[EASY] How to Tune a Kalimba Properly (Tools, Tips & Scales)


Keeping your Kalimba in tune is the single most important thing you can do to continue enjoying to play your instrument and to maintain motivation to practice and improve your technique. There are two ways to look at Kalimba Tuning.

To ‘Tune a Kalimba’ is adjusting each tine individually to a specific pitch so the notes sound exactly as expected. When played together, the perfectly tuned tines complete a musical scale or part thereof. This is the Kalimba‘s tuning, and how the instrument sounds when the notes are played together.

In this article, I am going to look at both aspects of Kalimba tuning. I will discuss how to tune individual keys on the instrument. Once you know how to do that, your Thumb Piano becomes a far more versatile instrument than you first imagined, as you will be able to completely retune the kalimba to different scales, or ‘Tunings’

The first section will be about how to tun your Kalimba, whilst scrolling down will take you to the Scales section

Tuning a Kalimba

This section is about tuning your kalimba. There may be more than one reason why you need to tune or retune your kalimba. It may be that you have a dead, or stiff tine that needs adjusting, or one tine sounding out of tune that needs a small adjustment to get it back to normal.

What you will need to tune a Kalimba

  • A Kalimba (of course!)
  • List of required notes
  • Tuner (physical or phone app)
  • Tuning Hammer
  • Earphones with Mic pick-up (optional)
  • Patience

What notes to Tune the Kalimba keys to

Let’s forget about tuning to various scales right now and concentrate on the scale that your Kalimba has arrived. Quite often new kalimbas are tuned to the scale of C and the keys are marked with the letters of each note.

It is not unusual to find Kalimbas to be slightly out of tune on arrival from certain suppliers!

What notes are on a Kalimba?

C4,D4,E4,F4,G4,A4,B4,C5,D5,E5,F5,G5,A5,B5,C6,D6,E6

On a 17 key Kalimba tuned to C you should expect to find the notes C4,D4,E4,F4,G4,A4,B4,C5,D5,E5,F5,G5,A5,B5,C6,D6,E6 covering just over two octaves beginning at C4. This is the most common tuning followed by a G Major scale.

Regularly Check the tuning of your Kalimba

Whether you feel your Kalimba is out of tune or not, it is good practice to check the tuning of each tine on a weekly basis. There may be one or two more frequently played tines moving slightly out of tune, but not enough for your ear to pick up accurately. left for some time and more notes will be off and you KalImba will begin to sound bad.

How to check each note on the Kalimba is in tune

By far the easiest way to check the accuracy of the tuning for each key on your Kalimba is to use a tuning tool. These can be either electronic tuners (my preference) of a tuning application on your mobile phone.

Which tuning tool you use is entirely up to you. there are free tuning apps available on both IOS and android which are fine, but it is worth spending even a couple of bucks, to not have to have ads popping up while you are trying to tune your kalimba.

Tuning apps for Kalimba

Using a basic guitar tuning app is going to provide you with what you need to check the tuning of your Kalimba to guide you to the adjustments you need to make to get it back into tune, or to retune the thumb piano to a completely different scale.

There are many options for both IOS and android devices, and the following are a few I have used or continue to use

IOS Apps

insTuner is one of a few tuning apps on IOS. I dont have a great deal of experience here as I had one on my iPad, but also have better on my android phone and an electronic tuner that i always prefer if it is at hand

ANDROID Apps

gStrings is probably one of the most popular tuning apps used on any mobile phone. Available for free in the PlayStore, you will get pop up adds which can be a pain in the butt, although this user think they are OK for a free app.

Really handy app, obviously as the free version, it had a bunch of ads, which can be a little much sometimes but they never get in the way of being able to use the tuner, so no real complaints from me! Tuner itself seems accurate to me, I can’t tell the difference between tuning with this or with a dedicated clip-on tuner. It does need a reasonably quiet space to work properly, which can be a pain if that is not possible, but overall, I really like it!

Murdo McLean 4/5 Stars on 9/4/2020

Electronic Tuners for Kalimba

I have to admit to still being a bit old school. not so much as to go back to a tuning fork, but I do like my battery electronic tuner that I have had for as long as I can remember

The fact I have owned a Korg since 2001 and it is still going strong speaking volumes for the value for money it provides, and I am sure the newer versions are an improvement on the one I still have.

I own other Korg tuners as well as other brands of tuners (I like to keep a tuner with each musical instrument I own) and this one is THE BEST YET!

Michael, USA – 5/5 Stars 7/16/2020

See price on Amazon

Any tuner is fine so it really comes down to your personal preference and whether you would lke to use a physical tuner or electronic tuner with your Kalimba

The process of tuning your Kalimba

So now we have the kalimba and the tools to discover whether each tine is in tune or not, we can go about correcting any that are out of tune.

This is done with the help of the tuning hammer.

