Songs for the 8-Note Kalimba – “Away in a Manger”

Free Tablature for “Away in a Manger” for the truly versatile 8-Note Kalimba

Click to download 8-Note tablature for “Away in a Manger”

Kalimbas generally have more tines than an 8-note does. You may be wondering what could you do with only eight notes.  While it might seem that a kalimba with only eight notes would not be very capable, it turns out that there is quite a bit of music available to the 8-Note kalimba.

Almost every 8-Note kalimba is tuned to the C major scale, playing from low to high: “Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do.”  In addition to being useful for many songs in C, you can attain a “new and different instrument” by simply retuning a single note down by a half step.  By tuning the 7th note, B, down to B flat – the kalimba is thrown into the key of F with a fundamentally different note layout, and a whole world of different songs can be played on the instrument in this tuning.  “Away in a Manger” is one such song.


Retuning your 8-Note kalimba from from the key of C to the key of F is the simplest retuning you could do. It requires only that the B tine be pulled slightly down to B flat. It is the perfect entrance to the world of retuning. And it is so worth doing, because retuning in this way puts the 5th in the bass. This gives the instrument an entirely different note layout, which means you can play so many more songs that are not possible in the standard tuning.

Right about now you may be thinking “Whoa! What does that mean, put the 5th in the bass?”  In this F tuning, the low note is C, and C is the 5th of F.  Sing the note names and numbers with the same tune as “Do Re Mi Fa So”:   F G A Bb C = 1 2 3 4 5, therefore C is the 5th of F, and on this kalimba, C is the longest tine and the lowest note, otherwise known as the bass note. So doing this simple retuning of one tine gives the low C, which is the fifth of F (the new key), the proud designation of the “5th in the bass.”  While “Joy to the World” requires the kalimba to be tuned from 1 in the bottom to 8 at the top, “Away in a Manger” requires the tines to run from 5 in the bottom to 5 in the top – that is, a tuning just like our F tuning.  And there are a lot of songs just like “Away in a Manger” that fit on the 8-Note kalimba only when you have the 5th in the bass, as in this F tuning.

On the 8-Note in F, almost all the notes are the same as when it was in C – the low note (the longest tine) is still C, the high note (the shortest tine) is still C.  What has changed is how we think about the notes.  The root note of this song – that is, the note the melody most commonly ends on – is F instead of C. And the low C, or 5, pushes us toward the F, or 1.  Try it – play the low C then the F.  That will make the first two notes of “Amazing Grace,” and you can feel the strength of that motion.

8-Note Kalimba Tunings
Most 8-Note kalimbas are in C. By pulling the B out a few millimeters to make Bb, you change the key to F, which totally changes the layout of the kalimba, as indicated by the numbers..


Away in a Manger Tab
Click to download PDF of tablature.

You might be wondering if you really need to tune the B down to a Bb to play the music here.  Strictly speaking, no, you don’t need to.  But if you don’t retune, that one note will be sticking out and sounding a little funny… and eventually you will probably want to tune it down so it sounds right. 

(An experienced kalimba tuner can accomplish this retuning in a matter of seconds.  A first-time kalimba tuner might take three or four minutes getting the note right.  Follow the tuning link at the bottom of the article for more information on kalimba tuning.)

We have a download with 32 songs that can be played on the 8-Note kalimba in F tuning, and “Away in a Manger” is representative of them.   Also included in the download are: “Amazing Grace,” spirituals such as “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” several traditional African karimba songs such as “Chemtengure,” a few classical tunes including “Finlandia,” Christmas carols such as “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and Americana such as “This Land is Your Land” and “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain When She Comes.” 

In summary, there is an amazing diversity of music you can play on the simple 8-Note kalimba in F tuning.

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