Kalimba Beginner’s Guide

How to Tune Kalimba

I made a video on how to tune a kalimba. I only covered things you need to know because I want it to be as concise and easy to understand as possible. 

Summary of the video

  • Use tuning apps on your phone. Remember to download a chromatic tuner. Here are 2 I recommend; insTuner for iOS app, and DaTuner for Android app.
  • If it asks you to tune down, knock the hammer down; if it asks you to tune up, knock the hammer up.
  • Use tuning apps on your phone. Remember to download a chromatic tuner. Here are 2 I recommend; insTuner for iOS app, and DaTuner for Android app.
  • By default, the keys in a kalimba is C4-E6. However, some songs sounds better in a semitone (the black keys in a piano; for example, A#, Db (C flat). So if you want to tune say, C to C#, tune up. or if it’s A to A flat, tune down. Looking at a piano diagram is easier to understand the pattern.
  • Using insTuner is easier because if you get confused, you know which direction to tune. But if you use any chromatic tuner on Android, it’s a bit difficult to guess. Here are screenshots of both apps and how to know when to tune up/down

How to Read Kalimba Tabs in This Website

The kalimba is ranged between C4-E6, 3 different octaves. The standard numbered notation I see online usually puts the dots for C5-E6 on top of the number. But I put it beside the numbers. Let’s take a portion of a tab;

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1• 5••

  • 1-7, numbers without dots are played on the 4th octave
  • Number with a single dot is played on the 6th octave
  • Number with 2 dots • is played on the 6th octave

How I Learned Kalimba

Here’s a short story as to how I got around to play kalimba, where I bought it and how I learned to play it. I bought my kalimba from shopee, costs RM41.90. Thought that it’s pretty cheap for a musical instrument. The reason why I bought it is because I love the sound of it, reminds me of a musical box. Plus, I’ve always wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument. I have a guitar but I find it difficult for me to learn it so I gave up long time ago haha. Kalimba is small, it doesn’t take up much space in my room, it’s cheap, there’s a lot of resources online to learn it so I thought, hey why not give it a go during the lock down. I didn’t have a structured syllabus as to how I learned to play it. I just jumped into learning the first song, which was Can’t Help Falling in Love by Elvis Presley. I think kalimba is pretty straightforward to learn. After that song, I recorded the second song I learned, Hedwig’s Theme. To be honest, the tabs wasn’t so easy since there were parts where 2 notes need to be played at once and the tempo was fast too; so yeah it was a big jump from the first song. 

I tried searching how to make kalimba tabs because there are many songs I want to play, but there are no tabs available. Most of the kalimba Youtubers like Sandrah Araja, Ipida and April Yang made their own tabs, but they don’t mention in detail on how they made it. Until 1 day, my sister asked me to play a children’s song for my nephews, so I found a one finger piano tutorial. I copied the notes on paper, tried to play it on the kalimba and found out that it sounds similar. From there, I discovered a way to make my own tabs. I know for me it’s nearly impossible to arrange songs by ear. Even if I do succeed at doing it, it’ll take hours, probably days to complete a song.

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