14 November 2016

What kalimba plays the songs on Top 40 Radio?

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

I've been jamming out on kalimba... playing along with Top 40 Radio!

What kalimba plays the songs on Top 40 Radio?

I was very disappointed on election night a couple weeks ago, as I am sure many of you were as well. Leading up to the election, I had taken to listening to more and more news and analysis, mostly on NPR and Democracy Now, and when I saw the writing on the wall, I decided I needed to take a huge break from the news. So now, when I drive somewhere, or when my clock radio wakes me up, I listen to a local Top 40 / variety radio station (92.9 FM if you are in Tucson).

To my surprise, and for the first time in my life, I love pop music! And I have been playing along with the radio on my kalimbas. I've been having a lot of fun, and I thought that it would be useful to many people if I shared the keys of these songs and what kalimbas will play in those keys.

 

 

When playing along with the radio, the most important thing is that you need to be playing on an instrument that is in the same key as the song.  There are 12 different keys in western music: A, B flat, B, C, C# (C sharp or D flat), D, E flat, E, F, F# (or G flat), G, and G# (or A flat).  Each key will contain seven of those 12 notes, in a very particular pattern.

The best kalimbas for playing pop music are generally diatonic in nature. A diatonic kalimba is one that plays the “Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do” scale, in some particular key, and the diatonic scale is missing all the notes that are not in its key - that is, all the notes that could easily sound like mistakes have been taken off the kalimba. Pop songs are easily played on diatonic kalimbas due to the simple fact that pop music songs tend to stay in one key all the way through. The kalimba and pop music were made for each other!

If you have your own kalimba, you probably want to know if you can play it with popular music, or (if you don't own one) which one is most useable for this purpose.  A study of the keys of the Top 40 songs indicates that a kalimba tuned to the key of C can actually play with significantly more songs than kalimbas tuned to any other key. (See the table at the bottom of this post.)

Many pop songs are written in the key of C. A year from now, most of those songs in C will have drifted off the Top 40 charts. However, I think there will always be more pop songs that end up in the key of C, and expect to see the same tendency in next year's Top 40 songs. Thinking along those lines, I would recommend the C Alto kalimba or the Bb Treble kalimba that has been retuned to C as the most generally useful instruments for jamming along to the songs on the radio.

If you have a kalimba already, yes, it is possible for you to retune into different keys to expand your list of possible songs, and you can likely accomplish retuning on your own.  It is easiest to tune to different keys that are adjacent on the circle of fifths. We provide tuning charts for many tunings, as well as instruction on how to tune the kalimba. You will see more about retuning along the circle of fifths in a future blog post.

Alternatively, you could purchase a new kalimba in any one of these tunings for a particular song or a particular group of songs. Let's say that you ordered a new Alto kalimba from Kalimba Magic, and didn't specify the key. It would come to you in G. However, you could select an alternative tuning for your Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba - F, F#, G, G#, or A. You could have your eye on a particular song and want a kalimba that would fit it exactly. For example, if you want to get an Alto kalimba to play along with Twenty One Pilot's song "Ride" - which is in F# or Eb minor - you could choose an Alto kalimba specially tuned up to F#.   Another generally useful instrument is the African-tuned karimba, which can be tuned to A, A flat, or G. And the Bb and D Treble Kalimbas can be tuned to A, Bb, B, C, Db, D, Eb, or E.

As you might imagine, it would be a bit problematic to get a kalimba in every single key so that you could play along with any song on the radio. A reasonable alternative is to get one, two, or three different kalimbas in popular keys that play with some of your favorite songs.

(There is an attractive alternative [with a caveat] - a single kalimba that will play on all these songs in all these different keys. That is the Hugh Tracey Chromatic kalimba. The Chromatic kalimba has every note over a two octave range, so you could create parts or jam along with ANY of these songs on the Chromatic kalimba. Be clear that the Chromatic kalimba is quite challenging. It's more like a calling. If you are called to learn its ways and receive its gifts, good for you! The good news for the rest of us is that the standard diatonic kalimbas, tuned to a given key, offer a very easy and straightforward way to quickly make beautiful music.)

