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Karaoke (カラオケ in Japanese) is a form of entertainment where an amateur singer accompanies recorded music. The music is of a well-known song in which the voice of the original singer is absent or reduced in volume. Lyrics may also be displayed, sometimes synchronized with the music, to help with the sing-along.

Karaoke has been a popular form of entertainment in east Asia since at least the 1980s, and has since spread to other parts of the world.

Origin of the word

The Japanese word stems from the words: "kara" (空) which means 'empty' (same as in Karate) and "oke" which is short for 'orchestra'. The words together make a contraction meaning 'empty orchestra' literally. Because the term is half Japanese and half English it is considered a foreign word and usually written in katakana. The term karaoke can be interpreted as "virtual orchestra" because one can specify a key to the music and start singing along without the presence of a live band or orchestra. In the United States, the word is often pronounced incorrectly as care-ree-OH-kee or ker-OH-kee. The original Japanese pronunciation is ka-ra-uh-KEH.


The industry started in Japan in the early 1970s. The fad spread to the rest of Asia and then to the United States in the 1990s. Facilities such as karaoke bars or "KTV parlors" provide the venue, equipment and software for amateur singers to entertain (or 'torture') each other.

Its popularity has spread to the United States and other Western countries, where some people still regard it as purely a method for the intoxicated to embarrass themselves, but as the novelty has worn off many now take it slightly more seriously.


The most bare-bone karaoke machine consists of an audio input, a pitch alternation switch and an audio output. Some advanced machines provide vocal suppression so that one can feed regular songs into the machine to filter out or greatly suppress the voice of the original singer. Most common machines are audio mixers with microphone input built-in with CD-G, Video CD, Laser Disc, or DVD players which play with special media that encode the original song in one audio track and music only in another track. The video media also enable the display of the lyrics graphically on screen in sync with the music. In some countries, karaoke with video lyrics display capablities is also called KTV. Karaoke machines may involve technology that electronically changes the pitch of music so that amateur singers can sing along to any music source by choosing a key that is appropriate for individual's vocal range. Sing-along machines that lack the pitch alternating feature are seldom referred as Karaoke.

MIDI applications

Some computer programs that serve a similar purpose to the standard karaoke machine have been developed that use MIDI instrumentation to generate the accompaniment rather than a recorded track. This has the advantage of making transposition technically trivial and also shrinks the information needed to provide the accompaniment to the point where it is easy to transfer them across the Internet, even over slow connections..The standard file format used is *.KAR, which is an extension of the standard .MID MIDI disk format, and can be played unaltered by MIDI player software.

Related ideas

Karaoke bar/Karaoke restaurant

A Karaoke bar (or restaurant) is simply a
bar/restaurant with karaoke equipment, so that people can sing publicly.

Karaoke room

Some restaurants include small, private rooms ("noraebang") equipped with karaoke equipment. Each group of customers takes its own room, making the experience more intimate and the embarrassment less public.

Some customers have one song which they are especially good at, and which they use to show off their singing abilities. An English translation of such a song is "number 18," which is slang in Korean and mildly obscene. The term originated during the Japanese colonial period and is in reference to the most popular 18 plays of kabuki.

In some traditional Chinese restaurants, there are so-called "mahjong-karaoke rooms" where elderly can play mahjong and teenagers can enjoy karaoke. The result is less complaints about boredom but more noise.

Karaoke VCD

The takeoff of Video CDs in Southeast Asia is partly due to the cheap but tolerable quality, and partly due to the popularity of karaoke. Many VCD players in Southeast Asia have built-in Karaoke function. If users disable the singer's voice and let the music alone, they can play karaoke.

In the past, there were only pop song karaoke VCDs. Nowadays, different types of karaoke VCD are available. Cantonese opera karaoke VCD is now a big hit among elderly in Hong Kong.

Karoke in film

Karaoke has sometimes been depicted in movies and television shows. One example is the 1997 Korean movie No. 3), a gangster comedy film, in which some of the characters are depicted drunk and singing off-key. A more recent example is Lost in Translation.

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