Don’t Fret Over The Ukulele

A ukulele is a great instrument to pick to learn to play music. It’s easy to hold, has a smaller number of strings than a guitar, is fretted unlike a violin, isn’t particularly expensive, and everything sounds happier when played on one. It’s not without its limited downsides, though. Like any stringed instrument some amount of muscle memory is needed to play it fluidly which can take time to develop, but for new musicians there’s a handy new 3D printed part that can make even this aspect of learning the ukulele easier too.

Called the Easy Fret, the tool clamps on to the neck of the ukulele and hosts a series of 3D printed “keys” that allow for complex chord shapes to be played with a single finger. In this configuration the chords C, F, G, and A minor can be played (although C probably shouldn’t be considered “complex” on a ukulele). It also makes extensive use of compliant mechanisms. For example, the beams that hit the chords use geometry to imitate a four-bar linkage. This improves the quality of the sound because the strings are pressed head-on rather than at an angle.

While this project is great for a beginner learning to play this instrument and figure out the theory behind it, its creator [Ryan Hammons] also hopes that it can be used by those with motor disabilities to be able to learn to play an instrument as well. And, if you have the 3D printer required to build this but don’t have an actual ukulele, with some strings and tuning pegs you can 3D print a working ukulele as well.

16 thoughts on “Don’t Fret Over The Ukulele

      1. Hey,

        I’ll post a video of it pretty soon. I’m in my senior year and things are pretty hectic so I haven’t been able to make it a priority yet with school and the job hunt.

  1. I get the concept for enabling someone with a physical difficulty to play.
    But I don’t get the idea of using it to learn to play, as the act of contorting fingers to reach the strings is what your learning and with this your not doing that. So not learning to play.

    1. While that is true, it’s also true that very few people want to learn ukulele for its own sake. In the same way that nobody wants a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole. People want to make music and sing along. And this is awesome. Those chords will get you bucketloads of songs, and while your dreams of becoming the next ukulele virtuoso may never be realised, you could very well learn rhythm and intonation and have loads and loads of fun doing so.

    2. The reason I proposed this device as a learning device is because of the easier learning curve (Although a Uke is pretty easy to learn anyway). From my experience people tend to enjoy things that they’re good at or have a ‘knack’ for. My theory is that if someone is able to actually play the ukulele with the fret assist very well they can accumulate a natural intrest in playing the ukulele and hopefully transition to playing it without the assist.

    3. I would like to disagree with it not be a good learning tool. It’s a learning tool to build dexterity with a stringed instrument. It’s definitely not great for learning how to manipulate your hands onto a chord.

      The thing it helped me (no musical background whatsoever) with the most is using one hand to strum and the other hand to activate a chord. The most difficult part of playing from my perspective was engaging a chord, strumming the uke, and then switching my hand between chords. Getting familiar with strumming while silmultaneously moving your hand around with the neck is what the Easy Fret gets a user familiar with.

      Also, the flexible plate is removeable and modular. It allows you to progess from a beginner plate to a experienced user plate (Future Development). For example we can have a G Chord activated by a single point of contact and then replace that plate with another plate with two points of contact(in line with the chords you’re actually pressing) and so on from there until pressing the buttons requires a very similar hand pattern to just playing the uke without it.

      This design is free and open source so feel free to address issues on it as you like!

    1. It kind of makes me think building an autoharp out of nylon strings might have a low enough tension to do it as a cigar box.
      Thinking I’ve invented something new, I search online… several videos of cigar box autoharps. :D
      to be fair all the ones I saw had steel strings and had some pretty beefy bracing and heavy duty nut on them.

  2. I’ve seen a review of a commercial version and it was “not impressed”, though I guess I can see the accessibility angle. Have gotten a uke for a (formerly professional) guitarist who lost fingertip bone in an accident, because a uke can be set up with much softer action than your average guitar. We put fluorocarbon strings on it too because those are also softer. But before going to buttons like this, I’d almost suggest just sizing up to a uke with a wider neck.

    Though, the auto-harp comparison has me thinking… The review of the commercial variant I saw tried to play it like a normal uke, but maybe if you treat it as a totally different instrument, played on a table or in your lap…

  3. This is *worse* than useless for learning to play. It builds a huge obstacle. It’s great for allowing someone with limited left hand dexterity to play, but “learning to play”? For that it is the worst thing to do. Django Reinhardt had limited use of his left hand because of a severe burn as a child. But he went on to become one of the all time greats.

    Learning to play a musical instrument is about not giving up, no matter how long it takes. Now I can shove a random blues or rock & roll CD in and just play along on guitar. But It took me 50 years to learn to do that.

    I was “clever” and invented my own fingering for D. It works great, but is also a serious limitation for certain chord changes. Forget clever. Follow the book.

    1. Disagree on the last bit. You should know multiple fingerings or at least be open to them.

      Agree that this is basically Guitar Hero for Ukulele. But the author is right, ukulele is every bit as limited as violin, banjo, or mandolin.

    2. The reason I proposed this device as a learning device is because of the easier learning curve (Although a Uke is pretty easy to learn anyway). From my experience people tend to enjoy things that they’re good at or have a ‘knack’ for. My theory is that if someone is able to actually play the ukulele with the fret assist very well they can accumulate a natural intrest in playing the ukulele and hopefully transition to playing it without the assist.

      I’m a mechanical engineer and I have zero musical bones in my body. Part of the reason I never played an instrument is because of the initial learning curve that I never overcame. I would agree that learning a skill is about not giving up. However, I view this device as a ‘hook’ to get people initially interested.

      Thanks for your feedback!

    3. Also, I would like to disagree with it not be a good learning tool. It’s a learning tool to build dexterity with a stringed instrument. It’s definitely not great for learning how to manipulate your hands onto a chord.

      The thing it helped me (no musical background whatsoever) with the most is using one hand to strum and the other hand to activate a chord. The most difficult part of playing from my perspective was engaging a chord, strumming the uke, and then switching my hand between chords. Getting familiar with strumming while silmultaneously moving your hand around with the neck is what the Easy Fret gets a user familiar with.

      Also, the flexible plate is removeable and modular. It allows you to progess from a beginner plate to a experienced user plate (Future Development). For example we can have a G Chord activated by a single point of contact and then replace that plate with another plate with two points of contact(in line with the chords you’re actually pressing) and so on from there until pressing the buttons requires a very similar hand pattern to just playing the uke without it.

      This design is free and open source so feel free to address issues on it as you like!

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