KTabS 150 KTabS, Kalimba Tablature Software

KTabS is a music editing program for your computer that lets you create your own tablature, or animate the tablature we have written.  It is a great tool for learning to play kalimba or for creating your own music.

KTabS is a marvelous program. My goal is to help you get the most education and become the best possible kalimba player that you can be. KTabS can help you in so many different ways, and some of them are explained in this section. The free KTabS Reader that you can download off the KTabS website basically allows you to hear the KTabS song files that you purchased in the instructional downloads, which is valuable. But the Reader does only that. I strongly encourage you to consider buying the full $30 KTabS progam. It is a music editor enabling composing, editing, and playback. It is a tremendous value at this price; it has a very powerful feature set; and it can help you learn, modify, or write music on any kalimba.

Because many readers already have a KTabS tune and want to see how the KTabS program works with it, this page is arranged to first present guidance on how to use KTabS with that file. After this section is a segment which coaches how to create an original tune, in other words, to compose a melody - using the basic KTabS format/program/etc - starting from scratch. This is followed by a description of KTabS' advanced features as well as  lists of available KTabS music and some precious further information garnered from many years of Tips from the Kalimba Magic Newsletter Archive.


A Demonstration of KTabS

The Goshen Box 8-Note Kalimba plays along with KTabS to demo the tablature.

Getting Started With KTabS Using An Existing KTabS File

If you are serious about learning KTabS, I suggest you either purchase the program (available for $30) or at least download the trial version from the KTabS website. To take best advantage of the instructions below, I suggest you also download this KTabS file for part of "Joy to the World".

After you download and install KTabS and save the "Joy to the World" file in an appropriate location, start up the KTabS program. It works like most Windows programs: open the File menu, select the "Joy to the World" file and you should see it open up in the KTabS window.

You can think of the KTabS window as a 2-dimensional graph where the horizontal axis represents the kalimba tine (which maps into pitch), and the vertical axis represents the time, with the beginning time at the bottom and later times higher up on the display. You can see the notes overlaid on the tines of the kalimba - an 8-note kalimba in this case. There is also an option for lyrics to the right of the tablature (click in the appropriate time slot, but to the right of the tablature, to enter or edit lyrics).

Another great way to use KTabs to compose music is thezip file of about 140 KTabS Templates, a collection of blank templates that look exactly like every kalimba that Kalimba Magic sells, in various tunings. A template gives you a blank tablature to compose on, instantly.

Play, Stop, Rewind

Play, Stop, Rewind

On the starting screen in KTabS, click the green "play" button on the icon bar in the upper right part of the window and see what happens. Also experiment with "stop" which will turn red while KTabS is playing. Then click "rewind" to go back to the beginning.

Selecting a note, the notes menu, and Ctrl+Z

Selecting a note, the notes menu, and Ctrl+Z

The notes menu is at the very bottom of the KTabS window. This menu can be moved around the screen - left-click between the two vertical bars immediately to the left of the whole note in the notes menu. This will detach the menu and then you can drag it to another location on your screen. I like my notes menu just to the right of the tablature.

Select a note in the tablature by left clicking on it (you are actually selecting that time slot, not the note). You will see the notes menu at the bottom highlight the type of note in effect for the selected time slot. You could change the type of note from eighth note to half note by clicking on the half note in the notes menu - but that would mess up the song in this case. Go ahead and try - you will see the entire measure containing your edited note highlighted in pink, indicating that it now has the wrong number of beats in it! And if you don't already know it, it's good to learn that Ctrl+Z will undo your most recent command. Typing Ctrl+Z multiple times will undo back to the last save. Of course you can save your KTabS file by clicking on the File menu and then to Save or Save As - or you can just hit Ctrl+S to save.

Editing the Tablature to Repeat a Section

Editing the Tablature to Repeat a Section

Let's say you want to repeat a section of the tablature so you can practice it over and over again. Start by putting the cursor over, and then right-clicking on, the bar line at the beginning of the section you wish to repeat. This will highlight the bar line in light green, and bring up a menu with actions you can take at this selected point. Allowed actions are in black while actions that are not possible at the moment are in gray. Click on Repeat Open at the beginning of the phrase you want to repeat. Two narrow, dark green horizontal bars will appear, with two black dots above them. Then move your cursor to the end of that phrase, right-click, and then hit Repeat Close. Two more green bars will appear and this time the two black dots will be below them. So you can see that the repeating phrase will be between these two sets of green bars, with their black dots inside the phrase.
Multiple Repetitions of a Phrase - An Aid to Practicing

