Another reason why notebook computers and widescreen tablets are not the answer in 1:1 implementation (in music)

I just arrived home from school (10:40pm) after the latest performance of our school’s musical.  I’ve been working on moving our current literature to Chromatik so my students can have access to those resources–if they wish–via Chromatik at home.  Overall, the process is easy, and there have been some small glitches (some PDFs just do not want to upload).   But for the most part, it works.

I opened Chromatik on my MacBook today, and set the view to full screen mode.  To my surprise, the choral music I’ve uploaded is nearly illegible.  As a matter of full disclosure, I need to get my eyes checked, as I am far sighted and my forty-year-old eyes just can’t focus on close objects like they once did.  But I can see a MacBook screen just fine.  Here’s a screen shot from my MacBook–you’ll see what I mean:

AtB MacBook

I have a thirteen-inch MacBook, so perhaps a fifteen-inch MacBook would do a better job of rendering these pages.  But to be honest, I’m skeptical if any widescreen notebook computer can do Chromatik justice.  I do think that a twenty-one or twenty-seven inch iMac would be up to the task…but my MacBook (and I think the thirteen-inch is the most common size) just doesn’t show Chromatik’s resources very well.

Now, here’s the ironic part: the iPad does an unbelievable job with Chromatik’s same resources.  Here’s an image from my iPad of the same song:

AtB iPad


The iPad app from Chromatik seems to take some the white space out of the sides of the original document, and the image is 100% clear and legible.  My iPad is a 4th Generation with Retina screen, and both MacBooks that I use (home and school) are non-Retina, but I’m pretty sure I would have the same issues trying to read this music on a Retina screen, too…here’s why:

MacBook vs iPad

Simply put, the iPad gains nearly 2″ of diagonal space over the MacBook.  In other words, the MacBook has nearly the same height of display as an iPad Mini.  So if you are viewing music two pages at a time on Chromatik, the image is going to be significantly smaller and hard to read than on a full-sized iPad; and the iPad Mini may even make a better option, as the images on the Chromatik iPad app might be tweaked for that application.

Don’t get me wrong here…I’m not complaining about Chromatik (in fact, I’m praising their iPad app and its use of screen space), but I’m making a statement about widescreen versus 4:3 devices.

It comes down to this: Rueben Puentedura’s SAMR model, where the first step of technology integration is SUBSTITUTION.  I stand convinced–even more so at this moment than a week ago, and I was already convinced–that the primary way to get technology into music education is as a substitute for music.  The AMR of SAMR will follow.  If your school adopts widescreen computers (MacBook, Windows, or Chrome), you simply will not be able to easily integrate those devices into your middle school and high school programs, which are heavily skewed towards BCO (Band, Choir, Orchestra).  If you integrate, you have to enter at the M or R phases of SAMR (Modification, Redefinition), and that’s an unnatural jump.

It’s an interesting point, because there are companies that have made good use of widescreen formatting, such as MakeMusic with SmartMusic.  But the truth is that MakeMusic can modify SmartMusic to a 4:3 format without too much hassle because they have already been working with making music visible on a reduced-height screen.  Some of the menus that exist in SmartMusic can always be moved to a drop-down format on an iPad app.  So in other words, it isn’t a “stretch” to take a widescreen resource and modify it for 4:3.

The reverse, however, isn’t true.  Putting 4:3 on a widescreen device isn’t very nice.  Think about it: we’re used to word processing on 16:9 or 16:10 widescreen monitors because we have to.  But the truth is that it isn’t natural, and you have to do a lot of scrolling.  I’m having to do so as I type this post on WordPress!  Even Finale, my music notation software of choice, is something that we get used to using in widescreen, but in reality, most of the material exported out of the program is in a 4:3 format of some kind.  So even that isn’t natural, but we accept it because we always have done so.  Let’s be honest: widescreen is for the benefit of the video industry.  And it is great for movies.  But for the rest of life, it stinks.

So if you want 4:3, what are your options?  I know of 3, and only three, at this time: the iPad, a Coby 4:3 tablet, and the Kuno tablet.  All desktop and notebook computers feature widescreen monitors, and nearly all the other Android and Windows 8 tablets are widescreen.

The push for widescreen devices come from subjects or IT personnel that either a) have resources that require a specific platform (1), or b) hate Apple.  Meanwhile, music and a huge number of other subject areas could benefit from a 4:3 device integrated into their curriculum.  This includes family and consumer science, visual art/graphic design, physical education, and any subject that deals with 4:3 original resources (including digital photography!).

So, this entire blog entry, basically a rant against widescreen devices in 1:1 situations, is due because of my experience with Chromatik today as I looked at a score in full screen view on my MacBook, and compared it to my iPad.  Here’s my suggestion: go register for Chromatik, and then download the free app on your iPad.  Compare the program on your computer to your iPad, and see if you come to the same conclusion.  Friends don’t let friends adopt widescreen devices in 1:1 settings.


(1) Ironically, a school adopting a device like an iPad or even the Kuno (another 4:3 device) could save so much money versus outfitting a school with MacBooks or another computer that the money saved could provide sets of mobile computer labs for those specific subjects needing specific hardware, such as PLTW biomedical studies or PLTW engineering.

(2) Although I don’t reference this in the blog, I’m still wary of the Chromebook, as I don’t see how it can ever find a “S” in the SAMR model for music and many other subjects.  Most of the raving Chromebook reviews I see by teachers and students are focused on the “core areas” where computers are basically used for web searching, citations, calendars, blogs, and writing papers.  Technology integration and 1:1 is supposed to be more than simply substituting a device in place of taking your class to your media center’s computer lab.  Simply using a 1:1 technology for glorified word processing isn’t integration…it’s something else.