How to read kalimba tablatures and the Kalimba introduction.

🎼🎵🎶 How to read a Kalimba tablature 🎶🎵🎼

👦👧 Hey, want to learn how to play the Kalimba? It's super easy! You just need to understand how to read a tablature.

🎼👀 First of all, tablature is read from top to bottom. Each line represents a blade on your Kalimba, and each number on the line shows you which key to press to play a note.

🎶👉 Numbers correspond to musical notes. For example, the number 1 represents the note C, the number 2 represents the note D, and so on.

🎵🔝 Sometimes there's a little dot above or below a number. This means you have to play that note an octave higher or lower.

🎼🎹 Now, you may be wondering what the difference is between a tablature and a score? Well, sheet music reads like classical text from left to right and top to bottom, and uses a different musical notation called "Arabic Numerals". Numbers are also used to represent notes, but there are no lines for each key on the instrument.

🎶👌 So, now that you know how to read tablature, all that's left for you to do is practice and play beautiful melodies on your Kalimba! Good luck!

Musical Spider by Lucas the Spider

"My name is Lucas I'm a spider I want to sing you a wonderful song! "

how to read kalimba tablature

Take Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, for example
kalimba tablature

Introduction of Kalimba:

Kalimba tablature is an easy and practical way of learning to play this African instrument. It differs from a traditional score, but is just as useful for beginners.

🎶 What is a Kalimba tablature? 🎶

A Kalimba tablature is a graphic representation of the keys on the instrument. It indicates the keys you need to play to reproduce a specific melody. Kalimba tablature uses numbers to indicate keys, as well as special signs to indicate high and low notes.

🎵 How to read a Kalimba tablature? 🎵

To read a Kalimba tablature, all you need to understand is the number system used to indicate the keys. The numbers correspond to the keys on the instrument, and the highest number represents the rightmost key.

If you're not familiar with the keys on your Kalimba, you can refer to the stickers supplied, or to the engraving on the instrument itself. Keys can also be represented by letters, depending on the musical notation used.

Finally, special signs such as dots or asterisks indicate high and low notes. A dot above a number indicates that the key should be played one octave higher, while an asterisk may indicate two octaves higher.

🎶 What's the difference between tablature and sheet music? 🎶

The main difference between a Kalimba tablature and a score is the way they represent the notes. A score uses notes written on a staff, while a tablature uses numbers and special signs to indicate the keys to be played.

Tablatures are easier for beginners to understand, as they directly show the keys to be played. Sheet music is more detailed, but requires a more advanced knowledge of musical notation.

🎵 In a nutshell 🎵

  • Kalimba's tablature uses numbers to indicate the keys to be played.
  • Special signs indicate high and low notes
  • The main difference with a score is the way the notes are represented.
  • Tablature is easier for beginners, but the scores are more detailed.

Using Kalimba tablature, you can quickly learn to play this fascinating instrument. Don't hesitate to

Also known as the thumb piano, the Kalimba is said to have been invented twice in Africa, although its first use depends very much on what you call a Kalimba, as there are over a hundred types. African slaves in Brazil are said to have had Kalimbas in the late 1700s, but they eventually disappeared.

The Kalimba / mbira is an African musical instrument consisting of a board (often fitted with a resonator) and staggered metal blades, played by holding the instrument in the hands and bending them with the thumbs.

The note arrangement of most mbira, with the notes of the ascending scale on the teeth from the center outwards, alternating right and left, means that chords are established by the adjacent teeth. When a tooth is pinched, the adjacent teeth also vibrate. These secondary vibrations play a role similar to the harmonics of a stringed instrument: they increase the harmonic complexity of an individual note.

Kalimba owes its name to
Hugh Tracey, an English ethnomusicologist who settled in Africa in 1920, spent several years between the 1920s and 1950s traveling in rural Africa (as far away as possible from Western musical influences such as radio, oriental music). - influenced groups and Christian missionaries) where he recorded traditional music and documented the tunings and layouts of the various kalimbas.

Tracey later founded the African Musical Instruments company and began building a variant of the mbira in Roodepoort, South Africa, which he called kalimba. He began exporting them worldwide in 1954. The name kalimba is a Bantu word meaning "little music" and resembles the word karimba, a type of mbira. Layout and note setting were not traditional; instead, kalimbas were tuned diatonically in the key of G, with adjacent notes on the scale sitting on opposite sides of the kalimba. These were the first mbira to be commercially exported from Africa.

