Articles tagged with: Alto Kalimba

24 June 2017

How the B flat Treble Kalimba Got Its Stripes

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

A "Just So" Story, with thanks to Rudyard Kipling

How the B flat Treble Kalimba Got Its Stripes

My very first kalimba was a Treble. I had actually just come from a friend's house who had an Alto, and we'd all played the Alto and loved it - but when I went to the drum shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts back in 1986, they only had the Treble, with the 3rd note of the scale in the lowest tine (and not the root note, as in Altos). I bought it, but somehow I never really bonded with the instrument. A few years later, I got an Alto kalimba, and it was like day and night! I understood the Alto, with the root note as the lowest tine, and its range of exactly two octaves. (That is, the lowest note was "Do" of "Do Re Mi", and the highest note was also "Do", two octaves up.) With the Alto kalimba now in hand, my Treble was set aside. It eventually went to live with a friend, while I developed my long love affair with the Alto kalimba.

31 May 2017

What you get when you buy an Alto Kalimba from Kalimba Magic

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

A great kalimba, 30 years of my kalimba playing experience, and considerable love

What you get when you buy an Alto Kalimba from Kalimba Magic

Every time I ship a kalimba, I play it to make sure it is all just right.  And as I play it, I make a little prayer, that the person who gets this kalimba will come to love and understand their little instrument.  But I do much more than just pray.  I send out as many keys to the doors of understanding as I can.  We stack the odds in favor of success.

15 May 2017

Simple Mbira Music for Alto Kalimba

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Stylizing this archetypical mbira music makes it simple to play on Alto Kalimba

Simple Mbira Music for Alto Kalimba

For the first 15 years I played kalimba, something about it confused me.  Even though my Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba came in a box that said it was an African instrument, when I played the kalimba, the music that naturally came out was more like folk and rock and classical music.  My kalimba played the music that I knew and loved and understood.

Americans get very little exposure to African music. For the last ten years, I have been slowly moving toward getting to know, and understanding, African music, with the goal of being able to (someday) play African music on my kalimba. 

In this post, I show you step-by-step how to play a cool yet simple traditional African progression on the Alto kalimba. 

28 May 2017

Different scale, different feel - new realms on the Alto Kalimba

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Shifting the emphasis by one note gives your music a new emotional color

Different scale, different feel - new realms on the Alto Kalimba

Can you play the major scale on your kalimba?  "Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do?" Your tuning might not permit this scale - the pentatonic scales and the Lotus tuning are both missing some notes.  Many kalimbas can play the major scale.  Find that scale on your kalimba now if you can.

Just by shifting the starting point of the scale by one note, we are going to show you how to create a totally different scale on your kalimba.  Instead of G major on the Alto, we will play a type of A minor scale.  Whatever kalimba you do have, this post can open doors for you too, so read on.

05 April 2017

The "Clocks" riff from Coldplay, on Karimba and Alto

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Learn to play a kalimba version of the piano ostinato in Coldplay's "Clocks"

The

An ostinato is a motif or phrase that persistently repeats in the same musical voice.  Almost everybody knows the piano ostinato that provides the foundation for Coldplay's compelling song "Clocks," written a decade ago.  Evocative and haunting, this song seemingly brings to life a dream world.  (Click on the link below this post to hear it.)  While I've enjoyed this song since it came out, it never occurred to me to play it on kalimba until recently at a music therapy conference.  One of the attendees started playing "Clocks" on ukelele, and I realized she was playing it in D mixolydian mode, which has the same notes as the key of G major. This is also the same key in which a lot of Hugh Tracey kalimbas are tuned.  I ran and got my Alto kalimba and immediately jumped in. 

Would you like to learn how to play the riff to "Clocks" on the kalimba?  We have tablature for both African karimba and Alto kalimba.

13 January 2017

Six Modes to Expand the Emotional Expressiveness of your Kalimba

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Each different mode is like a totally different instrument. Don't you want to unlock that power?

Six Modes to Expand the Emotional Expressiveness of your Kalimba

You can totally change the scale your kalimba is playing, not by doing anything hard such as retuning your kalimba, but just by starting and ending on a different note than you usually do.  Emphasizing a different note makes that the root note, and the whole system of whole steps and half steps shifts, and all of a sudden the kalimba is playing as if it were tuned to a totally different scale.

