When learning to play any instrument, the most important thing is to play regularly, ideally every day. It is much better to play for a short time each day than for a longer period less often. This means that you really need to try to enjoy the process, even if it is mentally tiring or seems too difficult. Those who already play another instrument may find it useful to spend time locating the strings of the kora. For example, you can think of the note ‘C’ and then play the three strings which are tuned to ‘C.’ With sufficient practice of this, you will know what note each string is. You can then move onto playing ascending and descending scales, or fragments of scales and simple chords. It’s important even at this stage to try to get both thumbs and index fingers coordinated together. Over time, you will acquire a certain amount of dexterity and become familiar with the notes of the instrument.
It’s also a very good idea to listen carefully to lots of kora music and try to imagine what is happening. Try, for example, to hear the bass pattern of the kumbengo in traditional pieces. Once you can do this, try to pick out the notes (slowly) on your kora. If you are able to this try to play it regularly with a fixed tempo and rhythm without any deviation.
When trying to learn a favourite piece from a CD or other source, there is really no secret. It is simply a question of spending many hours listening and trying to copy. Computer software can be used to slow down music while keeping the original pitch and this can be very useful both for trying to hear what is played and for playing along when learning. One of the difficulties of doing this on the kora is that in addition to working out what is being played, it is sometimes required to work out exactly how each string has been tuned too!
On this website, we present a number of learning exercises and some simple kumbengos for well known songs. However, this is no substitute for a real teacher, or Harald Lorenz’s excellent “Jaliya” software or the learning CD and videos available from the Kora workshop. Youtube is also a very good resource, as there are a number of tutorials and also many fairly simple recorded versions of common tunes.