Computer running Windows XP, Vista, or Mac OS X
Internal or external sound card for audio output
Guitar Hero controllers ( 1 or 2) Most models work.
Wii controllers have potential to make music, but
Fretbuzz software doesn’t support them yet. Also,
PlayStation 2 or wireless controllers will need an
adapter to connect them to a computer via USB.
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Fretbuzz software free from
1. Connect your controller
A Windows PC or Mac will work, but these first few
steps outline the process using a PC laptop running
1a. Connect the Guitar Hero controller to your
computer. A controller with a USB connector is
easiest — no adapter necessary (Figure A, next
page). Otherwise, see our website for a list of
adapters available for $10 to $20.
1b. Your computer may automatically detect the
new USB device and download the necessary driver
from the internet. Alternatively, your adapter may
have come with its own driver. To be sure the controller is properly connected to your computer, go
to Settings ⇒ Control Panel ⇒ Game Controllers.
You should see your game controller devices listed
1c. Double-click the appropriate entry in the list,
and you’ll probably see a joystick calibration menu,
much like the one in Figure C. You might not need
to calibrate your Guitar Hero controller here, but
you’ll want to test all the inputs and watch the indicators light up as you press the buttons and flip the
strum bar. If you’re using a PlayStation 2 controller,
the whammy bar may or may not be detected by
your computer, depending on your adapter. Don’t
be discouraged — whammy bars are just for show-offs anyway, right?
2. Download Fretbuzz software.
Download the software that makes your controller
and computer sing. All the components you need,
and installation instructions, are free at our site.
After downloading and installing Fretbuzz, you’re
ready to make some noise. Turn the audio on and
rock out! There are a bunch of different sounds:
some modeled after real guitars, some more bass-like, and some more synthesizery. There’s even a
mode that sounds like the Star Wars lightsaber.
Look out, Darth Vader.
Read the instructions within the software to
change sound modes and learn how to use them.
SHOUT OUT: Fretbuzz was written within a unique
programming environment called Max/MSP. I have to
give big thanks to the makers of Max/MSP because
without it, I wouldn’t have known where to begin!
3. Explore the musical possibilities.
The Guitar Hero controller has 5 fret buttons, a
strum bar that can be pressed up or down, start/
select buttons, and the Star Power tilt sensor inside
the controller. I wanted to push the musical
possibilities to the max. After months of trial and
error, I developed and refined Fretbuzz. Here’s
a brief explanation of how it works.
Fret buttons Do 5 buttons mean you can only make
5 notes? Hardly. There are 32 different combinations of those 5 buttons, which could theoretically
be assigned to 32 different notes! However, holding
down all 5 at once is almost impossible to do with
4 fingers, and some combinations would require you
to stretch your hand to press both the first and last
Thus, I chose to use only the first 4 buttons for
selecting notes, saving the last (orange) button for
special purposes. Figure D shows all the different
combinations of the first 4 buttons and how I assigned them to chords within a key.
Notice that chords are assigned in a binary
progression? Pretty geeky, but it works! There are
16 different combinations, spanning 2 octaves.
That’s just enough of a range to work with, in my
Strum bar The strum bar is naturally used to trigger
notes. Lucky for us, the bar can be pressed either
up or down, enabling 2 different potential results.
With the power chord guitar sound, for example,
I wanted a down-strum motion to produce a palm-muted effect, while the up-strum would let the
chord ring out. And if you flip the strum bar up and
down rapidly, then all the chords are palm-muted.
On the other hand, with most of the bass sounds,