Guitar Hero In A Nutshell

A Guitar Hero Pyromaniac
A Guitar Hero Pyromaniac

What Is Guitar Hero?

To begin with, if you've never heard of guitar hero, it's one of the newer crazes in video gaming which involves "custom user control" games. These are games whose HID's (Human Interface Devices) are not just handheld controllers, but rather, a guitar-looking peripheral that you play similar to a guitar or a DDR pad which you step on with your feet (to "dance" to the music on). Thus, the new era in video games began.

One game in particular that caught my interest was guitar hero. When I first saw it, I admit I wasn't interested at all and didn't care too much to learn how to play. I viewed it as another of those "dumb new games" that were coming out now days. That is, until I had a chance to try it out for myself. Guitar hero is among the few games that immediately captured my attention and held it to the present day. I was addicted and couldn't wait until the next time I could play guitar hero. Of course, being in college and all, it wasn't until about half a year later that I was able to get into it and really gain skill. Yes, it does require practice and it does take a bit of skill to play songs on the higher difficulty levels. That doesn't mean it's anywhere near as hard as real guitar.

After all, there are only five fret buttons and one strummer. On a real guitar there are virtually hundreds of "buttons" if you want to think about it that way, and multiple places to strum. So, by comparison, guitar hero is really nowhere near as difficult as real guitar. From what I've heard, actual real-life guitar skill does help in playing guitar hero, but not the other way around. I am actually planning to learn guitar using a new guitar-hero inspired game that is coming out, called guitar rising. Check it out here:

Truthfully, it took me only two weeks to gain experience on Guitar Hero and beat the hard difficulty, and from there after I've only played on expert. I've beaten Aerosmith and Guitar Hero 2, and I expect the others will soon fall to my flyin' fingers. However, as you'll see later, I play in a very odd way; most people who play guitar hero do not play it the way I do, mainly in terms of playing position and the way I hold the guitar. Perhaps this contributed to my speedy gain in guitar hero skill; I do not know. When I first started playing, the way most people play seemed uncomfortable to me and I could not get anywhere, so I tried it a different way and that worked just fine.

Why am I writing this hub, then? For two reasons--first, to explain guitar hero to those who aren't interested in playing, and aren't curious enough to ask anyone about it, but are still wondering what it's all about or why it's so much fun. Second, for those who are interested but haven't had the time to get involved in it, and want to know if it's something they are interested in pursuing or not without having to devote a lot of time to the subject to find out. If you qualify as either of these types of individuals, I hope to satisfy your curiosity by the end of the hub.

The Guitar Hero Game Screen
The Guitar Hero Game Screen
Guitar Hero Package
Guitar Hero Package

Basics of Guitar Hero

For those who are familiar with guitar hero already but have never actually played it, you might want to skip reading this section. This is just an overview for those who haven't ever heard of it or seen it played and are curious to know what it is like.

In any guitar hero game, there are generally two ways to play. If you have a guitar controller, which usually comes with any guitar hero package you'll find at the store, you can play it normally using that guitar controller. However, if you find yourself lacking an actual guitar controller or you just want to be weird, it is possible to play guitar hero using a normal controller of whichever system you own guitar hero on. For instance, using an XBOX controller for guitar hero on XBOX, a PS2 controller for PS2 guitar hero, etc. Normally when using the alternate controller the controls are strange and hard to get used to, but there is one major benefit to using a controller--no strumming is required.

On the guitar controller, there is a small V-shaped bar protruding from the middle of the larger part of the guitar. This is called the strummer or strum bar, and is moved up or down in order to simulate the strumming motion on a real guitar. No notes can be played without first strumming, unless you are using a controller. On a controller, pressing the corresponding fret button automatically strums that fret for you, which helps some people achieve the crazier solos and things that aren't really possible while strumming normally on a guitar controller.

Moving down a little bit on the guitar controller is a strange-looking metal bar with a rubber tip called the whammy bar. It juts out and then turns at a 90-degree angle, and can be moved towards and away from the guitar itself. This slightly alters the pitch of the notes, and also has other effects in the game, which I'll talk about later. For now just know it makes long notes, called "sustains" sound really cool and be controlled by the player.

