13 April 2016

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p3

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

The next most important thing: find the kalimba's scale

TIP: Exploring Exotic Pentatonic Tunings - p3

When you pick up a new unknown kalimba, the first thing is to find the root notes.  The root, or "1", is the starting place for the scale. Once you know where the "1" note is, you need to map out the entire scale. You won't have the entire "Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do" scale, as some notes will be missing and other notes will be "tweaked" - that is, flattened or minorized. (Yeah, I made that word up.) You can actually learn to do this entirely by ear, but for now we'll rely upon the tuning charts, which basically tell us the answers, and we just have to be able to translate that information onto the kalimba.

Imagine you have an Ake Bono-tuned kalimba in your hand. Locate the lowest "1" note (it's right in the center).  Go up the scale - pay attention, you need to find the tine that is the next longest.  It could be be one on the left, or it could be the one on the right.

All Hugh Tracey kalimbas are "right-handed kalimbas" - meaning you play the lowest, longest note with your right thumb, and the left thumb then plays the next note in the scale, setting you up for a right-left alternating pattern all the way up the scale.

Also, having the note names helps you see which tine comes next.  And the numbers give it away - on the Ake Bono kalimba, you go 1, 2, 3-, 5, 6-, 1.... and STOP!  Well, you could keep going up, but those higher notes are a repeat of the lower ones.  To get the feel of the scale, let's go up one octave, and when we get to the second "1" note, turn back around.

Notice again how, when following the numbers, we have a smoothly alternating left-right pattern, skating slowly outward one tine at a time?  That is kalimba predictability.

An assignment - look through these videos again and isolate where scales are used and how they are used.  In my playing, I tend to use small segments of scales - three or four notes - and then double back, zig-zagging my way up or down the mountain.  How do you use scales?


"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.

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