How to play DDR
Have you played Dance Dance Revolution at least once?
Do you want to learn how to get better?
– If so, then this guide will help get you there!
What this guide will cover:
- Songs to practice
- Warming up
- How often to play
- Play styles
- … and more
Please note that what tips and strategies I write in here will work for any four panel dance game. So, if you play dance dance revolution, In the Groove, Stepmania, or any other four panel dance game, this guide will help you. I wrote a FAQ back in 2006 that was put on Gamefaqs.com, called the DDR Improvement FAQ. Since then, I have written some new ideas down to paper, and I would like to give a better, more visual example on how to improve. At any time, you can hit Ctrl F to find what you are looking for – I will do my best to build this guide so that you can easily find what you are looking for and get the most out of this guide.
If you are looking for a specific skill level, please hit CTRL F and type in what best matches you from the list below into the search bar:
(covers levels 1-4)
(covers levels 4-7)
(covers levels 8+)
If you are a beginner, please view my beginner guide. It serves as an “introduction” to dance gaming. If you have played a couple games, please continue to the next section.
The way to “win” at the game is to pass songs. This is done by keeping your life bar up. How your life bar changes is based on how you are graded with your stepping.
Each four panel game has its own grading system, but they have things in common. The color scheme (in general), and the effect it has on your life bar.
The dance dance revolution Grading System
The In the Groove Grading System
To pass a song, you need to keep from getting a *MISS*. Getting a score of *BOO* or *WAY OFF* will reduce your life bar, so you must try to avoid getting these grades as well.
In some versions, DDR uses “boo” in place of “miss”, and “almost” in place of “boo”.
Meet the Arrows
Quarter Note: aka. 1/4 Note
This note is the most commonly used note in any four panel dancing game. It is the note that beginners first learn on, as it is timed to the bass beat of every song. It is red in color (as shown above). To be able to view it in this color on Dance Dance Revolution, you must select “note” from the options menu. You can do this by holding the “start” button when you choose your song.
Learning How to Play on the Pad
When you first start playing, you will notice in beginner mode (DDR) that the dance character will stay in the middle of the pad. Do not follow what the character does, because it will slow down your learning. Put your left foot on the left arrow, and your right foot on the right arrow. When playing, make sure that you alternate your feet. This means using both of your feet during play. A common habit for beginners is to overuse one foot over another – keeping their left foot on the left arrow and using the right to hit the other arrows. To get used to alternating your feet during play, try this:
Left Arrow – Hit with left foot
Down Arrow – Hit with left foot
Up Arrow – Hit with right foot
Right Arrow – Hit with right foot
When you get the hang of that, playing will feel a lot easier. You might start noticing that some parts are too difficult to do, so if you are having trouble, then its time to change it up:
Left Arrow – Hit with left foot
Down Arrow – Hit with right foot
Up Arrow – Hit with left foot
Right Arrow – Hit with right foot
Do you see what changed there? You will begin to notice that at certain times, the first way will work better than the second. Once you figure out when to change it up, you are ready to move to the next skill level.
A test for you:
What is the best way to step this pattern?Answer: (Scroll Over to Reveal)
Left Arrow- Left Foot
Down Arrow-Right Foot
Up Arrow- Left Foot
Right Arrow-Right Foot
Down Arrow-Left Foot
Up Arrow-Right Foot
Left Arrow-Left Foot
Right Arrow-Right Foot
On levels 1 through 4, you will see something that looks like this:
This is a called a “jump”. It is the first kind of jump you will run into. To hit this jump properly, you will need to hit the left and right arrows at the same time. Watch what grade you get when you hit the jump. If you are getting anything below “great”, you are probably jumping too early.
Another jump you will start to see around level 2 is a this:
To hit this jump properly, you need to hit the up and down arrows at the same time. Watch what grade you get when you hit the jump. If you are getting anything below “great”, you are probably jumping too early.
This is the end of Beginner Mode. If you have learned how to alternate your feet (no going in the middle), and you can do the jumps above, you are ready to advance!
The Following are covered in this section:
- Corner Jumps
- Blue Notes
- Reading The Groove Radar
- Freeze Arrows
- Speed Modifiers
Wow, there is a lot of ground to cover in this section. If you are looking at this section, you are somewhere between light and standard in DDR. The In the Groove equivalent is between Easy and Medium. This area is where a lot of the game’s fundamentals are tested. Getting through this section will prepare you for advanced play.
