The title really says it all. I can't find anything about it on the Internet (then again, I never find anything), but it's obvious that songs can't be played with 5 notes. I still think there must be some kind of system behind it...

  • 9
    I sincerely doubt they have matches to actual notes.
    – Frank
    Oct 7, 2015 at 12:16
  • Because guitars only have 5 notes....
    – Patrice
    Oct 7, 2015 at 20:26
  • Related: chordbuddy.com You can play real songs with color coded buttons! Like guitar hero IRL...
    – JPhi1618
    Oct 7, 2015 at 22:20

3 Answers 3


There are no notes that the colours match with. They are simply used to denote increase or decrease in pitch, and "chords" when used together.

  • Out of interest, does that mean 2 different songs can play a slightly different sound for the same colour?
    – user101016
    Oct 7, 2015 at 12:57
  • 17
    @CamelCase: You often see even the same song assigning different sounds to the same colour, example: youtu.be/cHRfbiwdheg?t=145 (Doesn't even seem to just be higher octaves of the same notes - as I say in my answer, there is no notable correlation between note and colour)
    – Jeeva
    Oct 7, 2015 at 13:00
  • 12
    @CamelCase yes, you may find that some songs have more than 5 notes.
    – DLeh
    Oct 7, 2015 at 20:14

As Jeeva said, there's no real parallel.

On a real guitar, you have six strings each with 20+ frets, which are difficult to replicate exactly without making the game needlessly complex. The key to the game is its simplicity while still feeling like you're making music, so if you had a button for each fret on each string, it'd defeat the purpose. Not to mention that there are only 5 buttons despite there being 7 notes in a major scale, which means buttons would need to be mapped to multiple notes, which would particularly make chords end up strangely but would also mean certain buttons get pressed much more often.

But that's not as important to developers (or players) as capturing the feeling of playing. If you've played guitar at all, you know that as you finger the frets toward the base of the instrument (the wider part where you strum with your other hand), the pitch gets higher. So, what the designers decided would best imitate the feeling of being a rock star is having the player's fingering moved toward the buttons nearer to the base of the guitar, not based on mapping notes to them, but based on each phrase of a song being played, and where that phrase hits its highest notes. Those notes are usually mapped to either the fourth or fifth buttons, and pretty much everything else is organized around that.

  • I don’t know if I buy “needlessly complex” – you’d just be that much closer to playing an actual guitar at that point. Having the notes flying towards you and getting real-time feedback might be a good way to learn guitar, even (though you’d also want real strings and strumming).
    – KRyan
    Oct 7, 2015 at 14:52
  • 7
    @KRyan There's a game like that. RockSmith (2014) is similar to Guitar Hero, but played with a real electric guitar. It's pretty fun.
    – toni
    Oct 7, 2015 at 14:55
  • 6
    @KRyan "Needless" is debatable I suppose, but I think the game would have been worse off if it didn't simplify the mechanics as much as it did. If people wanted to play guitar they would play guitar. A game which imitated guitar playing to a T would need to be a teaching game or it wouldn't have much of an audience. The point of rock band and guitar hero is that you don't have to know how the guitar works to enjoy playing and get that rock star feeling.
    – gwj17
    Oct 7, 2015 at 14:59
  • @AverageUnknown: Ironically, I've found such those games on older systems with a CRT television preferable to playing them on a more modern system, since an older system could play notes in response to the player actions and have them be in time with the music, but on newer systems the only way a player's note will sound in time with the rest of the music will be if the system outputs the sound of the player hitting the note in advance of when the player is actually supposed to hit it, making it impossible for a player to hear if the note was played a smidgen early or late.
    – supercat
    Oct 7, 2015 at 17:23
  • Rock Band 3 has a guitar controller with 120 buttons on it, and strings to pluck. :) It also supports real guitar through a USB adapter.
    – Almo
    Oct 7, 2015 at 17:38

The colors are just to help you correlate what feat button you are suppose to hit. As others pointed out typically the pitch gets higher on the higher frets, but the whole color coding/fret layout is to simplify the act of sight reading on guitar which it conveys the simple idea while being very accessible to people who don't play guitar.

Typically you'll shift your fingers up and down the neck to play at different positions, but once you are there you'll typically say there and hit note across the frets at the position you are at hence why there are 5 frets.

When you are actually playing a song you take advantage of the different positions to minimize movement, but you still need to hit the right notes at the right time which the fret scroll is acting as in a clever way.

For example for Sweet Child of Mine (in Guitar Hero 3) on a real guitar you would see either the sheet music:

enter image description here

Or the tabs:

enter image description here

On guitar hero instead you see this:

enter image description here

Seeing fret numbers would not be as intuitive as the colors for an obvious reason as the colors pop more especially at higher speeds.

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