Hitting the Orange Button: Improving Your Guitar Hero Skills

Two things to keep in mind before we begin:

  • Real guitars and plastic game controllers that look kind of like guitars are two completely different things. Just because you are good at one, doesn’t mean you will be good at the other. Guitar Hero & Rock Band are games, have fun with them. If you’re an amazing guitarist, don’t bitch to your friends, “If this were a real guitar… blah, blah, blah.” No one likes to play with a whiner.
  • There are no cheat codes, or magical things you can do to improve your plastic guitar chops (or real guitar for that matter). If you want to get better, practice.
(Mine isn't)

With that in mind, here are some tips to improve your Guitar Hero & Rock Band skills:


Not all gaming consoles, televisions, and sound systems are connected equally. In most games, shows, and movies the fractions of a second that they are off are completely irrelevant. However, songs on expert move really quickly, and a fraction of a second can make or break your timing.

The solution is simple, tweak the calibration settings until you are comfortable. This can be a slow process, but it’s worth the time once you get it right.


Don’t buy a crappy third party controller, they almost always suck. Get yourself an official controller.

I prefer using a Guitar Hero controller as opposed to a Rock Band controller because I only want to learn one. Guitar Hero controllers work on Rock Band, but Rock Band controllers don’t work on Guitar Hero.

Focus Your Eyes:

Those note patterns run really quickly. You need to learn to focus on the notes, and blur out the rest of the game. The pretty graphics can serve as a distraction.

As you become a better player, the distractions will be less significant. The better you become the slower the notes will seem to move. It’s an odd phenomenon, but I promise it’s true.

Hammer-On & Pull-Off:

Learn them, and use them. If you don’t know what they are, go play through the tutorial.

Don’t Strum What You Can’t Play:

Guitar Hero notes are like SAT questions. Strumming the wrong notes is worse than not strumming at all. If you find a passage of notes where you can’t get anything right, let them go without strumming at all. The meter will fall, but not nearly as fast as it would if you were strumming sour notes.

Similarly, if you find yourself behind or ahead of the beat, and you are consistently strumming the wrong notes, stop and let a few notes go by, then start again.

Use Your Pinky:

The muscles that control your pinky finger are small, and considerably weaker than the rest of your hand. You have to exercise it to gain the control, stamina, and dexterity that you will require. You need to practice using your pinky (this is also true for playing a real guitar as well).

Move Your Hand:

A lot of players try to keep their hand in place on the controller’s neck, and just stretch either their index or pinky finger to hit the notes. This is a royal pain, and isn’t a great technique.

So much of playing Expert is finger placement. Learn to move your hand along the neck. The movements should be small. Use the ridge on the yellow button for Guitar Hero controllers, or the dots on the Rock Band controllers to orient yourself.

When you play chords or a string of notes, make sure you are using a comfortable hand position.

If you reach a point where you are comfortable using all of your fingers, and can freely move your hand without getting lost, you will be “5 starring” a lot of songs on expert.

Happy strumming.

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