Lets start with the arrow introductions:
Meet the Arrows
Eighth Note: aka. 1/8 Note
Eighth notes are introduced very early in the game. As difficulty goes up, eighth notes become increasingly common. In some charts, they can outnumber quarter notes. They are timed to the “off beat”… which is the exact middle of two bass beats.
When you first start seeing these, you probably did not know what they were, and just stepped them like a quarter note. Then you noticed that you got a strange grade. Eighth notes can appear in a variety of places (including jumps), so keep your eyes sharp for them. To view them on DDR, hold start when you choose your song and select “note” from the note skin options. The best way to tackle these notes is to practice songs that have them, and watch what grade you get when you step.
There are four corner jumps you will run into:
Hit the left arrow with your left foot and the up arrow with your right foot.
Hit the left arrow with your left foot and the down arrow with your right foot.
Hit the up arrow with your left foot and the right arrow with your right foot.
Hit the down arrow with your left foot and the right arrow with your right foot.
As mentioned with the blue notes, the best way to tackle these is to practice songs that have them. The best way to hit these is to know that they are coming, and prepare. This way they will not take you off guard. If you are playing DDR, play Dynamite Rave on Light/Basic. It has jumps like this in the chart.
Reading the Groove Radar
On DDR, you will notice something that looks like this. This is the Groove Radar. It measures five dimensions of a song:
# Air – Measures the number of jumps in the song
# Chaos – Measure the irregularity of steps
# Freeze – Measures the number of freeze steps
# Stream – Overall density of the steps
# Voltage – Peak density of steps
When you go to practice songs, keep the groove radar in mind. It will show you what a song has and lacks. So, if you want to practice a song with jumps, look for something with “air”. Chaos will tell you how many blue notes there are. Stream will tell you how much stamina the song will require, and voltage will show you how “fast” you will need to move.
These guys give you a serious boost to your life bar if you hold them down. If you fail to hold them down correctly, they will reduce your life. Freeze arrows are key in keeping you alive in getting through difficult songs, so get those OKs!
If you have gotten this far, you already have noticed that if you step correctly a certain amount of times, you start to gain a combo. A combo is kept by scoring a “GREAT” or better with each step. The best way to learn how to combo better is to practice songs that make you lose your combo. If you practice the songs that you are bad at, you will get better at the songs you are already good at. Combos also show that you understand the steps to a song. If you are losing combo, it is often related to not “reading” the arrows properly (for instance, not knowing the difference between a blue note versus a red note).
Mines are introduced early in ITG. You will not find these in earlier versions of DDR, but if you have DDR X, you will see something similar, called Shock Arrows. In early levels, they are placed more or less at random, and you might hit one or two if you do not pay attention to where your feet are. As you progress through the game, mine placement will FORCE you to step a certain way. This could be by turning a certain way, jumping strangely, moving to the center or off the arrows altogether, or hitting with pinpoint accuracy. Mine placement will be discussed more in the advanced section, but on the intermediate level, you should know what they are and how to avoid them. The best way to avoid them in earlier levels is to look at the new arrows coming up and focusing on them instead of the mines.
You can find a definition of what a crossover is in the dictionary section, but I will give an intermediate example of ways to orient yourself into doing crossovers. The easier examples involve a freeze arrow:
In this situation, you have two options… you can hold the freeze arrow with your left foot and hit the quarter notes with your right foot, or you can hold the freeze arrow with your right foot and hit the quarter notes with your left. My preference in this situation is to do the first option. This is because it puts me in the DR position with my right foot on the right arrow, and its a lot more comfortable to go into a jump or another set of arrows in this position. There are, of course, exceptions. Future position is what matters in this case.
This is only an introduction to crossovers. Crossovers (blue and red note) will be covered more in the advanced section, since they start appearing around level 7.
Rolls are like freeze arrows, except that you have to keep stepping instead of holding them. The best way to do this is to hit the arrow like normal, and then step to the bass beat of the song. Rolls on the intermediate level are simply placed, so just tap to the beat of the song when you hit one and you should be OK.
