Using Database Software in Your Band Program

I’ve gotten a lot out of listening to the Class Nerd Podcast and lots of the things that Robby Burns puts out. I was insanely jealous in the Class Nerd episode where Robby described his use of FileMaker in his band program. Unfortunately, I don’t have the chops with a program as complicated as FileMaker to make the best use out of it, nor do I have the resources for a deployment of it in my band program to the extent it would be as useful as I desire for something similar to Robby’s use of it. I tried other solutions, like Airtable, but they didn’t feel like the right fit.

At NEIBA this year, I caught Dave Anderson’s awesome talk that he gave at IBA last year (and described to me in person earlier in the year) about using Google Forms with an add-in essentially as a database for producing email reports to parents on lessons that I’m going to be looking at implementing eventually.

But a bug caught me the other day, and on a whim, I got sucked in to setting up a Ninox database for my band program. I have some insights to share from what little I’ve been able to do with it so far, and why it’s already paid dividends for me in tracking information.

The first question is ‘Why Ninox?’ I’m looking for something about in that budget range, but I don’t want to be paying for a regular cloud service fee. When I caught this bug awhile ago, I tried a few products without success before throwing in the towel. I picked up Tap Forms at that time, but didn’t invest the same amount of upfront work as I just have with Ninox to put it though its paces. Before I’m too far along in Ninox, I might wind up giving Tap Forms a more fair shake, just to see if it does some things better. Obviously, there’s also the band-focused software out there like Charms or Cut Time, but I want to try rolling my own system first.

The main goals I had with a database program were tracking program-level information. I wanted to be able to have a central hub of student information that I could easily extend to cover new vectors (in database parlance, tables). The two primary things I wanted to extend tracking for was instrument rentals and tracking information related to solos.

At my school, I have happily maintained my predecessor’s tradition of requiring all students to prepare and perform a solo at a local solo & ensemble event. After year one, I saw how much some of our students grew (particularly our first-years) through the event. It was also a lot of valuable feedback for me as someone new to the profession.

The only downside is the work of selecting a solo for every student in my program, managing our library, keeping track of payments, and coordinating accompanists without much time in my schedule to do it.

Enter Ninox

After getting a table set up in Ninox with core student information (emails, lesson time, what bands they participate in), adding another table for their solos was a cinch. It’s made it easy to track the information I need to submit for the contest coordinators, and it’s already saved me a lot of time.

Before, I threw together a spreadsheet from information I copied over, and then got to work filling it out, and trying to keep some things up to date. It’d be organized in a different way than my other spreadsheets of student information, and there’d inevitably be friction throughout the whole process.

Being able to link information together in Ninox has saved me a bunch of sanity already when I’m running on less sleep than is ideal. It still has a few friction points in terms of shortcuts and some minor bugs, but I’m getting the hang of its core functionality quite well. It’s also easy to keep the information up to date on my phone (essential when I’m in the workroom on a different floor, and much more reliable than having my fingers crossed that the right spreadsheets have synced in the right folder).

It’s because of these small friction points that I’m hoping Tap Forms might have a bit more for me than I’ve currently seen, but if not, I can live with Ninox.

If you’re looking to give a database program a serious whirl, I highly recommend starting by importing all of your student records from your grading system (Schoology, Canvas, PowerSchool, etc.) Adding students piecemeal is not an effective way to see if a database program is a good fit for you. You’ll also just wind up importing some of those things (like parent contact info) later anyway.

I’m hoping to scale it for some lesson-related tracking as well, but I’m not sure if it will handle the exact needs I have without throwing extra money at it. I’m also not sure how well it could integrate in my current physical set-up for lessons and the needs of my program, but I’ll continue to update regarding this journey.