Tuning

If you are looking for the notes that each string should be, have a look here.

Koras were orginally made with hide rings for tuning – the ring is moved up or down the neck to increase or decrease the tension.  Friction holds the ring in place.  Considerable strength is sometimes needed to tune the top bass strings.  Other systems use wooden peg and harp peg but both can still cause tuning problems in damper climates unless the pegs are made with great skill.  Modern koras use guitar machine heads which make tuning easy and have made the kora much more accessible.

Learning to tune a konso (traditional hide ring) kora is arguably as difficult as learning to play it and many people entranced by the sound while in Africa, buy one and then find they are unable to keep it in tune once back home, relegating it to an ornamental piece.

We make machine head koras because they are easier and quicker to tune. We also convert koras, both those with konso rings or pegs, completely replacing the neck with one that has machine heads.

A traditional konso kora takes serious determination to learn and tuning it is a completely separate skill to playing. However, the hide rings do offer the player more flexibility and total control over the pitch as they can alter the length of each string.  Machine-head kora strings are fixed and this gives it a relatively limited range of sound in comparison.  To adjust the pitch of a string on a machine-head kora by more than two tones, you would need to change strings completely, lighter or heavier accordingly.  Our koras, which are normally tuned to F, could be tuned up as high as an A in major scale but that may put some of the lighter strings under strain.

The western notation tuning system here  is now used by many kora players, particularly those who play with musicians from outside the Jaliya tradition. This type of regularised  system as it were, is not really necessary for kora playing and the Mandinka repertoire was not created using such scales.  It is something that has developed as the kora has become more widespread and more musicians from different backgrounds work together.  These tempered scales have also made the music more accessible to ‘western ears’

In effect, you can tune your kora to any scale you like as there are no rules or traditional written music.