07 January 2017

Learn to Read Tablature - 2

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

Understanding ties and dots - extending the length of notes

Learn to Read Tablature - 2

Are you having difficulty understanding note and timing symbols in the tablature?

This blog post is just for you - it's the second of our series on learning how to read kalimba tablature.  In the first post, we talked about what the "tine map" means, looked at the different types of notes and how long each kind lasts, and introduced how to understand timing and keeping time.  

This installment of the multi-part series on reading tablature covers the details of the "tie" symbol (a sideways smile) and the "dot" (a dot immediately after - or "above" - any note symbol).  Both the tie and the dot modify the length of the notes they are applied to, resulting in note lengths that we could not indicate using just the basic note types and increasing greatly how music can be communicated using a visual system.

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.

 

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.

11 October 2016

TIP: Playing "Mahororo" on the African Karimba - 5 / 5

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

This traditional mbira song transfers well to karimba

TIP: Playing

"Mahororo" is usually played on the mbira dzavadzimu (commonly called the mbira), and is one of the classic songs that fit the chord progression described by Andrew Tracey in his seminal 1973 paper "The System of the Mbira" which studies in depth the ages-old mbira playing of the peoples he and his father Hugh studied for decades. This implies that "Mahororo" is probably one of those "old songs" - meaning it may be something like 500 - 800 years old.

Ivodne Galatea pointed out that it could be played on the karimba. With several arrangements of "Mahororo" under my belt, I am happy to present here the tablature for my latest and best arrangement of the song, which you can follow on YouTube.

04 October 2016

TIP: Playing "Mahororo" on the African Karimba - 4 / 5

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

This traditional mbira song transfers well to karimba

TIP: Playing

"Mahororo" is usually played on the mbira dzavadzimu (commonly called the mbira), and is one of the classic songs that fit the chord progression described by Andrew Tracey in his seminal 1973 paper "The System of the Mbira" which studies in depth the ages-old mbira playing of the peoples he and his father Hugh studied for decades . This implies that "Mahororo" is probably one of those "old songs" - meaning it may be something like 500 - 800 years old.

Ivodne Galatea pointed out that it could be played on the karimba. With several arrangements of "Mahororo" under my belt, I am happy to present here the tablature for my latest and best arrangement of the song, which you can follow on YouTube.

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!

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?

27 September 2016

TIP: Playing "Mahororo" on the African Karimba - 3 / 5

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

This traditional mbira song transfers well to karimba

TIP: Playing

"Mahororo" is usually played on the mbira dzavadzimu (commonly called the mbira), and is one of the classic songs that fit the chord progression described by Andrew Tracey in his seminal 1973 paper "The System of the Mbira" which studies in depth the ages-old mbira playing of the peoples he and his father Hugh studied for decades . This implies that "Mahororo" is probably one of those "old songs" - meaning it may be something like 500 - 800 years old.

Ivodne Galatea pointed out that it could be played on the karimba. With several arrangements of "Mahororo" under my belt, I am happy to present here the tablature for my latest and best arrangement of the song, which you can follow on YouTube.

 

16 September 2016

Practice TIP: Experiment with Changing Volume Levels

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Playing strong can help you learn; playing softly can help you discover the "feel" of the music

Practice TIP:  Experiment with Changing Volume Levels

Don't you hate all those internet ads that start with "Try this one weird trick" and then promise that if you do, it will change your life in a profound way?

Well, I have something for you that may seem like a weird trick, but it is really a great little tool that indeed has had a profound effect on my own kalimba, karimba, and mbira playing.

People tend to play kalimba music with every note at the same volume level.  But I can point to three big benefits you can get from changing up the volume level in your kalimba playing. 

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.

