Articles tagged with: improvisation

24 December 2016

Have a Magical Experience Playing Kalimba!

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

A Journey through Kalimba Land - Where can you go?

Have a Magical Experience Playing Kalimba!

There are two broadly different types of gifts one can get for the holidays: one can get things, or one can get experiences.  When we fill our lives up with things, we can actually feel emptier.  When we fill our lives up with experiences, we are enriched.  We remember our experiences better than we remember our things.  And we are more present to our experiences.

To some, the kalimba looks a lot like a thing.  If you hang it on the wall or leave it on your coffee table as an ornament, it may just be a thing.  But the kalimba has a voice, and it has encoded intellegence.   If you put some time into it, the kalimba is really quite a fun experience.

Let me share with you what I mean.

06 September 2016

New, Free Variations to Accompany the Karimba Song "Wa Kalulu"

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

You can learn to create your own variations!

New, Free Variations to Accompany the Karimba Song

I have written before about how much fun it is to find variations that work with traditional African kalimba music. This article elaborates on this subject, and how I went about creating my own variations, first by improvisation, and then later in composition inspired by those earlier improvisations.

Even in the case of songs such as "Wa Kalulu" for which only a standard part notation exists, we can create essentially infinite variations to go along with this music. All it takes is two karimba players, one with a good grasp of the song as written (in the book "30 Traditional African Songs for Karimba" for example) and another player who has several attributes: a fertile imagination, the flexibility to change what they are playing when the music they are playing isn't working with the original part, and the sense to stay put for a while when they stumble on something good.

01 July 2016

Infinite Possibility Within Each Line

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

One single musical idea can be stretched so far...

Infinite Possibility Within Each Line

When I play kalimba by myself, I usually go pretty deep. It's like meditation, only more playful. After playing for 20 or 30 minutes, I am usually in a very peaceful state. I seem to look within while I play, and when I stop playing, I find that I don't quite focus on anything in this physical world. It usually takes me five or ten minutes to re-acclimatize to the world. WARNING: Do not operate heavy machinery while playing kalimba! (So far, there is not a call to raise the legal age for kalimba playing to 21.)

Playing kalimba with someone else can also be a very creative experience, and here I will discuss doing that very thing, using a kalimba song that is historically important to explain and illustrate. 

01 April 2016

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p1

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

The method you will learn in this series of tips will help you understand any kalimba's tuning

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p1

All of the specially tuned kalimbas we sell come with a card indicating the note names and note numbers of each tine. The letters are of obvious use - they tell you what note to tune each tine to if any ever go out of tune.

But if you have been mystified by the meaning of those numbers, this series of tips will help you learn how to use them. We present to you a laboratory of three different pentatonic kalimba tunings. The numbers guide us on our journey of understanding these kalimbas and how to drive them - but this information is not limited; it will help you to understand any kalimba.

Even if you don't have a pentatonic kalimba in your house or in your future, I invite you to jump in and work on understanding how the notes of any kalimba's tuning work with each other.

27 April 2016

New Tip Series: Exploring Sansula Tunings

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

What is a tuning? Why do you retune? How do you retune?

New Tip Series: Exploring Sansula Tunings

The sansula is a great instrument for so many reasons: its lush tone, beautiful craftsmanship, the smooth metal tine tips, the amazing wah-like effects it produces totally acoustically, its simple 9-note layout with staggered tines, and its intuitive tuning that literally transforms nearly-random thumb twiddling into actual music.

However, the same tuning that is geared toward instant success turns out to be very limiting. I realized this early on, but I so loved the tone and feel of the sansula; I wanted to do more with it. So I started to invent sansula tunings, each prescribing its own universe of sound and musical possibilities.

The series of tips that this blog post introduces is my guide to you on the subject of sansula tunings - what tunings we offer, what they sound like, and what instructional resources are available for each. May this guide serve you well!

13 April 2016

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p2

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

What is the most important note on the kalimba? Understanding the use of the root note

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p2

The most important thing you need to figure out when you pick up a new kalimba is:  "where is the One?"  By the "1", I mean the root of the scale, the key of the kalimba, the note that you consider "home base", and probably the most important note on the kalimba.

(To complicate matters, there are usually multiple correct choices for which note you want to be the root - for example, you choose one note to be the root, and you are in G minor - you choose a different root note, and even though all the notes are exactly the same, you are in Bb major.  We will ignore all of those alternative understandings for now.)

What you learn about the root note is probably applicable to every kalimba you will ever pick up, so it is worth understanding - or if you know about this already, it is worth learning more.

13 April 2016

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p3

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

The next most important thing: find the kalimba's scale

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p3

When you pick up a new unknown kalimba, the first thing is to find the root notes.  The root, or "1", is the starting place for the scale. Once you know where the "1" note is, you need to map out the entire scale. You won't have the entire "Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do" scale, as some notes will be missing and other notes will be "tweaked" - that is, flattened or minorized. (Yeah, I made that word up.) You can actually learn to do this entirely by ear, but for now we'll rely upon the tuning charts, which basically tell us the answers, and we just have to be able to translate that information onto the kalimba.

