Home Concert Xtreme for iPad

I’ve recently received a few e-mails centered around the topic of MIDI and the iPad.  MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a standard protocol which allows digital instruments to work with computers and other digital instruments.  The original MIDI standard was set in 1982 (29 years ago), and followed by General MIDI, which determined which specific channels for instrument sounds, in 1991 (20 years ago).  Even today, digital music is usually controlled by that same 1982 MIDI standard, and most composition software packages still interact with MIDI for external data entry and playback.   That said, import of standard MIDI files in any composition software package, such as Finale, or even Symphony Pro on the iPad, leaves much to be desired.  A much better way to share detailed musical data between composition programs is the MusicXML format.

There are a number of teachers who wrote or recorded files–sometimes thousands of files–in MIDI format.  And there are a plethora of MIDI files on the net (choose a song, and then do a Google search).  How can a music educator use these files with the iPad?  The good news?  The iPad is a MIDI-friendly device.  One of the least mentioned yet most powerful (at least for music and musicians) changes in iOS 4.0 was the addition of Core MIDI to iOS.  Apps have been able to tap into MIDI functions since late last summer, both developers and hardware manufacturers have been quick to tap into that potential.

Paul Shimmons, author of iPad and Technology in Music Education, brought Home Concert Xtreme for the iPad by Zenph to my attention a few days ago.  Home Concert Xtreme is an application that was first available on the Mac and PC, as a keyboard training system for piano players using MIDI files.  I contacted Zenph and asked if they would be willing to share a promo code, which they were graciously willing to do.  The iPad version of Home Concert Extreme offers many of the elements of the desktop version.  Here is a link to a YouTube video by Mario Ajero describing the desktop version of Home Concert Xtreme (Note: in some of his other videos, Mr. Ajero’s student [son?] uses the iPad version):

After watching Mr. Ajero’s video, it is clear that Home Concert Xtreme is an excellent example of a program being adapted from the PC version (PC referring to all “traditional” computers) to iPad. Some features, such as making music larger or smaller, are actually better on the iPad.

What really works on Home Concert Xtreme for iPad?

  1. The interface is very clean, and probably works best in landscape mode.  In the initial settings, the size of music notes are small for my tastes, but this can be changed with a quick two-finger pinch or zoom.
  2. The app has a number of ways to select measures (double tap or slider), adjust tempo (slider), and for the performer to know where they are in the music (highlighted in blue).
  3. Uses typical iOS gestures, such as zoom and pinch to make music notes larger.  A long press will allow special types of markers, including some special playback controls, the ability to add text reminders, or even dynamics.
  4. With a separate document manager called DiskAid, you can organize MIDI files by folder and subfolder, rather than by title.
  5. Instruments (keyboards) with USB MIDI connections plug directly into the iPad Camera Connection Kit, and do not require an external MIDI controller
  6. A nice selection of starter files to use as you become accustomed to the program.
  7. A mixer that allows you to adjust the levels of specific MIDI channels.
  8. The iPad sits flat on the piano, whereas a laptop has to sit on top of the piano, or on the side of the piano)
  9. A number of modes to help piano players, Learn, Jam, and Perform.
  10. In some ways, Home Concert Xtreme is like SmartMusic for the Piano, based on MIDI files.
  11. Overall, the program works and it works well.

What could  be better?

  1. The program should be able to import MIDI files from the Internet, Mail, or DropBox.
  2. Once loaded in the app, the user should be able to move MIDI files and organize them from within the app.
  3. The help file is currently a PDF on the website, and ultimately, should be a part of the iPad program itself.
  4. I had some issues importing standard MIDI files, both from the Internet and from Finale.  Although I haven’t yet figured out what to do with the Internet files, Home Concert Xtreme worked with Finale-generated files where the right hand was on Channel 4, and the left hand on Channel 3.  By default, Finale creates piano staves that use the same MIDI channel.  Ultimately, I’d like to see MIDI encoding suggestions on the Zenph website.  A web search yielded some helpful tips, but it would be helpful to know how to pull in an Internet MIDI file with orchestra as well as piano background.
  5. Although it isn’t the app’s fault, MIDI can only contain specific types of data, and therefore, carries less details than MusicXML files.  I don’t know if it would be possible, but if the app could open MusicXML files as well, that would be fantastic.
  6. Although some annotation is possible, it would be great to be able to add handwritten notes.  I’m not sure this is possible–but it is a thought.
  7. AirPlay compatibility (out of iPad speakers) would be great when the iPad acts as the MIDI playback module.
  8. Another item that isn’t the app’s fault, but the iPad’s own MIDI piano sound leaves a lot to be desired.

