You already own a Kalimba and you want to know which Musical Notes this Percussion Instrument can play? Do you want to treat yourself to a Thumb Piano and would like to know the Notes that will be present in it in order to determine which melodies you can interpret? Is it possible to play a sharp or a flat with the Mbira?

Practicing the Kalimba for more than 10 years, I know this Musical Instrument like the back of my hand and I can easily explain to you what are the different Notes that you can play depending on the copy in your possession.

Kalimbas generally play Musical Notes between the F of the 2ᵉ octave and the E of the 5ᵉ. Depending on its number of keys and its tonality, the Notes will be different from one Instrument model to another.

Reading this article will help you learn:

  • The Notes held by your Kalimba
  • How to interpret notes altered with sharps and flats
  • The meaning of apostrophes above or below Notes
  • Why Reed Length Affects Notes Played

You will then understand how the Thumb Piano works and all the Notes you can play with it.

Let’s start now by studying the existing Notes on the Kalimba.

A woman sitting in the grass playing the Thumb Piano

How to find the Notes of his Kalimba?

Il s’avère que les Notes qui sont présentes sur le Kalimba sont différentes d’un Instrument à l’autre. Cela dépendra du nombre de lames qu’il possède, mais également de la tonalité à laquelle celui-ci est accordé. Cela dit, il s’avère qu’un modèle de Kalimba est prédominant sur le marché, et il s’agit de celui de 17 lames accordé en Do majeur. Par conséquent, il convient dans un premier temps de se pencher sur les exemplaires à 17 lames pour comprendre la marche à suivre, puis, dans un second temps, d’aborder les autres Pianos à Pouces.

Comment savoir les Notes d’un Kalimba de 17 lames ?

Kalimbas work on the simple principle that a lamella corresponds to a single musical note . Thus, a 17-blade Kalimba has 17 distinct Notes. For Musicians who already have a knowledge of music theory , the Notes correspondence for a 17-blade Kalimba in C major is as follows:

Correspondence of Musical Notes on a 17 blade Kalimba
Note that the staff above corresponds to a treble clef.


The central blade, the longest where it is inscribed ” C ” and ” 1 ” corresponds to a Do of the 3ᵉ octave . The one just to the left where it is noted ” D ” and ” 2 ” is a D of the same octave. The one still on his left, an F always of the same octave. Here, the letters or numbers correspond to a musical notation different from music theory according to the following table:

Music theory Do D Mid Fa Floor There Whether
Batavian VS D E F G AT B
NMCA 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

You may notice that the letters or numbers are repeated in the blade set of the Kalimba. This is because it is still the same musical notes, but an octave above. The Note played with the key in question is then higher, because its frequency will be twice as high.

Therefore, a Kalimba with 17 blades in C major has the Notes Do, Ré, Mi, Fa, Sol, La and Si of the 3ᵉ and 4ᵉ octave to which must be added the Notes Do, Ré and Mi of the 5ᵉ.

But some Instruments are not necessarily tuned in C major. Indeed, there are Kalimbas in B major for example. And in this case, the notes played are quite different. Often, the steel blades are engraved and allow you to find your way around. So, if on a slat, you see the annotation ” C# “, it means that the note played is a C sharp. In the event that your keys are not engraved and that you have no idea of ​​the Note that it is supposed to produce, the only solution remains to find you an electronic tuner , so that the latter analyzes the note played and then reveal it to you. Read our guide to the best tuners for Kalimba to find out which device to get.

What are the Notes of Thumb Pianos with 5, 7, 9 or 21 keys?

Regarding the 21-blade Kalimbas, they usually have the same keys as a 17-blade model by adding 4 lower notes , namely the F, Sol, La and Si of the 2nd octave. But this is only valid for Kalimbas tuned in C major.

Regarding models with fewer reeds such as those with 5, 7 or 9 notes, there are not really general rules as manufacturers offer very different Instruments. In this situation, you will have to refer to the engraving on the blades or use a tuner as explained above.

