Mibira vs Kalimba—What’s the different?

- Apr 21, 2019-

"Kalimba” and “mibira” are often used interchangeably to describe kalimba or mbira. When you’re learning about any of these African instruments, it can be very confusing, and it’s even more confusing when you try to buy. To ensure that you get the best experience when buying a new kalimba at X8 Drums, we think we will talk about why kalimba is not mbira.


Kalimba looks very similar to mbira, both instruments are made up of a wooden soundboard that allows the player to press and release with a finger to create a quiet ringtone. Despite these similarities, kalimba and mbira are not the same instrument.


Even the limra of kalimba adjustment is not the same as kalimba, just like it. Kalimba is actually a smaller modern version of mbira, dating back more than 1,000 years in Zimbabwe. Kalimba was created by Hugh Tracey in the 1960s. Tracy liked the sound of mbiras he heard when he was living in Zimbabwe, but he wanted to create an adaptation that was more suitable for Western music.

Koa Wood 10 Note Kalimba

Although there are some nuances between kalimba and mbira, including the double row keys on mbira and the single row keys on kalimba, the main difference between the two instruments is their scale.


Kalimba features the seven-tone diatonic scale used in traditional Western music, while mbira’s non-Western scales have the same notes, but in a different order. Some notes may be lost. Thanks to the full scale of kalimba, every two notes combine to create a melody chord, making it easy to create harmony.


Kalimba also has different percussion elements. The traditional kalimba replaces the mbira buzzer with two holes in the bottom of the soundboard. If you wave your fingers in and out of the hole, you will get a “wa-wa” effect. However, like the Kalimbas used by many musicians in Africa, the kalimbas of the X8 Drums uses buzzers to create the unique buzzing effect of mbira.



Edit by Bonnie

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