How could this be used in the classroom?

  1. If you are a teacher and have MIDI files, you could make sure they are formatted properly, and then use them through Home Concert Xtreme in your classes as an accompaniment.
  2. You could download additional MIDI files from the Internet, make sure they are formatted properly, and then use them in your classes with Home Concert Xtreme as an accompaniment.
  3. In both the above cases, a bluetooth music receiver ($20 at Monoprice) could be used to stream audio from the iPad to other speakers.
  4. You could connect a MIDI keyboard and use Home Concert Xtreme on the iPad to help young piano students
  5. I think it is important to note that the app has potential above and beyond private piano pedagogy, although it was clearly devised for that market.

What are others saying about the app?  Here are some (lightly edited) comments from the AppStore (15 total ratings, 14 5-star, 1 4-star):

Looks just as beautiful on the iPad as it does on the Mac/PC.  Home Concert Xtreme is hands-down the best MIDI player for pianists out there, but it is so much more than that.  The way that it translates MIDI files to tangible and readable music notation and its hands-free page turning system is way ahead of any other software program out there.  It’s the perfect program for piano teachers and student pianists to perform with countless MIDI accompaniments that come with various piano method books and solos.  With the right MIDI-capable keyboard, pianists can use the Learn Mode to get familiar with all the right notes, use the Jam Mode to establish a steady tempo, and use the Perform Mode to put their own personal expression with tempo fluctuations where the orchestra or back-up band stay with you.  Mario Ajero, June 16th.

 

This is a great piano instruction program and is implemented perfectly on the iPad.  I bought the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit, plugged in a USB cable to my Kawaii C93 digital piano, and it worked right away!  No expensive USB-MIDI convertor, and no calls to tech support.  Bill Spiller, July 17th.

 

Home Concert Xtreme plays MIDI files for piano teaching materials and displays the RH and LH tracks correctly.  Thanks for the tip about DiskAid.  I was able to transfer 10,000 files, organized into folders and subfolders, quickly and easily…Sometimes I use the iPad’s internal MIDI and sometimes I use the USB-MIDI connection…Apparently some USB-MIDI connectors don’t work, such as my Roland UM-1.  susanmusic, June 24th.

Home Concert Xtreme is available for $9.99 through July 31st, and afterwards will be available for $39.99.  So if you are interested in this app, try to purchase it during its special introductory price!  The desktop versions of the app, which the iPad app models very closely, sell for $99. Additionally, I was reminded by representatives at Zenph that to use a MIDI instrument, either the iPad Camera Connection kit or a CoreMIDI-compliant interface must be used.  Additionally, they mentioned that in order to take full advantage of the app’s features, the MIDI files should be formatted to logical beats and bar lines with correct key and time signatures, and left and right hand parts must be assigned to separate channels or to separate tracks.

If you are interested further in MIDI topics, iOS Musician is a blog that focuses on MIDI and other digital instrument topics for iOS.

Some notes from Zenph that are worth examining:

“Home Concert Xtreme works with tens of thousands of pedagogical MIDI files available from major publishers like Alfred, Hal Leonard, Frederick Harris etc. While the app comes with samples, any MIDI file from these publishers will work just fine. This is particularly useful information for teachers who use many of these methods and the associated files in their teaching. The program’s Learn, Jam and Perform modes also offer unprecedented levels of intelligent interactivity. The learn mode is an effective learning and practice tool. When used with the looping feature, it can be used to perfect troublesome sections of pieces.  Teachers currently use a similar method – making students practice problem measures until they master them.  The Perform mode makes the program follow the keyboard soloist’s lead – taking advantage of the score following technology to create a performance tool.  Lastly, the Jam mode needs the keyboard player to play along with the rest of the orchestration”
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