FileMaker13 in the Music Classroom – Contacts

FileMaker Large IconWhen you purchase FileMaker13 you are given starter solutions to get you going. Those solutions are very useful – you can learn many tricks and techniques by tearing them apart and looking at how they are constructed for one thing. Another reason they are useful is that you can take that starter solution and adjust it for your situation very easily! This gives you an excellent looking database with a whole lot less work! The starter solutions all come with very nice layouts for using the database on a desktop computer, then there are specific iPad layouts as well as iPhone layouts plus layouts for web based access. Each layout has been setup for a superb user experience on whichever platform you are using.

One of the huge reasons I bought the updated version 13 of FileMaker is the fact that there are so many ways to easily create layouts for iPad and iPhone now. they have done much of the “figuring out” of the specifics for you – like how big everything should be on desktop vs iOS.

Another reason is that there are now sliding panels (saves room on your layout and work so much better than the tabbed interfaces from the past)

A third reason are the new popovers, a technique borrowed from the iOS platform that works so very well in a database!

I took the Contacts starter solution and tore it apart and tweaked things to work for my job as a Band Director. There are some simple steps to make this happen that are not difficult at all. Then if you want to get fancier you may have to dig in a little bit more to learn some more advanced techniques (but seriously, if I can do this, anyone can!)

Step 1 – I got rid of some of the fields that I would not be using. then I added a bunch of fields that I needed because of my situation.

Step 2 – I moved things around in layout mode to better suit me and the way I wanted to work.

Step 3 – I repeated those two steps for the iPad layouts as well as the iPhone layout.

Step 4 – I dug into the layouts and scripts and tweaked some more there -Things like….

  • when clicking on the email icon in the original would bring up only the work email and personal emails. I re-did it so that the following emails would pop up – Personal, Moms, and Dads email.
  • the information on the side panel was not as useful to me until I tweaked it to show parent information as well
  • I added a sliding panel on the right hand side for Personal Info in the desktop layout and Parent Info in the iPad layout.

Take a look at the before and after pics below….

Contacts Original
Contacts Original


Contacts DataBase Tweaked
Contacts DataBase Tweaked

You really should just go try these databases out for yourself. There is a free demo you can download for FileMaker13 from their website. Plus the FileMakerGo app for iOS is now free!

WRAPING IT UP – Some video for you…
Making those changes really are not difficult at all and did not take more than one evening of work – the hardest part was to get the look just right. Things like those lines around the fields and whether or not they should be curved.

I think that pictures are worth a 1000 words but video is worth even more so here are a few YouTube videos I put together to show you where I am at. there is still more to do but what I have so far is just so stinking cool – the fact that I have sweet looking layouts for desktop, iPad and iPhone has me very excited!

The Overview….

Adding Pictures and the List view….

What it looks like on the iPad….

and last but not least it what it looks like on my iPhone….



FileMaker13 DataBase in the Music Classroom

FileMaker Large IconFileMaker13 is the latest version of FileMaker and it comes with some excellent improvements over the past! I will be adding a few more posts this next week about some of those improvements. In this blog post I want to highlight one improvement and point out a few reasons why using a database is so much better than using a spreadsheet. Then…. I’m going to bed. So every year I have to recruit and keep track of upcoming beginning band students. The first step in that process is our local music store comes in and gives a quick test to give us some indicators as to each students general musical aptitude – rhythms, pitch, chords and melody. Then they also have the kids try out instruments to see if they are a good fit for whatever they are interested in. These two “tests” give us a real basic building block for the next steps to be taken in class. I get those results in a spreadsheet form that looks much like this…. (I have already imported this into FileMaker though and have added a few more fields to the spreadsheet which is why you see some check boxes) 5th Database Spreadsheet Style   If I was to have left this info in spreadsheet form then I would not be able to foo some very useful things with that information like put is on my iPad in a different view along with a bunch of ways to mark things the first week of school… I can see at a very quick glance a lot of information about the student now. I can also make very quick changes to each students information – things like mark them present on four different days, indicate if they have changed their mind and actually need to be dropped, I can see if their parents attended the rental meeting or if they need a school instrument, if they have an instrument or a book and at the bottom I can see their test scores. (TAKE NOTE OF THE REPORTS BUTTON AT THE TOP!) 5th Database iPad Form   If I wanted to see more than just one kid at a time then I also have a list view setup which is even quicker when I am in the middle of 50 plus 5th graders anxiously ready to play those instruments! 5th Database List view As I mentioned above – did you take note of the Reports button on the Form View above? If not scroll back up and take a look… When I click on that button one of the new features of FileMaker13 kicks into action. PopOvers – something we are very used to having on iOS devices but now they are available in FileMaker Databases too! Here’s what pops up… Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 1.38.36 AM This is where the real fun happens…. I can now, at the touch of the button, print some very useful information. For instance, I can quickly get a list of all the kids signed up sorted by their last name OR sorted by the instrument they want to play. When I sort by the instrument they want to play I even have it set up to have section headers like this…. 5th Database Report Try to do THAT in a spreadsheet! It’s really easy when it comes time for me to send a list to the scheduling secretaries and principals of who is signed up because I can hit that button that pulls up all 57 kids, out of 91, that signed up for band and then it will automatically be sorted by last name and have a heading and footer and will even have a count of how man kids are on the list! NOW… I will say that I do use spreadsheets frequently. Our school grade book system will export reports as excel files of students names, phone numbers, parents info and their address/phone info. It is so easy to take those spreadsheets and import them into FileMaker though that I don’t use those spreadsheets for very long! TO WRAP UP The current iOS version of FileMakerGo 13 Small IconFileMakerGo is free and works on iPad as well as on iPhone! – it used to cost but the fact that is free is one of the new features of FileMaker13! It is a very nice addition! The desktop version of FileMaker is for Mac or Windows even though FileMaker is actually owned by Apple. It is not the cheapest program but it is also one of my most used programs year after year! The app comes in two version the Pro version which is all most people would need and then the advanced version which is more for database designers who want to develop and sell their databases. Then there is even FileMaker Server software but that’s a whole different story there!