How different can the scales be?   Here are my descriptions of each of the modes: Mode 1: happy.  Mode 2: dark, but jazzy and sophisticated.  Mode 3: dark and middle eastern sounding, exotic.  Mode 4: angelic. Mode 5: Jerry Garcia in 1969.  Mode 6: melancholy and serious.

If you can access these different modes in your playing, you have the power to express these types of feelings in your playing.

24 December 2016

Songs for The Alto Kalimba - "Zambezi"

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Free Tablature for Tinashe's Song "Zambezi"

Songs for The Alto Kalimba -

Several people have requested the tablature for Tinashe's popular and touching song "Zambezi," which has been around on YouTube for a while. It is a great song for the kalimba, as it is pretty much just a four-measure riff that is repeated through the song with minimal changes.  It is not difficult and even novice players can learn to play this song in about 10 or 15 minutes.

"Zambezi" is performed by Tinashe on solo Alto kalimba and voice, and we also have a link to him performing it with a four-piece band. There is not much information available about him to be found on the Internet.  But be aware that there is another Tinashe - a female African American artist, who is more famous than the Tinashe of "Zambezi" fame; she doesn't play the kalimba - so try not to confuse the two.

Download the free tablature and learn this simple, pretty song!

10 December 2016

"Away in a Manger" - First learn the Easy Melody, then Add Chords. Voila!

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

LEARN THE USEFUL TECHNIQUE OF HOW AND WHERE TO ADD CHORDS TO A SIMPLE MELODY

Often people think of the kalimba as a very simple instrument.  However, it stands proudly with the harp, the guitar, and the keyboard as instruments that can play both a melody and musical accompaniment - in other words, you can play complex music with the kalimba.

I'd like to show you a few rules of thumb that are very useful in creating a more interesting and profound-sounding song, starting with an easy, familiar melody. It will help you know where, when and how to create simple chordal accompaniment which can very easily make your kalimba playing absolutely gorgeous.

11 December 2016

Seven Basic Moves on the Kalimba

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

UNLOCK YOUR KALIMBA-PLAYING POTENTIAL WITH THESE MUSICAL BUILDING BLOCKS THAT WORK WITH ANY DIATONIC KALIMBA

Seven Basic Moves on the Kalimba

Here we present seven of the most basic building blocks of kalimba music. They are based on simple thumb routines which the body can easily remember.  (This group is directly applicable to diatonic kalimbas, ones that cover the notes "Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do" in some scale.) Each of these routines can be applied in different ways to different tines, and this will produce different music based on the same sort of easy pattern.

For each of the seven basic moves, we give you a very short bit of tablature to illustrate the shape of the pattern, explain what the pattern is and why it is useful, and provide a recording to convey its sound.  All that is left is for you to pick up your kalimba and reproduce these simple moves that will help unlock your potential as a kalimba player.

06 December 2016

Peaceful Protest

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

A download of peace and protest songs for the Alto Kalimba

Peaceful Protest
 
Things in the world may be looking difficult for you, no matter where you are.  Here in the US, I am one of more than a few (more like millions) who are disillusioned and extremely concerned about many things...including climate change and the prospects for dealing with it, now that a new presidential administration is coming in - one that seems to offer nothing good for our world's environment, and actually is looking downright destructive.  A few months ago, I felt optimistically that we had a chance at preventing the worst consequences of climate change.  With the election going the way it did, I think we have thrown that chance down a deep dark hole.

06 December 2016

Alto Exercises to Expand Your Skills, Part 2

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements, Tips

FAST SAME-SIDE PLAYING: AN ESSENTIAL STRENGTH FOR MAKING MBIRA MUSIC ON KALIMBA

Alto Exercises to Expand Your Skills, Part 2

 

To me, traditional African mbira music is one of the best musics I have ever experienced.  I feel it's the pinnacle of African music.  It has pure logic, with a spiritual core.  Even though its structure is many centuries old, every time I hear it, it sounds fresh and modern to me.  (You can hear two wonderful mbira songs right now by clicking in Related Articles below, on "Listen to Mark..." or the YouTube song below it.) This music is magical, speaking to a deep inner part of my being.  And there are many in the world who agree with me!

