Thrifty Kalimbas

Type: Investigation

Theme: Music

Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Learning Target: Student will learn how to build and tune a kalimba (thumb piano) keys to the pentatonic or another major scale.


thrift store boxesIndividual project. Compile documentation in Word document. 

  1. Materials
    1. Visit a local thrift store and select an inexpensive wooden box for a resonating chamber.
    2. 2 metal coat hanger (classic, full-length)
    3. 2 small hex carriage bolts with wingnuts smaller than 1/4 inch in diameter.
    4. 1/4 x 3/8 x 4 inch piece of hardwood to clamp the keys
    5. Drill with varied bit selection
    6. Pliers with wire snips
    7. Hammer and anvil
    8. Wood glue
  2. Build Key Base. Snip 1 length of coat hanger wire, 4 inches long (or a size that will fit within the edges of your box). This will be the base on which your keys will be clamped. Using pliers, bend the ends of this wire into right angles about 1/8-inch from both ends. Position the wire in the desired location on the box. Drill pilot holes. Hammer the crimped ends of the wire perpendicular to where the keys will lay.
  3. Attach Key Clamp. Drill holes the size of the carriage bolts through the hardwood clamp and the box next to the key base, 1/3 the distance from either end of the key base. Insert the carriage bolts through box and key clamp. Attach loosely with the wingnuts. 
  4. Construct notes. Using coat hanger wire, snip 7 or 8 lengths of wire ranging from 3 to 5 inches. These are your keys. Hammer out flat 1/2 inch of one end of each wire. 
  5. Attach notes. Insert each note alternatively right to left, with the lowest note in your scale at the center of your kalimba. Loosely tighten the wingnuts, so the notes can be tuned.
  6. Tune your Kalimba. Decide on your scale, based on the lengths of your keys. Use a tuner or the Flute Tuner. Begin with the longest (center) key. This should be your fundamental note in your key. For example, in C-major scale, your fundamental note will be C, then alternating, you will tune the keys to D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. If you are using less than 8 keys, tune your kalimba to a major pentatonic scale.
  7. Obtain a Peer Review.
  8. Drill or cut a hole so air can escape and you can access the hex bolt heads with wrench if needed. Glue the lid.
  9. Submission:
    1. Documentation
    2. A brief demonstration of your instrument (< 30 seconds)
    3. Peer review

kalimba diagramVirtual Keyboard


Safety Tips for Working with a Drill Press

  1. Always wear safety goggles or a face shield.
  2. No loose clothing, gloves or jewelry should be worn when working on the drill press.
  3. Tie back long hair.
  4. Be sure the drill bit is locked securely in the chuck. Remember that all adjustments should be made with the power off. The chuck key must be removed from the chuck before turning on the power.
  5. Always disconnect the drill from the power source when making repairs.
  6. Hold the workpiece firmly so that it will not fly or spin off the table. It is generally best to fasten the workpiece securely with clamps or hold it in a vise. This is especially true when drilling or boring small workpieces.
  7. Keep hands and fingers at least 3” from rotating drill bits. 
  8. Adjust the table so that the hole in the table center is beneath the drill, or set the depth stop to avoid drilling into the table.
  9. Use a brush to keep the table and workpiece free of sawdust or chips. Always disconnect the machine from the power source before cleaning.
  10. Never try to stop the machine by grabbing the chuck after the power is turned off. Do not run the tool unattended. Turn off the power, and do not leave the drill press until the chuck comes to a complete stop.
Exit Ticket
CCSS Math Practice
  • I can attend to precision.
  • I can look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
  • Patterns