In the table of Top 40 songs, below, we first list the relative major key (the key that works with this song). If a song is in a minor key, (such as  A m / A minor), then we list the minor key of the song next to the relative major key, in parentheses.  The next column shows the kalimba(s) and the correct tuning that would work for the song. The last column provides links to a few examples of how these kalimbas might sound jamming along with these pop songs.

# Artist and Song Key What Kalimbas/tunings work with this song? Examples
1 The Chainsmokers
"Closer" featuring (feat.) Halsey
A flat Alto in Ab  
2 Twenty One Pilots
"Heathens"
G (E m) Alto in G
Lotus in Am/Em
B-11
Example
3 Dj Snake
"Let Me Love You" feat. Justin Bieber
E flat (C m) D Treble in Eb
Lotus in Cm/Gm
 
4 Shawn Mendes
"Treat You Better"
D flat (B flat m) D Treble in Db  
5 The Weeknd
"Starboy" feat. Daft Punk
C (A m) Bb Treble in C
D Treble in C
Lotus in Am/Em
 
6 Kiiara
"Gold"
A flat (F m) Alto in Ab  
7 Major Lazer
"Cold Water" feat. Justin Bieber & MØ
A (F# m) Alto in A
Bb Treble in A
 
8 Daya
"Sit Still, Look Pretty"
D D Treble
Goshen-11
 
9 Gnash
"I Hate U, I Love U" feat. Olivia O'Brien
A (F# m) Alto in A
Bb Treble in A
 
10 Sia
"Cheap Thrills"
E flat (C m) D Treble in Eb
Lotus in Cm/Gm
 
11

Calvin Harris "My Way"

G (E m) Alto in G
Lotus in Am/Em
B-11
 
12 Bruno Mars
"24K Magic"
A flat (F m) Alto in Ab  
13 Hailee Steinfeld And...
"Starving" feat. Zedd
E D Treble in E  
14 Twenty One Pilots
"Ride"
F# (E flat m) Alto in F#  
15 Ariana Grande
"Side To Side" feat. Nicki Minaj
A (F# m) Alto in A
Bb Treble in A
 
16 Alessia Cara
"Scars To Your Beautiful"
C (A m) Bb Treble in C
D Treble in C
Lotus in Am/Em
 
17 Adele
"Send My Love (To Your New Lover)"
D (B m) D Treble
Goshen-11
 
18 Calvin Harris
"This Is What You Came For" feat. Rihanna
C (A m) Bb Treble in C
D Treble in C
Lotus in Am/Em
 
19 Sia
"The Greatest" feat. Kendrick Lamar
E flat (C m) D Treble in Eb
Lotus in Cm/Gm
Example
20 Drake
"Too Good" feat. Rihanna
D D Treble
Goshen-11
 
21 Tory Lanez
"Luv"
D (B m) D Treble
Goshen-11
 
22 Drake
"One Dance" feat. Wizkid & Kyla
C# (B flat m) D Treble in Db  
23 X Ambassadors
"Unsteady"
D (B m) D Treble
Goshen-11
 
24 Coldplay
"Hymn For The Weekend"
E flat (C m) D Treble in Eb
Lotus in Cm/Gm
 
25 Jon Bellion
"All Time Low"
C (A m) Bb Treble in C
D Treble in C
Lotus in Am/Em
 
26 Maroon 5
"Don't Wanna Know" feat. Kendrick Lamar
G Alto in G
Lotus in Am/Em
B-11
Example
27 The Chainsmokers
"Don't Let Me Down" feat. Daya
B (A flat m) Bb Treble in B  
28 Niall Horan
"This Town"
A (F# m) Alto in A
Bb Treble in A
 
