Originating in Africa, the thumb piano is also known as the “mbira” or “likembe” and in the 1920’s, Dr. Hugh Tracey gave them the name most westerners recognize, the kalimba.
The thumb piano’s metal keys are mounted on a wooden platform that acts as the resonating chamber. The longer keys have lower pitches and the shorter keys have higher pitches.
To play, rest the thumb piano on the fingers of both hands and hold it between your palms. Then pluck the keys with your thumbs in a downward motion. Many different tunings are acceptable, according to personal preference. Specific tuning of a thumb piano is only important when two instruments are played together; then they generally agree in tuning. Otherwise the tuning is subjective and should only be pleasing to the player.
Kalimbas are available in 8- and 17- key models and crafted from a variety of exotic woods.