tuning coconut thumb piano

So, you’ve decided to buy your first ever kalimba but it’s arrived untuned- a bit of a nightmare right? Luckily for you, I’ve created a short guide to show you how to tune your new kalimba. Firstly, it’s important to note that you can tune your kalimba with your hand, although a tuning hammer will certainly help with the process. Here’s how you can get started. 

Begin by downloading an app named ‘Tuner Pitched’ which is simply a tuner that will guide you through this process. Then decide what tuning you want for your kalimba. You can then begin the process of tuning. First, play the first tine close to your tuner pitched app.

tuner pitched kalimba tuning app

This will pick up the audio and allow you to make adaptations if required. when playing your tine, you can see what it is tuned to. If you need to make a change, simply push (or wiggle) the tine further into the instrument and check for the tune again.

Although this process can be a little fiddly at first, you’ll soon come to grips with it. You will need to keep bringing the tine further in and out to find the right notes. The more you complete this process, the easier it will become. You will also begin to recognise the right position for each tine. 

Although the process can be completed using your hand, it can be a little painful for those with softer hands or after tuning for a longer period of time. This is why I always recommend using a tuning hammer if possible. These often come with your kalimba, but can also be found online at a very affordable price! Here is a video just in case you would like to see the tuning process.

How to tune a thumb piano kalimba (video)

Thumb piano kalimba: Frequently asked questions 

What are different types of thumb pianos?

The original instrument that originated in Africa is known as a mbira but the mainstream version of it is called a kalimba. This instrument has more keys and can play multiple scales, but this instrument is called a thumb piano. There are many different types of these plucked musical instruments with different amounts of key tines. 

How many keys should a thumb piano have?

Thumb pianos can have anywhere from 5 keys to 96 keys! The most popular kalimba has about 17 keys and can play most songs with the exception that for some pieces of music, the instrument will need to be custom tuned to play sharp and flat notes. The problem with using a thumb piano with less keys is that you may not be able to play every song especially if more octaves are needed. Instruments with less than 17 keys are quirky and collectable but dont make great music instrument companions unless you are using it for recording purposes and are willing to tune each note when you need it. Which brings us to our next question.

What is the best thumb piano for beginners?

For a beginner, I would recommend either the cheap and cheerful 7 note kalimba as it gives you one octave allowing you to play most easy songs for the thumb piano or alternatively go with a 17 note kalimba so that you can play almost any song.

How to make a DIY thumb piano?

You can make a basic kalimba using wood and a few simple tools. You will need a holesaw to cut out a sound hole from the piece of wood and will need to ensure that the box your kalimba is made from is completely sealed. It can get very complicated and so I would recommend watching this video showing you how to make a simple kalimba.


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