TIP: Exploring Sansula Tunings – p4 – Why Alternative Tunings?

Changing the tuning can transform the music the sansula plays

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Kalimba Magic started making the first alternative sansula tunings many years ago, and we are the only people to have made instructional materials for the sansula and its alternative tunings. This series of tips is an overview of Kalimba Magic’s sansula tunings and related instructional materials.

Before we launch into several alternative tunings, it only seems fair that I explain why anyone would even want to try an alternative tuning on their sansula.

In the previous tip, you saw that you could make good music by twiddling your thumbs in a strictly alternating right-left manner, initially sticking to the straight tines for a while, and then moving over to the bent upper tines.  These are the sorts of things kalimba players are always thinking of.

This points back to the tuning: if your instrument is set up in a reasonable and logical manner – i.e., a good tuning – then you might expect to get good music out merely by following simple heuristic or geometrical or physical (left-right) rules.

There is more than one way to set up a good tuning.  I used to imagine hundreds of good tunings, but now I believe there are probably thousands; and it is pretty certain that there are many more unpleasant or even nasty tunings than there are good ones.

A kalimba’s tuning defines the universe of musical possibilities open to that kalimba.  This includes not only how the music will sound, but also how it will feel.

In the video below, I play the same little melody on two different sansulas in different tunings.  The rhythm of the two melodies are identical.  The thumb placement is identical.  If I had tablature for them, that would be identical too.  But, because the two sansulas are tuned differently, totally different music comes out in spite of everything else being the same.  This is the essence of alternative tunings: you don’t have to learn a whole new instrument, and in this case you can even play the same thing with your thumbs, but what you get back is unique unto itself.  It sounds and feels different to the listener, and it will sound and feel different to you, the musician.

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