How to get started playing Kalimba really well (Thumb Piano)


The journey from being an untrained rookie to being the undisputed master of anything is always one of the weirdest and most difficult paths out there. The Kalimba, or thumb piano, is one of those instruments that people pick up because it’s easy to learn. However, you may be wondering how to play Kalimba.

Start using the Kalimba by practicing each note and repeating shorter songs until you can comfortably handle the instrument. Learning the Kalimba is one of the easiest instruments to learn and with only an hour or more of practice every day you will quickly master the instrument.

There are a few steps you will need to take before you can play the Kalimba with your eyes closed and your hands tied behind your back. You may be wondering how hard it is to actually learn the notes, what parts of your thumb to use, or even which Kalimba is best for first-time users to get. Getting into anything new and unknown can be a challenge for anyone, if you want to master the Kalimba starting outright is the most important step.

Here’s how you can learn to play the Kalimba the easiest way possible.

What is the best Kalimba for beginners?

The best Kalimba for beginners is the simple 10 note kind that can be found in music stores around the world. These are always on the affordable side and will give you a good place to start from, letting you learn the notes without becoming confused as to what all the extra notes are used for.

When you go and purchase your Kalimba you need to check that each note has been engraved onto the tongs as well, this is to ensure you not only learn them, but will assist when you have to eventually tune the Kalimba.

Above the ease of learning the instrument, the 10 note Kalimba has the added advantage of being much less expensive. When you make mistakes, accidentally let the Kalimba slip from your grip, or even forget it outside for a bit too long, having a Kalimba that is not too expensive will save you a lot. It might sound weird but cheaper Kalimba’s are much the preferred way of learning how to play.

How hard is it to learn?

Because a starter Kalimba only has 10 notes it is one of the easiest instruments in the world to learn. Once you have the basics down, the only thing that will be a challenge is repetition, however, getting the basics right is the first step. So you will need to know exactly what to do and how to do it in the beginning.

Which makes the ease of learning the Kalimba so much more important, getting the sound right and learning the notes are all easy. You can learn the Kalimba through YouTube videos, online tutorials, and sometimes just by playing on it randomly throughout the day.

The Kalimba is the easiest percussion instrument you can learn; just be sure you get one aimed at beginners and not a table sized one meant for masters of the art.

What part of your thumbs to use?

This is a question that everyone has in the beginning and there is a right answer, however in the beginning it is best to use the parts of your fingers that you feel the most comfortable using. Many music shops will even ask you to include the thumb tacks, little rubber pieces that you can clip onto your thumbs to play with more ease.

You can use the skin of your thumbs or the nails, depending on what you are comfortable with using. However, the right way of using the Kalimba is by using your nails to make the notes a lot clearer and the sound reach higher levels.

But many beginner players are not able to use their thumbs, they may be manicured, or just simple stress may have caused them to be bitten off. For these instances you use your skin, however, long use of the Kalimba in practice will hurt, causing your thumbs to become raw and hurt.

This is where the thumb tacks come into play, even the best Kalimba players will use them when practicing, while the sound they produce may not be as clear, they will save your fingers from becoming hurt over longer periods of time.

Basic songs to learn on the Kalimba

The same basic song you learn on almost nay percussion instrument, will work for playing on the Kalimba, these can be anything from just twinkle twinkle little star to things like Bella Ciao. However, these are more boring songs to learn, with more modern songs actually being just as easy to learn.

These are some basic modern songs that you can use to not only learn the Kalimba, but to impress your friends at your next gathering:

  • Harry Potter Theme
  • Girls Like You
  • Game Of Thrones Theme
  • My Heart Will Go On
  • On MY Way
  • Fly Me To The Moon
  • Coffin Dance

How much practice does it require to learn?

Like all good instruments you cannot simply learn the Kalimba with only five minutes of practice once a week. To master the notes, becomes proficient at playing the Kalimba, and remember everything you will have to spend hours each week playing and repeating the same songs over and over again.

The best way to start is setting out at least one hour every single day to practice, this will amount to seven hours of practice each week. As you fall in love with the instrument you can vary this, some days spending several hours just playing songs while on others you barely touch the instrument.

However, in the beginning, until you know each and every single note off by heart you should be playing the basic ten notes until you can read them off by heart. Maybe even hearing them when you close your eyes at night to play.

This is the only true way that you will be able to learn the Kalimba to such a level you can comfortably pull it out at parties to impress anyone who hears you play.

What are the notes on a Kalimba

There are many different Kalimbas which can differ in the number of notes included. For instance, you can buy a Kalimba with just 8 Notes, 10 notes, right up to the more common 17 tine Kalimba

Whilst you can often choose which key your Kalimba is in, which will determine the exact pitch of the tines, most starter Kalimbas will have the same 10 notes on them.

These are the basics that will let you learn how to play the songs with such ease you may not even be thinking about what you’re doing.

The basic notes of the Kalimba are:

  • F
  • D
  • B
  • G
  • E
  • C
  • A

While these are the notes that the Kalimba have, each one will vary slightly on your Kalimba, with small adjustments required for your Kalimba to be used properly. Sometimes, the only difference in sound can be heard when you’re playing a full song.

Conclusion

There are many things you can learn within a few days, and the Kalimba is one of the easiest and most fun instruments in the percussive instrument family. With only a few hours spent on it each week you can quickly master the instrument to become a Kalimba playing machine.

Sometimes all you want to do is sit back and relax while playing a tune you like, or maybe you want to impress your friends whenever they come and visit.

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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