title image with text "Tuning with Magnets"

Using Magnets for Temporary Tuning

Here’s a clever tip that most people aren’t aware of. 🙂

Want to play a song on your kalimba, but there’s just one note that you can’t play? All hope may not be lost!

Find a tine you won’t be using for the song that is higher in pitch than the note you need, then slide a small magnet along that tine to lower the pitch. 1This works best with a completely unused tine, though there are some songs where you may be able to slide it down mid-song, depending upon the timing and note placement, etc.

an animated gif explaining the magnets have no effect if placed above the bridge and that lower on the tine results in a lower pitch
Place the magnet. Because it does not affect the pitch if placed above the bridge, it is fine to store the magnets on your kalimba in this area.

What you are doing is adding weight to the tine, which lowers the pitch.

This type of tuning method is used with steel tongue drums, and that’s how Jungle Kalimba on Etsy, who we learned it from, came up with the idea. (He’s currently inactive, but we wanted to give credit where credit’s due!)

animated gif from video showing the magnet tuning process
The pitch changes according to percentage and will be more dramatic on shorter tines and/or with larger magnets. See the full video at https://www.instagram.com/p/B5h3rCSAnKt/.

We recommend using 4mm x 1.5mm magnets, though 3mm x 1mm and 5mm x 2mm are also great to have on hand, as having a variety will give you more control. For example, depending on your kalimba, the tines may buzz if the magnet is added in certain areas but not in others, so having more or less weight can be useful. We sell all of these magnet sizes in our shop; they can also be purchased in bulk elsewhere online. (Be sure to look for coated magnets that won’t scratch your tines.)

Aluminum is generally not magnetic. So, if you have aluminum tines, the magnets are unlikely to stay, unless there is some other metal mixed in. The same issue would be had with other “weak” metals (such as copper, silver, and gold), though we haven’t seen these used in kalimbas.

If you want to view this technique in action, you can see an example on our Instagram post for Let It Snow: https://www.instagram.com/p/B5enEmThOe7/

Update: one of our readers sent a video that demonstrates this technique brilliantly, including the fantastic idea of stacking magnets!

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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