The kalimba is a wonderful, beautiful instrument. If there were one downside though, I think many people would agree that it’s the lack of notes.
When you purchase a standard kalimba, the tines come tuned to a single key, usually C Major. If you want to play songs in a different key, you either need to spend several minutes retuning the kalimba, or purchase a second kalimba that is already tuned to your desired key.
This can be quite the hassle, especially if you’re looking to play in a rather obscure key, that requires many different notes of the kalimba to be adjusted.
How do we solve this problem?
Simple – purchase a chromatic kalimba.
What Is A Chromatic Kalimba?
Essentially, a chromatic kalimba is one that has every note, within the kalimbas range.
A standard kalimba tuned to the key of C Major will have the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. To play songs in the key of C Major, this is typically all you will ever need.
These tines correspond to the white notes on a piano.
However, once you start playing music in other keys – keys that would require sharps or flats, you’ll find that these are missing unless you retune the kalimba.
Therefore, a standard C Major kalimba is like a piano that only has the white keys. Great for playing music in C Major, but impossible to play songs that require the other notes.
A chromatic kalimba contains all of the other missing notes as well:
- C sharp (or D Flat)
- D sharp (or E Flat)
- F Sharp (or G Flat)
- G Sharp (or A flat)
- A Sharp (or B flat)
Often times, these extra tines will be found on the back of the kalimba. Although you can’t immediately see them when you’re playing, it doesn’t take very long time to gain an intuitive sense on where each note is. Chromatic kalimbas usually aren’t the best choice for beginners anyway, so in all honesty I haven’t found this to be much of a big deal (and it’s certainly a better design choice than alternative options.)
One trick some chromatic kalimba players use is to mark the tines on the front, that have tines immediately behind them, until they gain an intuitive sense of where all the rear tines are.
Where Can You Buy A Chromatic Kalimba?
Unfortunately, I could only find a single listing for a chromatic kalimba on Amazon, which you can view by clicking here or through the box below. This particular kalimba has a total of 26 tines – 15 on the front, and 11 on the back.
Hugh Tracey makes a beautiful 2 octave chromatic kalimba, and they’re known to be one of the greatest brands for high quality kalimbas on the market. This isn’t very surprising, since Hugh Tracey was the first to release kalimbas on the market outside of Africa where they originated!
If the Amazon page is out of stock or you’d prefer a treble instead of an alto kalimba, we recommend purchasing Hugh Tracey chromatic kalimbas from Kalimba Magic, a store that specializes in the sale of kalimbas and kalimba accessories.
3 Octave Chromatic Kalimba
Once you go above 2 octaves, you start getting into specialty territory. Few people play larger kalimbas as they are no longer handheld and have to be played differently.
Still, the kalimba makes such a beautiful sound, it’s understandable why people would want to take it even further.
Luckily, I managed to find someone on Etsy that is making 3 octave kalimbas for around $4oo USD. There are others that have released a 3 octave chromatic kalimba, but they tend to be significantly more expensive. Quite an investment of course, but worth it for the dedicated kalimba player!
Due to the price and the more complicated playing style necessary, chromatic kalimbas aren’t recommend for beginners. However, if you are looking for a versatile instrument that will help you build your skill and play songs in any key, a chromatic kalimba makes a great choice.
Of course, if you have any questions about chromatic kalimbas, feel free to ask us using the comment form below.
We hope you enjoy your chromatic kalimba!
– The Musical Sanctuary Team