A tracker is a type of musical sequencer used to compose music that experienced a big boom in the 80’s and early 90’s. It was originally used on old Commodore/Amiga computers, and it’s most important feature is that it incorporates within the same file both the notes themselves and the instruments used to interpret them. This greatly increased the MIDI possibilities subject to the instruments on the sound card of the computer it was being played on. Famitracker brings this concept back, in addition to the format, to offer a music composer focused on composing chiptune music, specifically simulating the musical theme from the legendary Nintendo Entertainment System.

Famitracker cabecera

The system is the same as other older trackers, and follows the line of Scream Tracker, but centered around composing songs with the same technical resources as those on the NES. In fact, the name of the program itself hints at this, as Famicom was the name of the NES console’s Japanese version. Don’t worry if you don’t see a staff or familiar musical elements anywhere. In fact, composition programs such as this one make it so that anyone who isn’t familiar with the subject can use it. The program is made up of three main sections:

The piano where you record the notes is the heart of the program. This is the best analogy to help us get the idea of how it works, as if you press the F5 button, or click the Play icon, you’ll see how the cursor begins to go down vertically through a series of tracks, as if it were the hammer of an old piano. Using your keyboard as a piano with the keys simulating those of an actual piano, you put in each track the sounds of the note that you want, but with the added benefit that you don’t have to do it in real time. Simply put, you leave the Rec option activated, and you enter or delete the notes that you want.

Famitracker pianola

Also, as a more advanced step, you’ll notice that each space on the piano keyboard corresponds to the appropriate note, but to the right there are several empty spaces where you can enter more numbers and characters. That is where you can assign effects to the notes, such as vibrato, slides, or customized volume control. In the program’s Help you’ll find all the information you need.

As you can see in the attached screenshots, there are five audio channels to begin with – two for playing the instrument as a square wave (Pulse 1 and Pulse 2), one to make it triangular, another track for the low sounds (simply put, it plays the sounds on a low scale), and another one exclusively for effects. This is because the sound chip that the NES used also used this exact same format. Even still, you can add as many channels as you want. The best way to test the usefulness of each type of channel is by selecting one instrument and testing it on each channel – you’ll notice the difference when you hear it.

The instrument generator. The program includes 20 sample songs that you can use to test out all of Famitracker’s features. You can also use them by “borrowing” the instruments used in the songs by easily importing and exporting them. A window in the upper-right of the screen outlines the instruments that you’ve included in your MOD file, and, in fact, you have to click some of them with the mouse pointer in order to compose notes with said instruments on the piano keyboard.

Famitracker crear instrumentos

What makes this tracker unique compared to others is the ability to create your own instruments without leaving the program. If you create a blank instrument, and double click on it, you will access a useful editor that allows you to modify and assign all kinds of effects to a waveform, from modifying its pitch, or how high the note is, to generating arpeggios, a sequence of sounds played one after another.

Although it may sound too technical, you’ll quickly catch on just by playing around with the different options for a bit.

– The play list. You’ll realize that each piano segment is made up of only 64 spaces, and if you don’t do anything about it, they will repeat in a cycle forever. On the upper left part of the screen you can create another frame to create a longer sequence of notes, allowing you to repeat or play them in whatever order you want. If you right-click on New Frame, 64 more spaces will be created right below the previous one.

Each one of these frames creates a series of two-digit empty spaces next to them, which are just the number of each channel’s piano, which allows you to be selective when, for example, you want to have the second channel of the first piano repeat on the second. Also, you can use the common keyboard shortcuts to copy and paste, or you can use the program’s menu options so you don’t have to repeat note sequences, and so you can easily replicate them in different sections.

In addition to these three main sections, from the main windows you can also edit the playback speed (the tempo), modify the amount of spaces per frame, and the authorship information. In regards to the format, you can save and export your songs in WAV and NSF format, which is the same format as the audio that the NES supports, in addition to being the format used to save your masterpieces. You can also import MIDI files as a base to your modules, although you’ll have to select which instruments are associated with them.

So, this is basically a brief tutorial to help you. In addition to the program’s Help, there are other tutorials on the Internet that describe all of Famitracker’s features in depth. Although we already saw that it is designed to emulate NES sound chips, you can really use any kind of instrument without any kind of limitation in regards to the channels, allowing you to compose any chiptune that comes to you. Do you already have ideas for your next song?

Download Famitracker on Uptodown | http://getwhitechapel.com/~famitracker/

Official website | http://famitracker.com/

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’m grateful that you shared something like this. I’m pretty sure that people who love music and at the same time want to add some twist would gladly appreciate this. Although this Famitracker is not so familiar with me based on your description this can be easily learned and navigate.

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    acapella sheet music

    • Trackers are so easy to learn, and provides a very good results if you need some “retro-vintage sound” :-).

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