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General MIDI

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(Often abbreviated “GM”) An extension of the MIDI standard which calls for a synth to have a standard set of sounds in each of its patch memory locations, and respond to a set of continuous controller messages in a certain way. The idea behind General MIDI is that a composer can write a song that uses the General MIDI sounds and then send the song as a standard MIDI file to an audience, and if the audience members have GM-compatible synths then they can load the MIDI file into their sequencers and play it, and it will sound the same as it did when played on the composer’s synth. (Originally, the creators of General MIDI had in mind that home stereo systems might be equipped with GM-compliant synth circuits and that popular songs would be released in this format, somewhat like in the days of player pianos. However, nearly all popular music today is vocal music, and GM lacks a way to reproduce vocals, so this particular use has never come to pass.) General MIDI has acquired something of a bad reputation among musicians, mainly because of computer sound cards with poor-quality GM sounds, coupled with Web pages which download obviously amateur MIDI sequences at unsuspecting users. However, many of the workstation synths currently on the market have a bank of patch memory which contains good-quality GM-compliant patches, and there are also rackmount synths made specifically for reproducing General MIDI. Additionally, an adapted version of General MIDI is widely used in karaoke machines.

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