Teachers Take Note – Free Resource for FileMaker Go

TeachersCompanion Logo

I have been using databases for years – I see so many people using spreadsheets for the wrong reasons and I feel bad for them! They really should not be tracking things like instruments, uniforms, music library and so many other projects inside of a spreadsheet! Spreadsheets are a great first step but after getting all that data into the spreadsheet there is no flexibility. It is so easy inside of a database to take a look at that data in so many different ways.

Let’s take a look at one free resource that I was introduced to the other day. This is a database called Teachers Companion and it is currently free. If you are using an iPad it is very easy to download the free FileMakerGo Small IconFileMaker Go app from the app store and then load up this database.

Here is what you get inside of the database that is currently working, the database is still being worked on so some features are not quite there yet.

  • A place to keep track of all your contacts
  • A place to keep track of your courses
  • Templates that you can develop and reuse
  • Invoices to keep track of who owes you money and along with that a spot to keep track of products you are putting into those invoice
  • A Purchases module to track what you have spent so far and who you have bought it from

There is also a Calendar and a Reports module that do not currently work.

So here are my thoughts on these…..

TeachersCompnaion ContactsAs for the contacts, you may wonder why not just simply use your Contacts app from Apple. The advantage to having your students all in a database like this is that their information can then be used in the other areas of the database – like pulling their names into your courses or automatically inserting the name/address/phone info onto an invoice. I have my own FileMaker database setup so that after creating a course with all the students in it I can run reports in all sorts of different ways – sorted by last name, sorted by what instrument they play, sorted by graduation year or maybe sorted by graduation year AND separated by boys vs girls. TeachersCompanion does not have that sort of capability set up though yet – That sort of capability would possibly end up in the Reports module.

The Courses module is pretty simple…. you can import students from your Contacts module, set days and times for the class and then you have a section for Lesson Plans. Now the Lesson Plans section is pretty straight forward – One box to input a description and then a Plan Date is connected to the plan as well. There is the capability to pull in Templates so you wouldn’t have to type the same thing over and over though.

The Invoices Module allows you to create an Invoice when someone needs to be charged for something. You create an invoice, select a person from your contacts and then start adding line items from your Products module. Then you are given the capability to print or email or save the invoice as a PDF. The beauty of this module is that it is very quick to create an invoice, print it and hand it to a kid to take home so that Mom knows he owes money for that reed and neck strap you just gave him. Later when the kid brings back the money you then simply mark that invoice as paid. The only problem here is that there is no capability to put in how the kids paid you (cash, check) or when he paid you or if for some reason if he has to make several payments.

Under the Purchases Module you create a PO, select a company from the Supplier Module and then start adding line items by selecting them from the Products Module. Using this module allows you to keep track of what you order in any given year – I am always looking at my database like this to see how many reeds I’ve used at the end of the school year so I know how many to order for the next year. The problem with TeacherCompanions implementation currently is that there is no way to print off a purchase like there is an Invoice. Of course in my case that’s not an issue because I have to enter my Purchase Orders in our schools system anyways and I wouldn’t ever really need to print from TeacherCompanion.


There are some shortcomings of TeacherCompanion –

  1. First problem is already obviously being fixed – Currently the database is not really designed for iPad sized use. It works but feels very small, the controls and buttons need to be bigger. It also seems cluttered. That is a hard issue to fix because they are indeed trying to put a lot into this offering! If you visit their website it is listed on the front page that they are working on putting a better interface together.
  2. Not enough reports – I am looking forward to seeing what they put in this Module
  3. Not very useful Lessons section – I know my state is not going to be satisfied with the bare bones info from inside of TeacherCompanion. There is no way that I could replace PlanBook Small IconPlanBook or DayBook ProDayBookPro with this simple database.

Highlights –

  1. Way better than a spreadsheet
  2. The possibility of keeping track of invoices and purchases could work in TeacherCompanion
  3. Love the fact that I do not have to keep typing things in time after time (addresses, templates)

I think that many people who have never used a database like this before would benefit from using TeacherCompanion and since it is free with the promise of better things to come…. why not try it out!?


Now if you want to really dig in and get serious about databases… Go purchase the desktop version of FileMaker and then you have ALL the flexibility you would EVER need. In fact I will soon be writing a few posts about the databases I am using and have been using for years! OF course the downside is that FileMaker is not cheap and TeacherCompanion is free! I am surprised there are not more offerings of databases like this for teachers to use with the absolutely free FileMakerGo app for iPad and iPhone. Of course, unless you have someone to develop a database for you using the desktop version of FileMaker the Go versions are not going to be much help.