Music in Your Pocket With a Thumb Piano

Build a thumb piano and carry music in your pocket.

| November/December 1983

  • Thumb Piano
    A homegrown musician can find the thumb piano fun to play and rewarding as it can be tuned to different notes.
  • Thumb Piano Diagram
    This diagram shows all where to put all the proper parts and pieces when making your thumb piano.

  • Thumb Piano
  • Thumb Piano Diagram

Like many people, I'm attracted to folk music . . . primarily because I like its innate "personal" quality. While folk tunes often do reflect universal human feelings and ideas, they're just as often played on instruments created by the individual performer. A good example of this sort of music maker is the African "thumb piano" (also known as the mbira, zanza, or kalimba) . . . which isn't a piano at all, but can be more accurately classed as a plucked idiophone. Appearing throughout Africa in virtually whatever shape strikes the musician's fancy, the mbira may have tines made of any springy material from metal to rattan, while the whole instrument can range from hand to lap size. With my first exposure to the thumb piano, I found the tune maker fascinating . . . and before long, I came up with a small, easily carried version that I call a pocket harp. Of course, my little instrument is not so much a "harp" as a "plunker", but it is fun to play and it can be tuned to different notes, so the homegrown musician will find it rewarding.

Making Your Own

To build a pocket harp like mine, you'll need the following:


Small decorator tin with a lid (mine was circular and 3" in diameter)

Piece of 1/16" aircraft plywood sized to fit under the lid of the tin

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