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.

These three charts show the tunings of three exotic pentatonic kalimba tunings, and above the note's letter is that note's role in the scale, a number 1 through 7.  A "-" after the note number indicates a minor interval, or a half step flat compared to the major interval.

The "1" notes are highlighted (colored) for visual emphasis. They are the most important notes on any given kalimba.

To understand the importance of the root notes,  I suggest you watch a video of each kalimba being played. For each tuning, memorize which tines are the root notes, and while watching that tuning's video, ask yourself "How is the "1" note being used?"  It is often played at the beginning of a phrase or at the end of a phrase.  It is often accented.  Sometimes it is repeated.  Sometimes you stay away from the "1" for a while on purpose, just to make it more fun getting back home to it.


"Floaty Kalimba" on the F7 Bebey tuned pentatonic kalimba.


"Peaceful Mystery" on the G Ake Bono tuned pentatonic kalimba.


"Malian Blues" on the G minor pentatonic kalimba.

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.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.