An advertisement for a tuner for Kalimba

What do the apostrophes on the Notes mean for Mbira?

Les apostrophes, les points ou les étoiles au-dessus ou en dessous des Notes indiquent l’octave dans laquelle se situe cette Note. S’il n’y a rien d’inscrit, cela signifie que la Note appartient au 3ᵉ octave qui est l’octave de référence sur la plupart des Kalimbas. Avec une apostrophe au-dessus, c’est le 4ᵉ, avec deux au-dessus le 5ᵉ. Tandis que si elle est placée en dessous de la Note, il s’agit du 2ᵉ. Il est à mentionner que si vous ne possédez pas des notes du 2ᵉ octave sur votre exemplaire de Kalimba, cela ne pose pas de difficulté. Souvent, seuls les modèles de 21 lames et plus en détiennent.

Pourquoi toutes les lames d’un Piano à Pouces ne donnent-elles pas la même Note ?

It turns out that physically the reeds produce a different note depending on their length . When an Instrumentalist comes to vibrate a key with his thumb, the blade will vibrate differently depending on its length. If it is rather short, it will perform rapid oscillations up and down, thus giving a high frequency, therefore a High Note. On the contrary, a long reed will oscillate more slowly and produce a low note.

What blade length for a Kalimba?

It turns out that the blades of the Kalimba are included in a very specific length range. Indeed, if they are too short, they cannot vibrate and will not produce any sound. This is why Finger Pianos generally only offer Notes going up to the E of the 5ᵉ octave. The problem is similar with a too long blade which will not produce a harmonious sound, this is why it is rare to find models which have Notes lower than the F of the 2ᵉ octave. Thus, the length of blades for the Kalimba from the lower bridge is between 2 and 7 centimeters while their total lengths are between 7 and 12 centimeters . The range of Notes playable by an Instrument is called range.. On the Kalimba, it is rather considered average.

A Kalimba resting on tablature sheets

How to play a Sharp and a Flat (Halftone) on this Percussion Instrument?

Some beginner players sometimes wonder how to make a flat or a sharp with their Kalimba in order to play certain scores that require such Notes. It is quite possible to play this type of Notes which are called Altered Notes , unlike Natural Notes which have neither sharps nor flats.

For this, it is necessary to modify the location of the blade . For example, if you want to play F sharps in a piece, you would locate the reed or reeds playing an F and shorten it slightly from the lower bridge so that it plays a higher pitch, the sharp being a half -tone above its Natural Note. For a flat, it will be the opposite, because it happens to be a semitone below. Thus, it will be necessary to lengthen the blade slightly. In reality, this operation of moving reeds is called tuning. And it will be explained to you in detail in this complete guide . You will then be able to play all the Altered Notes you want.

Get a Chromatic Scale Instrument with more Notes

The Notes of a Kalimba are not fixed , because the blades can be moved widely to vary the sounds of the Instrument. Thus, it can sometimes be difficult to know which ones are played by his Thumb Piano. But thanks to the advice you have just read, you will certainly be able to determine all the Notes that your Kalimba has.

Toutefois, il est pénible de devoir changer régulièrement l’accordement de son Mbira parce que celui-ci ne détient pas initialement les Notes nécessaires dans le but d’interpréter une partition. Pour résoudre cette problématique, la boutique Instruments du Monde recommande l’emploi d’un Kalimba à échelle chromatique qui comporte toutes les notes altérées qui sont souvent présentes dans les partitions. Comment ce modèle ci-dessous de 34 notes composé d’un luxueux bois d’amarante aux reflets rougeâtres.

Achetez-vous ce Kalimba chromatique en cliquant sur le lien ci-dessous :

An advertisement for a Likembé

Il se trouve que plusieurs dizaines de Musiciens connus ont déjà utilisé le Kalimba dans leurs compositions. Découvrez tous ces artistes dans notre article qui les regroupe. Si ce sujet ne vous intéresse pas, consulter l’encyclopédie sur le Kalimba, toutes les informations au sujet de cet Instrument à percussion sont abordées.

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