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17-Key, Learn, Music Theory

Free Kalimba Exercises

UPDATE: All PDF files have been relinked. Apologies for the previous errors!

Just as with most instruments, practice is the best way to improve. Here are several exercises you can use to move beyond the basics.

Don’t get us wrong – we love Twinkle Twinkle Little Star just as much as the next person! But if you want to play more advanced songs, you’ll want to practice more advanced techniques.

We’ve created these exercises to help! Don’t worry if your kalimba doesn’t sound exactly the same – the exercises were created in C Major, but you can use any kalimba with the same layout. B Major? Sure! G Major? You bet! It really doesn’t matter. (See our Music Theory Basics series for more info.)

You can listen to what they are supposed to sound like by playing the associated mp3 file, and you can download the PDF file and share. All for free!

All audio files and PDF printouts are courtesy of Kalimba Real / Kalimba Royal, who we’ve recently partnered with. Soon, you should be able to click on a button to open the exercise in the app (as long as you have it downloaded)! So cool!

Before You Begin

Here are a few tips to help maximize your practice by utilizing different learning styles and preferences.

  • Say the name of each note out loud as you play it. (Combining auditory and kinesthetic activities will help you remember the note layout and improve your “ear” for music.)
  • Quiz yourself. Once you are more comfortable with the layout, try closing your eyes and attempt to identify notes at random, either by choosing the note first and trying to locate the appropriate tine or by plucking a random tine and trying to identify the note; the former helps with muscle memory, and the latter helps with pitch recognition.
  • Have patience – both with the process and yourself. Everyone begins with different background knowledge and experience. Everyone learns at a different pace.

Arguably the first step in improving your comfort and ability will be to learn the layout of the notes on the kalimba. Then, you’ll want to learn about more things, such as chords and arpeggios.

Please note: For this post, we’re assuming you have a 17-key kalimba that is diatonically tuned. (Not sure what we’re talking about? Check out our lessons on Music Theory Basics.) We have provided PDF files and generate audio clips to help.

If you are viewing this on mobile and also have either the Kalimba Real or Kalimba Royal app installed on your phone, we’ve provided direct links to the interactive exercises, which should automatically open in the associated app.

Linear Scales

Linear, by definition, means to go in a straight line – or, in our case, sequentially. We’ll be moving up and down the notes according to pitch.

We have three different versions of linear scales for you; the only difference is the duration of the notes. We start of with the aptly named quarter note, which equals 1/4 of a beat. Then, we’ll go on to eighth notes, which are 1/8 of a beat, and sixteenth notes, which are 1/16 of a beat.

Playing in this manner is one way to learn how to play faster while maintaining accuracy. Use a metronome, if needed.

Linear Scales 1

Linear Scales 2

Linear Scales 3

Non-Linear Scales

In this case, the point is to not go sequentially. Again, we’ve included the three different versions to help you with tempo.

Non-Linear Scales 1

Non-Linear Scales 2

Non-Linear Scales 3


Ah, chords. There is so much to be said about them, but we’ll explore the topic in depth in our Music Theory Basics series. For now, we’re just going to have you practice them. Don’t worry about the terms; they’ll make sense later. Want more info now? Click the little number right here. 1Triads are arguably the most common chord type, and they consist of three notes, which we’ll call 1, 3, & 5. Sevenths contain notes 1, 3, 5, & 7. Power chords are only notes 1 & 5, so you’ll need to switch your thumbs to the other side! Inverted chords contain the same notes as the triads, but some of them have been switched to different octaves for a new sound. Pretty neat, right? To play triads and sevenths, you’ll want to run your thumbnail across all of the notes; this technique is known as a glissando.

(Also, from here on out, we assume you understand how to increase the tempo evenly, so we’re only including the quarter-note versions.)

All Chords (triads)

All Chords (sevenths)

Power Chords

Chord Inversions

Broken Chords and Arpeggios

If you take the chords and, instead of playing them together, play them separately, you have what’s known as a broken chord. An arpeggios is a type of broken chord that goes in a linear fashion; we’ve included two different versions of each for you. 🙂

Arpeggios 1

Arpeggios 2

Broken Chords 1 (left- and right-hand examples)

Broken Chords 2


Practicing the octaves will really help you learn the layout of the tines. We have two different versions for you – one with octaves only and one with a root octave accompaniment, meaning you’ll play a chord plus the root note in a different octave.


Root Octave Accompaniment

Major Pentatonic Scale

The Major pentatonic scale eliminates the fourth and seventh notes (B & F in C Major), which eliminates any half steps. Consequently, pretty much every note you play in this scale will sound good together. This exercise helps you learn the patter of where they are.

Major Pentatonic Scale
Looking for a good starter kalimba? If it's within your budget, we recommend the Gecko K17MBR. You can buy it here. We only recommend products from brands we know and trust. Sometimes, referrals to outside resources result in a commission, which is applied to the operation of this website and the free educational resources we provide. Please check out our commitment to social and environmental responsibility.

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