Tips on composing chiptunes

I have composed music for several NES games and demos. Some useful tricks I've found:
  • Most of the time, the percussion is simulated using white noise. (Listen to the Super Mario Brothers NSF to hear how.) This sounds okay, but a fellow can do better by stealing from the bass line (which is a triangle wave on the NES). Play an E-3 (MIDI note 42) with a sharp downward pitch bend; this becomes your bass drum. Put soft, short notes in the white noise channel for the hi-hat. A triangle B-3 with a slightly louder noise serves as your snare drum.
  • Arpeggios. Many tracker systems can rapidly change the period of an oscillator to two or three different notes in sequence. Use octaves and fifths with square waves to add texture to your compositions.
  • Play sound effects through your system's sample channel. The NES supports a decent 6-to-1-bit predictive sample compression method called DMC (delta modulation coding) and can play sounds in the background. I use DMC for sound effects (a la Super Mario Brothers 2) and the oscillators for music; it's a lot easier on MMC3 where you can bankswitch the sample area at $C000-$DFFF. Some developers like to use DMC for drum hits (Super Mario Brothers 3; Contra), but I do just as well with the triangle wave.

Hear what I've done:

the countdown begins...