Multiple Repetitions of a Phrase - An Aid to Practicing

The program sets a single repeat as the default; if you want to repeat the phrase more than one time, right-click on the green bars at the end of the phrase, find the item Repeat Count in the action menu, and fill in the field with whatever number you choose. Repeating a section many times in a row, 20 times for example, (see the tiny 20 in the diagram that shows up when you set multiple repetitions?) would allow you to play along with it to practice and gain mastery over it.
Changing the Tempo

Changing the Tempo

While the Repeat Open and Repeat Close must be at measure bars and not in between, you can actually change the tempo at any location - you could make a gradual slow down by giving a lower tempo to each successive note. To set the tempo, select the location for the tempo change by left-clicking. Right click on that selected point to get the action menu. Select Tempo and enter the desired tempo in beats per minute, and click OK and your tempo will show up to the left of the selected point.

When I write a song in KTabS and bundle it up into a zip file with other songs and sell them as an instructional download, I set the tempo to the speed that I think the music sounds best. You should not expect to be able to play the song at that tempo right away. An easy way to learn a difficult section is to change the tempo to a lower number until it is slow enough for you to play it correctly. After you have mastered the section at the slow tempo, change the tempo to a slightly higher number and play it several times. Keep doing this, going faster and faster, until you get tired of playing this section, or until you have achieved your desired tempo.

Getting Started With KTabS - Starting From Scratch

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Starting A New Song

It is fairly simple to start with an existing KTabS file and modify it, as we just discussed above. Starting a song from scratch is a bit more involved!

Before we begin discussing the basics of KTabS composing, a brief talk concerning measures will be very useful. In KTabS, when you initialize a new song, a window will appear with 4 measures on blank kalimba tablature. This is what it provides for you to begin work. When you want to add space for more composing, you put the cursor just below where you want to insert more notes, right-click, and then click on however many notes you want to add space for: 1, 4, 8, 12, or 16. The program knows how many notes there are per measure, depending on the time signature you are using. It will lay out as many new measures as there are notes to fill them. OK. Now that you have this very basic information, we can get back to the actual matter at hand, which is creating your own music!

If saving a lot of time and work appeals to you, I suggest you first download my free KTabS Templates before creating a new song. (The value of these templates will be explained very shortly!) Each template is a file ending in ".ktt" (representing KTabS Template), and the download is a ZIP file with about 140 templates. Extract all the .ktt files and save them in a Templates folder inside your KTabS folder, or in some other location on your computer to which you can easily navigate.

Now start up KTabS, and in the File menu select New (Ctrl+N will do the same). Up comes the Kalimba Configuration window shown here. This is both wonderful and not so great. It is wonderful because you immediately see all the power of KTabS - you can set up a virtual kalimba with any number of tines, you can control which tines are painted, what color they are painted, what note each tine is tuned to, etc. But it is not that great in that you don't want to start out here! Why don't you want to start out here? Because creating your own kalimba template from scratch can be a very complicated operation. And you most likely are looking for a place to put down the song or notes that have been cooking around in your head - fast - but there's no place to do it. And this is why I created the collection of 140 KTabS templates; you will probably find your exact kalimba's template there, all ready for you to begin composing on.

Find your template by clicking on Load Template and then navigate to the folder in which you just saved all of the templates. If your particular kalimba or tuning is not present, select the closest thing and then you can modify it by clicking on a tine and then clicking on the note on the piano keyboard it should be tuned to. But chances are, you will be able to use one of the KTabS Template files you now possess.

The Invisible Grid of Spaces

The Invisible Grid of Spaces

When KTabS creates a new song, it assumes you are in 4/4 time, and the tablature appears blank. But it isn't exactly blank - there are four invisible, "reserved" horizontal spaces (or time slots), stacked one above the other, in each of the four measures in the window, and in each of these spaces KTabS is assuming you will be placing a quarter note. In order to see this easily, do this experiment - guess where those invisible quarter note time slots would land in the first measure and left-click those spots. They will appear highlighted in light green. That way you'll make the invisible underlying grid visible, one note at a time.

Be warned - if you click too high up in the measure, KTabS still thinks you will soon insert one or more notes lower down in the measure. This will cause you problems unless you do actually go back and fill in those slots with notes.

Insert a Note at the Beginning

Insert a Note at the Beginning

In order to insert a note into the tablature, you first have to select a time slot on that underlying grid of spaces by left-clicking - it will highlight as light green. When a time slot is highlighted as light green, you can left-click again on any of the tines within the highlighted region. When you do, you will hear the note corresponding to the tine you clicked on. Not the note you wanted? No problem, just click on the tine again and it will erase that note, and you can click on another tine until you get the right note.

Just as you can play two or three or four notes at the same time on your kalimba, you can also left-click on another tine to make a chord in the tablature. You will only hear the notes you add one at a time, unless you click on another time slot and then go back and left-click again on the time slot you are adding notes to - then you will hear the full chord.

