6 Quick Steps of Kalimba Tuning

Posted: 2019-12-22     Last Update: 2020-11-22

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It cannot be emphasized more on the correctly tuned notes when playing the kalimba, otherwise it would be a disaster for the ears. Though the purchased kalimbas are normally tuned prior of shipment, the notes can sometimes still go wrong due to a physical collision or movement of tines when played too frequently. Thus, it is important to learn kalimba tuning so you will enjoy the most of this instrument.

In this post, you will be able to understand why letters and numbers are engraved on tines and what color stickies are used for. Then get to know general kalimba tuning process. Take a step further, you will be able to find popular tunings available for both 17Key and 10Key. Lastly share the tips of making high notes sound better to ensure the readiness for the music adventure.

Step #1: Learn about numbers and letters on tines

There are numbers and letters to be found on the tines of some kalimbas. With the help of these, a player can easily tune and play the kalimba. So, we can deep dive into this to acquire some knowledge of music which will pave the way for thumb piano learning and skills advancing.

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C-D-E-F-G-A-B normally stand for different pitches, ranging from low to high. It follows a full musical scale. Once ends up with B, it jumps into C yet a higher note. As for standard C note, the letters on tines normally begins with C in the middle to DEFGAB laying on both sides. Those notes are like the ones to be played through white keys in a piano.

When we put it a bit more complicated, as for other notes, like the ones played by black keys in the piano, two special symbols appear which are sharp (♯) and flat (♭). Both symbols can be placed on either side of a letter. When a C follows with a ♯, C♯, this means a note lays in between C and D with a pitch higher than C yet lower than D. It is half tone away from both C and D. It works the same for flat (♭). When it comes to D♭, it is a note standing in the middle of C and D with a pitch higher than C yet lower than D. Technically a C♯ is same as D♭ while different contexts matter. If it is in a key with sharps, C♯ will be used instead of D♭.

With the availability of those fundamentals, it is one step further to a diversified tuning rather than sticking to a standard tuning only.


Numbers work in the same way as of Letters. Begin with 1 to 7 then move back to 1 in a higher note with a dot laying upside of the number. They are widely known for their syllable names, 1(Do)-2(Re)-3(Mi)-4(Fa)-5(Sol)-6(La)-7(Ti). 1(Do) with an upper dot means an octave higher than 1(Do) without a dot.

Just as simple as it looks.

Step #2: Understand colored tines

Kalimbas has been colorful of their tines for a while, e.g. red, blue, green and etc. With the colors, the players are more likely to find the right key in a shorter period. Easy navigation contributes a lot for learning a new music more quickly and gaining great confidence alike.

There are two color systems. Both systems vary slightly from each other. It finally comes to the resources you opt, e.g. learning instruction, music sheet, that determines which system you ought to choose. Let’s take a look at what the systems are.

Normal Kalimba

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Most kalimbas will use the first system shown as above.

It is colored for the tine in the middle (the longest one) and every third tine on both sides with the same color. There are totally five colored tines for 17Key kalimba. Given the most resources available in the internet standing behind this system, it is suggested to take this one as for long term development purpose.

Hugh Tracy Kalimba

Hugh Tracy kalimbas take a different approach. Since the start of making his kalimba in 1954, Hugh Tracy has made one out of every three tines colored on both side of the instruments. That is 6 colored tines in all. Note: Hugh Tracy Treble Kalimba is still on the track of normal system.

No matter which system taken, you can either use the color stickers or paint directly on the tines.

Most kalimba vendors offer two color stickers when selling their finger pianos. Refer to the key chart you chosen, start from the middle one and move to both sides later. It is suggested to leave a moderate space at the end of tine concerning the convenience of plucking.

If you choose painting, note to use a color pen which can be wiped so as to keep the flexibility when tuning for a new note.

Step #3: General kalimba tuning

Tuning kalimba has never become easier with this instruction.

Step 1: Prepare what are required

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To start tuning, you shall prepare a Kalimba which is not sounding the right notes or to be changed into a new key, a Tuning Hammer which usually sent by merchandiser when purchasing a kalimba, a Tuner (either a downloaded App or a purchased kalimba tuner).

  • Popular tuning Apps advised: Lite by Piascore, VITALtuner, Cleartune and iStrobosoft.
  • Physical tuner for Kalimba is available in our online store here.

Step 2: Refer to the C note key chart  

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Some kalimbas have engraved notes on the keys/tines which will help for tuning. It is still fine if no engraved notes there. Below you could find a 17 Key chat in C note which we will take as an example as many kalimbas in nowadays market are in this note.

Step 3: Start from center tine

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Pick the center tine which is supposed to be the longest one. Pluck the down end of tine with fingernail and look at the tuner at the same time. A note could be caught by tuner with the vibration of the tine.

Step 4: Tap the tine downward if the note is sharp

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If the tuner turns out to be sharp (♯), e.g. C♯ or D, the tine is higher than it is ought to be. Tap the tine slightly downward.  Pluck and check again till the notes are in tune.

Step 5: Tap the tine upward if the note is flat

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If the tuner turns out to be flat (♭), e.g. C♭ or B, the tine is lower than it is ought to be. Tap the tine slightly upward.  Pluck and check again till the notes are in tune.

Step 6: Tune the rest of tines

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Refer to key chat and follow the same for rest of the tines. Once every tine is correctly positioned, your kalimba is ready to play.

Step #4: 17key kalimba tuning

Standard Kalimba Tuning Chart

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Diversified Kalimba Tuning Chart

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Easy Change Among Notes

Step #5: 10key kalimba tuning

Standard Kalimba Tuning Chart

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Step #6: Make high notes sound good

This is a topic for 15 Key or more keys kalimba. It struggles to sound as good as middle to low notes when plucking the high notes, especially the shortest ones on both side, Tine D and Tine E as for 17 Key thumb pianos. It sounds more “Em-Em” and leas sustain. Here are some simple tricks you can try.

Physical Adjustment

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Scoot the tine slight farther to middle. For example, try tine E on the right side even more right. Change the orientation into one that sounds the best to you.

Non-Physical Adjustment

Intentionally plucking the high notes harder will surely help to make them sound louder and sustain longer. On the other way, play the music faster so that the less perfect high notes hardly stand out. Either approaches depend on how familiar you are with the instrument. Under a deeper understanding of kalimba, you may create a technique that works better for you.


Now you will be able to understand the elements required for tuning and learn how to tune a kalimba in your most referred way. So which tune do you choose before playing the next song you like?

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