I'm trying to understand how "FM synthesis" and "MIDI synthesis" are relative to each other.

For example, in one article that I found on the Internet (here it is) it is said that...

the process by which sounds cards produce audio output from MIDI input is called synthesis. There are three synthesis methods:

  • FM synthesis
  • Wavetable synthesis
  • Waveguide synthesis

So, as I understand this article, the author assume that FM synthesis is a subtype of MIDI synthesis.

On the other hand, FM synthesis and MIDI synthesis are sometimes mentioned in contrast with each other, for example on this YouTube video:

  • AdLib: starts on 0:05
  • MIDI: starts on 2:50

Or this one:

  • 1
    Just further to your edit, I don't believe it is correct to say that FM Synthesis is a "subtype" of MIDI Synthesis. What I was trying to allude to was that you don't need MIDI to be able to conduct synthesis of sounds. So FM Synthesis is a subtype of Synthesis in general. MIDI is really only the control and initiation mechanism, nothing more than that. Think of fingers on a piano. You can play the piano with a finger on the keys, or you can drop a book on the keyboard. You don't need fingers to make a sound on the piano, although it does help.
    – Mark
    Feb 27, 2019 at 3:57
  • Furthermore, one day something better than MIDI will be invented. You will still have synthesis, but it will be controlled by some other mechanism.
    – Mark
    Feb 27, 2019 at 3:58

1 Answer 1


There's really no such thing as MIDI Synthesis.

Synthesis is the process by which sounds are 'synthesised' using various modulation and generation techniques.

MIDI is the "Musical Instrument Digital Interface" and is a protocol by which electronic music instruments can pass control and note information.

MIDI is only interested in sending and receiving control, configuration and note information to an electronic instrument or a sequencer. What they then do with that information is of really very little interest to "MIDI".

It may be that an electronic instrument decides to "synthesise" a sound and play that out, or it might be that a sequencer records that information for later play-out or editing. Quite honestly, MIDI doesn't care.

It's the synthesiser that does the synthesising and the MIDI protocol that tells it what to do. They are really two very different things.

To add to this, a MIDI keyboard can be used to control an FM Synthesiser or whatever synthesiser you care to connect to it. an FM Synthesizer with it's own keyboard may use MIDI internally for the control and note information, but it doesn't have to.

  • Thanks. Well, but what is the proper way to refer to the "sound implementation" in games? One game is intended to work with "Roland MT-32". Could we say that this game have MIDI music? Another game is intended to work with "AdLib" sound card. Could we say that this game have "FM synthesized" sound? And how to compare these games from the sound point of view? I mean, we could say that one game have "EGA" mode and another game have "VGA" mode. EGA and VGA are both display modes. But I can't understand how to say the same phrase about FM synthesized/MIDI games.
    – john c. j.
    Feb 26, 2019 at 14:07
  • 1
    Saying that a game uses MIDI music is reasonable. Saying that another game might have sound based on "FM Synthesis" is also entirely reasonable. It's also entirely possible that the FM Synthesis uses MIDI under the hood to control the FM Synthesis chip. IF a game generates midi data, then you could in theory use any synthesizer to generate the game sound - not just the Roland MT-32. It's possible that the MT-32 will generate the desired sounds, but if it is all "general MIDI" then quite possibly it could be any General Midi Synthesiser.
    – Mark
    Feb 26, 2019 at 14:26
  • Thanks again. "It's also entirely possible that the FM Synthesis uses MIDI under the hood to control the FM Synthesis chip." -- And which are other options to control the FM Synthesis chip?
    – john c. j.
    Feb 26, 2019 at 15:02
  • 2
    The other option would be a specific driver control library which would be linked into the software. The software would then call functions in the library to initiate synthesis and control the required parameters.
    – Mark
    Feb 26, 2019 at 15:05

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