Guitar and Bass Authoring

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Note: When "Guitar" is used, assume that we are talking about "Bass" as well, unless otherwise indicated. In general, the only differences between the two instruments are minor.
  • The General Philosophy: Starting with Expert Guitar, authoring should be, rhythmically, a literal transcription of the actual guitar performance. From there, we adjust the notes to best fit the Rock Band guitar then simplify the parts for each difficulty.
  • Consistency: When possible, keep the same gems representing the same notes (e.g. if you use a Red gem to represent an E note, continue to use red gems to represent the same E throughout the song), and with phrases that repeat throughout a song (e.g. the main riff in Here Comes Your Man). Also, try to maintain consistency in chords throughout a song (e.g. if you use a Green/Yellow chord to represent an E chord, it should represent that chord throughout the song) This is often impossible as many songs have more than 5 notes and 7 basic chords, but try to stick to it as much as you can.
  • Lane consistency: For each lane (color) that you use in Expert, you must use at least one gem of the same color in all the other difficulties. Thus, for the vast majority of songs Easy and Medium will have at least one gem of each color; in other words, at least one gem in each lane. In general, the focus for easy players is on the first three colors (Red, Green, Yellow), and the focus for medium players is on the first four (Red, Green, Yellow, Blue). Where and when you use Orange and Blue gems in Easy and Medium is up to you.
    • In the rare cases where you do not use all 5 colors in Expert, you must also be consistent and use the same reduced set of colors in the other difficulties. In other words, in Medium and Easy there should be at least one gem in each lane used in Expert level.
  • Preserve motion: Above all, guitar authoring is about making the part feel right. Try to preserve melodic motion even if it means breaking consistency. For example, if our E note (previously mapped to a red gem) is part of a line that moves upward, it’s ok to map it to a different color in order to preserve the feeling of playing a higher note. Also, make sure that the motion of your chords is correct (e.g. a Red/Blue chord is going to be higher in pitch than a Green/Yellow chord, but lower than a Yellow/Orange chord).
  • Wrapping: Often times, a melodic line will contain too many notes to fit within our five button constraints. This can also become more of a problem at simpler difficulties when you must use fewer gems. When this occurs, we wrap the gems, using patterns such as Green/Red/Yellow, Red/Yellow/Blue Yellow/Blue/Orange.


  • Author intention over sloppiness: Much of rock and roll is sloppy by nature, however, our game is not. Therefore we need to "clean up" sloppy guitar parts. All authoring should be quantized, usually to 16th notes (in some cases 32nd notes or triplets). The easiest way to do this is to use the Snap to Grid feature in Reaper when entering notes. If you can tell what the guitarist intended to play, but they just didn’t quite make it, author the part as intended. There is a gray area here when it comes to solos, as they can be intentionally sloppy.
    • C3 note: "Intentionally sloppy" is a bit of a subjective topic, so charting chaotic solos on grid is still preferable for the sake of gameplay.
  • Chords: There are 5 basic types of chords in Rock Band; 1 3 chords (Green/Yellow), 1 2 chords (Green/Red), 1 4 chords (Green/Blue), 1 5 chords (Green/Orange), and three note chords. Each has its own feel.
    • 1 3 usually feels like a power chord or a bar chord. 1 3 chords make up the majority of "normal" chords used in Rock Band.
    • JO7JoDC.jpg
    • 1 2 chords feel good for bar and power chords as well, but also work as thirds, fourths, stops (like playing a chord on a slide guitar), or generally "small" chords.
    • i8nzSLC.jpg
    • 1 2 chords are most commonly used conveying motion in extended sequences of chords. To use an extreme example, if we have a descending pattern that is 7 chords long, we would use Blue/Orange, Yellow/Orange, Yellow/Blue, Red/Blue, Red/Yellow, Green/Yellow, Green/Red.
    • vWMYcBp.jpg
    • 1 4 chords feel great for octaves, but can also work well for suspended chords.
    • lcHJXTb.jpg
    • 1 5 chords are also great for octaves, but are only allowed on expert, should be used as sparingly as possible.
    • Pn4FOw6.jpg
    • 3 note chords are usually only used for nonstandard or "big" chords; like augmented, seventh, and diminished chords, or perhaps a normal chord with a second guitar playing a higher or dissonant note over it.
    • CP0IUND.jpg
  • Sustained notes: There are some basic rules pertaining to the use of sustained notes in game.
    • Notes with no sustain, should be no longer than 1/16 note. Any note that is longer than 1/16 will have a sustain tail. On the other hand, no note should be shorter than 1/64.
      • MEOkxSR.jpg NOT 4Q1k8Qr.jpg
    • There needs to be at least 1/32 note between the end of a sustain tail and the beginning of the next note. 1/16 note gap is standard.
      • WrDzdsP.jpg NOT JJDQaen.jpg
    • Notes should not overlap. Any note that begins before the end of the previous note (or notes, in the case of chords) will not appear on the track.
      • dYVlGL3.jpg NOT hx69dHK.jpg

