Mbira (Thumb Piano)

Introduction: Mbira (Thumb Piano)

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A Mbria (pronounced em-bee-ra with a soft m), is an African instrument that's often called the "thumb piano" as it is played like a piano with your thumb. It is often made of wood and metal. What makes this instrument very unique is that there is no standardization for it meaning you can have whatever notes you want on it (even a half %at or quarter sharp).


You'll need:

  • Thin Popsicle Sticks (3-5)
  • Wooden Block
  • Jenga-like blocks (2)

Step 1: Base

Place the 2 jenga-like blocks parallel to each other (The holes don't matter. I'm just using blocks from around the house)

Step 2: Board

Place your wooden block on top of the other 2 jenga-like blocks. Use wood-glue or a strong bonding material (normal tape doesn't work to well but you can use it) to stick the block on top

Step 3: Keys

Place your popsicle stick on top. Tape it (make sure the tape is over the stick and not under it attaching the stick to the board) on both sides of the block. At this stage you can fine tune it to make it a note (A.B,C,D, etc.) or place randomly and you can get some unique sounds.

Step 4: Add the Rest of the Keys

Like you did with the 1st key, place the rest of the sticks and tape them to the board and you're all set!

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    Question 2 years ago

    Hi.. I'm just wondering how it makes any sound, don't the keys have to be metal? Does it really work with popsicle stick and to make them longer, do ya gotta tape two or three of the popsicle sticks together?! Thank You.. :-)


    Reply 2 years ago

    What I did was use one thumb to press down on the stick and then play it with the other. I don't know if It will work with yours. I made 2 of these and the first one came out different than the second.

    Also, as an answer to your first question, yes they are metal. In traditional Mbiras/Thumb Pianos/Kalimbas (it has a lot of names) the keys are made of metal. The metal will have a better sound, but I didn't have any so I substituted. Hope that helps!