Guitar Hero was a cultural phenomenon a little over a decade ago, and showed that there was a real fun time to be had playing a virtual instrument on a controller. There are several other similar games available now for different instruments, including one called Trombone Champ that [Hung Truong] is a fan of which replaces the traditional guitar with a trombone. The sliding action of a trombone is significantly different than the frets of a guitar, making it a unique challenge in a video game. But an extra challenge is building a controller for the game that works by playing a real trombone.
Unlike a guitar which can easily map finger positions to buttons, mapping a more analog instrument like a trombone with its continuous slide to a digital space is a little harder. The approach here was to use an ESP32 and program it to send mouse inputs to a computer. First, an air pressure sensor was added to the bell of the trombone, so that when air is passing through it a mouse click is registered, which tells the computer that a note is currently being played. Second, a mouse position is generated by the position of the slide by using a time-of-flight sensor, also mounted to the bell. The ESP32 sends these mouse signals to the computer which are then used as inputs for the game.
While [Hung Truong] found that his sensors were not of the highest quality, he did find the latency of the control interface, and the control interface itself, to be relatively successful. With some tuning of the sensors he figures that this could be a much more effective device than the current prototype. If you’re wondering if the guitar hero equivalent exists or not, take a look at this classic hack from ’09.
Inspired by the creative genius of Martin Molin of Wintergatan fame, [iSax] set out to create a robotic MIDI-controlled trombone. It takes years for humans to develop the control and technique required to play the trombone well as the tone produced into the mouthpiece (embouchure) is a tricky combination of air pressure, lip tension, airflow, resonance in the mouth, and other sources of complex pressure.
[iSax] gives a thorough walkthrough of the machine, which is powered by two separate sources of air, one for the position of the slide and the other for producing sound. A potentiometer provides feedback on the position of the slide and a servo controls the flow rate into the silicone resonance chamber. The chamber can be tuned via a stepper motor that applies pressure, slightly altering the chamber’s frequency and pressure. An Arduino with Firmata allows the device to controlled easily from any host computer. A detailed writeup in PDF form is on the Hackday.io project page.
As you can imagine, simulating a human mouth is a daunting task and the number of variables meant that [iSax] ended up with something only vaguely trombone-like. While ultimately it didn’t turn out to be the astounding music machine that [iSax] hoped, it did end up being a fun feat of engineering we can appreciate and admire. Progress towards automatic brass instruments seems to be coming slowly as we saw similar results with this robotic trumpet. Maybe someday we’ll have robot brass sections, but not today.
[Jonathan Crawford] is ready and willing to fire things up with his flaming trombone. A couple of years back his band teacher was going through the storage room triaging instruments. This trombone suffered from a bad case of red rot and would never function well again so [Jonathan] was able to get his hands on it and get to work.
He started by sanding down the instrument and painting it with high-temperature spray paint. Flexible copper tubing intended for an ice maker was used to relocate the propane outlet inside the bell of the instrument. A barbecue igniter, controlled with the player’s left thumb, lights the flame.
The torch that [Jonathan] is using would only allow a small amount of gaseous propane to come out the nozzle. He ended up drilling out the aperture, and using a short piece of vinyl tubing to bridge the gap between the nozzle and the supplementary copper tubing. At full blast this allows liquid propane to escape so be warned.