Kalimbas, also known as thumb pianos, are a fairly unheard-of instrument. They are small, traditionally wood boxes with metal keys on the top. You pluck the keys with your thumb to get them to play music.
Nowadays they are made in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but originally these African instruments were made with 17 metal keys. To get an idea of how they sound and work, consider checking out these 14 popular kalimba songs.
14 Popular Kalimba Songs
Even if you haven’t heard a kalimba before, you’ll recognize the sound. Whenever anyone hears them for the first time, their thoughts always go to a music box. They have a lot in common to make their sounds similar. The main difference is that you play the Kalimba yourself, rather than just turning a crank.
1. Can’t Help Falling in Love – Elvis Presley
With over 38 million views, it’s safe to say that this is one of the most popular covers of a song on kalimba. It’s easy to see why. With a kalimba sounding a little like a traditional music box when played right, the Elvis Presley song is perfectly recognizable.
The whimsical notes add a sort of serenity and wistful feeling to the song, making it a popular one to listen to and learn on the kalimba. The cover was done by AcousticTrench.
There are a few different kinds of kalimbas, based on the number of keys. This cover was made specifically with a 17-key kalimba, but it can be adapted to a different number of keys if needed. 17 keys is the standard, and more traditional form of the instrument, but 15 keys and 21 keys are also possible to find.
2. Kiss the Rain – Yiruma
While not nearly as popular as the Elvis Presley song above, this cover of Kiss the Rain by Yiruma is still well-watched with over 11 million views. This cover is by a popular kalimba player, April Yang. She is known for going out and playing music amongst the flowers on nice spring days.
This song is another popular one on the kalimba because of the music box-like sound. It makes many listeners feel reminiscent of their childhood and simpler times. This song is also played on a kalimba with 17 keys.
3. My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion
Another cover by April Yang is the popular song from the movie Titanic, My Heart Will Go On. It was originally by Celine Dion.
To break away from her spring flowers videos, April Yang played the song by the ocean. She uses a slightly different kalimba here, though it still has 17 keys and is by the same company.
The video has over 10 million views. Fans who love the movie Titanic and who want a peaceful few minutes listening to a calming song on the kalimba both flock to this video.
4. Oceans (where feet may fail) – Hillsong UNITED
More religious lovers of this musical instrument may be excited to know that they can listen to their favorite hymn whenever they want. The sound played on the kalimba adds a bit of an ethereal feeling, allowing you to be more connected to God and your spirituality.
The full cover is by Karina Javier. Though it is a Christian song, many people find the peaceful melody of the song, especially on this instrument, to be rather relaxing. That’s why the song has over nine and a half million views.
5. Play Date – Melanie Martinez
Want a more modern song? This kalimba cover of Play Date by Melanie Martinez offers the perfect example of how flexible a kalimba can be. You don’t only have to play slower or older songs, more modern pop songs are just as possible.
The cover is done by Sandrah Araja. Her kalimba is a little different than the ones we’ve seen so far, with a small, clear instrument in the shape of a bear. The 17 keys have tab numbers and letters on them, to make it easier for beginners.
It’s also great in the case of this video, where Sandrah Araja is trying to teach others how to play. Instead of slowing down or color-coding her keys, she just has to put the numbers and letters up on the screen. Then anyone that wants to play can just follow along. That could be part of the reason this video has over nine and a half million views.
6. Game of Thrones Theme
With a little tuning of your instrument, it’s easy to change up your kalimba to play different songs, like the theme song from the show Game of Thrones. It’s fairly easy tuning, as you only have to tune it to G major, and the F needs to change to F#.
This is yet another song by April Yang. This time, her keys are numbered to make it easier for people to see what she is playing.
There’s no denying it sounds just like the Game of Thrones theme song. And the nine and a half million views show just how good it is as a cover. Many people thought it would make a perfect ringtone or even should be included in the show somehow.
7. Despacito – Luis Fonsi
For a while, the song Despacito was hugely popular. You could go anywhere and the song would be playing. So it makes sense that there are now hundreds of covers of the song. This one on the kalimba has an upbeat feel to it.