Imagine you have an Ake Bono-tuned kalimba in your hand. Locate the lowest "1" note (it's right in the center).  Go up the scale - pay attention, you need to find the tine that is the next longest.  It could be be one on the left, or it could be the one on the right.

13 April 2016

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p4

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Now, find the octave pairs on your kalimba

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p4

When you picked up a new unknown kalimba, the first thing was to find the root notes.  The second thing - look for and play the scale, from the low root note to the root note an octave higher.

This tip informs the third thing to do with your new unknown kalimba: find the octaves.

This is generally true, but not universally true:  most kalimba tunings follow a pattern, or scale, and continue with notes from that same scale in an upper octave.  Some instruments don't have octave intervals, but almost every tuned kalimba I have ever seen does have clear octave intervals. You don't have to have octaves in your tuning, but it helps the listener and it definitely helps you play if your tuning does have perfect octave intervals.

13 April 2016

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p5

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Learn about how to use the second-most important note, the 5th

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p5

If the most important note on the kalimba is the root, or "one", the second most important note on the kalimba is the "5".  There is really no reason why a kalimba tuning has to have a "5", but almost every tuning does have a "1" and a "5".  This is because a "fifth" - the pitch interval between the "1" and the "5" - or also the actual sound made by playing the "1" and "5" together - is a fundamental interval. To get technical for a minute, when two notes are playing a perfect 5th apart from each other, the sound waves line up every 2 cycles of the lower note's wave, or every 3 cycles of the upper note's wave. It is just like the "2 against 3 rhythm", only it is happening 100 times or more per second.  We do not perceive it as a rhythm, we perceive it as a strong harmony.

By investigating this tiny collection of three pentatonic kalimba tunings, I am going to demonstrate the importance of the "1" and "5" notes in music in general. Compare the note numbers that are present in each of the three tunings. Only one tuning has a 2.  One has a major 3, the other two have a minor 3.  Only one tuning has the 4.  One tuning has a minor 6.  And two tunings have a minor 7.  No tunings have a minor 2, an augmented (raised) 4, a major 6, or a major 7. But every one of those tunings has a "1" and a "5". In fact, "1" and "5" are the only two notes that are shared in all three of these tunings.

13 April 2016

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p6

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

More about using the 5th

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p6

The 5th interval is so important that an entire book could be written on it alone. The attention and time you devote to learning and practicing with it is much more than valuable. Let me hear from you about how you are absorbing and growing with this essential knowledge, which will underscore most of your kalimba endeavors

The 5th is such a significant interval that it tends to show up all through the scale, not just between the "1" and the "5".   If you can learn the other pairs of notes on your kalimba that also make 5th intervals, you can bring all of the power of the 5th interval in to other sounds and chords, adding depth and breadth to your playing.

13 April 2016

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p7

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

The distinctive relationship between the "5" and the "1" on your kalimba

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p7

Here is a classic characterization about the "5 - 1" interval. Think, for a moment, about "5" as "Heave!", and the "1" as the "Ho!" It's kind of like call and response: the "5" is the call, and the "1" is the response. Once you play the "5" (or say "Heave!"), you are priming the ear for the "1" (or "Ho!").  You can play the "5" and NOT go to the "1", but doing that can leave the listener seriously up in the air. To prevent their feeling toyed with, replace that resolution with something that's worth the surprise - make it good and satisfying!

 

 

 

13 April 2016

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p8

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Looking at the other notes on the F7 Bebey Tuning

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p8

In the previous tip, we stated that the "5" and the "1" form the backbone of the music, and the other notes of the scale provide different spices.  Let's look at what those spices are.

I should note that the way people understand harmonies changes over time and culture.  Early European music listeners in the 13th and 14th centuries perceived the minor 3rd as being happy, and the major 3rd being sad.  Most western listeners today - and I would assert at this point, most global listeners - now hear the minor 3rd as being mysterious or melancholy, while the major 3rd intervals imply more positive expressions.

13 April 2016

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p9

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Looking at the other notes on the G Ake Bono Tuning

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p9

The F7 Bebey and the G minor Pentatonic scales are made up of intervals of two or three half steps (two half steps is a whole step, and three half steps is also known as a minor 3rd).  The Ake Bono tuning is very strange in that it has two intervals that are only a half step, and also one interval between adjacent notes in the scale that is two whole steps. The intervals in this scale are both closer and farther apart than the intervals on the other scales.

The Ake Bono scale starts as 1 2 3-, or one, two, minor third.  It falls short of the major - it is minor, mysterious and moody.  But often totally beautiful.

13 April 2016

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p10

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Looking at the other notes on the G minor Pentatonic

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p10

Here is an interesting constellation of facts: when you make a given interval minor, that means you flatten it by a half step.  However, because of the details of where some notes have been removed from the pentatonic scale, when you go from the major pentatonic scale to the minor pentatonic scale, you need to raise the pitch of three notes. Which three notes have to be raised to make the minor pentatonic scale? The three notes that are not the "1" and the "5"!

