Making traditional musical instruments
Making a simple mbira
You will need:
- a piece of wooden board or a hollow wooden box approximately 25cm x 2cm x 12cm
- 3 or 4 metal bottle-tops
- a pencil
- a ruler
- a cutting tool
- coloured paints or polish
- a brush or polishing cloth
- a metal file
- a hammer
- coat-hanger wire or other metal strips
- metal staples
- Draw pencil lines 4cm and 6cm from one end of the board. Either carve or paint a pattern on the rest of the board. Polish or varnish the remaining part of the wood. (You can find some traditional African patterns in Musical Instruments of Africa by Kurt Huwiler, published by Mambo Press, Zimbabwe.)
- Cut 7 to 10 pieces of coat-hanger or other metal to different lengths, adjusting the lengths to produce different sounds. You may need to test them first.
- Beat the ends of each piece with a hammer to produce a flatter end. If necessary, file the ends to make them smooth.
- Cut another two pieces of wire slightly shorter than the width of your board to make the bridge. Attach one piece with staples at each end of the 6cm line you drew earlier.
- Place the 7 to 10 keys equally along the wire and lay the remaining piece of cut wire over the top. Staple down reasonably firmly before testing the sounds. Adjust the notes by moving the keys up or down the soundboard.
- Add three or four metal bottle-tops to the bottom of the soundboard, leaving enough space for your thumbs to play the mbira keys. Fix them loosely with small tacks.
- Get ready to play!