Sept. 7, 2014

Vol. 9, Num. 1

Kalimba Magic NEWS

Catania 6-Note Kalimbas
Special Tunings

Six notes - three on each side - still provides you with the real left-right alternating hypnotic kalimba experience. The Catania 6-Note Kalimba may seem like a tiny little instrument, but it turns out that it is a great instrument on many levels. It is robust, it sounds good, it is inexpensive, and it is not too hard to retune.

The first time tuning up a kalimba, most people are a little scared. "Can I really get this kalimba back into a playable state? Could I actually wreck it?" Put these limiting thoughts aside - but do take care not to hurt yourself when you retune. Thumb flesh is softer than kalimba tines, so approach the instrument with respect.



Mechanics of Kalimba Tuning

You can learn about the mechanics of retuning at the Learn How to play Kalimba pages. One point not covered there: see those bolts holding down the pressure bar on the Catania kalimba in the photo above? (Similar bolts are also on Goshen, 2B, and Hokema kalimbas - but not Hugh Tracey kalimbas.)

  1. Start by loosening these bolts 1/2 turn - the pressure should still be enough that the tines don't fall out, just loose enough that the tines can slide. If they cannot slide easily, turn another 1/4 turn and keep track of the total you need to retighten by.
  2. Slide the tines, use the tuner and your ear.
  3. Re-tighten the bolts and recheck the tuning, which sometimes goes out a bit with the final tightening.

Inventing Tunings on the Catania 6-Note
A few words on inventing your own tuning

You can invent a tuning based on either a theoretical approach (i.e., an understanding of what notes will work together, gleaned from years of studying other musical instruments or music theory). Or you can base your tuning on an intuitive approach in which your ear wants a particular note that is missing, and then you figure out which tine you can afford to push or pull to give you that note, and if you hear a note that sounds wrong, you push it sharp or flat until it sounds good.

There are literally millions of possible tunings for a small 6-Note kalimba!

Catania 6-Note Kalimba Standard Tunings

Standard Catania 6-Note Tunings

When we ship the Catania 6-Note kalimba, we include a free songbook which works in two different tunings which we'll call C Tuning and F Tuning. (There are actually hundreds of tunings that will play in C or F, but these are the ones that I chose to write music for, and in that way they are special.)

The Catania 6-Note kalimba ships in C tuning, but the F tuning is super easy to do yourself - if you look at the note names on the tines to the right, the only difference is that the E needs to get pushed in a little bit until it plays an F note. The big difference is that the F now becomes the root note, or "1" in the numbering system - that is, your mind now thinks of these notes in a totally different way, and now songs such as "Amazing Grace" or "As I Went Down to the River to Pray" are possible.

Listen to the C and F tunings, and hear how easy it is to change from C to F.

I call this particular F tuning a "5 Tuning", because C, the 5th note in the F scale, also called the 5th of F, is both on the bottom tine and the top tine. Usually we think of the root note, or "1" as the most important note, but arranging the notes so the 5 is on the lowest tine actually permits more songs to be played. In fact, going from 5 (or C) to 1 (or F) is the essential motion in western classical music, and you can hear it in the first two notes of "Amazing Grace" (ie, "A-Maz" = "5-1").


Ake Bono Tuning for the Catania 6-Note

Catania 6-Note Kalimba C Ake Bono Tuning

The Ake Bono scale is an ancient Japanese scale that is best known in the kalimba world for being on the Hokema Sansula, a high end instrument that costs hundreds of dollars.... and you can put this exotic tuning onto your $33 6-Note Catania kalimba. Easily.

Start with the standard C tuning, and bring the E, or 3rd, down to an Eb, which is now the minor 3rd (designated as 3- in the tuning chart). Also bring the A, or 6th, down to an Ab, or minor 6th (designated as 6- in the tuning chart). Use a tuner to get it as precise as you can - you will have to pull out half a step on each of those two tines. Once you have accomplished this tuning, get yourself into a meditative state and be prepared for some ancient Japanese/New Age magical music.

Listen to the C minor Ake Bono scale played on the 6-Note kalimba.

Catania 6-Note Kalimba D minor Tuning

Lovely D minor tuning for the 6-Note

The 6-Note Kalimba comes from the workshop tuned to a pentatonic scale, but there are no rules about how to tune it. Here is a D minor tuning that I invented to play Latin tunes and mystical minor chants. This tuning lets you play beautiful music with a particular emotional content that sets it apart from other 6-Note tunings.

Just like the F "5-tuning", this kalimba also has the 5th in the bass - and the 5-1 motion is important on this kalimba tuning also.

Listen to music in a D minor tuning of the 6-Note kalimba.

Some tablature for the 6-Note Kalimba D minor Tuning

Here is some trance-inducing music for the D minor tuning. If you play this sort of music and repeat it over and over for several minutes, you can find yourself shifting into a new state in your mind and heart. This simple 6-note kalimba can take me to the same trance-y place that I find with my 15-note Alto or 17-note Treble kalimbas.

Do you see the two small dots above the F and the E at the bottom of the tab? There are also two small dots at the top of the tab. These dots notate that this music is to be repeated. When you get to the top, immediately jump back to the earlier two dots (that is, the beginning), and do this over and over, until you get dizzy or need to invent your own variations.

You may notice that the first two measures (the bottom half of the tablature) are almost exactly the same as the second two measures (the top half). Those two phrases only differ in the last note - the first half ends on an F while the second half ends on a D.

This technique is used a lot in African music and in music in general - you make a pair of phrases, the second one echoing the first phrase, but differing from it just a little bit.

If you don't understand how to read this tablature, you can visit the Learn How page on tablature, which provides some useful resources.


These Complimentary G Tunings are great for groups

Tuning charts for three different G pentatonic tunings

Listen to three complimentary G major pentatonic tunings for the 6-Note kalimba.

Here are three different complimentary tunings in G major pentatonic for a wider sound. This sort of arrangement is great for therapy, groups, etc. Any one of these kalimbas can use the free song booklet that comes with the 6-Note kalimbas - the low and high tunings can use the first part of the book, and the middle tuning - a "5 tuning" - can use the second part of the book. There is not yet any music written for this whole group of three tunings, but no matter what you do with them, they will sound good!

Why G? Two reasons. First, the tines are long enough that we can get that low G tuning AND the high tuning on the right can be an octave higher, making the range of this set exactly the same as the range of the Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba. Second, there are a lot of kalimbas in the key of G, and any of those will be able to play with this set.

Kalimba Magic now offers this set of three specially-tuned 6-Note Catania Kalimbas in G at a special introductory price.

Deb Holdaway, Mark Holdaway, and Serena Gabriel playing three Catania 6-Note Kalimbas in complimentary G major pentatonoc tunings.

Use the Catania 6-Note Kalimba as a Tuning Laboratory

One more thing to remember: the 6-Note is a perfect laboratory for kalimba tunings. The Catania 6-Note is easy to retune, and it is simple. If you need to learn the skills of tuning and retuning your kalimba, this instrument can be your test bed.

Of course, I have just scratched the surface of what is possible on the lowly 6-Note Pentatonic Kalimba. You may have your own needs, and those needs can give rise to a creative tuning solution of your own. But think about it: if there are so many possibilities out there for the 6-Note kalimba, just think what is possible for a 9-note, an 11-note, a 15-note or a 17-note instrument? People think the kalimba is a simple instrument, but there is a whole lot more going on here than most see.

—Mark Holdaway

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