Remember, the "1" and the "5" notes usually define the key.  They are the ones that are (almost) always present in the scale.  If you want to make some music that is really odd, try a scale that doesn't include the 5th and see what you can do with it!

13 April 2016

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p11

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Is this the end, or the beginning?

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p11

This series of tips is a bit different from what I have done in the past. I suppose there are many ways to think about the notes on a kalimba. I am usually very focused on the details of exactly which notes to play and when to play them. The series of tips that is just ending represents a higher level view, yet is still technical in nature. While this way of looking at music will not instruct you to play any one song, it could transform your entire understanding of music and strengthen every song you play from now on.

I hope that you experience some of this transformation in your kalimba playing and all your music playing.

Did you gain some understanding of how to approach a new kalimba and how to understand its notes?

Do you have a kalimba in one of these exotic tunings that you would like more instructional information on? 

13 April 2016

New Tip Series for Three Exotic Pentatonic Tunings

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

How to understand a new tuning, and how to make sense of the tuning charts

New Tip Series for Three Exotic Pentatonic Tunings

The pentatonic scales have a great power, related to the fact that playing them does not require as much thought as other scales demand. They have fewer notes, and they are simpler instruments, both physically (with more space between adjacent tines) and intellectually. However, there are some important basic things that you should know about pentatonic scales, and these little bits of wisdom are applicable to almost any scale at all.

In other words, learn the lessons these simple scales have to teach, and you can take those lessons to any kalimba and any tuning you want.

11 April 2016

How One Music Therapist Uses the Pentatonic Kalimba

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

MT Lee Anna Rasar Specializes in the 6-Note Pentatonic

How One Music Therapist Uses the Pentatonic Kalimba

One of the best kalimbas to use in music therapy is also our least expensive kalimba - the 6-Note Catania Pentatonic kalimba. While there are a lot of spirituals and children's songs that can be played on the 6-Note Pentatonic, probably its best uses are improvisational in nature. You just pick it up, twiddle your thumbs, and music comes out!

Lee Anna Rasar is a professor in the Music Therapy department at University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. She has used the 6-Note pentatonic kalimba and other kalimbas extensively in music therapy. The following is from a letter that Lee Anna wrote to Kalimba Magic about a variety of her successes:

I have found the pentatonic kalimbas to be very useful in music therapy because they allow immediate access to people who do not read music and who may have difficulty understanding and reading adaptive notation systems or following cues. They are also useful with groups of adults and children to allow immediate performances together without first needing practice time.

01 April 2016

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 3

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Scale fragment on the left thumb

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 3

I find that there is a lot of African music that can be played in small scale fragments with just three notes. There are a lot of permutations you can make with these three notes. Let symmetry be your first guide, and let your ear be the second guide. A visually symmetric pattern often sounds great, but your ear is the final judge.

01 April 2016

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 4

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Mixing it up on the left side

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 4

While the three lower right notes sound great together (the C#, B, and A from the previous tip), the best is when you can create melodies using both the lower row notes and the upper row notes.

01 April 2016

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 5

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

The third intervals

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 5

This is an exercise which uses every "third" interval (some are major thirds, some are minor thirds, but that is not our focus right now) in the lower row tines. They sound great and there are a lot of them. At measure 4, make sure that you start on the correct two notes, as you can start out incorrectly but it still sounds right.

01 April 2016

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 6

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

The fourth intervals

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 6

This is an exercise which uses the "fourth" intervals (ie, they span 4 notes) on the lower row of karimba tines. Again, be sure that you are starting on the right two notes. You may want to go back to the previous tip and see how the "thirds" sound compared to the "fourths". My take on it: the third intervals sound more European, and the fourth intervals sound more African. Of course, it really isn't that simple - both European and African music use both 4ths and 3rds, but I think the way the 4th sounds is itself more African, and the way the 3rd sounds is more European.

01 April 2016

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 7

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Right thumb backup for Left Thumb improvisation

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 7

These two-note chords can be played by the right hand. The main reason to play entirely with the right hand is that this frees up the left hand to dance on that pentatonic scale.

In order to play these two notes with the right hand, play the left note with your right thumb and the right note with your right index finger. The thumb will pluck down, and the right index finger will actually come from under the tine and it will pluck upward.

01 April 2016

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 8

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

We have arrived at the right thumb part

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 8

Each of these two-note chords is played with the right thumb and right index finger. In going from one chord to the next, you only move the thumb or the index finger, not both. You only ever move by one tine. See the pattern? The right finger usually stays on A, but shifts to G# on the last measure. The right thumb (ie, the left note) usually stays on E, but shifts to F# on the second measure.

01 April 2016

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 9

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

A left thumb suggestion

TIP: A Karimba Improvisational Strategy Part 9

The goal here is for you to play the right thumb's two-note chord part more or less as written, and to invent your own left thumb part. You may have already been successful with this, or you might feel you have no clue of what to do. If the latter is true, here is a left thumb suggestion for you.

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