Authoring Rules by Difficulty


  • Expert Gems are MIDI notes 96 (C6) to 100 (E6)
  • Expert should represent the actual guitar part as accurately as possible. Barring general sloppiness (as mentioned before) try to represent even subtle variations in the guitar part.
  • The Expert guitar part should never be authored to be intentionally harder than the actual guitar part. It can be ridiculously difficult, if that’s what the actual guitar calls for (e.g. a song like Caprici Di Diablo, Bodhisattva, or Thrasher may have 32nd or even 64th notes all over the place – too difficult for casual players, but hardcore fans love that sort of challenge).
  • Expert may use all 5 buttons.
  • All chord types can be used on expert. Three note chords may not include both Green and Orange gems (e.g. no Green/Red/Orange, Green/Yellow/Orange, or Green/Blue/Orange chords).
  • Durations should only be authored for notes longer than a dotted 8th note for songs over 100bpm, and a regular 8th note for songs under 100bpm. Always leave at least a 32nd note gap between the end of a duration and the next note, though a 16th note gap is standard.

Expert Tips and Tricks

  • Be sure to solo and listen to the guitar/bass part all the way through before beginning to author. Pay attention to changes between sections, chord movement, and melodic lines. This will give you a sense of where the song is going musically and there will be less chance of needing to drastically rearrange your authoring to make things fit.
  • Try starting with the central riff or chord progression of a song and then building the rest your authoring around that. There will almost always need to be adjustments, but if you know how you want the most important part to feel, it will help inform your decisions about the rest of the song.
  • If a song contains a lot of repetition, it can often be faster to author the repeating section for all difficulties and Copy/Paste through the rest of the song.
  • It helps to listen to the full mix, turned down, when authoring. This will help keep a rhythmic and musical context for the part you're authoring.
  • Make sure that there are never overlapping notes. The notes contained within a chord should begin and end at the same time. Single notes and chords must end before the next note or chord begins.
  • When switching between chords, there is often an 8th or 16th note pick up going into the next chord. Instead of authoring these as the chord you are coming from, try authoring them as the single note that correspond to the root note of the chord you are moving to. This will make it easier for the player to get to the new chord, and give the part a more musical feel, since there is movement between chords when playing an actual guitar.
    • PN6WmLj.jpg NOT 9KYLmv3.jpg
  • When authoring muted strums, it is best to author them as single notes, even if they are muted chords. This makes the most sense sonically and will help differentiate between the muted strum and a chord ringing out.
    • 0ew1ArJ.jpg
  • There is a lot of ambient guitar noise in rock music. Often times these sounds are not caused by strumming, but by feedback, delay lines and other fx. When authoring a guitar part that contains clouds of sound with little discernible rhythm, we have discovered that authoring streams of 16th notes is a more gratifying way to represent the sound than just holding on long sustained notes (see Lazy Eye by The Silversun Pickups).
  • Pitch bends in melodic lines or solos can be represented by adding a 16th note at the start of the note, one button lower than the target note.
    • YhKXE3d.jpg
  • Tremolo lines are best represented by a series of 16th notes (or whatever division is most rhythmically accurate) switching between two adjacent buttons. Tremolo lines will usually drift in time away from the 16th note grid, but this method feels the best.
  • A Brief Note on Bass Authoring: Consistency can be difficult to accomplish when authoring bass. Bassists will often change registers in different sections of a song, dropping down an octave in the chorus or sliding up an octave in the bridge. Because of this, we often author each section separately, to the pattern that feels best for the part, while maintaining consistency within the section as much as is possible.


