Articles tagged with: Mbira

22 February 2016

Is it Kalimba, Karimba, or Mbira?

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

What name should I use for my thumb piano?

Is it Kalimba, Karimba, or Mbira?

When discussing thumb pianos, people use the instrument names kalimba, karimba, mbira, mbira dzavadzimu, and mbira nyunga nyunga - sometimes with specific intent, and sometimes nearly interchangeably.  Where are these different names from, and what do they mean?

30 September 2016

TIP:Technique: Playing with the right index finger - 3

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Yes, but what if you don't feel like using your right index finger? You can use the thumb slide-off technique!

TIP:Technique: Playing with the right index finger - 3

I find the addition of the right index finger to the two thumbs to be essential to playing African music, and in expanding the capabilities of kalimbas in general.  However, it typically feels unnatural at first, no matter which approach you take.  A great many people resist using their (non-thumb) fingers on these instruments.

If you just don't want to (or cannot) use a forefinger, what are you to do?

16 September 2016

Playing Kushaura and Kutsinhira Parts on Mbira

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

These two similar parts, one delayed by an eighth note, lean against each other and create something fundamentally new

Playing Kushaura and Kutsinhira Parts on Mbira

The kalimba, as most of us know it, is a new adaptation of the family of African lamellophones that includes the mbira and the karimba.  As such, the kalimba doesn't really have a tradition in Africa.  This is the very reason I am attracted to the instrument. Without a specific African tradition, we are free to create our own new and evolving kalimba styles.

On the extreme opposite end of the "tradition" spectrum from the modern kalimba is the mbira dzavadzimu, or simply, "mbira". The mbira's traditions are strange, quirky, amazing, wonderful, and sometimes downright bizarre all at the same time. One aspect of the mbira's tradition that is never heard in kalimba playing is the doubling of parts in the melody. The leading line is called kushaura, and following line is the kutsinhira.  I invite you to peek inside the amazing world that results when these two parts are put together.

22 September 2016

TIP:Technique: Playing with the right index finger - 2

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

The "karimba style" use of the right index finger puts it over the top of a tine, plucking down

TIP:Technique: Playing with the right index finger - 2

How do you play the kalimba?  Mainly, you use your two thumbs, but you should not overlook the fingers.  It turns out there are multiple ways to use the right index finger, and you can adapt these techniques to a wide variety of kalimbas.

15 September 2016

TIP:Technique: Playing with the right index finger - 1

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

The "mbira style" use of the right index finger puts it under the tine, flicking upward

TIP:Technique: Playing with the right index finger - 1

How do you play the kalimba? It's a thumb piano, so mainly you use your two thumbs!  The Brazilian masters like to use four or six fingers, playing the kalimba as it sits in their lap - but I don't teach that style. That's because my kalimba playing is a lot about movement of the body while playing, and if you hold the kalimba in your hands and play with your thumbs, you can get up and walk, run, or dance as you play.  Or at the very least, just move around a bit with the music.

The right index finger, however, is a special case, part of the venerable African mbira and karimba traditions, and we will consider it right now.

03 August 2016

Practice TIP: Progressive Sound Recordings of "Kuzanga" - an mbira song

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

This electronic recording breaks the song into small pieces and starts slow

Practice TIP: Progressive Sound Recordings of

One of the best ways to learn to play is by playing with someone else. If you don't actually have someone else to who knows the song to play along with, another way is to play along with a recording of the song you are trying to learn.

Here we present something new in terms of Kalimba Magic instructional materials - the mbira song "Kuzanga" played progressively - meaning at first very slowly and speeding up gradually to help in learning to play. Also, the song is broken up into sections, which are later combined.

The way I learned this song initially was by listening to KTabS performing the segments at progressively faster speeds, and I thought I would share this with the world to see if it was useful to anyone else. By the way, the recording is in the key of E (Erica Azim's preferred key for her mbiras - which have a low note of B - but this piece is in the key of E).

02 August 2016

Practice TIP: Marking your Mbira

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

I mark key root notes with different colors - and this works on other instruments too!

Practice TIP: Marking your Mbira

The mbira dzavadzimu is one of the pinnacles of the traditional African lamellaphones (thumb pianos), and its music is rich and sweet.  I consider the mbira and its music to be the highest intellectual wonder of ancient Africa.  And we can learn to play this venerable music today in our modern world.

I have a confession to make: while I easily picked up the kalimba and taught myself to play, I have had a very difficult time with the mbira.  I bought my first mbira more than 15 years ago, and while I tried many times, I could not even get started on this difficult instrument.

But something has changed, and I am suddenly progressing quickly on this instrument that eluded me for so long.