Thumb piano buying guide, reviews of the best thumb pianos (Kalimba)

Best Thumb Pianos Best Thumb pianos reviewed here. Thumb pianos are perfect for parties, campfire sing-alongs, or any other occasion where you require some music or entertainment.

About the Thumb Piano

The thumb piano is basically an African musical instrument, quite popular in Africa. Its played by holding the instrument in the hands and plucking the tines with the thumbs. This instrument allows you to bring lovely & exotic African music with you everywhere you go.

Here are some more features of these musical instruments:

  1. The keys are mounted on a wooden box that acts as the resonating chamber
  2. Longer keys have lower pitches and shorter keys have higher pitches
  3. You may adjust the keys (and in turn their pitch) by tapping the keys in or out
  4. Different tunings may be applied, according to personal preferences.

Because these instruments have only a few keys, they’re easy to learn and play.

You can easily entertain friends, family and even strangers with these instruments. These are compact allowing you to easily carry them with you wherever you go.

Known by Various Names

Its a lamellaphone that uses prongs (called tongues, keys, or tines) that you pluck to generate acoustic vibrations. The reeds are attached to a wooden soundbox, which amplifies the notes. The length of the tine determines the pitch (the longer tines generate low pitched notes).

A Thumb Pianos is also known as the Kalimba or mbira or likembe or sansa..

Various Variants of the African Thumb Piano

Several tribes, all across Africa, had developed their own unique thumb pianos over the centuries. Because the languages and cultures of these tribes vary, even the names of these instruments vary in Africa.

More names for the thumb piano in Africa:

  • mbira of the Shona people in Zimbabwe
  • likembe and sanza in Congo
  • ikembe in Rwanda and Burundi
  • prempremsuah and gyilgo in Ghana
  • ilimba and chirimba in Tanzania
  • kadongo and akogo in Uganda
  • kalimba in Kenya
  • and there are many more

Although its called the “thumb piano”, skilled Africans often play these instruments with more fingers than just the thumbs.

In the second half of the 20th century, contemporary musicians, especially in Europe and both Americas, started using the African thumb piano. As you can see, the thumb piano not only has a long history, but also a promising future.

Buying Links & Thumb Piano Reviews

Here are reviews of some of the popular Thumb Piano models.

Thumb Piano, Large – DOBANI
This Attractive Rosewood thumb piano has dimensions of 5″ x 7″, and comes with 17 steel keys and two vibrato holes on the back. The metal keys are mounted on a wooden box which acts as the resonating chamber.

Mid-East Dobani Small Thumb Piano Rosewood
This is a Rosewood thumb piano with 3″ x 5″, 8 steel keys. The keys can be adjusted by tapping them in or out to adjust their pitch. You can use different tunings depending on your personal preference.

Choosing a Thumb Piano

These are available in various shapes/sizes and are made from various materials such as coconut shells, gourds and slabs or boxes made of cherry wood.

You may choose one that reflects your personal tastes and style.

You get simple square or rectangular ones, or round ones with beautiful curves made from coconuts and gourds.

You may choose a simple instrument that allows you to focus on the music or choose one with an intricately carved design that also reflects the rich African origins of this instrument.

How to Make a Thumb Piano

See the video below to know how to build a Thumb Piano. you can make one on your own, you don’t need lots of tools to do the job.

Watch: How to Make a Kalimba (thumb piano)

Here’s another link that shows you how to build a Thump Piano / Mbira.

Want to make a thumb piano for kids? Checkout these video for instructions to easy to make thumb pianos.

Watch: How to make a thumb piano with bobby pins

Watch: How to make a thumb piano with popsicle sticks / Ice Cream Stick Piano

How to Play Thumb Piano

When you buy a thumb piano, it will be in either a pentatonic tuning or diatonic (ie. key of C major, key of G, etc.). This may be changed however, by slightly loosening the screws on the top bar and carefully moving the tines up or down. Tighten the screws again, being careful not to over-tighten them.

  • The keys have to be gently plucked with the thumbs to produce sounds.
  • To go up the scale, start in the center, and with the right thumb, stroke the end of the longest tine; this is usually the base note of the scale and indicates in what key the instrument may be tuned. Then continue up the scale from the center key in an alternating left-to-right pattern.
  • A more mellow tone may be produced by stroking the keys with the tip of the thumbs, rather that using the nail, which produces a crisper, louder tone.
  • The back end of the keys is not designed to be played.

Watch: How to Play Thumb Piano

To Conclude

Easy to learn & play and available in a simple & portable design, the thumb piano allows you to play the traditional tribal sounds wherever you go. It’s now easy to impress your friends and people around you with your musical abilities using this beautiful instrument.

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