  • Hard Gems are MIDI notes 84 (C5) to 88 (E5)
  • Hard should be the "reasonable" version of expert. It should be possible for an expert player to 100% hard with only a minimal amount of practice. Try taking out subtle variations so the parts are more consistent. Removing motion or strumming that is a 16th note or faster, is a good place to start, but again, this is based on the tempo of the song.
    • IiOizGU.jpg
  • All chords in Expert should be retained in Hard unless special circumstances prevent that making sense, such as chords being used to represent harmonizing guitar parts or strong harmonics.
  • Chord to chord hopos are reduced to single note to chord hopos.
  • There are some scenarios where Expert chords could be reduced to Hard single notes. If, for one very specific example, there was an 8th note pickup chord to a series of chords, you could reduce that pickup to a single gem.
  • Try to avoid quick Green to Orange jumps.
  • Three note chords and Green/Orange chords are not permitted in Hard. Both Green/Blue and Red/Orange chords are acceptable, and can be a good replacement for both.
  • Sustain durations in Hard should be the same as Expert unless the slower scroll rate of the highway creates sustains that are too short visually.

Hard Tips and Tricks

  • Remember, when reducing, to keep the rhythmic feel of the song. If the strong beats of a song are the upbeats, or a syncopated rhythm, make sure not to remove them in haste. Just removing every other 16th note is not always the correct way to reduce.
  • When a note is removed during difficulty reduction, the preceding note or chord should never be dragged out to fill the empty space. We remove notes to give the player more time to think about what is coming next, so the space is just as important as the notes.
  • If the song is fast (over 160 bpm), the player shouldn’t be expected to play continuous 8th notes. Thin the chart out by removing every fourth note per half measure.
  • When reducing a 16th note triplet for Hard, try removing the second or third note in the triplet, depending on what feels best. This is a good way to preserve the syncopated groove of the triplet, while making the part is easier to play.
    • YTZ1J95.jpg OR O9t6V15.jpg
  • G-B and R-O chords are permitted in Hard and can be a good replacement for 3 note and G-O chords.
  • After removing 16th notes in Hard remember to readjust your wrapping. If there was a descending line of 16th notes that was authored as O-B-Y, B-Y-R, Y-R-G, B-Y-R, Y-R-G and you remove every other 16th, you would be left with O-Y, Y-Y, G-Y, Y-G on 8th notes. In the interest of preserving motion, you would want to change that line to O-B-Y-R, B-Y-R-G. As you reduce difficulties, the extra space in time will allow for more linear motion.
    • UrVu9TT.jpg