How to read and write Kalimba tablature

If the notes you're going to play are important to you, i.e. if you want to learn specific songs and achieve specific learning, Kalimba Tablature is a great way to do it. Tablature is a map of the kalimba that shows you which tines to play to create a song.


how and why kalimba tablature

Tablatures kalimba: what it's for

I've written hundreds of kalimba songs, but unless I take action, most of them are gone by the time I wake up the next day. To make it easier to save my kalimba ideas for another day, I invented a kalimba tablature, a visually intuitive diagram or map of the kalimba that shows you which tines to play to produce a song or exercise. The tablature on the right is for the 15-note Alto kalimba, and is the song Mwana Aboyi Mama from 1968 Hugh Tracey manual. The black center line represents a line separating left from right; measures are numbered on the right-hand side of the tablature; you read from bottom to top; each tooth is labeled with its note name at the bottom; repeat signs are green here; and note symbols indicate the teeth to be played as well as the waiting time between picking this tooth and picking the next.

Click here to listen to the song.

I use this kalimba tablature to help me remember the new songs I write; as a tool that gives me an easy way to jot down, one note at a time, what I compose; as a pedagogical tool to convey detailed musical ideas to students; and as a tool to help me learn difficult passages that my mind has created but my hands don't yet understand. I've written dozens of kalimba books and instruction downloads in using this tablature.


The Goshen Box 8-Note Kalimba plays with KTabS to demonstrate tablature.

comparison of kalimba tablature with staff notation


For comparison, I have reproduced Mwana Aboyi Mama in standard notation, which is of course read from left to right. The advantage of using staff notation is that anyone who has achieved a certain degree of facility with musical notation could sing or play it on the piano. However, it's a major challenge to read this music and play it. on the kalimba,and the reasons include, firstly, that as well as being familiar with musical notation, you also need to already know where each note is on the kalimba. In addition, you'll need to separate the notes played by the right thumb from those played by the left. And finally, there can be a lot of difficulty in trying to move from reading standard notation to understanding its linearity - low notes on the staff are low and higher notes are higher, and instinctively knowing where to sing or play them - playing an extremely different instrument, split in two and played only with the thumbs. The gift of kalimba tablature is that it removes all these problems. Just follow it like a treasure map to produce the right notes, in the right order, at the right time. Whether you know standard notation,

the tablature is a map of the kalimba


It's not that difficult to look at kalimba tablature and recognize that it's a kalimba map, and see how to plot the steps needed to play a song. If there are two notes at the same horizontal level on the tablature, they must be played at the same time. In this example, the first two notes appear on the shaded teeth; these correspond to the painted teeth on the kalimba. Go to the notes at the top of the page to see which teeth should be played next. In this example, you can see that the right thumb plays the tooth furthest to the right of the tooth it has just played, and the left thumb plays the tooth furthest to the left of the tooth it has just played.

Children with no musical experience and adults who never thought they could play music can read this tablature and have a very successful musical experience with the kalimba. In other words, the kalimba tablature offers a way of learning the kalimba that can work for almost anyone who has the patience to sit down and follow it step by step.

It's a bit like looking over the shoulder of someone who already knows how to play the kalimba - but the tablature will never get impatient with you, no matter how many times you have to repeat something!

geometric patterns


When I play the kalimba, I can often see geometric patterns dancing across the teeth of the kalimba. When you look at a song written on kalimba tablature, these geometric patterns can be very visible (see the diagram on the right with the pattern marked to make it very visible). Sometimes I use a geometric pattern to lead me into a song, or at least it can give me the seed of a song, and it's a wonderful feeling when you come out of it. And you can use a memorable geometric pattern to remember a song and play it by heart.

find out more about tablature reading


The kalimba tablature is an elongated map of the kalimba, and is read from bottom to top. It's totally related to what your thumbs have to do to make music. By using the tablature, you won't waste time figuring out where a given note should be played on your kalimba, left or right side - the tablature shows you exactly which tooth to play to accomplish the song you need to make.

The tablature is flexible and can accommodate all types of kalimba; those with few teeth or those packed with them. If your kalimba has fewer teeth, the tablature for this kalimba will also have fewer teeth, just like the 8-note tablature in the diagram.

