Updated June 2021. Somehow, the pictures all unlinked. I have no idea what happened (possibly from a software update?), but it should be all fixed now. Sorry about that!
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This is Part 2 of a multi-part series. Check out Part 1. Additional links will appear when new information is added.
Music Theory and the Kalimba
We’re going to keep Part 2 short and sweet and just relate the prior concepts from Part 1 to the kalimba because it’s a lot to digest. We’ll continue with even more music theory in Part 3.
In Part 1, we talked about the basics of music theory and why it matters, as well introduced some simple concepts that will be applicable to the kalimba. Now, we’re going to discuss the kalimba itself further in depth.
The Standard Kalimba Layout
For this lesson, we are going to assume that you have a 17-key kalimba in what we’ll call the ‘modern standard’ layout. 2There are numerous layouts that are possible and sold, especially by artisans and private creators. But the modern standard is arguably the most popular and most widely available. We’ll do a post on other layouts in the near future.
Super quick recap: We previously saw the layout of the piano keyboard.
And we talked about diatonic tuning, using the example of C Major.
Here is how that looks on the kalimba.
So, whereas the piano keys are arranged in a linear fashion, going up and down in a row…
…kalimba tines are usually arranged in a bilateral fashion; that is, the notes alternate sides.
On most kalimbas, the lowest note is located in the middle. The remaining notes continue up in a zig zag pattern.
Due to the bilateral layout, the octaves look a little different on a kalimba.
Most kalimbas are diatonically tuned and thus contain seven notes per octave.
You may recall that diatonic tuning follows the established pattern of steps between notes of whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half. Here’s how that looks in the bilateral format of the kalimba.
There is a half step between notes 3 & 4 and 7 & 1 of the next octave, or E & F and B & C, respectively, in C Major. 3Remember that we are including the first note of the second octave to show how they connect together. Sometimes, people who are new to music think they are doing something wrong because the notes can sound unexpectedly dissonant (clashing or unpleasant) compared to another note. 4Some people, and even some music styles, prefer to eliminate the half steps altogether. Major Pentatonic tuning contains only five notes, eliminating the F and B keys. Every note then is either one whole step or one-and-a-half steps apart and sounds very harmonious. For this reason, pentatonic kalimbas tend to be very relaxing to play, though fewer familiar songs can be played on them.
Like we said, short and sweet! In the next post, we’ll be talking about chords. 🙂
Sheet music photo by Michael Maasen on UnsplashLooking 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.