Add More Notes and Select Them All

Add More Notes and Select Them All

Add more notes by selecting another time slot with a left-click; another left-click on one of the tines in that slot adds a note, which you'll hear. After you have added several notes, select all the notes you have added. (There are three ways to do this: left-click on the first note and drag as you move up to get to the top note and release, OR left click on the bottom note, then SHIFT left-click on the top note. You can tell which notes have been selected because they will all be highlighted in light green.) Once several notes have been selected, there are all sorts of operations we can do - we can transpose, cut, copy to the clipboard, or change the type of note we have.

Change the Notes to Eighth Notes

Change the Notes to Eighth Notes

After the notes have been selected, locate the Notes Menu at the bottom of the KTabS window and experiment with changing the note type. The short solid rectangle at the far right of the notes menu is a rest symbol. There are also dots, ties, triplets, and every type of note from whole note down to 64th note. I have selected the eighth note, which changed all of my selected quarter notes into eighth notes. After that, I selected just the first four of the eighth notes and clicked on the third symbol from the right end of the notes menu, which creates a connecting line, or "beam", that joins all the notes that you've selected. This connecting with a beam is only done with eighth or shorter notes, and it helps the player see the music in a different way, making it easier to understand the timing of the notes.

But what is happening with the colors? If I hadn't selected those first four eighth notes, the entire first measure would be red (in other words, the entire measure would be red except that I have selected those four notes, and in this program, the combination of light green and red makes yellow). The red is a warning that I have inserted too many beats into this measure. How can that be? Because KTabS is reserving space for quarter notes, remember? Above the five eighth notes are a bunch of quarter note spaces, which will create a total of four and half beats in this measure which is only supposed to have four beats. KTabS is just warning me that I have the wrong number of beats in this measure, which would change the timing of the measure from the timing you began with. You can ignore the red warning until you have finished putting notes into the measure. If you think you are finished with a measure and it is highlighted in red, you need to go back and fix it.

Adding More Notes

Keep putting more notes in the blank spaces until they are all occupied by something. If there are red highlights, select one of the notes and change the note type until that measure has the right number of beats. When you want to see what your creation sounds like, click on the green rewind down-arrow icon, then the play triangle icon at the top right part of the window (please keep in mind that the tablature diagrams here are trimmed somewhat and do not look exactly like your KTabS tablatures).

When you have filled all of the available time slots with one or more notes and wish to continue composing, select the top note on the tablature and right-click to get the action menu, and select Insert 16 Above and KTabS will add four more measures each with four invisible spaces for 16 more quarter notes.

And of course, don't forget to Save or Ctrl+S. If you are familiar with the standard WIndows keyboard shortcuts, you will be pleasantly surprised that most of them work in KTabS.

Advanced KTabS Features

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Here are some of the features of the KTabS program that make it so powerful:

Running KTabS on a MAC?

KTabS was written for the Windows operating system, but it is not that hard to get it to run on the Mac. There is special virtual machine software that will permit many types of programs written for Windows computers to run on MAC computers. Click the following live link to learn how kalimba enthusiast Bela Foltin got KTabS running on his MAC with Crossover Software. (This article was written in 2014.)


So far we have been ignoring many of the KTabS tools in the icon bar. Take a look at the far right icon. It shows a bit of tablature with a red curved line on it, which is the Transpose Tool. If you cannot see it, enlarge your KTabS window until all the icons come into view. To transpose a phrase means that you shift every note in the phrase higher or lower by the same amount. If you select several notes and then click on the transpose button, you will get a dialog box asking how many semitones (half steps) you want to transpose by, either up or down. It may happen that you find you have transposed notes right off the kalimba by going too high or too low. It is also possible to transpose to notes that your actual kalimba doesn't have - a G transposed up half a step is a G#, which is probably not in your kalimba (the transposed note will just disappear if you do this, leaving a blank space). However, transposing up or down by 5 or 7 semitones will keep most of the transposed notes "in the key" and on the kalimba. Feel free to experiment - you can always clean up with Ctrl+Z (Undo). The note type associated with the note that was previously in the slot is preserved, and all you need to do is click on a tine in that space. Try several different options and listen to how they sound with the surrounding notes before you choose one.

Copy and Paste a Phrase

Most music repeats itself, on a small scale (two or four notes) as well as on a larger scale (several measures). Once you have input a phrase correctly, you never need to do that action again. Rather, you can select all the notes in the phrase, Ctrl+C (or go to the Edit menu and select Copy), and last, scroll to the place you would like to paste this phrase, select the note just below the target location, and Ctrl+V (or go to the Edit menu and select Paste). This should put a copy of your initial phrase into the chosen location.