At this level, it is a good idea to try the harder basic level songs, and you should be mostly playing at standard level. Once you start getting through most of the 6 level songs on standard, take a stab at the 7 level songs, and work your way into Expert(DDR) or Hard(ITG). If you start playing expert level songs, watch out for the 16th notes!
If you have not done this yet, go to the options menu (by holding start) when you select your song. You should notice that there is a place at the top where you can change your speed modifier. This affects how the arrows are spread out. At the intermediate level, this is really useful, because it makes reading the blue arrows easier. I recommend that you use 1.5x or 2x to learn on. Use it for step charts where you need help. Ignore the other options on this screen – they will not help you (yet).
*note* ITG defaults to 1.5x during normal play. If this does not work for you, use 2x or even 2.5x. Faster speed mods will allow you to see the arrows better (and learn how to step them faster), so take full advantage of them!
The ITG options menu looks something like this:
You can only see the BPM (Speed) of a song for ITG when you go to the options menu. This is important! Knowing the speed and using modifiers can help you find what speed modifier you are most comfortable with.
This is the end of Intermediate Mode. If you can read blue notes and get through them without many problems, do the simple crossover mentioned above, avoid some mines, hold your freeze arrows, get a good combo going, and you can do the jumps above, you are ready to advance!
“This mode is difficult!”
The Following are covered in this section:
- Advanced Crossovers
- Mine Sweeping
- Improving Accuracy/High Scoring
- Building Speed and Endurance
- Yellow Notes (16th)* and Purple Notes (12th)*
- Step Jumps
- Managing level 10 (DDR)
- 32nd Notes, 24th Notes, 64th Notes, 48th Notes
- Marathon, Survival, Oni, and Other Modes of Play
- Intro to Pro, Tournaments, and Edits
*I use the Stepmania color scheme when referring to note color. In DDR, the 16th note will appear purple when you choose note. In ITG, it appears light green, as shown in the “rolls” example.
*In DDR, the 12th note will appear green when you choose note. In ITG, it appears purple.
(I realize this can be extremely confusing, so bear with me on this). To make things easier, I will be simply calling them as “16th notes” and “12th notes.”
Meet the Arrows
Sixteenth Note: aka. 1/16 Note
Sixteenth notes start appearing around difficulty level 5. As difficulty goes up, they become increasingly common. In rare cases, they can outnumber quarter or eighth notes. These notes are situated between quarter and eighth notes. They are commonly used for *gallops* (think of a horse) and *runs* (an unbroken set of arrows strung together). At high levels, they are an important part of *stream* (a chart that has a lot of runs in it is referred to as a*stream* chart). I will go over these more later.
Twelfth Note: aka. 1/12 Note
Twelfth notes start appearing around difficulty level 6. They are relatively rare in official songs, but when used, they are often paired to a “swing beat”. Examples include, but are not limited to: Heaven is a ’57 metallic gray [DDR], and We Know What to Do [ITG].
This is one of the ways that the 16th note is first introduced to you. To see them better, make sure that you use a speed modifier. Gallops commonly appear two ways.
The “simple” gallop:
How to hit this: listen to the music, and remember the bass beat. Gallops will always go with an element within the music, usually something in the foreground. Remember to look at the grading. If you are getting a great or better on this, you are getting it.
The layered “So Deep” gallop:
This one can be a bit tricky to learn. First, don’t rush the beat. A pattern like this almost always goes with the foreground music or percussion, so listen to the music and “feel” the gallop out. If you can get through it and not break your combo, you’re getting it. The reason why this is called the So Deep gallop is that the expert level steps of the song So Deep has several examples of this gallop in it.
I am a bit biased on this, but I think gallop songs are more fun – so go find all the gallop songs and practice! Most songs that have a lot gallops are at least level 8. A fun example is Twilight Zone.
<< Advanced Crossovers >>
If you have not already, look in the dictionary section for “crossovers” as a reference. There are two kinds of crossovers that I will be discussing. The “straight line” crossover, and the complex crossove. Also, I will make a note about the “Afronover”.
