How to Create Atmopsheric Elements Using A Kalimba + Free SFX Library

The Kalimba is an African musical instrument, part of the lamellophone family, and part of the idiophone family of musical instruments. It consists of a resonator box with attached metal tines where each of these tines produce a different note when they are plucked with the thumbs. For that reason the kalimbas are also called thumb pianos.

Kalimba picture

Thanks to the melodic and percussive qualities of the instrument, you have an amazing tool at your fingertips for creating really nice atmospheric elements.

For more information about Kalimba’s please visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mbira

Check out the demos:


(These sounds are part of a free library that I have produced. You will find 50 sound effects in 12 files at 96kHz/24bit. So, don’t forget to download it via the link below)

DOWNLOAD LINK

If you are interested in hearing about how I created these sounds, I have written a small guide below… 

First, we need to record some melodic lines and single notes. The idea is to gather some simple melodic elements. A good starting point is to place the microphone at least 6 inches from the sound hole with a slight inclination towards the metal tines. Experiment, and don’t take this tip as a rule. I have had good results recording the kalimba from the back too. Also experiment with different types of microphones and polar patterns.

Record fast and slow lines with variations in intensity. If a melodic line has significant changes in amplitude, that’s great too. When you apply the ideas below, these variations will give you a set of complex elements. Just remember that you don’t have to play the instrument to perfection. The mistakes made during recording can be very useful in the design process. And that applies to single notes too, so don’t worry and have fun recording.

Once you have all the melodic lines and single notes recorded and edited, you are ready to design some cool atmospheric elements. Here are 6 easy ideas you can apply:

1. Add reverbs and delays. Using delays allows you to emphasize and make perceptible the metallic clicks produced by the interaction of your thumbs with the metal tines. And that’s cool because it will give you some nice textures. Don’t be afraid to use reverbs with big tails.

2. Reverse the audio files. Take any melodic line, reverse the audio file with your DAW or editor, add some reverb and you will end up with a beautiful atmospheric element. Slow melodic lines are the best for this idea. Also you can take a fast melody, apply some time-stretching, add reverb and you will end with a more complex element. Apply these ideas with single notes to create whooshes and transitions.

3. Use a convolution plugin. But instead of using impulse responses of spaces, you can use any kind of sound. For example, in the fourth audio file of the library i’ve used a scifi sound, a power up of a futuristic weapon, as an impulse for a series of melodic lines.

4. Apply speed changes. With the ideas in 1, 2 and 3 you can create plenty of good material. And now you can take those already designed sound effects and change their speeds. You can use Audacity for that (that is what I used). Reduce the speed of the sounds and you will end up with more complex and interesting sounds. Don’t be afraid to make big changes in speed.

5. Make combinations. Take some (or all) of the sounds you created using the ideas in 1, 2, 3 and 4, and combine them at the same time to produce some very crazy elements.

6. Apply even more changes in speed. You can take the sounds created with idea 5 and apply more changes in speed for extreme craziness. The above ideas are very simple and can be applied to anything, not just kalimbas. You can use them on guitars , flutes , pianos , etc. You can even compose music tracks:


It is important to remember that experimentation is the key here and that you don’t have to take these or any other ideas as rules.

I hope you found this little post and sounds useful. Thanks for reading and enjoy the free library. 🙂

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