Be clever with your use of copy and paste. Most music will have similar but not identical phrases. If a song's rhythm is complex, but the same for different phrases, you can make things a lot easier if you copy and paste a phrase into the next measure. Then you can change the notes on the second phrase as you wish, effortlessly maintaining the original rhythm. Or you may decide that the second phrase should be the same as the first except for one or two notes at the end - again, copy and paste the entire phrase and just alter the different notes. And last, you may be able to select the second pasted phrase and transpose it up or down in pitch. The kalimba does not have all notes, so some of the transposed notes may be blank; if so you will have to click on them to insert them again.

Multiple Windows

KTabS lets you have multiple tablature windows open at the same time. The "tile windows" button in the icon bar will arrange the tablature windows so you can see them all. The "tie all views together" button will make all windows play together, so you can write music for two, three, four, or more kalimbas and hear what they all sound like playing together. Simply fantastic!

Copy and Paste into a New Kalimba

This is one of the most powerful features of KTabS. Let's say you wrote some music for the 8-Note kalimba in C, but now you want to play in on your Alto. You can select it all (Ctrl+A), copy the selected notes to the clip board (Ctrl+C), open a new KTabS file for an Alto kalimba, and then paste (Ctrl+V) the notes from the clip board into the new tablature. When you paste from one window into another, KTabS is smart enough to ask if you want to transpose. Why? What if you are copying from an 8-Note in C to an Alto Kalimba in G? You probably want to transpose down 5 semitones or up 7 semitones. If you understand music theory, you will be able to figure out how many semitones to transpose by. If you don't, experiment! You only have so many options, and if the result is bad, Ctrl+Z and try it again transposing by a different number of semitones until you get a good result... and then try to remember what you did so you can do it again with less trial-and-error next time.

MIDI Configuration and Different KTabS Playback Sounds

The MIDI tool lets you change the instrument sound that KTabS uses when playing back the notes. You can choose among 128 possible sounds in MIDI. Some will be unpleasant or at least not useful to you. The ones I like best are 9-Celesta, 10-Glockenspiel. 11-Music Box, 12-Vibraphone, 13-Marimba, 14-Xylophone, and 109-Kalimba. Yes, it is true, there is a kalimba sound in MIDI although I have to admit that I don't like the "kalimba" sound on my particular computer's MIDI. Which sound is best? Since your computer most likely uses different MIDI sounds than my computer does, I cannot really say. Experiment!

You can also get different sounds by changing the MIDI device (inside the MIDI Configuration window). If KTabS isn't making any sound on your computer, you should fiddle with the MIDI device to see if that doesn't fix it.

Author and Title Information

The icon labeled "A" accesses the "Author Info" tool. You can enter the author, copyright information, the song title, and the arranger's name. If "Print Headers" is turned on in the Configuration tool, you will see the author and title information when you print.


You can print KTabS on any printer available to your computer. I myself have installed Primo PDF, a free PDF distiller which shows up in your computer's list of printers. If you print using Primo PDF, you can save your printed tablature to a PDF file. This is very useful. When I sell instructional downloads, I include a PDF (printout) of the song as well as the KTabS file. Because many people don't have KTabS so are unable to listen to their songs, I often include MP3 files as well.


After you have inserted some notes into your KTabS tablature, you can add lyrics and directions for playing, in the right margin outside of the tablature. To do so, left-click in the white space to the right of the tablature on the same level as the musical note you want the words to be associated with, and start typing. I often use the Lyrics function to include instructions such as when a slide or glissando is required, or if the right thumb must cross over to play a left-side note, or if the index finger must be used.

Music Available in KTabS

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There are a number of ways to get KTabS music:

  • You can create your own, like I do!
  • KTabS files are tiny, typically only a KB (kilobyte) or so - which means it is simple to email songs around to your friends.
  • If you go to the KTabS website and register as a user, you will find some free music there, as well as some KPacks (collections of KTabS music) that you can purchase.
  • The Kalimba Magic Newsletter Archive is crammed with free KTabS files - typically when I present a new instructional download, I give away tablature for one or more songs. This allows clients to see what the music is about, as well as the level on which the music is written, to help them understand if that particular collection of music is right for them.
  • And finally, Kalimba Magic currently (2015) has 29 instructional downloads, each typically with between 6 and 66 songs in KTabS, PDF, and often MP3 format files.

Remember, the KTabS Reader is available for free, and instructional downloads for as little as $7! In other words, there is a whole world of possibilities open to you for little or no money - so what are you waiting for?


If you have any questions, feel free to contact us via the email form, or speak directly to Mark Holdaway at 520-488-7641.

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