Do Kalimbas Have Sharps and Flats? (The Easy Answer)


Most standard Kalimbas for sale are tuned to either C or G Major scales across two octaves if choosing a 17 Key variation. There are quite a few notes to be going on with, but do they also have tines tuned to sharps and flats?

As standard, 17 key Kalimbas tuned to C or G Major, covering 2 octaves, you will not find sharp or flat keys. But solutions are available with chromatically tuned instruments and retuning yourself in a simple procedure. A Thumb Piano will never be a Grand Piano though!

Types of Kalimbas

The question of whether kalimbas have sharps and flats is not as simple as it sounds. Whether a Kalimba contains sharps and flats comes down to the tuning, which in turn depends on the type of Kalimba. There are three types of Kalimbas:

Traditional African variety with no sharp or flat notes

The traditional African Mbira , which is a Kalimba, does not have any sharps or flats. Traditional African Mbiras are tuned to an open tuning that covers two octaves and is replicated in what we know as modern kalimbas

The Chromatic version that has all twelve notes 

This one would be considered “sharp” by definition because it has all 12 pitches.

A chromatic Kalimba is a similar instrument but quite different in that it has tones on both the front and rear. I have a chromatic kalimba guide with more information.

3) The Westernized version of the kalimba

Also called cross-tuned), where some of the notes are purposely flattened for playing melodies from other regions.

You do have the option of tuning your kalimba to include different notes

If you find yourself needing a certain sharp or flat key to play the tune you are trying to play, you might not be completely out of luck. 

You are able to tune a kalimba with the proper tools (which usually come with the instrument), and with that, you could tune any of the notes on the instrument up or down a half step, which would give you the sharp or flat adjacent to that note. 

You could also tune every key on your kalimba up or down a half step and completely change the key that you are playing in.

For example, if you were to take an instrument that is tuned to C Major and turn every note up a half step, you would now have an instrument tuned to the key of C-sharp Major. 

You could also tune the kalimba to a minor key by lowering the third, sixth, and seventh notes on the scale you are already playing in. This is where it starts to get trickier, but we can break it down. 

In C Major, the notes are C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, and then the scale starts over again with C. 

With this scale, C is considered the “first degree,” and then the rest follow as you would imagine. 

That means that the third, sixth and seventh degrees are E, A, and B. 

To change from a major scale to a minor scale in music, you would tune the third, sixth, and seventh degrees down by a half step, so in this case, down to E-flat, A-flat, and B-flat. 

Once you do that, you will have three “flat keys” to play, and you will effectively be playing in a minor key instead of a major key. 

However, this may change the mood of the normally bright and cheerful Kalimba as the Minor key is typically associated with sadness and sorrow.

The Kalimba is a musical instrument that can be tuned to contain sharps, flats or both depending on the player’s preference for moods of music they want their kalimbas in tune too!

How to Tune Your kalimba to create sharp and flat keys as desired

If you buy a new kalimba, it should come with a tuning hammer that you can use to tune the instrument. You will also need some sort of tuning device, which could be as simple as a tuning app on your phone that tells you what note the sound you are playing is. 

I have a complete guide to how to tune a Kalimba, which can be used for getting an instrument that is out of tune, back playing perfectly, or to have a play and introduced sharps and flats into your scale.

What is Best Retune or get a Chromatic Kalimba?

You can never own too many Kalimbas right? In all seriousness, it will be far easier to purchase a new chromatic Kalimba than try to retune an existing 17 key in C Major.

I would suggest if you can afford to, but another, it will be all around the easier option. But if you are on a budget, then retuning your Kalimba is the best option.

A chromatic kalimba will have all of its notes in order and it’s much easier to play with sharps or flats as they can be found right next door!  If this sounds like too big an investment for now – perhaps take some time and save.

References

https://www.wikihow.com/Play-the-Kalimba

SteveM

I enjoyed the unpitched appeal of percussion prior to discovering handpans in a 'moment' I was experiencing. I've been writing ever since.

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