If you’re a new kalimba player, you may find yourself wondering – do kalimbas have sharps and flats?
It depends, but in most cases the answer is no – at least when the kalimba arrives.
However, there are some situations where this is different, and certain notes indeed are sharp or flat.
So, let’s look at these different situations, so you can better understand kalimbas and their tuning.
Why Don’t Kalimbas Often Have Sharps And Flats?
Long story short, most kalimbas arrive tuned to a certain key. Most commonly, this is the key of C Major, which has no sharps or flats in it.
The key of C Major contains the notes C-D-E-F-G-A and B. On 17-key kalimbas, these notes repeat themselves as they go up the octaves.
However, some kalimbas arrive in a different key, with the second most common being the key of G Major. G Major contains one sharp note, F#, and the full scale consists of the notes G-A-B-C-D-E-F#.
Like kalimbas tuned to the key of C, the notes will repeat themselves as they go up or down.
Why This Is Actually A Good Thing
You may find yourself wondering – instead of repeating the same notes across octaves, why not use those extra tines to fit different notes in? Why simply repeat the same notes?
There are two reasons for this, and both are pretty important.
First of all, the set up of the kalimba tines make it very easy to lay, and far less punishing if you hit the wrong note (or play two at the same time.) Typically, notes in a key sound good together, and the way notes are positioned on a kalimba makes it very easy to play beautiful sounding chords. If you added sharps and flats in-between, the instrument would become much harder to play, and it would lose a lot of its beauty as it would be much more challenging to play chords.
Secondly, having the kalimba span multiple octaves gives it a much wider range of music that it is capable of playing. Although kalimbas that only span one octave exist, 17-tine kalimbas are much more versatile due to how wide of a range they can cover.
Besides, with the way kalimbas are set up now, all of the extra sharps or flats are not necessary, due to the way keys work, and the way kalimba sheet music is transposed.
Here’s How You Can Play Almost Any Song – Without Sharps Or Flats
So if a standard kalimba doesn’t usually have any sharps or flats, why is still able to play so many songs? Don’t most songs have sharps or flats in them?
Yes, that’s correct. However, the kalimba is still able to play most songs, due to something called transposing.
Essentially, it is not the notes themselves that make a song recognizable – it is the intervals or spaces between the notes. This means that as long as all notes are being moved evenly, you can shift them up or down to change the key of the song.
With kalimba music, the music is transposed until it has no sharps or flats – the key of C, matching all the notes on your kalimba.
For more information on transposing sheet music to work on a standard C kalimba, check out this article about finding kalimba tabs.
Retuning Your Kalimba
If you want to change your kalimba to a different key, doing so is quite easy.
Most kalimbas these days come with a small tuning hammer, which you can use to adjust the pitch of each of the tines.
Although it takes a few minutes, doing this will allow you to change as many notes as you’d like to either sharp or flat.
Just be sure that you’re changing notes in accordance to the key that you’re hoping to achieve. Keys typically have an order for the sharps and flats they use, so changing them randomly will lead to the kalimba being completely out of key.
For more information on retuning your kalimba, check out the video below:
If having all of the sharps and flats at your immediate disposal is important to you, then you may consider purchasing a chromatic kalimba.
As an added benefit, chromatic kalimbas will prevent you from ever having to retune in order to play in different keys.
While tuning isn’t particularly hard, it does take some time, which can be a little annoying if you plan to play a diverse set of music.
A chromatic kalimba contains every note, including all sharps and flats. Many chromatic kalimbas include these on the back, so playability of the natural notes are not affected.
Although a chromatic kalimba probably shouldn’t be your first purchase, they are nice to have for any inexperienced kalimbist that plays a lot of music.
Most kalimbas you’ll order online today don’t have any sharps or flats when you get them, but that’s okay.
Most kalimba sheet music does not need them, and even if you do want your kalimba to have sharps or flats, it only takes a few moments to retune it.
Additionally, chromatic kalimbas can be used to play every note without retuning.
I hope that you have found this article helpful. If there are any questions I can answer for you about kalimba, just let me know.