05 July 2017

Tambourine as a Creative Kalimba Amplifier Resonator

Written by Mark Holdaway, Juliana Rose, Posted in Tips

Double or triple your Kalimba's volume with a tambourine

Tambourine as a Creative Kalimba Amplifier Resonator
Tambourine amplifier for kalimba

The kalimba is naturally a very sweet and sensitive African folk instrument. It can be played for mainly personal enjoyment - in a busy, noisy world, only you may be able to hear or want to hear that soft voice of your kalimba.

Yet, it doesn't always have to be that way. There may be times you want your sound to be heard above the din of street noise, singers, or other musicians. A simple method of kalimba amplification available to almost every kalimba player's instrument  is to partner it with a kalimba "resonator" or amplifier of sorts. Once you understand the principle, amplifiers can be found everywhere. One surefire method of gracefully and creatively amplifying your  kalimba sound is to gain access to a hand drum or tambourine as a resonator. Let our tip inspire you to sharing your kalimba sound proudly.


Take your Kalimba Sound to a New Level

When we think of African music, the first thing that comes to most people's minds is something akin to loud, polyrhythmic, exuberant drumming. That volume and cadence is certainly one aspect of the power of African music. Yet African music also has subtlety and beauty, melody and harmony that the kalimba and its player can bring out with a number of creative kalimba playing tips

Mbira Gourd Amplifiers

In my mind, the mbira offers us the pinnacle experience of African music's emotional and expressive tenor. Its soft and sweet musical tones deserve to be heard above the loud shakers that often accompany a circle of music makers. Many centuries ago, an unknown African genius figured out that if you put the mbira inside a cut gourd, creating a bowl to cradle the instrument in while playing, it would amplify the kalimba sound significantly.  It is not unusual for a gourd to double or even triple the volume.

The gourd also adds some African sounding buzz and rattle, which is important in African music for reasons related to ritual and the chiming in with musical performances by the ancestors who are known to inspire or aid the players of these ancient kalimba instruments.  

Listen While Your Green Tambourine becomes an amplifier

While a gourd is a great option, another "found" sound kalimba amplifier you might want to consider borrowing is the tambourine.  In fact you might also try a hand drum of any size and proportion to see what happens.

When I was growing up, the product of the U.S. 60's peace movement, a surprisingly large number of households had, somewhere about, a tambourine. I was recently at a party where three different people showed up with tambourines.  If you cannot find one close to home, just walk into a local new or used music store and check out the percussion section which should offer a few models of the 60's folk singer's companion, a  trusted tambourine.

With a little experimentation and a close listen you will find that the tambourine turned skin side up on a table or cabinet can offer you some great kalimba amplification and a resonance that may surprise you and your listeners. Each  instrument and each angle will create a different sound. If you have a variety of tambourines to choose from, go through them all and rate the sound in terms of volume and rattle.

You will want to gently settle the kalimba onto the surface of the drum/tambourine membrane, pressing firmly so it is in good contact with, yet does not stress, the membrane which under duress,can break or tear. You will want to move the kalimba around on the membrane to learn how the placement affects the detailed sound you get. Also try lifting the kalimba and leaving just the foot edge in contact with the membrane.  Experiment.  Can you get a "wah wah" kalimba effect by changing the kalimba's orientation on the amplifier?

Discover your own found resonators

We have also had great luck clearing the top of a wooden table and using the table top as a conduit to some heavy and dense sounds.  A few items left on the table can induce the rattles and hums that indicate the presence of African  kalimba spirit believed to be always about and only needing some encouragement to come out and "play"!  For example, there may be times of ritual or shared musical that leaves you or your audience open to the lovely chiming in that sometimes occurs , it is said, when the ancestors want to inspire you or play along.

Of course, there are many other household items that may be used as a makeshift kalimba amplifier. Be creative! You might try some pots and pans, tables, cabinets and/or boxes of all shapes and sizes.  Set your Kalimba playing on fire and inspire your audience by adding a creative amplifier or kalimba resonator.

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.

Juliana Rose

Juliana Rose

Juliana Rose is a college level writing teacher, a video script writer and producer, journalist, researcher and grant writer. She currently serves as a content editor and  SEO manager. 

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