How To Tune The Kora
Absolutely, the skill is required to tune the Kora and every Kora player should know how to tune the instrument. In particular, you have to adjust the skin ring up and down until you reach a desire note on the traditional Kora. However, the modern Kora with mechanical keys just needs a rotation till you reach a specified note. Also, you can use a tuner if you want to.
Tuning The Kora
In African music, the Kora is traditionally tuned in one scale at a time. The most popular scale for tuning the Kora is known as SALIBA which is almost the same thing as the classical major scale. SALIBA is also an octave with seven main notes and a higher degree of the first of the seven.
SALIBA And Major Scale
The distance between each note in the SALIBA scale follows this same scheme of the western major scale. In detail, they are Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, and Semitone. For instance, the C scale of SALIBA is the same as the C Major scale with C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C’. So we have C-D = Tone, D-E = Tone, E-F = Semitone, F-G = Tone, G-A = Tone, A-B = Tone, and B-C’ = Semitone. For this purpose, we will be using a major scale to tune the kora.
In actual fact, there are different tonality of major scales which include C Major, D Major, F Major, Bb Major, and so on. However, the standard tonality for tuning the Kora is F major. So you can always tune your kora in F Major scale with note order of F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F’. In doing so, you will cover a range of four octaves which is lesser than 21 strings of the kora. For this reason, there are some notes that were skipped on the kora to accommodate four octaves.
Remember, traditional strings on kora are twenty-one (21) in total. Specifically, eleven (11) strings on the left-hand side of the bridge and ten (10) strings on the right-hand side of the bridge.
Kora Strings Notes Configuration
In tuning a Kora, the first string you have to tune is the gravest on our left-hand side. This string will be tuned to F note and you will tune it as F1. The F1 will be referred to as the lower octave. We will then go up and tune the remaining strings in order of second, third, and fourth octave. However, we will miss G1–A1–Bb1 of this first octave as we go up the scale and tune the second strings on the left-hand side as C1. Afterward, we will not skip notes anymore but will maintain all notes that we have on the scale.
The next string to tune is the third-string on the left. Without skipping any note this third sting will be tuned as D1 as part of the first octave. Subsequently, we will also tune the fourth string on the left-hand side and tune it as E1. All these notes from F1 to E1 excluding G1, A1, and Bb1 are part of the first octave. The next string to tune will be on the right-hand side.
How To Tune Kora To The Second Octave
Now, let us shift to the right-hand side of the Kora and tune the first string as F2. This makes the first string of the right side belong to the second octave. However, the two F tonality that we have now are one octave apart. In a nutshell, the first string on the right side (F2) and the first string on the left side (F1) are the same but at the distance of one octave.
Starting from the F2, the first string on the right side, we will keep changing back and forth from the left string to the right string. In detail, the configuration will be one note on the right string and the next note on the left string. The alternation of the note from right to the left continues until we arrive at the eight-string on the right side which is F of the fourth octave.
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Therefore, from the first string on the right hand, we will move to the fifth string on the left side and tune it as G2. Afterward, we will follow the sequence below:
Tune the second string on the right as A2. Then the sixth string on the left-hand side as Bb2. Also, we should tune the third string on the right-hand side as C2. And tune the seventh string on the left-hand side as D2. Tune the fourth string on the right-hand side as E2. Tune the eight-string on the left-hand side as F3.
How To Tune Kora To The Third Octave
Use the same method and tune the fifth string on the right-hand side as G3. Similarly, tune the ninth string on the left-hand side as A3. And also tune the sixth string on the right-hand side as Bb3. The next string is the tenth string on the left-hand side and it should also be tuned as C3. Tune the seventh string on the right-hand side as D3. Tune the eleventh string on the left-hand side as E3. And finally, tune the eighth string on the right-hand side as F4.
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Note that there is no more string after the eleventh string on the right-hand side. Also, we still have two strings un-tuned on the right-hand side of the Kora. These last two strings are more acute notes we have on the side. The ninth string will be tuned as G4 and the tenth as A4.
The tuning we just discuss is known as SALIBA which is equivalent to the classical or western major scale. But before musicians from different traditions work together to develop these scales, Kora was traditionally tuning to befit the voice of a singer. In fact, we can easily compare our Kora tuning using the SALIBA scale to the note we have on the pianoforte. And we will realize that most of the notes we have on the piano keyboard are present on the Kora. These musical scales were a later development to create a standard of tuning for the instrument that all Kora players can relate with. Also, to make Kora music available to western listeners.
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