TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 1

An Overview of a 13 Part Series of Tips for the African-Tuned Karimba

Up and down the pentatonic scale

Most karimba music gets two or more different musical lines going at once. Keeping these two different musical lines going is a bit like juggling. Sometimes each thumb takes on a separate musical line, and sometimes the thumbs take on both themes, with one or two musical lines bouncing back and forth between the two thumbs.

In this series of tips, I show you a very simple way of thinking about the karimba that will give you access to some basic improvisational skills. For this purpose, we are going to approach playing the karimba with an artificial limitation. To the right hand we are going to assign the role of harmonic and rhythmic support. To the left hand we are going to assign the role of melodic flash.

Ultimately, you will play something on the right side that is steady but slowly changing, while you play fancy things on the left side. You can either figure out the left side melody in advance (composition) or on the fly (improvisation). If you have difficulty with improvising, I give you some suggestions for what to do.

The long range plan of this series: the right thumb will play something low, strong, and supportive while the left thumb plays a dancing melody which is improvised at least some of the time.

Please look at the tablature to the left. The upper octave pentatonic scale can be played entirely with the left thumb. Note how the second half forms a mirror image in time of the first half?

This exercise lays the foundation for the left thumb dancing.

Much of what is taught in this series is played just on the stronger notes of the lower row. This means that the 9-Note Student Karimba can also play much of this music.




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