Straight Line Crossover
Straight line crossovers are only three steps long, and may or may not be attached to each other. The above example is where they might be attached. In earlier levels, this is how they are introduced, and they usually are infrequent. A common way to play this is to try to double step it. I would not recommend this unless you have good foot speed. The best way to do this is to use one foot to hit the blue arrows and use the other foot to hit the red. So, the left and right arrows would be hit by your left foot and the up arrow would be hit by your right foot. Make sure your body is turned to the LEFT if you choose to hit the arrows this way. If you choose to hit the left and right arrows with your right foot, and the up arrow with your left, your body needs to be turned to the RIGHT.
Complex crossovers require you to have you select the right “lead leg”. In this example, the lead leg is the RIGHT LEG. I have marked “L” and “R” on this example to help aid in showing what foot should be stepping where to make this crossover work by using both feet. Crossovers that have patterns similar to this are common. To get a feel for crossovers, you can try several songs. Freckles (7), Exotic Ethnic (9), Hardcore of the North (9), Mythology (8), and Kiss Kiss Kiss (8) are just a few that contain varying degrees of crossover difficulty.
Afronover is a term I just made up to explain the crossover that occurs in the song Afronova on Expert (DDR). In the older mixes, Afronova was banned from tournaments because it was called “impossible”. The reason was because of this crossover – it usually was the reason people would fail the song. So, I thought I would give it the honor of its own section. Here is the pattern:
If you have ever wondered how to beat Afronova, this is what people do. When you get to the quarter note, you need to hit that with your LEFT LEG and be facing LEFT. Then you hit the first three arrows like this: Left arrow LEFT FOOT (like I just said), up arrow RIGHT FOOT, right arrow LEFT FOOT. OK, now you see that the fourth arrow is a blue note (the left note). Believe it or not, you are going to hit that note with your RIGHT FOOT. Keep in mind you are still facing LEFT. Then, you will hit the down arrow with your LEFT FOOT, and the right arrow with your RIGHT FOOT. You got it? Here is the first six notes together:
[Keep in mind you are still facing LEFT]
Left Note (red): Left Foot
Up Note (blue): Right Foot
Right Note (red): Left Foot
Left Note (blue): Right Foot
Down Note (red): Left Foot
Right Note (blue): Right Foot
The next nine notes are the same way, so you just repeat this motion until you get through all 15 notes.
Congrats, you can now do the “afronover”!
Hands can be fun, but they can also be a challenge. Learning how to do a hand is a lot like learning how to do a jump for the first time (you have to hit all the arrows at once, just like in a jump too). Prepare for them by getting in place of where they will be (such as the 3 Note hands) or into a crouching position (for the quads). You will not find hands in Dance Dance Revolution – so if you only play DDR, you do not have to worry about this part. Hands *can* be cheated, but for the purpose of this section, I will explain how to do them using your hands (cheating them involves using your feet, which will be covered in the pro section).
3 Note hands:
I think the best way to hit this one is to hit the up and down arrows with your feet and the left arrow with your hand (facing LEFT). This is because I find it is easier to transition, especially if the next arrow happens to be a right arrow.
This one is arguably the most awkward one to hit. As far as positioning goes, it would be best to hit the left arrow with your left foot, the right arrow with your right foot, and the down arrow with your hand. How you hit the down arrow with your hand is up to you (and your comfort). Some people go between their legs and reach behind, and others reach behind their back and hit it that way. The second way is advised, but if you feel like you will fall, go on and try it the first way. You can also just pick the DL or DR corner and hit the other arrow with your hand. Just go with what feels right.
This one is basically a mirror of the first example. I think the best way to hit this one is to hit the up and down arrows with your feet and the right arrow with your hand (facing RIGHT). This is because I find it is easier to transition, especially if the next arrow happens to be a left arrow.
This is arguably the easiest 3 note hand to hit. Just hit the left and right with your left and right foot and hit the up arrow with your hand.
Quads involve hitting all four arrows at once. You can either get in the DR position and hit up and left with your hands or get into the DL position and hit up and right with your hands. Some people hit it “backwards” (doing the reverse of what I am saying), but I think its too hard to recover from the prone position. Some people may also do it reverse while facing away from the screen, and this really comes down to positioning and preference.
This part covers more complex mine clusters. This part is dedicated to mine clusters that also force you to move a certain way. I will use this image to explain how to avoid these mines:
1. “Stepping Through”. The first set of mines are harmless if you just hit the up arrow. If you have good timing, you should have your foot up from the right arrow before the mine hits you.
