08 November 2012

This is a kalimba

Thumb pianos traditionally consist of a wooden board to which metal tines of varying lengths are affixed... The longest tines are typically in the center, with shorter (and thus higher-pitched) tines arranged alternately in ascending order towards both sides of the instrument. The thumb piano is most commonly held in both hands, with both thumbs being used to pluck tines either simultaneously or in turn.

Modern variations of the instrument may have more than the traditional array of 15 tines, with as many as four fully chromatic octaves, making the playing of more complex music possible. The thumb pianos are made of different woods, either with only a sound board or often with a resonant chamber. Those with hollow resonating chambers for increased volume, often have two holes on the back that can be used to create a vibrato as the fingers cover and open these holes...

The kalimba appears to have been invented twice in Africa: a wood or bamboo-tined instrument appeared on the west coast of Africa about 3000 years ago, and a metal-tined lamellophones appeared in the Zambezi River valley around 1,300 years ago...

The thumb piano was typically played while walking by traveling griots who keep the history of the tribe or village, and to entertain people...
Much more at the Wikipedia entry.  Seems like the ideal instrument for a generation that texts while walking.


  1. The first (and only, come to think of it) I saw one of these was on a water skiing trip in the summer of '69. It wasn't an official class outing, but a bunch of us went w/ some parents who owned boats to a lake in Oklahoma.

    Late that first evening, several buses of long-haired young people pulled in a hundred yards from our camp site. The parents warned us to "stay away from those hippies!" but like a moth to flame, I wandered down there after it got dark. They were playing music and that was one of the instruments and they let me play it for a while. I *think* I did pretty good, but I was made a little dizzy by the smoke from the "incense" (they told me) that swirled around the bus.

    They were gone in the morning, on their way to New York for an outdoor concert...some place called Woodstock.

    1. Good story. I missed Woodstock, too. One of the regrets of my life.

  2. I had always wanted one and with unbelievable luck I managed to come across one in a thrift store for a couple of bucks. I couldn't believe the luck, the chances...

    BTW, There's an amazing modern African band from Kinshasa that builds their own kalimbas and plays them electrified: Konono Nº1 If you don't check out the (great) music, it's worth googling photos of them to see how they've MacGyver'ed up most of their equipment from spare parts and junk. It's really something to see.

  3. This is the weirdest thing. I picked my kalimba up just this morning after finding it packed away in a box when I moved FOUR YEARS AGO. I thought that this would be a good thing to play/sample in some music. I seriously hadn't thought about it in four years.

    And then I flip on TYWKIWDBI this morning. True story!

    Kismet. Serendipity.

  4. Wow, that's amazing! I've played around with one of those many times, but I never knew it could sound so beautiful!

  5. How about digging up something on the Hang Drum

  6. I have been playing a Kalimba since 1974. I love it and call it my euphoric instrument. I can latterly play myself to sleep. I have added a pick up and a small battery operated amp that clips to a belt.
    About fifteen years ago a company in east San Diego area made a scientific one that has over 300 keys I think. It is supposed to play every note.

  7. My brother-in-law just release an album based on the Kalimba:

  8. I don't know where I first saw one of these during my childhood. I was fascinated by it and have always wanted one. A few years ago I found one, again memory fails me as to where. It is roughly made, has only eight tines, and poorly tuned, but I love it. I often keep it in the car, pull it out and play little improvisational ditties on it. I believe it is time to get another with an expanded range. Thanks, Stan.


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