AN INTRODUCTION TO THIS BEAUTIFUL INSTRUMENT
Kalimba is a musical instrument that children and adults are going to love.
This small and easy to carry instrument is made of a wooden board with attached staggered metal tines.
The sound is produced by holding the instrument in the hands and plucking the metal tines with the thumbs (sometimes with the forefinger, too). That’s why they also call it thumb piano.
The sound of the kalimba is so beautiful and relaxing, quite similar to a windchime or a music box.
You could easily say that Kalimba is a music box that can play anything you want and not a preprogrammed melody.
Kalimba can be a solo instrument or it can be accompanied by a piano or a guitar.
The combinations of the two instrumets is very pleasing.
Origins of the kalimba:
Kalimbas are westernized versions of the African karimbas (or mbiras)..
The modern kalimba design can be credited to an ethnomusicologist, by the name of Hugh Tracey. In the early 1900s, Tracey traveled to Africa, specifically Zimbabwe, and learned the traditional music and instruments there, such as the many varieties of thumb piano.
Upon his return to England in the 1950s, inspired by the traditional Mbira, Tracey created and manufactured the first ‘Western’ thumb pianos, which he decided to call the kalimba, and began distributing them worldwide.
Kalimba and children
Kalimba is becoming more and more popular in our days and it has become a well known instrument all around the world.
My students of any age get very enthusiastic when I ask them to play the Kalimba and the parents ask me where they can buy one.
It’s easy to learn to play and it’s also a perfect instrument to improvise.
If you haven’t seen a child exploring a kalimba you should watch this video below.
I asked my students to explore the kalimba and then I asked them to improvise.
Watch the video:
Playing kalimba is just plain fun! You can play for hours without getting tired.
The sound of it is so enchanting that you don’t want it to stop.
Can everyone play songs with the Kalimba?
This depends mostly on the size of the Kalimba you have and the tuning of the Kalimba.
There are various Kalimbas, some of them have only 5 keys, others 7, 9, 11, 17 or 21 and they are tuned in different keys. (A pentatonic, C major, A minor and more)
The Kalimbas that have 17 keys and are tuned to C major make it possible for us to play songs with it.
There are many children’s songs that are in C major but even if we want to play any song which has sharps or flats we can adjust our kalimba by tuning it in to the notes we want.
Best kalimbas to purchase
There is a huge variety of kalimbas in the market.
What we are looking for is the quality of sound.
The sound of a kalimba needs to be sweet and resonant and this depends on the quality of the materials a kalimba is made of.
Below you will find expensive and less expensive kalimbas that I recommend. All the following kalimbas are tested and therefore suggested.
If you have small children or students I would suggest you get a good quality 9 key kalimba as a start.
It’s not expensive and it’s ideal for improvisation and exploring.
It is suitable to most children because of its size and there is no need to learn to play specific songs with the kalimba.
Children enjoy random playing and improvising with it which is valuable.
If you want to go with performing songs with the kalimba then you better get a 17 key kalimba.
These are my favourite ones and I totally recommend them.
The quality of the materials that are used are very good therefore the quality of sound is excellent.
Of course, there are less expensive kalimbas.
The following have a good quality of sound.
Tuning your kalimba
If you are a musician then this tool would be helpful and you'll know how to use it to change the sounds of some notes or transport the whole kalimba into another key.
Some Kalimbas have their own tuning hammer when purchased but some others don't. If your purchased kalimba is without this tool then here are some suggestions.
If you are already a subscriber to Music Teaching Inspirations email list you will receive some extra free resources about children and Kalimba (when these will be available)
If you haven't been subscribed yet you can do it now.