If you’ve got a music-obsessed kid and you’re looking for the perfect way to introduce them to everything involved with owning a musical instrument, the kalimba is a great way to start. Once your little musical prodigy (#ThingsMomsSay) has their kalimba, they’ll be super excited to see how easy it is to learn to play. YouTube is full of great kalimba songs tutorials, including pop culture favorites like TikTok songs and even a few modern love songs for you, Mama. There’s also a tutorial for learning “Baby Shark,” so big bro or sis can entertain their siblings. And any kid who’s a Minecraft fan will love the fact they can pluck out their own random “song,” and it’ll sound just like the Minecraft music.
Need more convincing that (a) you should even buy your kid something designed to make noise, and (b) that thing should be a kalimba? Hear us out. Kalimbas are relatively inexpensive. Unlike dropping a couple hundred bucks on a “cheap” electric guitar (or even more on a piano), buying a kalimba won’t make a massive dent in your savings. You can get a decent and even fairly well-known brand of kalimba from Amazon for right around $30. Just like any other instrument, a kalimba requires a bit of maintenance, and your kid will have to learn how to tune it. While that is work (ugh), it’s certainly not too complicated and much easier than doing those same tasks on a larger or more expensive instrument. Did we mention that the “noise” kalimbas create is beautiful? If you’ve gotta listen to something all afternoon, this is a pretty great option.
By now, you should be sold on this idea. So, let’s talk more about this unique instrument, from what it is to what kalimba songs your fam can learn first.
What is the kalimba?
A kalimba — or thumb piano, as it’s popularly called — is the modern version of an African instrument known as the mbira. It’s believed the Shona people from Zimbabwe first made them. The kalimba or mbira will almost always be a flat wooden (typically) board with metal tines attached in staggering lengths and heights. Most often, there are 17 tines to play on. However, like with most instruments, you can find different variations with fewer or more tines. The kalimba is classified as a lamellophone, which is part of the idiophone family of instruments.
Is kalimba easy to learn?
Yes! Kalimba is actually considered one of the easiest instruments to use, and there are plenty of reasons for that. Unlike instruments like the piano or guitar, you don’t need all your fingers to be particularly strong or dexterous.
Kalimba players typically use just their two thumbs and one or both forefingers for plucking at the tines. Since those fingers are usually your strongest, you’re already off to a good start. You’ll use your remaining fingers for sitting under the kalimba board and helping stabilize it. So, those fingers are still helpful, but you don’t need as much dexterity in them.
You also don’t have many keys or finger positions to memorize. Everything works within the natural movements of your dominant fingers. Plus, it’s not uncommon for kalimba tines to come marked with their “notes,” which makes it even easier for a new player to catch on fast.
What are some kalimba tips that might help?
So, you bought a kalimba… now what? While kalimbas are tiny, they still require a bit of care and maintenance. Knowing the best way to take care of your kalimba will guarantee it lasts a long time and brings you tons of joy. We think this video does an excellent job of breaking it all down into an easy, manageable task.
What songs can you play on a kalimba?
The world is your oyster. The kalimba may have fewer tines than a piano has keys, but it’s no less capable of making an extensive range of sounds. As such, with a good ear and a little bit of practice, there’s basically no limit to what songs you can turn into kalimba songs. Of course, some are easier than others to learn.
What are some easy kalimba songs?
Just like with singing a song or using any other instrument, the most straightforward songs to learn are the ones that are somewhat repetitive or use a small number of notes instead of going up and down the scale. With that in mind, songs like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” are some of the best places to start. But there are a few others that regular kalimba players suggest you try out, too.
1. “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”
2. “You Are My Sunshine”
3. “Happy Birthday”
4. “Baby Shark”
5. “Jingle Bells”
6. “Itsy Bitsy Spider”
7. “Baby Shark”
Not Easy But Certainly Cool Kalimba Songs
1. “Wellerman” — The Trills (Yes, the TikTok song)
2. “Perfect” — Ed Sheeran
3. “The Sound of Silence” — Simon & Garfunkel
4. “Zombie” — The Cranberries
5. The Game of Thrones Theme
6. “Bohemian Rhapsody” — Queen
7. “Believer” — Imagine Dragons
8. “Love Story” — Taylor Swift
9. “Savage Love” — Jason Derulo
Want even more? Just hit YouTube!