What Are the Differences Between the Kalimba and Marimba?



We are familiar with traditional musical instruments such as the drums, the guitar, and violins, etc. But when it comes to the percussion family, there are many more different types of instruments you may not be familiar with. These instruments can introduce different creative beats and cultural styles to your music. And if you are interested in learning world music and percussion, you may want to find out a little more about kalimba and marimba.


What is a Thumb Piano?


You may have come across an African instrument with a wooden board or box that comes with metal keys. The player would pluck the keys also known as tines to create sound and music.


These instruments are referred to as a thumb piano and classified under the family of Lamellophones. There are a ton of variations of thumb pianos, some are thousands of years old and others relatively new. The size, shape, and purpose vary from instrument to instrument.


Kalimbas are not Mbiras


Kalimbas can be confused with Mbiras. Both are of Zimbabwe descent. The mbiras, like the ukulele, spawned several other similar instruments and they all have varying numbers of tines/keys and look different from region to region.


The kalimba is an offshoot of the mbira. The mbira originated in Zimbabwe over a thousand years ago while the Kalimba is only fifty years old and was designed by Hugh Tracey. The kalimba is the western version of the mbira.


Hugh Tracey was an ethnomusicologist from England and had spent a lot of time in England. He recorded and collected African folk music. He began creating the kalimbas in 1954 with the idea of reaching both new players with different musical tastes and cultures as well as to players in Africa.


The number of tines or keys on the kalimba can vary. You can find anything from five to seventeen keys. But kalimbas commonly have seventeen tines in the key of C major. It is possible to find other tunings as well so you can tune it any way you desire.


What is a Marimba?


A marimba is another percussion instrument but it resembles more like a xylophone than a kalimba. The marimba consists of a set of wooden bars struck with yarn or rubber mallets to produce musical tones. The bars of a chromatic marimba are arranged like the keys of a piano, with the groups of two and three accidentals raised vertically, overlapping the natural bars to aid the performer both visually and physically.


Although the marimba is defined as a xylophone family of instruments, they are tuned differently. The marimba has soft tones while the xylophone produces hard tones.


Differences between the Kalimba and Marimba


The most obvious difference between the kalimba and the marimba is the size of the instruments. The kalimba can be held with both hands while the marimba is like a keyboard. Sound-wise, the kalimba produces a haunting, fluid, and percussive sound that is tranquil and enchanting. The marimba on the other hand produces a resonant and lower-pitched tessitura sound.


If you want to learn about world music and percussion, get in touch with us at Ritmo Music Studio.


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