The video has gotten over seven and a half million views and was done by a YouTube channel called Kalimba Tree. Though the player makes playing an instrument look easy, many viewers mention that kalimbas are actually quite hard to play, especially with this fast-paced song.
The song is quite recognizable just from what’s being played on the kalimba but the music in the background makes it feel more natural and fitting to the song. In some parts, the instrument has to be played so fast, it almost sounds like a ring from a doorbell.
8. Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles
Back again with AcousticTrench and their dog Maple, they cover Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles. This time, they have a bright red kalimba, creating a more tinny sound that fits the music box feel of the song already.
The kalimba also adds a more melancholy sound to the music, which has many viewers using this for heartbreaking or touching moments. It may also make you cry your eyes out in the middle of the night if you decide to listen to it then.
The song has over six million views, despite not being the full song thanks to how well it is played and the emotions it evokes.
9. Merry Go Round of Life – Joe Hisaishi
If you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli at all, you’re likely to recognize this song. It’s from Howl’s Moving Castle.
If you watch the video, you’ll see that this is a unique kalimba. Though many have 17 keys and there are occasionally some with 15 or 21 keys, this one has a whole 30. You may notice as well that the keys are bent into different shapes to produce different sounds.
It’s hard to get just the right notes for this song with a standard kalimba, though it is still possible. This kalimba isn’t as portable as many of the others, but it offers some unique features.
This song is beautiful, especially in the kalimba form to dance to. Many people use it as a wedding waltz, while others find it the perfect ballet song for practicing. The video has over six million views and was once again by April Yang.
10. Perfect – Ed Sheeran
Yet another song cover by April Yang, this cover of the song Perfect by Ed Sheeran is done well and has garnered over five and a half million views. Not only are her skills at playing the instrument amazing, but she adds a few sound effects to make the song a bit closer to the original.
The beginning of the video, before she starts playing,is also very nice and relaxing, getting you in the mood before the song even starts. One constant with people that listen to the kalimba is that it evokes a sense of peace.
Even the more upbeat songs have a lot of peace about them, but the Ed Sheeran song somehow manages to sound perfect and like it was meant to be played on the kalimba.
11. Believer – Imagine Dragons
If you want yet another more modern song, but from a different musician than April Yang, then this cover of Believer by Imagine Dragons is worth a watch. The artist Yoon Soup has managed to gather over five and a half million viewers for their rendition.
You can see how hard the artist has worked to practice from their chipped nails in the video. It’s not an easy song to play and takes a lot of force. Their practice paid off with this amazing cover of the song.
Fun fact! The Kiss in the Rain cover and this cover were played on the same model of instrument.
12. Interstellar Main Theme- Hans Zimmer
With over five million views, this rendition of the Interstellar theme song played in the snow has grown really popular. The song was covered by the YouTube account Kalimba Cover Music. At the time of posting this cover on YouTube, the artist had less than 1,000 subscribers on the website.
Now, thanks to their beautiful music and covers, they have over 80 thousand. In part that is due to their rendition of this song. Though the notes sound rather calm and peaceful, it isn’t an easy song to play, which makes their skill show.
13. River Flows in You – Yiruma
If you like Yiruma, this cover of another one of their songs will draw you in. It’s by a different YouTube account this time, called Silvita Kalimba & Vicente Guitar. As you can imagine, the music usually involves a guitar or a kalimba.
The video has over four million views. It is another one of those songs that sounds perfect on a kalimba and brings in the feel of a music box, though rather fast-paced. In fact, it’s part of the skill of the player to have the song played as fast as it is in the video.
14. Sparkle – Radwimps
Are you a lover of anime? You’ve likely heard of the movie Your Name or at least the band Radwimps. Sophia Niango decided to play a cover of the song Sparkle from the Your Name original soundtrack.
It’s a beautiful song that originally took a whole orchestra to play, but this skilled player managed to do it with just the kalimba, which is why they have over three million views.