Windows 7 and General MIDI (another sad, true story)

February 2011 Ed note: From Sept 2009, in response to a posting from Microsoft’s Guru Larry Osterman at: (you might want to peruse so the context below is clear).  It’s somewhat redundant with my July 2009 post where it became clear that Microsoft was not doing anything to help entry level music makers with it’s soon to be released Windows 7 Operating system.

I just want to keep a voice alive that suggests that a  offering simple/quality solution regarding Audio/MIDI output is the ultimate Noob feature for the Music Maker!   If your wife’s riding instructor chose to try and learn piano with a PC in the mix (Gallup NAMM says 85% of americans would like to learn a musical instrument)  – she would have a number of big problems off the bat given current options/configuration.

1.  Latency/GM Sound Quality:  Most software programs for music making still refer to MIDI as the only source of input data.  For output most edu programs look to a General MIDI OUT sound source.  USB Controller keyboards (M-audio et al) outputting only MIDI data are THE growth category in the keyboard/music products industry – with shipments in the hundreds of thousands per annum.  And you know what largely they use to make sound – the computer – since sound modules are dead. The only default PC option – GM Wavetable Synth (Licensed from ROland in the 90’s) has unusable latency and very poor quality sound.    This one-size-fits-none approach is killing options for the PC as an easy to use music making tool.

2.  USB MIDI Driver (probably another dept – but needs to be mentioned).  Running two programs calling upon a MIDI IN device is not  supported by the compliant USB MIDI driver in Windows?  THus, it either crashes the program  – or kicks an error message that will confuse and dissapoint.

Solving these two problems would stem market losses in this category to the fruit based competitor that offers these key features.  We lose PC licenses based on poor music making support on an increasing basis every month.

Listen, if I’m some lunatic barking at the moon here – let me know – and I’ll stop –  but on behalf of a lot of music makers, educators, and folks across the world where music making is active – let me say…help!  Is there any way tweak this in Windows 7 or going forward?

If there is another place at MS where I can share our experience in this category, please channel me there…owwwwwwwwwwww (that’s me barking…)

Windows and General MIDI (a sad, true story)

February 2011 Ed note: I wrote this in July 2009 for ePiano – and have slightly edited and republished here:

Dear Chris (an MS support engineer), As founder of a company that develops music software and integrates music systems for schools as our primary business, and has installed over 300 PCs solely focused on their MIDI capabilities – mostly leveraging properties of Creative Labs Soundcards, I am continuously anxious about Microsoft’s direction/support of MIDI and aspects of the Audio stack.

While Music and Arts is clearly not the prime target for Microsoft, to REMOVE or decrease support/functionality in this area is going to challenge this portion of your business…

Here are the two simple requirements that Microsoft must consider to remain a functional competitor to Mac in this area (Mac has both of these):

1.  Multiclient USB Midi support in Compliant Driver:   Running more than one program that makes use of MIDI in or OUT will cause a program or the system to generate an alert/error condition to the effect of “Cannot find a MIDI driver on the system”.   There are solutions to this via Third party hardware/drivers – but more and more keyboards/instruments guitars featuring USB ports and “compliant” MIDI outputs will experience this error/condition and will only serve to diminish the Windows experience and create confusion.

2.  Low Latency upgradeable GM sound source.  GM wavetable synth may have been a great innovation at one time, but it is an unusable output for music making.  The latency is unusable, and even though the sound quality poor, it’s the latency that kills it.  A solution with 20ms or less latency is the right choice.  Being able to insert a soundfont would be strategic, and in one single move, regain the support of music education and entry level music production.

This is a request based upon living daily the possibilities of a software-enhanced music making world and its ability to benefit the hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who will use the power of a USB keyboard and a desktop/laptop computer for music making.  PC laptops are already handicapped for music making/MIDI, but don’t kill the desktop too!  Help?  Is there anyone, anyplace I can direct this line of thinking to at Microsoft?   This is my first post regarding this and I’d like to get in touch with a dept as MS that might benefit from some of our experience on this front.

Knight Foundation Report

February 2011 Ed note: I wrote this in Nov 2006 for ePiano – and have slightly edited and republished here:

From 1994 to 2004 — a seminal decade for the arts in America — the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation invested $13 million in its Magic of Music Symphony Orchestra Initiative.  Among other things, it attempted to respond to challenges faced by Orchestras throughout the country.  The Wall Street Journal on November 5/6, 2006, picked up on this report. The entirety of the report “The Search for Shining Eyes” is viewable at: and is also available for .pdf download as well.  It is well worth reading for anyone involved in music education or curious about the state of classical music in America.

Some thoughts:

If you teach, they will come.  It seems that two of the reports key facts/conclusions stand out and have significant implications for music teaching institutions:

  1. There is growing evidence that participatory music education – primarily instrumental lessons, ensemble and choral programs – will turn people into ticket buyers later in life.
  2. There is no evidence that exposure programs for children – especially the large concert format offerings for school children – will turn them into ticket buyers as adults.

Then, the big idea!
The report states: “In trying to profile the factors that might predict a ticket buyer, one statistic stood out: 74 percent of them had played an instrument or sung in a chorus at some time in their lives.”  Wow! This is the main, positive observation of this 10 year study.

The symphony orchestras needs to realize the strong positive association that connects them to music education and may indeed determine their long term fate.

For the classical music “establishment” this means supporting and instigating music making at every level at every opportune moment, in every feasible manner.

Orchestra funding sources should should think about music education.
With such a strong fact correlating orchestral attendance and music participation, it suggests that the classical music establishment needs to start thinking about building music education and not relying on shopworn ideas about how to grow or maintain concert attendance. As the report states – the larger the universe of music makers – the larger the group of likely concert attendees.

There is now every reason for the Orchestra and its various arms to become involved in music education through partnerships, grants, free promotion – or even consider something as radical as opening schools and directly offering music education programs in schools or out .  The cloistered classical music community must realize that the vast majority of the world cares less about their craft with every year that passes.  The ever improving marketing machine that captures people’s attention and time makes it harder for a static, old-world business like the Orchestra to compete effectively for public attention.

So, gather now all ye educators and symphonies – your common ground is now made entirely clear.  If you teach, they will come.