Punctuated Equilibrium?

I was recently listening to a podcast and they were discussing the theory of “Punctuated Equilibrium” as it relates to the evolution of Information Technology. I’d never heard of this before but as it was being explained, I immediately saw a parallel to the bagpipe band world and, learning bagpipes!

In Biology, the hypothesis is that evolutionary development is marked by isolated episodes of rapid speciation between long periods of little or no change.

The correlation to learning bagpipes, or drums, or pretty much any instrument, should be obvious. In the beginning we learn scales and basic techniques rather quickly, then for most people, there’s a period where we might not advance as quickly as we perfect what we’ve learned. Then, after learning a few basic tunes, most people are ready to learn some different time signatures like 6/8 or 9/8. Later will come more difficult tunes like jigs, strathspeys, and reels. If you are a competing piper or drummer, it may similarly take a few seasons between moving up through grade levels.

The punctuated equilibrium model of group development in psychology argues that groups often move forward during bursts of change after long periods without change. Groups that are similar, stable, small, supportive, and satisfied tend to be more cohesive than groups that are not.

A pipe band’s trajectory can follow a a similar pattern. As pipe bands age, members may come and go, students take time to get up to speed, periods of growth and change may be followed by times of stability and the cycle will repeat.

It might be valuable to keep this in mind as you work through times of plateau in your musical development. Does your band feel stagnant? Maybe great things are building all around you, just waiting for the next burst of change!