There's one drawback to tablature: until you have a lot of reading experience, you probably won't be able to look at a song notated in tablature and know exactly what it will sound like. You'll just have to play it to hear the song.


Music is based on a recurring cycle in time, and a bar is one of the smallest units in this recurring cycle. Bars mark the beginning and end of a measure; in this tablature, the bars are the dark horizontal lines next to the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 on the right-hand side of the tablature. The numbers indicate measures; the first measure is between 1 and 2, the second between 2 and 3, and so on. The same beat passes through each bar, and the notes are the pulses of this beat. The more notes there are between measures, the faster you have to play them. Kalimba tablature uses the same note symbols as standard staff notation (quarter notes, eighth notes, etc.), which describe how long a note is held. The timing of a piece of music is dictated by a fraction, called the "time signature". (See the 4/4 at bottom left of the tablature diagram.) The 4s at the top indicate 4 beats per bar, and the 4s at the bottom mean that a quarter note receives one beat. In this example, the whole note has four beats, half notes have two beats, quarter notes have one beat and eighth notes each have half a beat.

Chords are several notes played at the same time, producing a harmonic sound. An example of a chord in kalimba tablature appears just above the bar in bar 5 in the tablature diagram above. Arpeggios (the sound of notes in a chord in rapid succession rather than simultaneously) are often played on adjacent tines, as in bar 3. Scales zig-zag back and forth on the kalimba; notes progress outward up the scale, as in bar 4, or inward toward the center down the scale.

more help with notation


learn the kalimba by playing old favorites


Learning music notation can be difficult at first, but one of the most interesting features of our teaching material is that it includes a large number of songs you probably know very well, which makes learning to interpret them much simpler. Take a look at the first two bars of Joy to the World. Imagine you've got a little 8-note kalimba in your hands, and each thumb has only four notes to deal with. Start with the leftmost tooth - it's the highest note, and you can tell because it's the shortest tooth (look at the tooth lengths at the bottom of the tablature). Alternate from left to right as you go, and note that each subsequent left-hand note is an inward (towards the center) tooth of the previous left-hand note, and likewise with the right-hand side. The words on the right tighten it up, helping you to coordinate the familiar notes, words and rhythm of that old eve. Of course, you can also play this song on the kalimba!

simple songs, complex melodies


Yes, kalimba tablature is basically simple to read, but that doesn't limit you to playing simple music. It is possible to notate very complex music with tablature, as can be seen in the first four bars of Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

As you can see, there are many notes to play, some on the same beat of a bar. There are a few techniques used to deal with these instances. On the second beat of the first bar (at the word "the"), there are three notes to be played, G on the left and B and D on the right. As you place your left thumbnail on the G, place your right thumbnail between the B and D teeth, and pluck down on all three at once and ta-daa! It makes a nice G chord with B in the bass. (You can always look at the bottom of the tab to remember which notes are played.) Now look at the third beat of bar 3 (at the word "to"). Do you see the five notes you can play at the same time? You'll need to make a glissandoto play this. A glissando is easier to achieve if you have between 1/16 and 3/16 of an inch of thumbnail extending beyond the flesh of the thumb. Touch C, the lowest (closest to the center of the kalimba) of the five notes, with your thumbnail, and slide it slowly over the other notes, E, G, B, D, then stop. Which chord is it? A CM9 (C major ninth) in the pop charts, or C79 (C seven ninth) in classical music theory.

As you can see, the tablature is very simple, but very powerful.


Now you don't really have need to read a tablature for playing the kalimba - I played for 18 years before inventing the tablature. You can write it on paper or on your computer. It puts you in touch with a world of kalimba music and innovation. It's fast, easy and fun to read and write. So what are you waiting for? 


KTabS is a wonderful piece of software that can be used to create tablatures for any kalimba and any melody. KTabS was created by kalimba enthusiasts Randy and Sharon Eaton. People all over the world started using KTabS and kalimba tablature to notate kalimba music, and I use it almost every day. All the tablature examples on this page were written in KTabS, quickly and painlessly. And what's more, since KTabS plays the notes when you click on the teeth on the screen, and the whole song can be played back at any time, I no longer make mistakes in my kalimba tablature.