2. “Return to Center”. The second set of mines cover all four arrows, so the best move is to move both feet to the center square (yeah, the beginner spot).
3. “Weave”. The best way to get through the third set of mines is to lean into the next arrow coming, then lean out and lean into the next arrow. This is done more easily by using the bar. I would not recommend hitting all four with one foot, because there are more difficult patterns later in the game that will force you to use both feet, and you will not have enough time to return to center.
Stops are when the chart stops moving. They can be a serious issue and even cost you your game if you do not see them coming! If you encounter a stop, and the arrows after the stop are a different color or pattern than what you saw before, do not panic.
Usually the music will follow the same beat as it did before that stop. Keep the beat in your head that you heard before the stop and apply it. Healing Vision Angelic Mix [HVAM] has a really good example of a potentially
dangerous stop. When you get to that end run in HVAM, and you run into that stop, the next note is NOT a red note! It is blue, so you have to step just a fraction of a second earlier than what you would normally. In that case, it takes practice, but once you see someone do it once, you will know exactly how to read it.
If you are still having difficulty with a particular song with a stop in it, it never hurts to watch someone who knows the song and watch how he/she plays it.
Step Jumps (or Jump Steps) start appearing around level 7 in DDR. You can find them in: DXY, Stoic, Waka Laka, Be Lovin, Wookie Wookie, and several others. The best way to get through them is to keep your feet light and flexible. Don’t strain through them! If you are relaxed, it will be easier to get through them.
There are varying schools of thought of what a “run” is. Usually, it is an unbroken string of <16 notes that scroll faster than 6 steps a second. The Legend of Max has something at the end of its chart called the “death run”. It looks like this:
The reason it’s called a death run is that when people first start playing it, and are trying to pass it, this is the place they usually fail. It looks pretty tame here, but keep in mind this is at 330 BPM. This string of arrows comes at you from top to bottom in under two seconds (11 steps a second)!
The best way to get through a run is to relax and remember the tempo of the song. Most new players to runs step too quickly – thinking the run is actually faster than what it is. Another thing players do when they see a run is that they tense up. Relaxing is the best way to get through difficult parts of songs. Keep your feet low and loose. If you would like more help with this, take a look at the “Managing level 10” section. Most 10 level songs in DDR are covered with runs.
Improving Accuracy / Scoring
There are key points that help players get their accuracy and scoring up:
1. Play any and every song you can at your level.
2. Challenge yourself by trying and passing more difficult levels.
3. Seek out better players and play with them.
4. If you are having difficulty with a song, set it aside and try it later.
5. Look at what you are weakest at (jumps, runs, etc.) and work on those. If you ignore what you are weak at, you will not improve.
6. Don’t be afraid to fail, but do it on your last song!
Increasing Endurance and Speed
The best way to approach these is to use the points above, but focus on songs that test your speed and stamina. This means playing songs that go really fast or push you to your limit. If level 10 is too hard for you, keep working on level 9. 10 will be easier for you if you are comfortable with 9. What I use to boost my endurance and speed is find out where my warm-up is and try to raise that. If I am warming up on level 4 and trying to beat level 9, the gap is too large. A good rule of thumb is to warm up two levels below where you have trouble. So, if you want to try to tackle a 10, you should be warming up on level 8. On average, the next level up is about 30% harder than the level you are on, so don’t be scared. If you can handle things at the level you are on, and you do not feel tired, crank it up and try the next level.
Managing Level 10 (DDR)
I started working on a segment that talks about approaching 10 footers in DDR – feel free to check it out:
This is the end of Advanced Mode. If you can read 12th and 16th notes and get through them without many problems, do complex crossovers mentioned above, avoid many different kinds mine clusters, hit hands, get some good scores going (AA or AAA in DDR), get through some runs, gallops, stops, 10s, and jump steps, you are ready to start on PRO!
