Kalimba FAQs

If you are new to the Kalimba instruments, here is an ultimate list of Frequently asked questions by people learning the instrument.

Is Kalimba easy to learn?

The Kalimba instrument is one of the simplest and fastest instruments to learn. We’d say you will just need determination and passion to do so.

The Kalimba has different variations when it comes to the number of notes (metal tines). The most popular is the 17-notes Kalimba. Having said that, you only have to play songs using this 17 notes making it easier to memorize by memory or by muscle memory.

Muscle memory is when you play an instrument without needing to look at it or refer to the guides it has on the instrument itself. In this case, Kalimba has note marks on its metal tines.


Is Kalimba hard to play?

Kalimba is not hard to play. You will just need to pluck its tine to produce sounds. There are also playing techniques such as creating a tremolo, playing a chord (3-4 tines at the same time).

The hard part of playing Kalimba is over time, if you play by your thumb, it can get soar. As you are plucking the tines by your thumb.

You can always change the way you play it. You can grow your thumb nails and use it as the pick to play the Kalimba.

If you are not a fan of long nails, there are also ready-made Kalimba picks you can use that your thumb can wear and play the tines with it.


What are the best brands of Kalimba?

There are a number of Kalimba brands out there. However, we find the brands GECKO, & LINGTING as the best out there.

The main issue most kalimba has is the upper notes or tines not playing very well. They sound like dead notes with very short resonance. But the brands’ GECKO and LINGTING do not have this issue.

There are other great kalimba brands out there. We have a dedicated blog post that you can read about it – The Best Kalimba Brands – Comprehensive List and Guide


What is the best kalimba for beginners?

Some websites and kalimba players will tell you to start with lesser notes (tines) kalimba, but we recommend starting with 17 notes Kalimba. This way, it’s more enjoyable as you can play a wide range of songs with 17 notes. Unlike 7,8 or 10 notes, your song choices can be limited.

There are even children that started playing with a 17 notes kalimba or even 20! So we’d say, start with a 17 notes kalimba as you will find the instrument more enjoyable and fulfilling to play.


Do you need nails to play Kalimba?

You do not need longer nails to play the Kalimba. However, you will find it an easier experience with nails as the sound tends to be better than just using your thumb. Plus, using your thumb will hurt over time as you like hitting your thumb with metal.

If you discover that it easier for you to play the Kalimba with your nails, you can use a nail hardener on them like clear nail polish. Also, remind yourself always to not bite or pick at them if that is an issue to you.

There are also Kalimba picks you can use that you can wear on your thump and play the kalimba with it. It might need some getting used to as it can be awkward at first. But it all a matter or preference.


What to know before buying a Kalimba?

There are only three things you need to know before buying a kalimba. At least these three are the most important ones.

  1. It always better to start with a wood kalimba. And mahogany is the best material for it, having been used by many music boxes such as the guitar, ukulele, beatbox, etc. As much as possible go for mahogany. You can also opt-in for an acrylic kalimba. You can read further on this on our other block post Acrylic Kalimba Vs Wood kalimba.
  2. A number of Tines or Notes. Kalimba varies on the number of tines or notes on them. There are kalimbas with only 4 tines, some have 5, 7, 10, 15, 17, 20, and up to 26! We recommend starting out with the 17 notes kalimba as you can play a wider range of notes and songs in it. Most kalimba tabs are created from a 17 notes kalimba perspective. Below are helpful links where you can visualize these different numbers of keys Kalimba can have.
  3. If you’re new, always opt-in for the C tunes kalimba as it is kind of the default. And you can play with other musical instruments using the C tune. You can always change your Kalimba tuning by making the tines shorter or longer.

How many notes are in a Kalimba?

The number of tines of notes varies from 4 tines or notes to up to 26 notes! The Hugh Tracey Chromatic Kalimba has the most number of notes for serious kalimba players. It offers ultimate harmonic flexibility with 2 octaves and is fully chromatic.


What are kalimba tines made of?

Kalimba tines are made of metal. There are different types of metal that can be used on kalimba tines with steel being the most common one.

Most are also made with manganese steel. It is tough but very flexible. This makes the tine flexible when pluck making it not too hard on the fingers. Some kalimbas also offer letters and stick-on notes as a guide for playing.

Kalimba Vs Mbira

One main difference is the row of tines – mbira has two rows (double rows) of keys while Kalimba has only a single row of keys. However, the main difference between kalimba and mbira is in their scales.

Kalimba Tutorials
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