In this post I will try to condense a written walkthrough guide on how to make kalimba tabs from piano tutorials. I made two videos on how I go through the process just click on them if you feel prefer learning through videos instead.
- An overview of how it works and my process
- Examples showing different types of piano tutorials and how to turn them into kalimba tabs
Piano and Kalimba
A standard piano consists of 88 keys. There are variants of keyboards with 76 keys, 61 keys, 49 keys as shown in the image above. If you look at the piano, you’ll see a familiar pattern: there are white and black keys. Look further, the 2 black keys alternating with 3 black keys.
Each key is assigned to a specific note. The white keys being C D E F G A B, and the black keys being the sharps and flats. But why are there many CDEFGAB?? Because each key with the same note has different pitches.
What does it mean by it has different pitches? As said earlier, the 7 white keys with 2 + 3 black keys pattern is repeated on the piano. The total of 12 keys can be considered as an octave, which means it’s a set of keys sharing the same range of pitch. The higher the number of octave, the higher the pitch. Let’s take 2 notes for an example: C4 from octave 4 and C5 from octave 5. C5 is higher that C4.
Here’s a standard 17-key kalimba. As you can see, the pattern is very similar to the piano: in a way that it has the keys CDEFGAB on the 4th octave, CDEFGAB on the 5th octave and CDE on the 6th octave. How do you tie this in together with the piano?
I think you can now get a clear idea on how it’s similar to the piano by looking at the image. Now let’s understand what middle C in piano is. Middle C is the starting point for many piano songs, especially for beginners. It’s also a general border for keys played with the left hand and those played with the right hand. Those keys to the left of middle C are usually played with the left hand while those to its right are usually played with the right hand.
Finding piano tutorials to make kalimba tabs
Keep in mind that the kalimba has only 17 keys, compared to the luxury of having a piano with 88 keys haha. It’s best to use the right keyword while searching for piano tutorials. Add in the keyword easy in your search box after the song title. Here are some channels that I always refer to when I’m making my tabs.
I find that those with written alphabets on the falling notes makes the whole process so much easier.
Making the Kalimba Tabs
Harmony and Melody
In all songs, there is melody and harmony. From my own understanding, melody makes up the identity of a song; for example, if you’re singing to a song, you’ll recognise the flow of the song by singing to the lyrics. That means, you’re singing to the melody of the song. Harmony is simply the enhancer and supporter to songs that makes them sound more complete.
In most piano tutorials, you’ll find the falling notes in 2 colours and that’s the distinction between the melody and harmony. Melody is played on right side of the piano (right hand) while the harmony is played on the left side (left hand).
Let’s take Skinny Love arranged by PHIanonize as an example. As you can see, the peach coloured notes on the right make up the melody of the song. The purple coloured notes are the harmony of the song. If you’re making the song into kalimba tabs, I advise you to focus on the melody and match it accordingly to the lyrics.
In that video at 0:25, the first line of the lyrics starts. So you match it with the falling notes that you see. It’ll be something like this:
Come on skinny love just last the year
[DA•] C•• (3x) D•• C•• C•• A• [A•F], E F
What if there are flat and sharp notes played?
If any black keys, also known as the flats and sharp notes are played, you need to tune your kalimba.
I usually go through the whole video tutorial before deciding which keys need to be tuned. In the Skinny Love song, I have to tune B to B flat. Refer at the diagram above to determine which key to tune and whether to tune up or down.
What if the notes are not played within the kalimba range of C4 – E6?
Don’t worry, you can figure out how it can be played within the kalimba range. For example, the Skinny Love’s harmony is played on the 3rd octave, correct? The C on the 3rd octave and the C on 4th octave shares the same sound, just different in pitch. So you can play it on a higher pitch and it’ll still sound like the song you intend to play.
You can increase the pitch for notes played on the 3rd octave to be on the 4th octave. What’s played on the 4th octave to increase an octave higher to the 5th octave, same goes to the 5th to 6th.
Making kalimba tabs from piano tutorials has been the most effective method for me to play songs that I really want to learn whenever there’s no kalimba tabs available. Of course there are some songs that I find very difficult to play on the kalimba because the tutorial is too complicated. I’m currently learning how to arrange kalimba tabs by listening to the melody. I’ll share some videos that helped me with the process.
- How I arrange my kalimba tabs by Arwen Yvonnir
- How to Arrange your OWN Kalimba Tabs by Tip’s Kalimba
- How to make kalimba tabs from piano sheet by LC Kalimba
I have to tell you this, it’s not going to be 100% straightforward most of the time. You still have to go through the process of trial and error to ensure that the song fits in well with the kalimba. But fret not! Just enjoy the process and don’t stress too much about it. You’ll naturally learn and improve your musical skills without you realising it over time.
Personally, I find it more satisfying to be able to arrange my own kalimba tabs based on my own effort. Being able to play and share it with other people is another satisfaction that I get from doing this. I hope that this walkthrough guide adds value in addition to the videos that I uploaded before. Wishing you the best of luck and have fun! 😊
P/S: If you have any questions or doubts that needs to be clarified regarding this, feel free to ask me through Instagram, Facebook, email or Reddit. I’ll try my best to help what I can from what I know.