  • Medium Gems are MIDI notes 72 (C4) to 75 (D#4)
  • Medium is probably the hardest difficulty level to author, and yet one of the most important (most casual players start on medium). The key to medium is retaining as much of the rhythmic and melodic feel of expert and hard but in a way that is much easier to play.
  • Removing the remaining 8th notes from Medium is a good way to thin out from Hard. Try to only have playable notes on strong quarter note beats.
  • Avoid quick 3 or 4 note jumps, such as Green to Blue or Orange, or Red or Orange jumps.
  • Chords are still allowed in Medium, but try to avoid fast chord changes.
  • All chords in Hard should be retained in Medium unless special circumstances prevent that making sense, such as chords being used to represent harmonizing guitar parts or strong harmonics.
  • Do not use the Green/Blue, Green/Orange, or Red/Orange chords in Medium.
  • Do not use any three finger chords in Medium.
  • Durations in Medium should be pulled back to allow more time to move from note to note. A good general rule is to try and leave a quarter note between the end of a note and the beginning of the next. The easiest way to do this is to pull every note with a duration back an 8th note, that way all your dotted 8ths become 16ths. However, be aware that a duration that is too short will leave a stumpy, broken looking tail on the track. Be sure to check for this in game, and if a note tail looks too short, pull that note back to a 16th.
    • xIprWnx.jpg
  • Medium players will typically find it difficult to shift their hands from the first four buttons, so take care to find places to add orange gems that are appropriate, using the following priorities:
    • First: a single gem during a unique section of the song. This could be a bass or guitar slide, the bridge of the song, an intro or outro section, during a guitar solo, the big final note of a solo or outro, or some other event that happens once in a song.
    • Second: A section of the song that happens infrequently, or only a few times during the song. If possible, try to translate a riff or section into the top four lanes of the guitar (red yellow blue orange) to keep the player’s hand shifts as few as possible.
    • Third: a sonic or rhythmic change to a section that is otherwise repeated frequently.
    • Fourth: if there’s just no other way to find a unique section, simply choose an arbitrary part to alter.
  • Again, restricting the pattern to four lanes at a time (including orange) is a best practice.

Medium Tips and Tricks

  • Remember, when reducing, to keep the rhythmic feel of the song. If the strong beats of a song are the upbeats, or a syncopated rhythm, make sure not to remove them in haste. Removing every other 8th note is not always the correct way to reduce. In Medium, it is better to leave more space between syncopated notes then to leave them out.
  • Since you cannot use the same chords in Medium, the structure of your chord progression is going to need to be adjusted accordingly. Try starting by moving every chord in the song down one position. For instance a Y-B chord would become a R-B chord and a R-B chord would become a R-Y chord. If your song doesn't have too many chords, this may take care of all of your problems.
    • eaXGqWA.jpg
  • However, if you encounter a chord heavy song, you may no longer be able to represent every different chord. When this occurs, it is acceptable to use the same chord formation to represent 2 different chords. This is done most subtly by reusing chords in different sections. Don't use a G-Y chord to represent 2 different chords in the verse, instead, use it to represent one chord in the verse and a different chord in the chorus. this will help you to maintain your motion.
  • Once you remove the additional 8th gems you are going to need to adjust your wrapping again. If you had the 8th gem pattern of O-B-Y-R, B-Y-R-G, and you remove every other 8th gem, you are left with O-Y, B-R. You could then readjust these gems so that the quarter gem pattern would be B-Y-R-G.
    • sQAtZCs.jpg
  • When reducing triplet patterns in Medium, it is best to only keep the down beat of the triplet.
    • SZqpl0n.jpg


  • Easy Gems are MIDI notes 60 (C3) to 62 (D3)
  • Easy should be really easy. No player will complain that easy is too easy, they’ll just move up to medium, so make it EASY! The easy player should be able to look at the track, see the note, look at their guitar neck, move their finger to the right button, strum, then look back up for the next note. That’s a lot to do between every note, so make sure you leave a significant amount of space.
  • On easy, remove all remaining quarter notes when possible. It's good practice to leave half note spaces between strums for easy players.
  • Sustains should be pulled back by an additional 1/16th from their length on Medium, leaving at least a 1/4 note gap between the end of a sustain and the beginning of the next note. Please keep in mind that if this causes sustains to appear too short and stumpy, they should be pulled all the way back to a single strum.
  • There are no chords in easy.