29 Charlie Puth
"We Don't Talk Anymore" feat. Selena Gomez
E (C# m) D Treble in Eb
Lotus in Cm/Gm
 
30 Lil Wayne, Wiz Khali...
"Sucker For Pain"
C (A m) Bb Treble in C
D Treble in C
Lotus in Am/Em
 
31 Ariana Grande
"Into You"
A (F# m) Alto in A
Bb Treble in A
 
32 Justin Timberlake
"Can't Stop The Feeling"
C Bb Treble in C
D Treble in C
Lotus in Am/Em
 
33 Frenship
"Capsize" feat. Emily Warren
E flat D Treble in Eb
Lotus in Cm/Gm
 
34 Martin Garrix
"In The Name Of Love" feat. Bebe Rexha
G Alto in G
Lotus in Am/Em
B-11
 
35 Flume
"Never Be Like You" feat. Kai
C Bb Treble in C
D Treble in C
Lotus in Am/Em
 
36 Pitbull
"Greenlight" feat. Flo Rida & LunchMoney Lewis
E (C# m) D Treble in E  
37 Kanye West
"Fade"
F (D m) Alto in F  
38 Mike Posner
"I Took A Pill In Ibiza"
Bb (G m) Bb Treble
Lotus in Cm/Gm
 
39 Fifth Harmony
"That's My Girl"
C # (B flat m) D Treble in Db  
40 Pink
"Just Like Fire"
G (E m) Alto in G
Lotus in Am/Em
B-11
 

And here are a bunch of other pop songs they play on my radio station that aren't currently in the Top 40 that I like and have been having fun playing kalimba with:

X Justin Bieber
"You Should Go and Love Yourself"
E D Treble in Eb
Lotus in Cm/Gm
 
X Taylor Swift
"Blank Space"
F Alto in F  
X Ben Rector
"Brand New"
A Alto in A
Bb Treble in A
 
X Charlie Purth
"I'm Only One Call Away"
D flat D Treble in Db  
X Maroon 5
"And She Will Be Loved"
E flat (C m) D Treble in Eb
Lotus in Cm/Gm
 
X Echosmith
"Cool Kids"
A flat Alto in Ab Example
X Andy Grammer
"Fresh Eyes"
G Alto in G
Lotus in Am/Em
B-11
 
X Walk the Moon
"Shut Up and Dance"
D flat D Treble in Db  
X Meghan Trainor
"I'm Gonna Love You Like I'm Gonna Lose You"
C Bb Treble in C
D Treble in C
Lotus in Am/Em
 
X Kenny Chesney
"Setting the World On Fire"
C Bb Treble in C
D Treble in C
Lotus in Am/Em
 
X Anna Kendrick
"Cups (When I'm Gone)"
C Bb Treble in C
D Treble in C
Lotus in Am/Em
 
X Kelly Clarkson
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)"
C Bb Treble in C
D Treble in C
Lotus in Am/Em
 

How common are the different keys in today's Top 40?

Key Number of Songs
G 6
G#/Ab 4
A 7
Bb 1
B 1
C 11
C#/Db 5
D 4
D#/Eb 5
E 4
F 2
F#/Gb 1

About the Author

Mark Holdaway

Mark Holdaway

Mark Holdaway has been playing kalimba for over 30 years.  He invented his kalimba tablature in 2004, and has been writing books and instructional materials for kalimba ever since.  His business, Kalimba Magic, is based on the simple proposition that the kalimba is a real musical instrument capable of greatness.  Mark's kalimba books are a down payment on this proposition.

Comments (2)

  • Betty Edwards

    Betty Edwards

    25 November 2016 at 09:07 |
    It is early in the morning after Thanksgiving. What a sweet way to start my day of the Christmas season with listening to your Christmas Medley again. I remember watching the audience response to it the night you played it at the little independent book store/gallery that was on Fort Lowell at the time. They were spellbound and it obviously was something deeply meaningful to each person in the room.
    As difficult as life, political and social stress and the holidays can often be, this music is a "simple gift" which keeps on giving. What a lovely way to re-center on the things that are a joy in life rather than those which cause distress or fear.
    At Christmas we are reminded that 'God is Love', 'God is Light'. Thanks for being part of that for me.

    reply

  • Tyler V

    Tyler V

    25 November 2016 at 09:38 |
    What a wonderful compendium you've made! Thank you for sharing this! I love it. Now, to master the chromatic kalimba...

    reply

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