If you are reading this, and want to tackle pro mode, good for you! The whole reason behind this guide is to try to get as many people as possible to pro mode. If you have gotten this far, I applaud you, and I am crying… buckets of tears! OK, all announcer references aside, I have included some pro notes that can get you ready to approach the tournament scene. Some things to keep in mind:
After level 10, level basis gets a little blurry (its blurry even in DDR – their rating system got a whole work through in DDR X). Many pros have asked that some charts be re-rated (higher or lower). Zodiac used to be a 10, and was lowered to a 9. Bang(!) is officially rated a 12, but some have considered making it an 11. Anything beyond level 11 starts getting really blurry, even though there are 10 0fficial charts (Roxor) for ITG that are rated 12, and three rated 13. The reason is that there are so few charts to base difficulty on that they can tend towards being really easy to outright impossible. ITG Rebirth made a stab at drawing guidelines for difficulty, and I believe they did a good job in that respect.
Difficult Notes (24th, 32nd, 48th, 64th)
24th – That Sound (9), Determinator (12)
32nd – Tsugaru (9), TLOM (10), Anubis (10), Zodiac (9)
48th – Sweet World (10)
64th – Euphoria (12), Go 60 Go (12)
These are the worst notes you will encounter in four panel gaming. Some would include the 192nd note, but I choose not to, mainly because I have yet to see it used purposefully in a chart made for pad play. 24th and 48th notes are “swing notes”, just like the 12th. In harder charts, the 24th is frequently used as a weapon of choice for runs, some running upwards of 16 steps per second. 32nd and 64th notes are usually used for short bursts, but often come at incredible speeds – such as five needing to be hit in 1/3 a second [Euphoria]. The best way to tackle these guys is to play where you find them and work your tech. skill.
Marathon, Survival, Oni, and Non-Stop Mode
An interesting way for players to enjoy four panel play or hone their skill is through using the other modes. I will go over each one and talk about what they are about and what you can gain by using them.
Marathon mode is interesting because it sometimes throws modifiers at you. Modifiers are things like changes in the arrow spacing and how the arrows come at you. Perspective and visibility of the arrows also change as well.
What you gain:
- Endurance: marathons are four songs long with only a few seconds for break.
- Sight-reading skill: changes in how the arrows come at you helps hone sight reading skills.
- Fun: marathons with modifiers are a blast! Try them out.
You might get overwhelmed with the modifiers, but do not give up. It takes some practice to learn how to read modifiers – like reverse, mini, or flip. The best way to learn modifiers is to try them out in normal play.
Survival is like marathon in that there are modifiers too. However, there are some unique challenges:
- You are penalized for anything you get that is worse than an *excellent*.
- If you are penalized too much, you fail the course – even if you do not break combo.
This mode is all about accuracy. You start with a set time limit which is tied to your life. Losing time will take a bite out of your life bar. If you get a great, you are penalized .5 seconds. A decent is a penalty of 1 second. Anything worse than that is trouble. If you get a fantastic, you gain .2 seconds. If you get enough fantastics, you could end with more time than you started!
Oni Mode [DDR]-
Oni mode is the classic challenge. It poses greater challenges than you can get in normal play. Oni courses have a couple rules:
- If you get anything worse than a *great*, you lose a bat life.
- You get four bat lives per course.
- If you pass a song, you could have some or all of your bat lives restored.
- 1x – no, you can’t change it.
- Songs that are sometimes not accessible in normal play are available in the oni course
- The challenge. Some oni courses have the most difficult songs paired together. A good example is Boss Rush IV which has some of the most difficult songs in the game all in one course!
Non-Stop Mode [DDR]-
Non-stop mode is sorta like “diet oni”. Some courses are fixed, and some have songs that are selected at random. You have the option of playing your songs with a speed modifier by holding the start button. Sometimes if your machine is set to three songs, this is a way to sneak in an extra one if you have difficulty unlocking extra stage (which is more play for you)! You get no breaks between songs, so this is a good way to build up some endurance.
Tournaments are a fun way to meet players who share your love of the four panel dance games, socialize, and get in some healthy competition. Even if you do not want to compete, tournaments can be a lot of fun. So, go find players in your area and get connected!
With the creation of R21 for ITG, players can now create their own charts for songs they choose and play them on an ITG machine. Because of this many new things have come about: higher difficulty levels, new styles of play, new tournaments, and new, community-accepted official songs. If you want to get in touch with the R21 song making community, or you are interested in learning more about playing your own songs, go to R21 Freak.
If you are interested in making your own songs, you can also look at this guide: