How to read the rhythm notes

The balafon used in the videos is a pentatonic (5-note scale) balafon from Burkina Faso. This balafon is tuned to the D minor Pentatonic scale (which also contains the F Major Pentatonic scale). You can play this scale on many instruments, like xylophone, piano, Kalimba, handpan, flute, guitar, etc.

The notes played are D F G A C which means that you leave out the notes E and B. In our notation system, we add colours to show each note. Added to the letters are underlines to show lower and primes (') (") to show higher octaves. This makes it visually easy to follow the all of the balafon patterns. You don't need to know how to read classical music notation for these transcriptions.

D minor pentatonic balafon Scale.png

Please let us know if the comments below what kind of balafon (or other instrument) that you are playing. If you play diatonic or seven-note balafon (from Guinea, Senegal, The Gambia or Mali), then you can easily play the D minor scale.

If you play a 5-note balafon tuned to C Major (A minor), we also have the same videos available for this kind of balafon. Just let us know in the comments below or by email, and we can send you the link for the C-tuned balafon.

If you have a diatonic balafon (also sometimes called either a Guinea, Mali & or Senegal style balafon) you can play all of the patterns from the Balafon Challenge lessons. To play the D minor Pentatonic scale that we are using, you will leave out the any keys that have "E" and "B" notes. The location for these keys varies from balafon to balafon. Some balafons start on "C" (do), others start on "F" (fa) or "G" (sol).

The best way to know for sure which notes you have on your balafon is to use a tuner. You can either use a guitar tuner or use a tuner app on your phone. Play each key and hold the tuner or phone close to the wooden key. Look to see which note is consistently showing on the screen, and then you can label the key with that note or write down the notes for future reference.

Quite often African balafons are not tuned in exactly the same tuning as Western "concert pitch". Don't worry if your notes are not exactly the same as on a synthesizer or electric piano keyboard. It is this different way of tuning the scale which makes balafons sound so unique and intriguing!

Here is an example of finding the D minor scale on a diatonic (Guinea/Mali/Senegal) style balafon

Balafon Challenge Diatonic to Pentatonic Note Chart.png