How To Tune Your Kora

  • The diagram below shows the bridge of a kora as viewed from above, i.e. when the instrument is held in the playing position.
  • Most koras have 21 strings, but adding an extra bass string to make it 22 is common in The Gambia and in the Casamance region of Senegal.  We usually suggest beginners choose 21 strings.  In all cases the right hand notch nearest the kora body is left empty – our bridges are symmetrical but that notch is not used.
  • The pitches are shown using western music notation, starting on F (tonic soh-fah) in this example but any other pitch can be used.  Note: the reference numbers are only relative, i.e. they are not actual Octave Identification Number
  • You do not need to understand Western Music notation, you can tune each string by ear to match the examples below, or use a chromatic tuner to tell you what note each string is when plucked.  You can then adjust up or down to get it right.  Some Chromatic tuners indicate Bflat as Asharp (A#)  Tip: Make sure you are turning the right machine head, if unsure follow the string up to the neck – it takes time to get accustomed to which string is which, but it will get easier!
  • Each note in the example below can be heard by clicking on   it (the mouse arrow turns to a hand).
  • The lowest note is the one nearest the player on the left hand side.
  • The notes then rise in pitch as indicated by following the red arrows.  You will notice that the second, third and fourth notes of the scale (rah, me, fahG°, A°, Bflat°) are missing in the first part of the scale on the left hand side.  Some players add some of these notes with extra strings, e.g. a 22 string kora has an extra bass string, usually a Bflat, postioned at the front of the bridge, tucked in to the right of the notch as shown below.
  • Here is a document that shows the gauges of fishing line we usually use on our koras. There is no hard and fast rule, but this is a good starting point for many people.  You can also buy a set of strings from us.   The tension and therefore the gauge used is a matter for personal preference and experience.

Below is the tuning known as Silaba, which is similar to a Western Major scale. The intervals in true Silaba are subtly different.  Another common tuning is Suarta (you will see various spellings) where the 4th in the scale is sharpened, so in the example below all the B flats would become naturals.

F0 doh C0 soh D0 lah E0 teh G1 rah Bb1 fah D1 lah F2 doh A2 me C2 soh E2 teh F1 doh A1 me C1 soh E1 teh G2 rah Bb2 fah D2 lah F3 doh G3 rah A3 me

Diagram of a kora bridge showing the notes and direction of the scale