TIP: Exploring Sansula Tunings – p5 – Characteristics of Tunings

Here are some of the tunings – many of them complete with sound recordings!

Visit the Kalimba Doctor page to get your kalimba retuned

Are you still wondering why the big fuss over all those different sansula tunings? This tip clarifies that very question.  The differences among the tunings are made clear, with rich descriptions of how I perceive the music they make. And in addition, you can listen to and watch different tunings in action in the video below, which is a YouTube Playlist containing 7 separate short demonstrations.



  • Standard A minor (Ake-bono-like) tuning:  This original tuning was part my initial attraction to the sansula – the tuning was utterly enchanting, simple, soothing and easy.  Mystical and magical and melancholic.  Beautiful, but definitely tilted toward the sad and mysterious.  The one drawback – musically, this tuning is very limited.
  • A minor + G tuning: This is one of the easiest retunings you could do on the sansula and is a great place to start experimenting with tunings.  Only one note is altered – the far left tine A, which is redundant with another tine.  Wow – there are two of the exact same note in the original tuning!  Retuning it from A down a whole step to G does not really take away any possibilities, it only adds them.  G is generally used as a passing note between A and F.  So, the effort is minimal, the risk is minimal, and the tuning is changed by maybe 15%.  It still sounds mysterious and minor and melancholy, but perhaps a bit more melodic.
  • Beautiful E tuning:  This tuning transforms the sansula.  For one, the root note E is no longer the lowest note (longest tine).  E is the highest note though.  Mostly, I think this tuning has a happy-go-lucky sound, and it puts me to mind of how I used to feel upon seeing the first snowfall of the year – joyous, excited, and magical.
  • Heavenly A tuning:  Designed by Rick Tarquinio, this is his answer to Beautiful E tuning.  It is major, quite happy like golden light shining in, and can play a fair bit of the music that you know.
  • Moroccan E tuning:  Moroccan E is mysterious, in between major and minor, in between Africa and Europe, from the Middle East.  This tuning sounds like the desert and has some fire and attitude, but it can also clean up a bit, hide those dissonant notes, and play in limited ways in a straight major.
  • Bluesy E tuning:  When local bluesman Stefan George died, I wrote this music for him – my first blues kalimba.  This tuning is actually more major than minor.  It has some opinion and bite, but it feels more like a country blues to me than a howling blues.
  • C Major tuning:  I still remember my resistance when a customer asked for a sansula in C major.  The sansula’s standard tuning, A minor, has no notes that are not part of the key of C major, so it would work to play in C major – but it would not be optimized for that key.  And that is what this tuning is – optimized for playing in C major – bright, jubilant, full of awe, ecstatic.  Playing in this tuning can actually make me cry with joy.  I am so glad I listened to my customer and provided the tuning she requested.
  • C Minor tuning:  This is a pentatonic minor tuning.  It has strong primitive spirit and is not necessarily melancholy or sad because of this strength.  It plays pretty easily.

Each of the above tunings (except for the A minor + G tuning), can be experienced firsthand in the videos shown in the playlist below:

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