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I was at a jazz jam session a few years back. I didn’t know it then – but I was learning a valuable lesson about design patterns.

Music, in its similarity to software, has a class of design patterns called scales (think Sound of Music – “doe re mi fa so..”).  Scales help musicians to have an intuitive understanding of the harmonic relationships between different pitches.  These relationships have mathematical connections that lead to a lot of simplification and a lot of carrying lessons learned in one context to another context.  There is a lot of value in deeply thinking about these relationships, and getting them “under your fingers” – getting an intuitive feeling for them by playing them.

The jazz solo is an interesting thing – it’s a time for a musician to attempt to convey feeling to the listeners, following as few rules as possible.  Though there are a lot of underlying laws to how to create certain feels….most musicians, in order to be able to express feeling in real-time, work hard to have an intuitive grasp of these laws.  Thinking through the specific details of the performance while performing would be impractical, and it would destroy the original inspiration.  Hence, musicians have located patterns (such as scales) – that allow them to work on that grasp when not performing.

After stepping down from my solo (which was undoubtedly life-changing for the audience) … another soloist took the stage.  He played scales.  For the whole solo.

A fellow listener leaned over and whispered in my ear about the ineffectiveness of the approach….in more colorful language.

Scales…..like design patterns in any domain are for developing intuitive understanding of the space.  They are NOT to be included for their own sake, thoughtlessly in the actual creation.

I’ve seen this a couple of times, at grand-scale, in software.  In the early 2000’s – I can’t remember how many singletons I saw cropping up all over the place (yeah, I may have been responsible for a few of those)…many, many times very unnecessarily.

These days there are a number of patterns that get picked up and used wholesale (with little thought) – MVC, Monad, Lambda, Onion, etc..  This is not how great software is written.  Like music – the domain has to be well-understood, and then the thing created from that understanding.  Picking up the design patterns, whether they’re scales or singletons, and instead of using them in private to gain understanding, we pass them off as creation, we are using them in exactly the most wrong (and harmful) way.

It will make our software worse – decreasing our understanding, and increasing the complexity of our software by creating code that doesn’t match the problem.