Mbira Tunings

On the mbira dzavadzimu, several tunings exist. The most common tuning is the nyamaropa tuning, named after the classic song of the same name. The majority of the songs in the mbira repertoire can be played in this tuning - making it the most common. Beginners are encouraged to start learning on the nyamaropa tuning. However this tuning can also come in a high, medium or low tuning. Various names are used by different musicians, clans to describe their favorite tunings - nyuchi, dambatsoko, nemakonde, dongonda among many. The gandanga tuning, also known as 'mavembe' in some circles is a tuning in which a select group of mbira songs are played - often referred to as gandanga songs.

Playing a pure nyamaropa song on a gandanga mbira will sound as if the song is in discord. Thus the name 'mavembe' or discord in the Shona language. Another variant of the tuning systems is the dongonda tuning. Here there the keys on the top left register are repeated on the right hand register and the bass notes are lowered to a dambatsoko level. All nyamaropa songs are playable on the dongonda but it takes tremendous ear training to hear and appreciate the music in the dongonda tuning. For a detailed description of mbira tunings please see Paul Berliner's book, "The Soul of Mbira".

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