20 September 2016

TIP: Playing "Mahororo" on the African Karimba - 2 / 5

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

This traditional mbira song transfers well to karimba

TIP: Playing

"Mahororo" is usually played on the mbira dzavadzimu (commonly called the mbira), and is one of the classic songs that fit the chord progression described by Andrew Tracey in his seminal 1973 paper "The System of the Mbira" which studies in depth the ages-old mbira playing of the peoples he and his father Hugh studied for decades . This implies that "Mahororo" is probably one of those "old songs" - meaning it may be something like 500 - 800 years old.

Ivodne Galatea pointed out that it could be played on the karimba. With several arrangements of "Mahororo" under my belt, I am happy to present here the tablature for my latest and best arrangement of the song, which you can follow on YouTube.

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.

13 September 2016

TIP: Playing "Mahororo" on the African Karimba - 1 / 5

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

This traditional mbira song transfers well to karimba

TIP: Playing

"Mahororo" is usually played on the mbira dzavadzimu (commonly called the mbira), and is one of the classic songs that fit the chord progression described by Andrew Tracey in his seminal 1973 paper "The System of the Mbira" which studies in depth the ages-old mbira playing of the peoples he and his father Hugh studied for decades . This implies that "Mahororo" is probably one of those "old songs" - meaning it may be something like 500 - 800 years old.

Ivodne Galatea pointed out that it could be played on the karimba. With several arrangements of "Mahororo" under my belt, I am happy to present here the tablature for my latest and best arrangement of the song, which you can follow on YouTube.

13 September 2016

TIP:Kalimba Lessons on Skype with Mark Holdaway

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

Don't get stuck and let your kalimba gather dust - get some lessons NOW!

TIP:Kalimba Lessons on Skype with Mark Holdaway

I know there are people who purchase kalimbas and just jump right on board and start flying.  And then there are other people who really want to play, but don't quite know what to do with their kalimbas.

If you fall into that second category, you can get tutoring in kalimba ABC's from an excellent, gentle, and compassionate teacher - me!

If you are already familiar with the kalimba and you need some help ramping up to the next level, or if you are working on a particular song and just can't seem to get it, I am sure that I could help you with individualized guidance. 

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?

 

04 September 2016

Practice TIP: Play With Your Eyes Closed!

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

Playing without looking helps you improve in so many ways

Practice TIP: Play With Your Eyes Closed!

Part of what is so great about playing the kalimba is that it is all right there in front of your eyes.   You can see the entire instrument, all its notes, all that it can do, in one glance.  You might not understand it yet, but you can easily see that it is understandable.  Map the shorter kalimba tines to higher notes and the lower tines to lower notes.  Simple, right?

But an even more important tip I can give you is to NOT look at the kalimba as you play.

In this tip we are going to discuss what playing without looking will do for you.

24 August 2016

The Brain and the Kalimba - 2

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

Can you really pay attention to two things at once? You can, but it's a skill you have to cultivate

The Brain and the Kalimba - 2

When I was 24, I finally learned how to talk and play guitar at the same time.  Until then, when playing guitar, I could hear what was being said, and could understand it, but I could not speak or even answer simple questions. 

Why could I not speak and play guitar at the same time?  I suppose the "music generation" part of my brain overlapped too much with the "speech generation" part of my brain. 

And how, exactly, did I learn to speak and play at the same time?  And what does that have to do with the kalimba?

23 August 2016

The Brain and the Kalimba - 1

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

They say you can only think of one thing at a time - kalimba requires you to think of two things at a time!

The Brain and the Kalimba - 1

When I was 10 years old, my father said "I'll give you a dollar if you can go 10 seconds without thinking of a brown bear!"  I jumped up from the dinner table, went to stand in the corner, and started chanting "White bear! White bear!" and got a huge laugh from my whole family.

But truth be told?  I was actually thinking of brown bears the entire time I was trying to fill my mind with images and words of white bears.

Playing kalimba is a lot like that - thinking of white bears and brown bears at the same time.

20 August 2016

Practice TIP: Structure vs Play - 1

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Structure grounds and binds you to a song or tradition. Play sets you free.

