What is a Kalimba?


The kalimba, also known as the thumb piano, is a traditional African instrument that has gained popularity around the world in recent years. In this article, we will explore the history of the kalimba, how it works, and why it is such a unique and popular instrument.

History of the Kalimba

The kalimba has a long and rich history, dating back to ancient times in Africa. The instrument is believed to have originated in West Africa, where it was used in a variety of cultural and spiritual contexts. It was often played at weddings, funerals, and other important ceremonies.

Over time, the kalimba spread throughout Africa and evolved into many different forms. Some kalimbas had fewer keys and were used for simpler melodies, while others had more keys and were used for more complex music.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the kalimba gained popularity in the United States and Europe. It was often used in jazz, blues, and folk music, and was played by musicians such as Hugh Tracey and John Lennon.

How the Kalimba Works

The kalimba is a simple instrument that is easy to play, even for beginners. It consists of a wooden or metal frame, with a series of metal or wooden keys that are plucked with the thumbs or fingers. Each key produces a different note, and the instrument can be tuned to different scales or modes.

The kalimba also has a resonating chamber, which amplifies the sound of the instrument. This can be a hollowed-out gourd, a metal box, or a wooden frame with a hole in the top.

One of the unique features of the kalimba is that it can be played with both hands, or with just one hand while the other hand mutes or dampens the keys. This allows for a wide range of sounds and effects, and makes the kalimba a versatile instrument that can be used in many different musical genres.

One of the best ways to learn how to play the kalimba is by playing along with kalimba tabs.

Why the Kalimba is Popular

The kalimba has gained popularity in recent years for several reasons. First, it is a unique and beautiful instrument that produces a soft and delicate sound. It is often used in meditation and relaxation music, as well as in folk and world music.

Another reason for the popularity of the kalimba is its ease of use. Unlike many other instruments, the kalimba is relatively easy to play and does not require a lot of prior musical knowledge or experience. This makes it a great instrument for beginners and children.

The kalimba is also portable and lightweight, making it easy to carry around and play anywhere. It is a great instrument for camping trips, beach parties, and other outdoor activities.

Buying a Kalimba

If you are interested in buying a kalimba, there are several things to consider. First, you will need to decide what type of kalimba you want to buy. There are several different types of kalimbas available, including those with wooden keys, metal keys, and electric versions that can be plugged into an amplifier.

You will also need to consider the quality of the instrument. Look for a kalimba that is well-made and has a good sound. You may also want to consider buying a used kalimba, as these instruments can often be found at a lower price.


The kalimba is a beautiful and unique instrument that has a long and rich history in Africa. It is easy to play and produces a soft and delicate sound that is perfect for meditation, relaxation, and world music. If you are interested in buying a kalimba, be sure to do your research and choose an instrument that is well-made and has a good sound. With practice and dedication, you can become a skilled kalimba

More Kalimba Articles

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Kalimba Makers and Manufacturers