In my years learning and playing kalimba, I have not spent much time trying to play mbira music.  But I have come to be very interested in this amazing genre, and want to make it accessible to many more people.  I am on a quest to learn African mbira music and translate it onto the Hugh Tracey kalimba and the African Tuned karimba, which are not nearly as demanding or complex to play as the mbira.  I know there are many other people who play and love the kalimba as I do, and I believe that they would enjoy playing this music on kalimba as well.  Being that kalimba is my "native musical language", and it is the instrument I play the most and feel the most natural on, playing mbira music on the kalimba is a bit like learning a foreign language.  But I am seeing the way... and I am sharing that way with you.

The last post regarding mbira dealt with developing a facility playing octaves and fifth intervals which are a crucial part of mbira musical structure.  This post demonstrates a simple exercise for playing quickly on one side, and is another motion you need to be comfortable with to play mbira music on the kalimba.

 

14 November 2016

The System of the Mbira - Part 1

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

The chords and phrase structure behind most mbira music

The System of the Mbira - Part 1

Most "primitive" music is so-called "two-phrase" music - basically a call phrase and a response phrase, or a question and an answer.  This simple musical form exists across cultures, in nursery rhymes, and in basic karimba music.

Sometime between 600 and 1000 years ago in the Zambezi Valley of southeastern Africa - let's suppose during the peak of the "Great Zimbabwe" civilization - an incredible innovation occurred: that primal two-phrase tune pattern evolved into a "four-phrase" pattern.  This innovation was momentous. Doubling the length of the original two-phrase cycle had the effect of expanding the possibilities of the music by far more than a factor of two. This four-phrase musical structure is the essence of the sound of the mbira. It is one of the pinnacles of African music, culture and intellect. 

In this post I will impart my conceptualization of an essential African musical form to you, and will start with the basic chord progression common to a lot of four-phrase mbira music. This harmonic understanding, which can be applied to any instrument, will be demonstrated on guitar in the keys of G and A.

12 December 2016

The System of the Mbira - Part 2

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

You can start at different points in the cycle to make different songs

The System of the Mbira - Part 2

Sometime between 600 and 1000 years ago in the Zambezi Valley of southeastern Africa, something amazing happened - four-phrase mbira music was born.  This revolutionized the music that had been played for a very long time, and greatly increased its sophistication, sort of like going from nursery songs to Pachelbel's Canon.

The new musical structure was complex enough to support a wide range of songs.  In fact, new songs in this vein continue to be created today. There is basically an infinite supply of mbira-type music.

In this post we begin analyzing how new songs can be created within this four-phrase system. One way is to start the song at different places in the cycle.  We show you two common places to start, and illustrate the differences in the music.

01 December 2016

Easy Christmas Carols - "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" on Alto

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements, Tips

You may be surprised - you can play this simple carol and you can read tablature!

Easy Christmas Carols -

I've heard this story from more than a hundred people by now: people had been living under the burden of the belief that they were simply unable to make music, but then they discovered the kalimba, and they discovered they could make music on the kalimba, and they were even appreciated for the music they were able to make.

If you are reading these words, you probably know you can make music.  But you might be convinced that you cannot read tablature. 

This blog post is a message to you: you CAN read tablature, and you CAN play songs that everyone around you will recognize.  And Christmas carols are the perfect place to start.

27 November 2016

Alto Exercises to Expand Your Skills, Part 1

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

familiarity with octave and fifth intervals gives the basic foundation for playing traditional mbira music on the Alto kalimba

Alto Exercises to Expand Your Skills, Part 1

African mbira music is tremendously compelling to me, and I had been working to translate it onto the more accessible Hugh Tracey Alto and Treble kalimbas for months but feeling quite frustrated.  I could not find my intuitive wisdom with this traditional music. When it came, the realization was like the sun coming up after a long dark night, and suddenly shining bright on the mountains. The issue was... intervals!  (You can hear two wonderful mbira songs right now by clicking in Related Articles below, on "Listen to Mark..." or the YouTube song below it.)

Basically, the distance between any two notes is called an interval. Most western music is based on small intervals, such as the 2nd and 3rd, while much of African music is based on larger intervals, such as the 8th (octave) and the 5th. I had just realized that my western training needed to get out of the way just a little bit, so a different way of seeing music could bloom. In this post we discuss intervals and give some simple exercises to help you get a solid footing with these building blocks of all music, and especially of mbira music.

 

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.