At the farthest end of the controller (the southern end or the bottom of the guitar) are some buttons. On the XBOX and Wii these buttons are different and can be confusing, so I'll just talk about the PS2 version which only has two large buttons. The upper button is select, which isn't used very much at all, and the lower button is start, which is the basic confirm / select option that the standard start button on any controller is used for.

Now, going back up to the top, situated on the upper neck of the guitar are the five fret buttons. These all-important buttons are where most of the action happens in guitar hero, although this isn't always the case. Occasionally the strum bar sees some craziness as well, but most songs that are difficult to play require a very dexterous fret hand. Good timing on the strum bar also helps greatly. The sequence of fret buttons that are pressed is what makes up the notes and "chords" of the songs in guitar hero, and the color and location of these buttons matches up exactly with the colored notes that you see scrolling towards you on the screen.

In order to play, as a note approaches the five empty circles at the bottom of the screen, you want to press and hold the fret button(s) that correspond with that note, and then wait until the note hits the circles. When this happens, you strum once to play the note, and then you can let go of the fret button, or press down a different one to prepare for the next note. If you have a series of the same note coming up, you can simply keep the fret buttons held down; there is no reason to let up after each strum as this only increases the chance of missing the note and gives you more to do than is necessary. Simply keep the fret buttons held down and only strum when the note or chord reaches the circles at the bottom.

On the main screen there are two other displays besides the "note-reel" as I call it. The display on the right contains your multiplier, points, and note streak displays. Your note streak is how many notes you have played correctly in a sequence without screwing up, and as this increases, your multiplier increases. I said "without screwing up" as opposed to "without missing any notes" for a reason. If you strum when there is no note shown, regardless of which fret buttons you are holding down, it counts as a missed note and disrupts your multiplier. The multiplier determines how many points each correct note gives you, so once you have a good multiplier going, you get many more points for each note than if you mess up and lose your multiplier. The only possible base multipliers are x1, x2, x3, x4. Every eight to ten notes your multiplier increases, but if you mess up even once it goes back down to x1 and you must start all over again trying to get to x4. If you do not miss a note the entire song, you will have x4 multiplier for most of the song and will have nearly quadruple the normal score for the song. The normal score is the raw value (at x1) of all the points in the song added up. Your points are also displayed on the top of this indicator. (To obtain a multiplier of x6 or x8, you must use star power, more on that below).

On the right side of the screen is your rock meter and star power meter. The rock meter has three sections: green, yellow, and red. The needle is always in one of the three sections, depending on how well you are playing the song. If it's in the green--you rock! If it's in the yellow, you're not doing so hot. If it's in the red, you're about to "lose" which means that the song stops and you cannot play any farther until you get better. You can try the song over as many times as you want, but until you keep from "losing" and make it to the end, you haven't beaten the song yet. Losing the song happens when the meter gets as far to the left as it can go, and the red section begins flashing as the meter gets very close to this position. Also, the sides of the note reel will flash red if the meter is flashing red.

On top of the rock meter is the all-important star power meter. This shows how much star power you have collected. Sections of notes in each song (except in practice mode) will look like stars and these are star power notes. If you play an entire section of star power notes without screwing up, your star power meter gets filled up by one fourth of its capacity. So if you are already at one fourth, the meter gets filled to one half of its capacity. You cannot activate or use star power until the meter is at least at half capacity, which is shown by a little bar in the middle and a message on the screen (or on guitar hero three, when the meter changes from light yellow to blue).

What does star power do? It increases the value of each note, and doubles your multiplier. So with star power active, the only possible multipliers are x2, x4, x6, and x8. This means that if your rock meter was in the red zone, it usually recovers pretty quickly even if you're still playing some wrong notes. Star power can save you from losing a song if used correctly. It is the equivalent of a band doing something crazy that makes the crowd go wild and get excited, focusing less on the music and more on the performance. Another less-known way to gain star power is using the whammy bar. When playing a long note, called a sustain, where you must hold down the fret button until the note ends, if the note is a star power note, you can gain extra star power from the note by using the whammy bar. The faster you can move the whammy bar up and down, the more extra star power you'll get, but make sure you're ready to keep playing once the note ends!

There are generally five distinct modes of play in any guitar hero: single-player career, multi-player career (also called co-op), single-player free play or "quick play", multi-player free play, or just "multi-player," and finally, practice/tutorial mode.

