07 August 2016

Kalimba Spirituality

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

The kalimba journey can reflect your inner spiritual journey

 

Kalimba music tends, like the concept of Karma, to be cyclic. With Karma, what goes around, comes around, basically. Our job is to improve on what we put into the world, and what we get back will similarly improve. We can study and practice this our whole lives, and hopefully get better and better in all ways. When we are learning to play some new musical piece, our playing is plagued with stumbles and errors. And since kalimba music is generally cyclic, we will have repeating opportunities to improve on what we are studying. We go around and around the cycle, working to learn how each part goes. The work and effort we put into it will eventually result in a smooth familiarity with the music, with our hands and minds working together flawlessly. During the process, we may think we have it, but, like learning to ride a bicycle, we may make some mistakes on the way to having balance and flow.

The important thing is to keep on the cycle.  When you are at the very beginning stages of learning a song, piecing the notes together out of time, you aren't quite on the cycle.  It's like you are searching for your feet, finding the pedals, keeping the handlebars straight.  Slow and out of time is just the way it is when you don't know what to do next and you have to stop and think.

But at some point, you will develop a map in your mind of where you need to go in the music - where your thumbs need to be.  If you are playing two-phrase karimba music or four-phrase mbira music, this level of understanding will come slowly, and you will get to that stage on one phrase before you get to it on the other phrases.  As soon as you can understand (in slow motion) the notes you must play in all the phrases of the cycle, I encourage you to jump on board the cycle and start pedaling.

Of course, it will be slow at first, and rather unsteady.  If you have to slow down to play the fourth phrase of the cycle, you might want to consider taking the whole thing at that slower pace to make it more steady.

Once you are on board and can go through the cycle slowly, you will want to gradually start to speed up.  With speed comes errors - you know in your slow-motion mind what comes next, but your real-time thumbs don't know it so well. 

At this stage, there are two competing issues: you don't want to learn something incorrectly, so you don't want to practice it wrong, which means you go slower to learn it the right way.

Me personally?  I love to go fast.  I like the feeling of air blowing back my hair (what little of it remains), even if I am making errors.

The important thing is to be able to hear in your head how the song goes, so when you do make errors, you know that you are doing it.  Once you "own" the melody, I don't think it is so important if you are making errors or not, because the music cycle comes around again and again, giving you repeated opportunities to correct them.

Life isn't quite as predictable as cyclic kalimba music.  Sometimes we do get the opportunity to correct our mistakes in life, sometimes we don't even realize they happened.  I like to think that it's possible to fix or clean up my blunders, and that sometimes I can repair things. I find it comforting that I can play this little kalimba game, see the errors I am making, and know that I can work on correcting them. Few things in my life will ever be as perfect as I can make my kalimba music, but that I can succeed with kalimba music and continually reduce my errors and even "level up" to more and more complex variations gives me great hope for the rest of my life.

About the Author

Mark Holdaway

Mark Holdaway

Mark Holdaway has been playing kalimba for over 30 years.  He invented his kalimba tablature in 2004, and has been writing books and instructional materials for kalimba ever since.  His business, Kalimba Magic, is based on the simple proposition that the kalimba is a real musical instrument capable of greatness.  Mark's kalimba books are a down payment on this proposition.

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