Kalimbas are fascinating instruments that are fun to listen to and even more fun to play. And while they may look complex on the surface, learning to play the kalimba is fairly simple. There are no complicated finger positions and only a few tines (keys), making it easy for anyone to pick up. In fact, most new kalimba players are able to learn their first few songs in a matter of hours. However, like all instruments, kalimbas will take a lifetime of consistent practice to retain those skills and truly master the instrument.
In order to ensure your kalimba can play notes beautifully and accurately, check to see if your instrument is in tune before playing. You can either use a tuner or play notes on another instrument, such as a piano, to check whether or not your kalimba is in tune.
If any note is flat or sharp, use a kalimba tuning hammer to adjust the pitch up or down, respectively. For most kalimbas, the center tine should be a C natural. If the note is flat, tap the tine upwards; if it’s sharp, tap it downwards. Remember to only use a little force at a time to avoid overcorrection.
To get your kalimba to make a sound, the metal keys need to be plucked in a specific way. Hold the kalimba with both hands and your thumbs on top, either directly in front of you or on a flat surface. With one thumb, flick one of the tines using just your nail. The key should vibrate, creating the kalimba’s signature sound. It may take some practice to get the key to resonate and sound correct. Once you get the hang of the playing technique, try playing other keys one after another using both thumbs. You can also try playing more than one key at a time, creating a chord.
Practically any melody can be played on the kalimba due to its simplicity, and learning songs is one of the best ways to solidify your instrument-playing technique. When you’re just getting started, some easy songs to start with are Happy Birthday, Jingle Bells, and Mary Had a Little Lamb.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of those, you can try songs like You Are My Sunshine, Silent Night, Frère Jacques, and On Top of Old Smokey. These straightforward melodies will help new kalimba players get the hang of playing the instrument and moving between notes.
Because the kalimba is such a straightforward instrument to learn and play, music of all genres can be learned and played fairly easily. Once you have these basics down, you may want to venture into some new genres and play songs you regularly listen to. If you like rock, Zombie by the Cranberries is a great place to start. For pop lovers, Take on Me by A-ha can be a lot of fun to play. For movie lovers, We Don’t Talk About Bruno from Encanto is surprisingly advanced and very fun to play. However, the most important part of learning any instrument is finding and learning songs that you love.
Now that you understand how to tune your kalimba, play songs, and learn new ones, you have the ability to do just about anything with your new instrument. In order to keep your skills sharp, commit to practicing for at least 15 minutes a day. Although if you love your kalimba, you may find yourself playing even more and improving without even realizing it.