 

08 November 2016

Mbira Song "Chaminuka"

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

New tablature for mbira dzavadzimu, plus tabs for Hugh Tracey Alto and B flat Treble Kalimbas

Mbira Song

Chaminuka was a real person, a renowned Zimbabwean prophet who foretold the coming of white European colonialists.  After his death, he became a popular ancestral spirit to channel.  Mbira dzavadzimu were and still are used in these ceremonies.

While researching Chaminuka for the Chiwoniso article, I learned that there are at least two totally different songs by this name: "Chaminuka" for the karimba by Chiwoniso, and an unrelated song for the mbira dzavadzimu.  The mbira "Chaminuka" is the classic pattern described by Andrew Tracey in his seminal work "The System of the Mbira."  I have notated it in my new (and evolving) mbira tablature, and you can also play it on the Bb Treble kalimba and the Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba.  I supply all three of these tablatures to you for free!

30 September 2016

TIP: Alto Kalimba Riff #1

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Free Tablature to help you play the music in this YouTube video on your Alto Kalimba

TIP: Alto Kalimba Riff #1

When you look at a kalimba, you see a tiny, unassuming instrument. But if the possibilities of the kalimba are considered all at once, they can boggle the mind. An easy way to reduce the overwhelm when starting to learn something new is to pare down the number of tines you use, making the kalimba into a simpler instrument.

 

If your Alto kalimba only had six notes rather than fifteen, it would be much easier, right?  This video will teach a very useful trick - temporarily marking a few notes on each side of your Alto Kalimba with a Sharpie marker to help you learn parts of a song.  By drawing your attention, it becomes easy to move your fingers to the tines that have the marks on them.  The riff (or repeated melodic phrase) we study here uses marked tines.

Sounds simple, right?  And it turns out you can make some really cool music with just a few notes!

29 September 2016

Free Tablature! Alto and Pentatonic Kalimba Kushaura and Kutsinhira

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Following the lead of traditional mbira music works great on modern day kalimbas too!

Free Tablature!  Alto and Pentatonic Kalimba Kushaura and Kutsinhira

How do you play two kalimbas together?  There is no particular tradition for doing that, but there is a deep, wide, and wild tradition of playing two mbira dzavadzimu together - one plays the kushaura part (the leading part) and the other plays the kutsinhira part (the following part).  Often the same high notes are played in the two parts, but the kutsinhira part's high notes will echo the kushaura part's high notes.  If a particular high note is repeated in the first part, the second part will often insert the same high note in between the repeated notes of the first part - that is, one part plays in the gaps of the other.  The resulting music sounds like you are trilling that note twice as fast as a single player should be able to play it.  

So, the next logical step is to apply this method of joining two mbiras together to the Hugh Tracey kalimbas . 

17 September 2016

TIP: Alto Kalimba - Accents can make a part stand out

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Get this free tablature that illustrates the use of accents in your kalimba playing

TIP: Alto Kalimba - Accents can make a part stand out

When you play kalimba, you should always be willing to accent special melody notes, and let the other support notes come in at a lower volume.  Why is this important? 

Not always, but often, melody notes will be fairly high in an instrument's range, and accompaniment notes will occur in the middle or at the low end.  A guitar has a three and a half-octave range.  The piano has a seven-octave range.  On both of these instruments, you have a big difference in the pitch of the melody and accompaniment notes, resulting in the melody and accompaniment parts being easily distinguishable by the ear.

And what about on the kalimba?

 

11 August 2016

TIP: Playing the Alto Kalimba - Easy Alto

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

A download and some free tablature

TIP: Playing the Alto Kalimba - Easy Alto

I admit it - I got carried away with my tip on the traditional mbira song "Kuzanga" arranged for the Alto kalimba.  That is a challenging piece, but I know at least one person who will rise to that challenge - hopefully many more.

Now, let's do something that might be of interest to just about everyone - easy music for the alto kalimba.

06 August 2016

TIP: Playing the Alto Kalimba - "Kuzanga"!

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Free tablature for the mbira song "Kuzanga," translated to Alto kalimba!

TIP: Playing the Alto Kalimba -

"Kuzanga" is a song for the mbira dzavadzimu, or mbira.  I've been working on this song for about an hour a day on the mbira now for about six weeks, and even though I have a long way to go, I can still feel myself getting better each day - what a wonderful feeling.

I have not yet started to learn this song on the Alto kalimba, but I realized that several of the variations could be played on the Alto. So, I translated the song to Alto kalimba.