Career mode is when you or you and a friend start your own band and play guitar (single-player) or guitar and bass (multi-player) and gain money and popularity as you play harder and harder songs. There are a number of "tiers" or difficulty levels and to beat each tier, you have to beat certain number of songs from that tier, which increases by difficulty mode. For instance, on easy you only have to beat 3 out of 5 songs in each tier to advance; on expert you must beat all five songs to begin playing on the next tier. Also in guitar hero two, the final song of each tier is called the "encore" and you must beat this final song in order to advance to the next tier. In guitar hero three there are also a few "battles" you must win in order to advance, strewn throughout the tiers. In quick play or multi-player you can simply play any song that has been unlocked (by advancing to or past its tier in career mode).

That's basically all there is to playing guitar hero, at least until you reach the "hard" difficulty. You can begin learning and practicing more advanced techniques as early as the medium difficulty, but they are generally not needed to do well on the songs. However, once you reach hard and especially the expert difficulty, you will NEED the advanced techniques to even beat the songs, let alone do well at beating them.

A Hard-Core Guitar Hero Fan
A Hard-Core Guitar Hero Fan

Advanced Guitar Hero Techniques

Now, to someone who has played guitar hero for a while and is fairly good at the medium difficulty setting, it can seem rather pointless to go back into tutorial mode and look through the advanced techniques tutorial. The inexperienced player will in fact completely ignore the existence of this important tutorial and will go immediately on to begin playing hard difficulty, and discover that it isn't the piece of cake that the player expected it to be, never once thinking that the advanced techniques tutorial might have saved the day.

This is unfortunately the trap that all too many players have fallen into, and this section is here to alleviate that. Most players (including myself) shudder at the thought of going back into tutorial mode, no matter what could be learned there. Luckily, I had learned these advanced techniques from fellow players already, and had known about them from when I began playing. I can say that it would probably be much easier for people to learn having someone else explain it rather than go through a whole tutorial for a single concept, which is why I'm writing this section. This is a sneak peek at what the advanced players do that they don't tell you about, or that might not be obvious by just watching them play. If you can master these techniques, then playing hard and expert songs will be all that much easier.

Hammer-Ons / Pull-Offs

Now, let's not get scared by the scary-looking terminology here. These two concepts are basically the same thing, only in different directions. To the untrained eye, all notes in guitar hero look exactly the same. To a player who knows what hammer-ons and pull-offs are, however, not all notes are created equal. On occasion, one might notice that certain notes do not have the thick black circle around the white part at the top. These notes are called hammer-ons and pull-offs, and they can be played without strumming them, if certain conditions are met. First, the note before them must have been played correctly, or a strum is then required in order to play the note. Second, the correct fret button must still be pushed down almost precisely when the note hits the circles at the bottom of the screen; otherwise, it makes no difference whether you strummed it or not. By the term "hammer-on" is meant a note that follows a lower note. So, a green note followed by a red white-top note would be called a hammer-on. A pull-off is the same thing going in the opposite direction; for instance, an orange note followed by a blue white-top. Essentially, they are the same thing except for one subtle difference, which ties in to the next advanced technique.

Fret Coordination

I refer to this as fret coordination; however don't hold me to this being the correct name because I do not know what it is. If I knew the correct term I would use it, but for now let's just call it fret coordination.

Alternating Chord / Low-Note Patterns

Let's imagine a song in which you have a series of green and yellow chords, and in between each two chords are single green notes. This must be played by strumming every single note and alternately, holding down the yellow and green frets, and then just the green fret. Now, it should be obvious in this case that the green fret can be constantly held down, and the yellow fret pressed only when the chords appear, rather than letting go of the green fret in between the notes. This is an example of fret coordination, but it is the most obvious case and is more difficult to play than the other two.

Alternating Notes

Let's imagine a similar song in which you have alternating green and yellow notes. Most beginners would play this by strumming each note and alternately pressing the green and yellow frets. However, the advanced player would know that lower notes can be held down without affecting higher notes, just like a real guitar. For instance, to play an orange note, only the orange fret is examined by the game--all of the other frets could be held down and it would still count as a valid, single, orange note. However, the reverse is not true for the green note. For a valid green note to be played, none of the other fret buttons can be held down. For a yellow note, the orange or blue frets cannot be held down but the green and red frets can. Do you get the idea now? So in the case I mentioned earlier (with alternating green and yellow notes) the advanced player would play them by constantly holding down the green fret as before and only pressing the yellow fret when the yellow note comes, since the green fret doesn't affect yellow notes at all.