Easy Tips and Tricks

  • Easy players will typically find it difficult to shift their hands from the first three buttons, so take care to find places to add orange and blue gems that are appropriate, using the same priorities as medium, but restricting any patterns you add including orange to the top three colors (yellow blue orange) in order to keep the player’s hand movements to a minimum.

Solo Sections

  • MIDI note 103 (G6) marks solo sections (guitar only).
    • C3 note: As of RB3, solo markers are usable on Bass, Drums and Keys as well as Guitar.
  • Guitar solos should be dictated by the music, which can be a gray area. Try to avoid putting solo markers on little guitar fills and repeated lead lines, and use it only when there is an obvious solo.
  • If a song ends with a solo make sure to end the solo marker as early as possible. This leaves time for the solo score marker to pop up before the track pulls out at the end of the song.

Trills and Tremolo

Trill (MIDI note 127) and Tremolo (MIDI note 126) markers trigger free form lanes that appear on the track for fast, odd rhythm strumming sections. (Tremolo) or two rapid notes across two different frets (Trills). Tremolo lanes can also be used on chords and aren't limited to just single note strumming sections.

These markers allow a a player to strum or play quickly without forcing them to playing the actual authored rhythm of the part. As long as the player is strumming or alternating at 160ms or faster, they will be allowed to continue playing in the free form lanes. If they dip below 160ms, the free form lanes will disappear, and they will be forced to play to the rhythm at which the part is authored.

The threshold of 160ms is a hard coded number, so edge cases can creep up where using a trill marker may not feel as good as just playing the authored rhythm. Using Trill and Tremolo lanes as opposed to an authored section is a judgement call, but in general if the original playing happens very fast and without regard to tempo, if it would be very difficult to match the audio, or if there would be a very long stretch of 16th or 32nd notes it might be a good candidate for a trill or tremolo section.

Harmonix pulls the trill lane to cover just the start of the final note of a trill. This can be done by adding .01 to the length of the trill note. For a visual reference, see Figure 3 in the forum thread where this discussion took place:

  • Note: Markers can be used in different difficulties depending on velocity. If you want to use trills and tremolos on Hard difficulty, author your markers with a velocity between 50 and 41. If they are authored on 40 or lower,
Magma will report a note spacing error upon building.
  • C3 note: People have found out that for tremolo lanes, leaving out the final note completely from the tremolo marker makes it easier to not break combo when jumping between tremolo parts.

