MotionLab.Berlin – Hardware Innovation Hub & Makerspace

How this note detection system will simplify guitar playing

Augmented Guitar

A lot has happened in the last few years. Progress is happening and many areas are rapidly driving innovation. But despite this, there are still many things in which too little has changed – especially when it comes to social responsibility, climate justice and environmental protection.

And that is precisely where we see our responsibility. We make things right and wake up industries. We are shaking up those who have been asleep for so long. And we do it, with the most talented students and the strongest partners we could find. We make up for what didn’t happen. We MakeUp Internet of Things!

Together with CODE University for Applied Sciences, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and the IoT+ Network, we developed the MakeUp Internet of Things incubation program. Over a period of two years, more than 130 students will complete the program and be trained as experts in the field of Internet of Things (IoT). The goal is to educate within IoT and promote the realization of IoT projects by combining technical knowledge with software programming and the construction of physical products.

 

Today we find out in the report from Alejandro Camus what he has been working on.

The Augmented Guitar for Learning and the Augmented MIDI Guitar are projects that expand the capabilities of existing guitars without the need of any intrusive modification. They are both solo projects developed by Alejandro Camus as a final project and thesis project for the Software Engineering program at the CODE University of Applied Sciences.

Augmented Guitar for Learning

This project explores the idea of adding a screen to an existing guitar to show the user how to play the guitar or enhance the learning experience. When starting to play the guitar the learner must place their hands and fingers in a certain position, for this they need to use their eyes. But the media used to learn also demands the attention of their eyesight. This discrepancy creates a struggle. The idea is to place a screen of the correct dimensions and in the correct place to eliminate this discrepancy. In the following photo we see a first attempt at bridging the gap between the learning resource and the guitar. An application was developed where the user can choose a musical scale and then only the notes belonging to this scale will be lit up.

Augmented Guitar
First prototype with a screen placed right on top of the guitar
Augmented Guitar
Here only the notes belonging to a scale are lit up

The issue with this prototype is that the guitar player will find it difficult to see what is on the screen. A guitar player will try to depend less and less on looking directly at the fretboard. A second prototype will have the screen placed at an angle that the user can comfortably see. The second important component of the project is the note detection part. In order to let the user know if the guitar is being played correctly a system must be in place to detect this. This feature would enable the gamification of the product and the exploration of many learning modes.

First note detection prototype
First note detection prototype

The first attempt for note detection was through passing a small voltage through the frets and detecting it on the strings. When the string touches the fret, the voltage is detected and we can conclude that the note is being played. The problem with this approach is that it would work properly only for individual notes but only sometimes for chords. Then an hexaphonic guitar pickup was used to detect the individual strumming of strings.

Strumming detection system
Strumming detection system

At MotionLab.Berlin

At this stage of the project the opportunity to work at MotionLab came about. The most challenging part of the project was having a robust note detection system. The past approaches were not up to the desired standard. Meeting people from the MotionLab community proved to be key to finally move forward to better approaches. Many people from the community pitched ideas and showed genuine interest in the project. It was also very inspiring to see so many hardware projects and to work amongst like minded people. After many conversations and tinkering, finally solid ideas for the note detection system came through. Regarding the strumming detection, piezo sensors on the strings proved to be very good for detecting vibration. Also a more elegant and less intrusive approach will be tested using a custom made hexaphonic guitar pickup. For the note detection system, the new idea is to use a Flexible PCB board and place it between the strings and the fretboard. After some weeks of work suitable designs for PCB boards were realized.

Flex PCB board design
Flex PCB board design
Rigid PCB design
Rigid PCB design

The PCB boards were ordered and received:

Rigid PCB board
Rigid PCB board
Flex PCB board
Flex PCB board
Flex PCB board on a guitar
Flex PCB board on a guitar

The Augmented MIDI Guitar

The augmented MIDI Guitar is an offshoot of the original project. This project leverages on the developed capabilities to track the guitar playing to turn any steel string guitar into a MIDI guitar. Most MIDI controllers are in the form of keyboards, so a guitar player doesn’t really have access to control MIDI data unless she or he learns how to play the keyboard. A MIDI guitar would give the guitar player the possibility of exploring different sounds using a guitar, without the need of learning how to play the piano/keyboard. Other existing MIDI guitars are quite expensive and force you to buy a new instrument. Some other MIDI controllers mimic guitars and cannot be used as stand alone guitars but just as MIDI controllers, so in this sense they are also relatively expensive. The augmented MIDI Guitar could also outperform the current products in terms of tracking speed because of its touch sensing approach rather than relying on signal analysis.

Next Steps

Now a new prototype will be built utilizing the newly developed approaches so we will be able to validate them. After testing the functionality the focus would be to develop the industrial design part of the project with its proper user testing. If validated then a professional electronics solution would be developed.

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