Kalimba tuning hammer

What is the Kalimba hammer for?

You have taken a look online for some Kalimbas and are thinking of buying one, you note it comes with a handy carry case and a hammer. But what is the hammer for?

The kalimba hammer is an essential thumb piano tuning tool made from metal with a wooden handle used for adjusting the kalimba keys with small taps, affecting the distance between the front of the tine and the bridge which alters the pitch of the tines and notes played.

Now, this is both a delicate piece of equipment for helping to tune the keys on your Kalimba but also solid enough so that you need only tap the tines a little.

Where to get a Kalimba Tuning Hammer?

Many Kalimbas come supplied with a case that also includes a tuning hammer, so the chances are you already have one.

If you you do not ownon, you’ll notice the head is quite small and it is a little more delicate than the hammer you have in the garage.

Fortunately, they are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased from Amazon with convenient delivery in a day or two.

Which way do I need to move the tines?

You have probably already figures out that the shorter the tine after the bridge, the higher the note and vice versa.

So quite simply

  • Hammer up, to higher the note
  • Hammer down to lower the note

When tuning an individual key on a Kalimba, the very slightest movement up or down the bridge will change the pitch of the note, so huge walloping blows with the hammer are not required.

The way the hammer is used, is to tap either the top or bottom of the tine depending on what change in the tine note you are trying to achieve.

A couple of taps is enough to change the picth, so don’t go crazy and after each couple of taps, check with the tuning app once again to see if the pitch is correct or not.

Kalimba Tuning Scales

Kalimbas can be purchased with different numbers os tines, from 7-17 in most cases, with the most popular and ‘standard’ instruments offering 15 on the Hugh Tracey Alto, or 17 on many of the other brands on the market tunes to G Major or C.

Can you tune a kalimba to a different key?

Tuning a kalimba to a different key than it is currently tuned to is easy. Simply take a tuning hammer and tuning app and adjust each tine to the specific note required for the new key and scale you wish to play,

The fact is, supplied kalimbas unless bespoke ordered and tuned for, you are tuned to standard scales and it allows you to learn and play many recognizable ‘songs’

Where things can get really interesting and help you create original music is to tune a Kalimba to another scale and explore the world of new possibilities this provides.

Alternative Kalimba Scales

By taking what you have learned about tuning a Kalimba in this article no opens up the chance to experiment with retuning your Kalimba to an alternative scale and creating original music of your own

A scale is simply a series of notes in sequence covering an octave [8 notes]

These natural scales can be used as the basis of your 17 key scale on kalimba. Of course, if you have an 8 key kalimba you are ready to go with these. You can chromatically retune your Kalimba from it’s diatonic scale too.

What is Chromatic Kalimba Tuning?

Most Kalimbas are tuned to Diatonic scales, missing sharps and flats. By adding them into a scale when you retune your kalimba you can create a chromatic scale and create even more melodic possibilities in your playing. Some Kalimbas have keys on the back presenting full chromatic scales.

Major Scales

  • C Major Scale: C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
  • G Major Scale: G – A – B – C – D – E – F♯ – G
  • D Major Scale: D – E – F♯ – G – A – B – C♯ – D
  • A Major Scale: A – B – C♯ – D – E – F♯ – G♯ – A
  • E Major Scale: E – F♯ – G♯ – A – B – C♯ – D♯ – E
  • F Major Scale: F – G – A – B♭ – C – D – E – F
  • B Flat Major Scale: B♭ – C – D – E♭ – F – G – A – B♭
  • E Flat Major Scale: E♭ – F – G – A♭ – B♭ – C – D – E♭
  • A Flat Major Scale: A♭ – B♭ – C – D♭ – E♭ – F – G – A♭

Minor Scales

  • A Minor Scale: A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A
  • E Minor Scale: E – F♯ – G – A – B – C – D – E
  • B Minor Scale: B – C♯ – D – E – F♯ – G – A – B
  • F Sharp Minor Scale: F♯ – G♯ – A – B – C♯ – D – E – F♯
  • C Sharp Minor Scale: C♯ – D♯ – E – F♯ – G♯ – A – B – C♯
  • D Minor Scale: D – E – F – G – A – B♭ – C – D
  • G Minor Scale: G – A – B♭ – C – D – E♭ – F – G
  • C Minor Scale: C – D – E♭ – F – G – A♭ – B♭ – C
  • F Minor Scale: F – G – A♭ – B♭ – C – D♭ – E♭ – F

How to Apply these scales to 17 note kalimbas

Taking the C Scale above, it is a matter of extending either up or down an octave as you prefer.

So the C Scale [C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C] becomes

C4,D4,E4,F4,G4,A4,B4,C5,D5,E5,F5,G5,A5,B5,C6,D6,E6

There are almost limitless variations of scales you can choose to tune your kalimba to.

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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