How to tune a thumb piano

Written by churyl t. jones
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How to tune a thumb piano
The thumb piano (Mark Holdaway, Kalimbamagic.com)

A thumb piano, also known as a "kalimba," is a melodic percussive instrument that originated in Africa. It is made of a hollow wooden box or sound board affixed with steel keys called tines. When you pluck the steel tines with your thumbs, the wood acts as a resonator for the keys. The shorter the tine, the higher the pitch. The longer the tine, the lower the pitch. To tune your thumb piano, you will lengthen or shorten the area of the tines that falls beneath the steel clamp that holds them in place. You'll do that by pushing the tines in or pulling them out with pliers.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Thumb piano
  • Professionally tuned piano
  • Pair of pliers

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Holding the thumb piano with both hands, with your thumbs on top, hit the longest key, the one in the middle (G), with your right thumb.

    How to tune a thumb piano
    The thumb piano's scale
  2. 2

    Hit a g key on the piano and determine if the G pitch on the thumb piano matches exactly. If the thumb piano's G is lower than the piano's g, press in the G tine using pliers so that the area of the tine beneath the steel clamp is a little shorter. This raises the pitch. If the thumb piano's pitch is higher than the piano's g, pull the tine out a little bit using pliers---this lowers the pitch. Keep pressing the tine in or pulling it out with pliers until the G pitch on the thumb piano exactly matches the one on the piano.

  3. 3

    Holding the thumb piano with both hands, with your thumbs on top, hit the B tine, which is to the right of the middle (G), with your right thumb.

  4. 4

    Press the b key on the piano and determine if the B pitch on the thumb piano matches exactly. If the thumb piano's B is lower than the piano's b, press the B tine in so that the area beneath the steel clamp is a little shorter. This raises the pitch. If the thumb piano's pitch is higher than the piano's b, pull the tine out a little bit---this lowers the pitch. Keep pressing the tine in or pulling it out with pliers until the B pitch on the thumb piano exactly matches the one on the piano.

  5. 5

    Compare the pitches of the other six tines on the right half of the thumb piano (D, F#, A, C, E, G) with a piano pitch. If the pitch is too high, pull the tine out using pliers. If the pitch is too low, press it in.

  6. 6

    After you finish with the right side, compare the pitches of the seven tines on the left of the middle G tine to the corresponding pitches on the piano (A,C,E, G, B, D, F#). If necessary, match the pitches as outlined in step 2.

Tips and warnings

  • Make sure that your (regular) piano has been recently tuned by a professional.

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