So…How is Chromatik?

Last weekend, I had the chance to visit with Chad Criswell (author of MusicEdMagic amongst other endeavors) and Liz Fritz (a music educator really plugged into Web 2.0) at a session at the Iowa Music Educators Association Professional Development Conference.

After the conference, Mr. Criswell tweeted this question:

After posting that tweet, Mr. Criswell had the opportunity to visit with Matt Sandler, CEO of Chromatik, and posted this tweet (I encourage you follow the link in the tweet to read the full article) yesterday about Chromatik.

So what is the deal about Chromatik? In its purest form, it is PDF music reader. You upload your music (in PDF format) to Chromatik, and then you can view that music on any flash-enabled device (i.e. your computer) or via their iPad app. Once the music is in Chromatik, you can annotate it, send it to another user, or make a recording–which you can also send to another user.

With the exception of recording, all of these features are standard features to the “PDF Music Reader” apps that are available on the iPad What makes Chromatik unique is that the files are hosted on Chromatik's servers, and you can sharing a song or setlist via e-mail with relative ease. Another selling point for Chromatik is the cost of the program–it is free. The recording feature is an important part of the service, as it offers a way to assess performances easily, without having to go “all the way” with a service like SmartMusic. In full disclaimer mode, it should be noted that unrealBook (a PDF music reader) has offered the ability to record and share recordings for quite some time.

It is important to note that Chromatik isn't “finished” as a product. It has some shortcomings that will be resolved in the future. For example, you can't currently program a “hot spot” or “link” in your music to quickly jump to a repeated/D.S./D.C. section of your music. I would find it useful to be able to link an audio recording to the original file that I share, and to be able to have students perform with that recording–and even record themselves while it is playing. But as it stands right now, you can only record yourself and send it to someone else–and you cannot link an existing recording to a file.

In my teaching (and for my students) a solution such as forScore or unrealBook is better answer for PDF music reading–at least for the moment. Repeated sections happen far too often in choral music to try to either flip back multiple pages one-page-at-a-time. As far of sharing documents, Dropbox works just as easily–as do Bluetooth file transfers–even with complete setlists. The current method of inviting users to a file or setlist on a one-to-one e-mail address could be problematic with a full choir or band (or a teacher who has multiple choirs or bands). A better solution for sharing documents in education will be needed. The recording feature of Chromatik is great–but without a reference recording, most singers would be unable to successfully sing a performance and send it back to me. Furthermore, most of the PDF music readers on the iPad have many other features that Chromatik doesn't have–yet.

Why is Chromatik so prevalent in the news? The answer is pretty simple: Matt Sandler does a great job of contacting people that ask questions. He is a great spokesman for the product, and they make it a point to push the promotion of the software. There is nothing wrong with that. It doesn't hurt to have your product featured on American Idol or backed by various Angel Investors as well as Bruno Mars. I believe the ultimate goal is to make Chromatik available on every platform. Right now, Chromatik doesn't play well with Safari on my MacBook, but it does work with Google Chrome. I can't say that I'm impressed with my scores on my MacBook screen (13″), so a larger MacBook Pro or iMac would definitely be a better experience with Chromatik.

My only true concern with Chromatik is the fact that your files are hosted by their service–if something should happen to their service (loss of funding, whatever), the program becomes useless–whereas a normal PDF reader on the iPad is completely self-contained. Even if the app developer goes out of business, the app itself won't stop working. Granted, you still have your original PDF files–and you could fall back on another option.

I need to make it clear that I'm not against Chromatik–In fact, I'd recommend that everyone sign up for the service. I've been talking about the app at all of the conferences I've presented at since learning about the program this summer. I'm interested to see where the program goes and how it grows in the coming days, and the app may have usefulness to you right now in its current state.



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