Left Hand Animations

  • MIDI Notes E1 to B2 determines where the guitarists left hand will be on the neck of the guitar (E1 being the bottom of the neck by the nut, B2 being the top of the neck near the body). Each MIDI note does not correspond directly to one fret. Because guitar sizes and character hand sizes can differ dramatically, you can't guarantee exact hand placement, and most character/guitar combinations won't let you go above fret 12. C3 author Orange Harrison made the following visual guide to the in-game guitar neck and figured out which fret corresponds very roughly to each MIDI note:
    • Fret 1: E1 (40)
    • Fret 2: G1 (43)
    • Fret 3: A1 (45)
    • Fret 4: B1 (47)
    • Fret 5: C#2 (49)
    • Fret 6: D2 (50)
    • Fret 7: E2 (52)
    • Fret 8: F2 (53)
    • Fret 9: G2 (55)
    • Fret 10: G#2 (56)
    • Fret 11: A2 (57)
    • Fret 12: B2 (59)
    C3 does not require any left-hand animation for its customs. This information is useful to authors who want an exceptional level of detail in their animations.
  • Each note tells the hand to stay at that particular fret for its entire duration. The hand will glide from end of one note to the beginning of the next, so if you want the hand to remain stationary you need to author a long note to fill the gap. Likewise if you want a slide you should leave a gap the length of the slide. There needs to be at least a 16th note of space between each note, or else the left hand will move too quickly on the neck which looks unnatural. This changed between RB2 and RB3. In RB3, the gap between notes is ignored; the guitarist's hand will quickly move to a note's position just before that note starts. To create a smooth slide, you now need to create evenly-spaced 1-tick notes (or other very short notes) on each MIDI note between the start point and end point.
  • Be sure to drag out a note to cover long musical gaps in the guitar part. This keeps the hand from drifting slowly during the break. This includes the beginning of songs (pull back the first note to the beginning of the session). See above.
  • You don’t have to provide motion for every note. Along with supplying the strumming patterns, the movement of the Expert Guitar track will provide motion around the root fret. For instance, if you have a fast, repeating line in a guitar solo, you only need to use one note in the LH Animations, and the character’s fingers will move, using that fret as a base.
  • Rhythmic strumming patterns are animated automatically based on the Expert Gem part.
  • Left Hand Hand Maps for Guitar/Bass can be inserted as text events to change the fingering of the Left Hand.
  • Left Hand Maps are as follows:
    • [map HandMap_Default] = normal fingering (single gems = single fingers, gems with durations = vibrato, gem chords = chords)
    • [map HandMap_NoChords] = all single fingers/vibrato
    • [map HandMap_AllChords] = all chords
    • [map HandMap_Solo] = Dmaj for all chords, vibrato for all chord sustains
    • [map HandMap_DropD] = open hand (no fingers down) for all green gems, all other gems are chords
    • [map HandMap_DropD2] = open hand (no fingers down) for all green gems
    • [map HandMap_AllBend] = all ring finger hi vibrato
    • [map HandMap_Chord_C] = all C chord
    • [map HandMap_Chord_D] = all D chord
    • [map HandMap_Chord_A] = all A minor chord
  • In addition, Right Hand Handmaps can be inserted as text events to change the picking style of the Bass part only
  • Right Hand Strum Maps are as follows:
    • [map StrumMap_Default] = fingering
    • [map StrumMap_Pick] = picked
    • [map StrumMap_SlapBass] = slap

Character Animations

  • Character Animations can be inserted as text events, which will change the actions, and attitude of the character within a game.
  • Character Animations should not be inserted between bars 1-3.
  • Character Animations are as follows:
    • [idle_realtime] = char is idling in real time, not synced to the beat. Use this for the intro & ends of songs or anywhere else you don't want a non-playing character bopping to the beat.
    • [idle] = char is idling normally (not playing/singing)
    • [idle_intense] = char is idling in an intense manner.
    • [play] = char is playing.
    • [mellow] = char is playing in a mellow manner.
    • [intense] = char is playing in an intense manner.
    • [play_solo] = char is playing fast notes while showing off.

Hammer-ons and Pull-offs

  • Hopos (hammer on/pull off) are displayed as smaller notes on the track, and can be played without strumming.
  • Hopos are automatically generated if the start of two separate notes, of different color, occur within 1/16th note of each other.
  • Sometimes a note or chord will occur in a guitar part that is not strummed, but are separated by enough space, that a Hopo is not generated. In these cases, for musical feel, we force Hopos on. This tool should be used sparingly, and not to create whole songs where strumming is unnecessary.
  • Hopos, for both single notes and chords, can be forced on or off using F and F#, respectively, above each difficulty.
  • Hopo On/Off should be the same duration as the note/chord it is above
  • Hopos should not be forced on Medium or Easy.

A Few Final Tips

  • Assign the PART GUITAR midi track to a percussive sound (a wood block works nicely). This makes it a lot easier to match the rhythm of the guitar part because you can hear what you’re authoring.
  • Expert should be authored first then simplified to make the lower difficulties.
  • Sometimes it is helpful to learn the song on a guitar or keyboard. This will help you identify each chord/note and remain consistent in your authoring. If there are a lot of chords try writing them down, then organizing them from lowest to highest pitch, then it’s easy to assign a Rock Band chord to each.
  • Make sure to check out Common_Authoring_Mistakes after you author
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Blue text represents C3 changes or additions to the original RBN documentation.