Practice TIP: Structure vs Play - 1

Most people who pick up a kalimba will have an experience rich in play.

There is always a little tug of war going on between structured playing - learning what other people have done on the kalimba between the present and 1000 years before now, or figuring out your own song in a detailed manner, and free play - just playing what comes into your head, or more likely, what your thumbs decide to do.

My best playing and my best experiences occur when I am able to balance structure and freedom.

20 August 2016

Practice TIP: Make it Fun!

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

If playing kalimba is fun, you will want to do it more

Practice TIP: Make it Fun!

There are many different ways to practice kalimba, and you should find the way that makes you happy.  Don't worry about the "right" way, but do search for the way that is right for you.

Everybody plays a bit differently, and everyone learns in different ways.  You do want a challenge so that you feel you are getting better, but you don't often want something that is so challenging that it is not fun.

I share some of the ways that I practice kalimba, and rate them by how fun I find them to be.

17 August 2016

Practice TIP: Explore The Notes That Aren't There

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

... you can hear them in your head even though they were not played

Practice TIP: Explore The Notes That Aren't There

Your ear is the best tool you have for progressing in music. While most people I know could not tell you why something in music is wrong, almost everyone will have a clue that something is wrong, because they hear it as sounding odd or incorrect. Rely upon your ear to guide you, and always ask: "Does this sound right?"

When I play, the "ear" in my head is also at work in a different direction - I actually hear notes that I did not play. It is like my soul or my mind is reaching out for a more perfect music, reaching out beyond the notes I played. This is how new music comes into being - it's creation happening - and there are lots of considerations in getting to the place where it happens for you too.

16 August 2016

Practice TIP: Explore Your Kalimba

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

...but you need to do more than just explore

Practice TIP: Explore Your Kalimba

Welcome to your kalimba.  Based on the tuning and the note layout of your instrument, your kalimba represents a whole continent of sounds and musical possibilities, and it is well worth exploring it in depth.

When I started playing kalimba in 1986, there was no map to this continent.  There was no internet, and seemingly no information about the kalimba.  What did I do?  I explored my kalimba on my own, gradually learning more and more each day I played.

03 August 2016

New Music Tabs for 2B/14 kalimba in "E1 Tuning"

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

Half the 2B/14 kalimbas we shipped last month were in E1 Tuning - Now there is music for the E1 Tuning

Thomas Bothe is famous for his delightful kalimbas as well as for his unique, individual kalimba tunings.  However, there was one day last month when I was fulfilling orders, and I tuned three 2B/14 kalimbas to the E1 tuning - which is perhaps the classic 2B tuning that most represents Thomas Bothe's soul.  Simple, delicate, easy, and beautiful.

Two of the three customers requested the E1 tuning after they had learned about it from the various 2B tunings I have documented online.  The third 2B/14 customer just asked for "a special tuning" - and I thought "I'm gonna make this E1 tuning an extra special tuning by writing some extra special music for it!"

03 August 2016

2B/9 Kalimbas Available in Sansula Tunings

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

Instructional books and downloads are available for: Standard A minor, Heavenly A, Beautiful E, and C Major tunings

While the Thomas Bothe "2B" kalimbas are charming and delightful, they have one major drawback - there is a dearth of instructional materials for them.  This is mainly because each kalimba Thomas makes is an individual, tuned to its own unique tuning, and so it's not really possible to write a book for each one.

I had a great idea about making it possible for people to be taught how to play 2/B kalimbas. The idea came about this way: Over the last 10 years I produced several instructional books/downloads for four different Hokema sansula tunings (a sansula is a special kind of kalimba). While pondering how to make 2/B's teachable, it hit me: why not offer the 2B/9 kalimbas tuned to these four sansula tunings so people could use the sansula books to learn their 2B instruments? So that is what we have done, and below I describe each of the books which can be used with our new "alt" 2B kalimbas.

 

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