If you’re interested in the kalimba and you aren’t yet sure if it’s the right instrument for you, you may be wondering how loud they are.
After all, this is an important factor to consider. Percussion instruments have a reputation of being notoriously loud, and certain instruments are not suitable for playing indoors (with roommates, or close neighbors.)
Fortunately, standard kalimbas are not that loud at all – ranging from 75-90 decibels on average. For reference, a normal speaking voice ranges between 70-80 decibels, and a small vacuum typically is around 75db loud.
However, there are a few factors that can cause an a kalimba to be significantly softer or louder than this, such as what type of kalimba you’re using, and how you’re capturing the sound. Let’s look into this in more detail now.
Types Of Kalimbas, And How They Affect Sound
For the most part, kalimbas can be broken up into three core categories:
- Flat board wooden kalimbas
- Hollow wooden kalimbas
- Acrylic kalimbas
There are many differences between each type of kalimba, but one of the most immediately noticeable differences is in volume.
Acrylic kalimbas are significantly quieter than their wooden counterparts.
Between the two types of wood kalimbas, hollow kalimbas are louder due to the resonant sound chamber built-into them – which is kind of similar to an acoustic guitar. This may be one of the reasons that you see them used so often in kalimba performance videos.
Note however that some of the cheaper wooden kalimbas have resonance problems with the higher-pitched tines, whereas flat kalimbas are more even throughout the entire pitch range.
Kalimbas Can Be As Soft Or Loud As You Want
Because of the nature of this instrument, they can be as loud or soft as you’d like.
Kalimbas have a very large dynamic range, and the dynamics of the instrument are entirely dependent on how hard or soft you luck the tines with your fingers. This means it’s possible to play very quietly or very loudly should you wish to do so.
That being said, some people, especially men with short fingernails, may have trouble playing the kalimba loudly without mild pain. In this instance, it is worth spending a few dollars on Alaska Piks – small pieces of plastic that slip over your fingers and can take the place of a fingernail while playing.
Electric Kalimba Pickups, And Amplification
While it’s not common on cheaper kalimbas, it is possible to use electric pickups on your kalimba, giving you a lot of additional possibilities.
Pickups allow you to plug your kalimba into an external amplifier, allowing it to get as you’d like. This may be desirable for performance or recording purposes.
Although these kalimbas tend to be more expensive, they give you a lot more to play around with. You can even use external devices to further change the sound of kalimba. For example, here is a video of someone using a kalimba with a bunch of guitar pedals!
Therefore, if you enjoy experimenting or tinkering with the tone or sounds of your instrument, grabbing a kalimba with electric pickups is certainly worth it, and not only for the additional volume it can provide!
Here is a relatively cheap kalimba that includes a pickup:
Micing A Kalimba For Recording
Let’s talk about recording a kalimba with a microphone, in case you need it to be loud enough for something like a YouTube kalimba cover video.
If you purchase a kalimba with pickups, recording directly into your computer or console is simple – all you have to do is plug it into an audio interface like the Scarlett 2i2.
However, on acoustic kalimbas, recording can be a little bit tricky due to the quiet nature of the instrument.
There are a few factors you need to take into account.
First of all, you’ll want to get a microphone that is best suited for the task. Ribbon microphones or condenser microphones tend to work best. If you’re on a budget, some people attach lavalier microphones like the BOYA BY-M1 to their chests, then hold the kalimba close to their body while recording.
Regardless of the microphone you choose, the next most important factor would be microphone placement. You’ll want to get the microphone very close to the kalimba in order to get the strongest and cleanest recording. If you are too far away and the kalimba is too quiet, you’ll have to raise the gain in your recording later, which will also bring up all of the background noise.
Finally, you’ll want to be recording in a quiet environment, ideally only capturing the sound of kalimba itself. If natural ambience or background noise is important for your recording, try to capture a recording of this separately so you can set the audio levels of each later. Many musicians actually record the audio in a better environment – then film themselves playing the exact same thing for their music video. However, it is that first recording that actually gets used for the audio track within the video.
This may seem misleading, since what you’re hearing is not actually what you’re seeing being played. However, this is common practice in the music industry, and in truth, talented kalimba players can still play almost identical covers multiple times. So, don’t start thinking they’re any less talented for doing this!
Fortunately, kalimbas are a versatile instrument that can be both loud or soft if you want them to.
While they are quiet enough to be played indoors, even at night, they can be amplified as loud as you’d like.
So, don’t let volume stop you – you’re sure to have a lot of fun with this beautiful instrument!