More Thoughts on Pipe Band Instructors

The recent discussions regarding the 2011 competition rule change here in the east regarding pipe band instructors continues to generate commentary from out and about on Facebook, the Dunsire forums, this blog, and, I’m sure email exchanges across the web. The coming EUSBPA annual general meeting (AGM) is sure to come alive at the mention of this topic.

It’s all very nice to bandy about theories and ideas about what will make eastern US pipe bands better. But we’re not talking about magic here. If the rationale for the change—to force improvement in pipe bands because that improvement is currently absent—is solid, it should hold up against the data. So let’s look at it, shall we?

As mentioned in my recent post about the topic, only 32% of grade 3 pipe bands list a piping and/or drumming instructor. It is not clear how so small a proportion indicates some sort of adverse pattern. As it happens, the percentage matches nearly exactly the proportion of bands currently finishing in the top 20 of the competitive standings. Far from a hinderance, it would seem that the services of an instructor allows these bands to be competitive. Granted, it is not fully known whether these instructors have been on the field every time the bands have been out on the pitch. But still, if such a balance can be struck in grade 3 with instructors who may play with the band, then a similar balance would be evident in the other grades as well.

Grades 4 and 5 reveal a different story, however. A similar 33% of grade 4 bands are listed with instructors yet of the top 20 bands in the standings, 55% are those who list an instructor. Far from being a hinderance or balancing aid for competitiveness, an instructor would almost seem necessary for success in the grade. It is similar for grade 5. A full 53% of all bands in the grade list an instructor while 85% of the top 20 bands in the standings are of that group of bands.

It is safe to say that, in grade 3 at least, the majority of bands (without an instructor) doing well in the grade will continue to do so, while bands who utilize an instructor (whether they play on the field or not) will…what, win better? Currently, three of the top five bands in the grade utilize an instructor.

While it is clear that the need for a pipe band instructor seems to dwindle as we move up through the pipe band grades, the instructor still seems a necessary component for success for some bands. The data we have belies the need for a change at all. It’s unclear how any improvement is going to be derived through disallowing these instructors on the competition field when their presence is so clearly felt throughout the grades. What is really needed is an analysis of these bands and the frequency (or not) of an instructor’s appearance in the competition circle. Only then could we get a true idea of their impact vis á vis the rule change. To hypothesize about results brought about by changing or not changing competition rules is all a bit fanciful until a true accounting can be done.

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