Gameplay in Rock Revolution revolves around players attempting to simulate the playing of rock music using special instrument shaped controllers. Scrolling notes onscreen indicate the pattern and timing of buttons that must be pushed on the guitar or pads hit on the drumkit. Songs can feature "fill boxes" and "roll boxes" on drum charts, and hammer-on/pull-off's and "shred boxes" (must be strummed constantly for the duration) on guitar charts. Score multipliers are increased through larger combos, and a temporary bonus period can be activated when the player's lifebar, the "atmosphere meter", is maxed out.
On the Wii version, players instead use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk as air instruments—playing the songs by performing specific gestures and movements. Guitar and drum controllers for the Wii are not usable with the game. The DS version utilizes the touch screen and microphone, utilizing gestured movements for guitar play, playing a virtual drumkit on the touch screen itself with the stylus for drums, and the system's internal microphone for vocals.
Various game modes are featured in Rock Revolution. The game's career mode follows the career of the player's band, recording albums and playing live shows. These stages can feature specific challenges, such as reaching a certain score, performing a song without seeing the notes, avoiding false "poison notes", or completing songs with a limited number of mistakes. Local and online multiplayer is also offered on the console versions, including co-op and battle modes. A "Recording studio" sandbox mode is also available, where players can create their own songs with various options, such as different guitar and drum styles, chords, fills, and beats. Songs created in this mode however, cannot be played as a song in-game.