Alternating Chords / High-Note Patterns

For the beginner, this is the hardest type to play, but for the advanced player, it's the easiest. Imagine a song that has alternating yellow green chords, but instead of green notes in between them, it has yellow notes in between. The beginner would keep the yellow fret pressed constantly, and press the green fret for the chords. The advanced player would know that since the green fret doesn't affect yellow notes, that BOTH frets can be constantly held down and the player simply has to strum correctly to hit all the notes. This is because both frets should be held down for a chord, and the green fret does not affect the yellow notes in between.

Now do you see how, in each case, the advanced player had a much easier time than the beginner simply as a matter of knowing about fret coordination? It's all about that one little detail that lower frets do not affect higher frets. A little, but important, detail which is not inherently obvious. The only case where fret coordination is not useful at all is when dealing with chords. When a chord appears, only the frets shown must be pressed and no others are allowed or the chord is invalid.

A Guitar Hero Machine...Literally
A Guitar Hero Machine...Literally

A Word On Playing Position

Now, there are some important issues when it comes to playing position, which is the way you hold the guitar controller (or regular controller if that's what you're using). Normally, right-handed people press the frets with their left hand and strum with their right hand, giving them good control of timing in regards to strumming, and fairly good dexterity on their fret hand. Left-handed people normally play the frets with their right-hand and strum with their left, giving them the same setup as the right-handed player. It should be noted that in all guitar hero games so far, it is possible to flip the screen so that the green notes are on the right side of the screen, which matches up with the order in which the left-handed player sees them as he/she holds the guitar. This option is called lefty flip.

Why did I mention this? Well I am right-handed, but I play lefty. I don't know why this works, it just does. When I began playing guitar hero, I couldn't really play anything at all, let alone get good at the game, until I switched to playing lefty. It just felt more natural to me, and may be the reason I got so good at it so fast. I naturally have more dexterity in my right hand, and I wanted that dexterity for playing the frets, not for strumming. So, I'm not all that great at songs that require weird strumming patterns or have otherwise crazy strumming requirements, but generally I can do good at the expert level, and enjoy playing mostly in that difficulty. I have now beaten two games on expert, Aerosmith and Guitar Hero 2. However, I'm certainly not a "guitar-hero machine" as the one in the picture is, ha ha.

Now, I've heard of even more odd playing positions than the one I use. There are some people who lay the guitar flat, on the ground or on some other flat surface, and strum with one hand while using their thumb and fingers to press all five buttons. This way, you have a finger available for each button, because your thumb can be used for the fifth fret button rather than just uselessly holding the back of the neck while playing upright. Another odd technique is when a section with lots of hammer-ons and pull-offs in sequence occurs, some more advanced players with extreme confidence of hitting the correct frets will move their strumming hand up to operate one or more fret buttons, since no strumming is required as long as the correct fret buttons are pressed. This technique is usually referred to as "tapping."

Types of Skill

It may seem obvious that one can become good at the game by simply playing more and more, just as one gets good at anything by practicing. After all, practice makes perfect. However, I have noticed the little detail that there are four different types of skills one can attain at guitar hero, and they cannot all be attained the same way. Each one requires a different method to get better at the skill. This difference is important to really become a well-rounded player and truly be "good" at all aspects of guitar hero. I'll outline for you the four different types of skills that one can acquire, in the order a new player will usually acquire them.

Comfort Skill

Before any of the other skills below can really be gained at guitar hero, the player must first gain what I call comfort skill. This is kind of a one-shot thing; either you have it, or you don't. Once you have it, you can begin gaining the other types of skills, but before that time, no amount of playing can gain you any skill whatsoever. Comfort skill is the ability of the player to accurately understand how the game works and play consistently in accordance with this understanding. Once the player gets used to the feel of the guitar, and the way it works, consistent play becomes possible and a comfort zone is obtained that was not there before.

Memory Skill

Memory skill can also be called simple memorization. After playing a single song over and over, the fingers and the hand simply become better at a song over time, given enough practice. If one plays a single song over and over, one is bound to get better at that song. The problem is, getting better at one song does not mean you are necessarily getting better at guitar hero as a whole; it means you are slowly memorizing that one song. This type of skill is the easiest to obtain, and requires only time.

Ambient Skill

This skill is a bit harder to gain than memory skill, as it requires more focus and involvement in the game than just playing a single song. When you move around and play a variety of different songs at the same level, you will begin to see the difference in memory skill versus ambient skill. Ambient skill refers to the ability of your fingers to know the distance between the buttons and to play new material easily without having to look at your fret hand. Beginner players, upon moving up to the next difficulty setting, often have trouble not looking at their hand to see where their fingers should be on the buttons. Once you have played a lot of songs at a higher difficulty for some time, you'll find that your fingers have become attuned to the new fret buttons being used and the distance between them, and it will become easier to play songs on the harder difficulty level.

Abstract Skill

One can play on the same difficulty and get really, really good at it. In fact it is possible to simply keep playing the same songs over and over and become so good with ambient and memory skill that one can 100 percent songs rather easily, and the game does not become much of a challenge anymore. However, to gain what I call abstract skill, the player must consistently play on levels that are of a higher difficulty than that at which the player is comfortable. If a player continues to play at a difficulty which presents no challenge to that player, no abstract skill will be gained. What is abstract skill, you ask? It is the ability to begin a new song that you've never played before, on a high difficulty setting, and play it very well even though it is your first time through it. This abstract skill allows you to take the same ambient skills you have learned from other songs, as well as memory skills specific to those other songs, and apply them in the correct fashion to a new song that you have never played before. Abstract skill can be truly amazing once a player has a good deal of it, and this final skill is what makes one a really good guitar hero player.

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Comments 9 comments

spacebull profile image

spacebull 8 years ago from Space

I love the idea and simplicity behind this game series.

Cybermouse profile image

Cybermouse 8 years ago from Bentonville, AR Author

Me too! I've found that most people are either avid fans of guitar hero or DDR (dance dance revolution), but never have I found someone who really was into both of them. In fact most fans of either could care less about the other one. The same applies to me, DDR just never really seemed cool to me and I never understood how anyone could get past about the "medium" difficulty. Of course, I suppose I felt the same about guitar hero before I tried it...

GnossoS profile image

GnossoS 7 years ago from Small Town, AL

Damn, dude... Judging by the length of this article I think you play a little too much!

Don't get me wrong, I wasted an entire summer away on GH. I will forever be a dork when it comes to this game, still play it occasionally. But eventually I realized I could be putting all that time into learning REAL guitar.

Cybermouse profile image

Cybermouse 7 years ago from Bentonville, AR Author

Your comment had me laughing because you're exactly right, I have played WAY too much guitar hero. I also want to learn real guitar. There is a new game coming out (a couple, actually) that allow you to plug a real guitar into your PC and play tabs that scroll across the screen, kind of like guitar hero but better. The free one is called LittleBigStar and the commercial one is called GuitarRising. The websites you can check them out at are here:

LittleBigStar is only in beta, and I haven't yet had any time to try it out (nor a guitar to use). GuitarRising is not yet available. I'm really excited about both.

finestshell profile image

finestshell 7 years ago

I have also been a fan since the start. I think it's cool how you shared your story with us. I also have played way too much, but it's what I love! Check out what guitar hero has done for me if u want. bye for now!

Jacob P 7 years ago

Lol. I love guitar hero soooooooooo much

but im only on hard, cant get down the tecniques

micfiend1984 6 years ago

im anxious to play the guitar hero because i loved the ddr so much. now they have something called dj hero. which looks cool to me...

J. Andersen profile image

J. Andersen 6 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

Hey, good tips and even the cheats are awesome. I have Guitar Hero too but Power Gig is coming out this fall and it uses real guitars. That should change the game quite a bit -- I hope you know how to shred a six string! Here's my post about Power Gig

Cybermouse profile image

Cybermouse 6 years ago from Bentonville, AR Author

Interesting that you mentioned Power Gig, I hadn't heard of that. For a while there was something similar called Guitar Rising, and LittleBigStar which is now called something else. I'll have to check that out, thanks!

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