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How Guitar Hero Works

Playing Guitar Hero
Guitar Hero note chart: Notice the target line at the bottom and HOPOs with the bright, white centers.
Guitar Hero note chart: Notice the target line at the bottom and HOPOs with the bright, white centers.

Standing in front a television screen with your plastic axe strapped across your chest, you assume your best rocker stance. Your fingers twitch slightly on the fret buttons in anticipation as the camera zooms down to your on-screen avatar and you hear the first beats of the song start up. It's time to play Guitar Hero.

Once the music kicks in, the screen display changes to a note chart that resembles an unfurling guitar neck. At the bottom of the screen, you'll see the target line with the five color-coded discs that correspond to the top-down order of fret buttons on the controller.

When your guitar part begins, color coded gems slide your way along the fret lines toward the target line. The point of Guitar Hero is to hit the matching fret buttons and the strum bar on your controller at the same time the gems hit the target line onscreen. If you succeed, a small flame bursts above the gem on the screen. For every correct note you hit, you score points. If you hit more than 10 notes in a row, those point values may be multiplied up to four times.

The key to scoring is timing, so it helps to know the song. Depending on the mode and difficulty, you'll follow the lead, bass or rhythm guitar. During faster melodies, keep an eye out for hammer-on and pull-off notes -- known as HOPOs in the Guitar Hero lexicon. These notes don't require the strum bar. Instead, if you push the correct fret button once the gem hits the target line, you're fine. In Guitar Hero versions before "Guitar Hero III," you must hold down the fret button of the previous note in order to properly hammer-on. You can spot HOPOs because their centers are completely white, while regular notes have a black band around the white center. (Real guitarists play HOPOs by hitting or releasing a string on a fret hard enough that it makes a sound without having to strum.)

Sustained notes that are held out for a number of beats are also important to catch. On the screen, these notes have long, bright lines trailing behind. To prepare, you can press down the appropriate fret button on your axe early if you have time, then hit the strum bar once the note reaches the target line. Since you only have to hit the strum bar once on sustained notes, use that hand to rotate the whammy bar and listen to the notes bend.

Hitting the whammy bar will also boost your star power, which we'll talk about next.