TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings – p4

Now, find the octave pairs on your kalimba

When you picked up a new unknown kalimba, the first thing was to find the root notes.  The second thing – look for and play the scale, from the low root note to the root note an octave higher.

This tip informs the third thing to do with your new unknown kalimba: find the octaves.

This is generally true, but not universally true:  most kalimba tunings follow a pattern, or scale, and continue with notes from that same scale in an upper octave.  Some instruments don’t have octave intervals, but almost every tuned kalimba I have ever seen does have clear octave intervals. You don’t have to have octaves in your tuning, but it helps the listener and it definitely helps you play if your tuning does have perfect octave intervals.

So, when you pick up a kalimba and have found the root and the scale, next try going up the scale in two octaves at once.  Start by playing two lowest “1” notes simultaneously.

The tablature here for the Ake Bono tuning indicates the scale in measures 1-2, and then in measure 3 we double the notes of the scale in octaves.  Notice the “windshield wiper” form of your thumbs’ movements as you go up and down the scale played in octave pairs.

The pentatonic scale has 5 unique notes in each octave.  The standard “Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do” has 7 unique notes (the “Do” on the top, the 8th note, is not unique because the scale starts with “Do”.)  If there are 5 or 7 unique notes in each octave of the scale, and the tuning is regular (ie, not skipping notes and not putting them in a weird order), then octave pairs will be on opposite sides of the kalimba.  A 6-note scale will put octave pairs on the same side of the kalimba, which is not actually the advantage it might seem – when the octave pairs are on opposite hands, they are easy to play!

Your assignment: go to time = 1:05 in the video below to watch an octave-doubled scale in action in a piece of music.  Listen to what it sounds like to double the octaves, and note what it looks like.  This is the same theme that the song opens with, so when this theme returns here, doubling the octave gives it more power and force.  When you’ve completed this assignment, go pick up your kalimba, find the octave pairs, and start practicing playing them.


“Malian Blues” on the G minor pentatonic kalimba.

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