outside of the key of the song, just for one measure (22):

m.21  Where troubles melt like lemon drops

m.22   A – way  a – bove  the  chim – ney  tops

At measure 22 in the Alto and Treble tablature, I have written out a line that alternates between A and E, but the note that is required by the melody on the syllables  way bovechim  and  tops is actually a C#, which is missing from those diatonic kalimbas. By the way, the C# makes this an A chord – actually an A7, which is the dominant chord to (ie, drives the harmony to) D – which is the dominant chord to G, the key of the song. Without words, the chords for measures 22, 23, 24, and 25:

A7 –> D   (or D7) –> G

The G is the key of the song, or home. This little somersault is a particular way of sending us around in a circle, but of course bringing us back home safely.

If you understand this little progression, remember this little label: the A7 chord is said to be a secondary dominant.  A7 is a dominant to D, which is a dominant to G. In order for it to work, you need a C#, which very effectively leads the harmony and melody from A to D. This secondary dominant technique is very common in popular and classical and jazz music. It would be really good for you to have a strategy for how to deal with this secondary dominant issue on the kalimba.

You could retune your C tine to C# to be ready for measure 22, but then you would be out of luck when the melody goes “There’s a land that I heard of ….” because a C natural is required here. The whole reason the secondary dominant works is because you are temporarily out of the key that had been established earlier, in part by having a C natural.

I have two different solutions for you. The first is to play the Alto or Treble tab as written, but you have to SING along with it… which is a pretty good suggestion, as most people love the words and the message of the song even more than the music. When you get to “A – way  a – bove  the  chim – ney  tops,” sing loud and strong; even though the kalimba is playing the harmony A and you will be singing a C#, it will still sound OK.

The second solution is to invest in a chromatic kalimba (with tines on both the front and back). Now, about once a month, when I am talking to a kalimba client on the phone, they realize something like “Oh, if I get a chromatic kalimba I will be able to play in any key!” In principle, yes… but it would really require years of practice and study and trailblazing to arrive at that destination. The two-sided chromatic kalimba is really set up to play in the key of the front tines. “Over the Rainbow” is a perfect song to play on the chromatic kalimba – the entire song stays within the kalimba’s main (front side) diatonic key, except for the four C# notes in measure 22.

OverTheRainbow Chromatic
Click image to download Chromatic tablature.

By the way, the Chromatic Alto kalimba has 15 notes on the front side and 11 notes on the back side, for a total of 26 tines. The way we do the tablature for the chromatic kalimba is to put the front-side 15 tines in the center, with the painted tines indicated as colored columns. The shaded columns on the outer edges are the back-side tines (the flats or sharps which are the black notes on a piano), making up the 5 gray columns on the far left and the 6 gray columns on the far right. The only place(s) in “Over the Rainbow” where these back-side tines – or far left and far right columns in the tab – are played [                ] – (the four C# notes in measure 22.)

I have added to the plain melody a descending bass line accompaniment – A, G, F#, E, landing on D in the next measure.

Speaking of adding things to the song – there are several places where the melody stays on a note for an entire measure, and I often fill that measure with a fancy arpeggio. It is up to you – you can go for the fancy bits, or you can play the melody more simply if you prefer. You already know how it goes.



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