The Mighty Logo

Keeping Calm With the Kalimba in a World of Chaos

Do you like the sound of music boxes? Then you will love the sound of the kalimba. I had never heard of a kalimba until just recently. It is also commonly called a thumb piano, originating in Zimbabwe and part of the mbria family of instruments. It is growing in popularity because of the many YouTube tutorials available, covering popular songs from all generations.

A kalimba is a small wood base with metal tines arranged on the top. The most common model  has 17 keys or tines, but they even have models with eight and 21 keys. They can be hollow or solid or acrylic. Hollow will give you a louder sound than solid. You play it by holding it in your hands and using your thumbnails to hit the keys. There are many models available on Amazon and they are a relatively inexpensive instrument, even less expensive than a ukulele. And they are very portable! You can carry it with you anywhere. This is the model I decided to buy. It is just 5 x 7 in size!

I decided to buy a kalimba to first help my thumb area pain. I thought it would be good therapy for my hand and it is, as long as I don’t play for too long. I also wanted something I could take with me to medical appointments. I envisioned playing during my seemingly endless waiting times. I also play the ukulele, but it’s just a little too large for me to bring to appointments.

I wasn’t expecting the kalimba to have such an impact on my anxiety level. As I listen to the notes ring out, my breathing is regulated, and all the problems of the world seem to drift away. There is so much chaos in today’s world, especially with the ongoing pandemic. Playing my kalimba gives me a much-needed break from news and current events and it’s just me and the sounds. And it is such a soothing sound! I have even fallen asleep playing it on more than one occasion.

The kalimba also helps my musical confidence. It is very easy to play and even reading the music (tabs) wasn’t difficult to understand. I love to compose music for the ukulele and now I can easily create my own melodies on the kalimba in a very casual and fun way as well.

Kalimbas are relatively quiet, especially the solid wood model that I have. This means I can play while I’m waiting for a doctor appointment. Sometimes those wait times can be very long, and it can be difficult to use my phone to pass the time as batteries drain quickly in medical establishments and internet connections can be spotty. I can just bring the kalimba with in a tote bag and play while I’m waiting.

If you are in a waiting area with other people, I recommend that you ask people around you before you begin to play. Most likely they will say yes and are probably curious about what it sounds like. Maybe you can even turn them onto the instrument! The quiet nature of the kalimba will also be helpful for people who live with others and don’t want to disturb anyone.

I recommend you give the kalimba a try, especially if you want a portable instrument that is relatively quiet. It is another tool in my anxiety toolbox that helps regulate my breathing. It also helps me visualize calming scenes in nature. It is fun to play outside or on the couch, and it is just plain fun, too! I have really enjoyed searching for various YouTube tutorials and playing some of my favorite songs.

Do some basic research as to what model might be good for you: solid, hollow or acrylic. You’ll have a variety of color options as well. YouTube is full of buying guides which I found to be very helpful before I purchased mine. I hope you’ll consider one even if you don’t consider yourself musically gifted. Enjoy playing it and having another tool in your mental health toolbox. We can always use more ways to help calm us, especially in a world of chaos.

Image of kalimba instrument via contributor

Conversations 1