What is a thumb piano?

- May 19, 2020-

The thumb harp (or mbira) is an African national instrument with national characteristics. In different African countries, Thumb Piano has different names. For example, Kalimba is Kenya's name for the instrument, while in Zimbabwe it is called Mbira. The Congolese call it Likembe. It got its name mainly from the use of the thumb to move the thin slices on the body of the instrument (mainly made of wood, bamboo, and, in modern times, metal). Traditional thumb harps use gourds to make resonators.


17 Keys Kalimba Mbira Thumb Piano

The vocal parts of the thumb piano are elastic metal bars of different lengths on the top, and the soundbox is made of wood or gourd. In the past, these metal strips were made from only molten metal in ore and were made from higher-quality steel. There are many different shapes and the number of steel bars is not certain. The Zimbabwean thumb harp, for example, is housed in a wooden circular sound box with 22 to 28 steel bars arranged in two rows. The instrument is said to be one of the most popular instruments in Zimbabwe because its music is said to banish evil spirits from the sick and to pray for rain.


17 keys double side kalimba

The thumb piano is mainly used for accompaniment. When playing, you should hold the body in both hands and then play with two thumbs. When the thumb is pressed and then released, the steel plate will vibrate and make a sound. Some of the thumb piano will be installed with some shells or soda bottle caps and other objects, so that when playing can produce some similar to the "hiss" sound, but also can half tilt on the table shaking, will produce an echo like the effect of the ring, or like the tambourine metal when shaking the sound richer. Small and easy to carry, it was used in a circle at sunset to accompany songs and stories, and by some natives to pass the time on long walks. Also, the feature of thumb piano is that it is easy to carry, and the sound is ethereal and clear, similar to the sound of the music box, but more transparent.



Edit by Height Musical Instrument News Department


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