Are shopping list questions on-topic, off-topic, or to be determined on a case-by-case basis?

In other words, does http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping/ apply here and, if so, should we include a shopping list clause in our FAQ as well?


Please, ladies and gentlemen, let's keep the answers on-topic to this question. I've removed a reference to a question that has caused too much contention and poor behavior to be useful as an example, and would prefer if the answers that continue that behavior were removed or edited to be on-topic.

4 Answers 4


I think they should be off-topic. All of the same problems mentioned in that blog post exist with Music shopping questions. The problems include:

  • "Bad subjective"
    • Answers amount to unverifiable opinions
    • Two valid answers could be complete opposites
  • Too localized
    • May become quickly outdated (not true for theory books, perhaps, but certainly for composition software, certain equipment, etc.)
    • Often relevant only to the asker
  • We can't possibly answer the question well without knowing the user's learning style, background, preferences, etc. which is not easy to convey in a short text question
  • The user should learn to evaluate things on their own ("teach a man to fish")

Regarding the last point, questions that ask how to evaluate things are better. Example from the blog:

Q: How do I tell which point-and-shoot cameras take good low light photos?

A: I strongly recommend looking for something with

a fast lens (2.0 at least)
reasonable ISO handling (at least 400, but preferably 800)
the biggest sensor available

The sum of these factors are really critical for low light situations.

I'm sure you can see how a similar question about evaluating guitars for a particular application, for example, would also be a good question.

Of course, not all shopping recommendations will suffer from all of the above problems. But they will all certainly suffer from some of them. There's also the question of what we want this site to be. Do we want it to be a place where we talk about music practice, performance, history, theory, and composition? Or do we want it to be a place where we tell people what to buy? They're not mutually exclusive, of course, but it will be much harder to attract and keep users knowledgable about the former when they're deluged with shopping advice.


Why aren't shopping lists allowed on the link from OP? Because they become obsolete very quickly and, uh, "ask us what you need to learn to tell what you should buy". Well, nothing in music becomes obsolete very quickly.

Plus "teach me to buy books about conducting!" is stupid. I don't want to learn to buy books. I want to learn conducting. But no one is going to teach me conducting in one answer, they're going to recommend some further reading. And I can't ask a specific answer if I don't know anything beforehand, so I need be referenced to some literature.

If I had to summarize our network in a single word, that word is “learning”.

If the objective of this network is learning, who cares if it comes in the format of a shopping list question? If the question leads to learning, allow it; if the question's dull and leads to nothing, remove it.

  • We certainly don't want you to leave, we just want to make the site a high-quality one (and the site is in its formative stages, so some of us are a bit quick to judge bad questions right now). All of us will be more than happy to assist you in formulating a good question. I really think your only mistake was over-thinking your original question to the point that made it unanswerable. I would have no problem at all with a question that asked "How should an experienced musician go about learning to conduct?"
    – NReilingh
    May 14, 2011 at 3:53
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    I believe Max Rudolf's "The Grammar of Conducting", Elizabeth Green's "The Modern Conductor" and Donald Hunsberger's "The Art of Conducting" should provide all you need to know to feel your way on afterwards! I've read them and loved them! is a possible answer. (I just plucked random books from Amazon.) This answer might even be correct. How's that for unanswerable? Really, honestly?
    – Allan K.
    May 14, 2011 at 4:21
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    @Allan It's a semantically possible answer, but it's impossible to know how to fulfill the criteria you stated just in the one sentence: What is the perfect read-through to learn all there is about conducting? which is inherently subjective. We would have the same reaction if you were asking in the same way about playing trumpet, or doing calculus. I hope you don't think any of our comments are rude or inconsiderate; we're all trying to be as constructive as possible, and we all want to grow the community. Don't give up on us yet! Maybe we could discuss in chat and help you out sometime!
    – NReilingh
    May 14, 2011 at 4:36
  • @NReilingh Oh now I see what the issue is. I meant "perfect" to sound more impressive than literal. Like a version with more "bam!" of "best in your experience". I'll use better wording in the future.
    – Allan K.
    May 14, 2011 at 11:31
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    "Apparently I couldn't be farther from writing a good question." No, actually you were pretty close, which is why the question wasn't jut closed out of hand and why we've been trying to work together to improve it. May 14, 2011 at 18:35
  • IRT 1, we are a beta site, so the scope (what kind of questions are on-topic or encouraged) is being decided even as we speak. That was the purpose of my question. I only used your original question as a possible example. I am not sure myself that it IS only a shopping list question. I'm happy to remove the reference to your question. I don't think its absence would make my question less useful. May 14, 2011 at 18:38
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    @Allan Thank you for your answer to my original question. I think it is useful and would like to upvote it, but the first half is off-topic (to THIS question, even though the points it raises are valid in a larger context). If you would like to discuss your original question and the responses to it, the appropriate place would be this chat room. I would be happy to have such a discussion with you there as long as it remains civil. Would you please edit your answer to stay on-topic? May 14, 2011 at 18:43
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    @Rein Ok, it's edited.
    – Allan K.
    May 15, 2011 at 21:48
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    @Allan Think of it this way: Your problem is that you want to learn conducting. You should ask about your problem ("How can I learn conducting?") rather than a specific solution you've come up with (books). A good answer will recommend books, no doubt, but will also incorporate other aspects you may not have considered. Including their own advice from experience, which likely won't be present in a book. (That all said: I realize you want very specific advice, and I'm actually OK with your question in its current form.)
    – user28
    May 17, 2011 at 15:43

I think shopping lists should be off-topic (see Matthew's answer).

Nevertheless we have a different but related kind of question which is unique to an Art Q&A this is repertoire/edition advice that can be in many cases objectively answered.

A few ideas for making them on-topic

  • It should be for a specific instrument

  • It should give an easy to understand reference for skill level

  • It should ask with an explicit practice or training goal

    • "I want to play left-hand only piano pieces during a few month after an injury"

    • "I would like to play easy rag-times adaptations. I have been practicing clarinet for 2 years".

    • "What is a good piece (less than 5 minutes execution at nominal speed) to practice or demonstrate spiccato bowing?"

    • "Do you know viola studies that could help me improve my intonation in 3th position on the C string?"

A few ideas making them off-topic

  • It asks to compare several works or authors on their subjective merit

    • "What are the 2 most impressive Chopin Valses I should learn?"

    • "Should I play the Courante or the Gavotte for my final grade audition?"

    • "Would you play X by Y or Z by T as the last song of your gig?"

  • It asks for other external criteria

    • "What is the cheapest edition of [work] available?"
  • Recording recommendation should probably be off-topic

  • 1
    I think the "repertoire/edition advice" category is a useful one for this site, and that effort spent refining it would probably bear fruit. May 15, 2011 at 0:16
  • 1
    Good point, @ogerard, I would suggest creating a new question to further refine this part of the scope. :) May 15, 2011 at 14:23
  • I agree with this. In particular the question we already have about pieces for the left hand is good.
    – user28
    May 15, 2011 at 16:11

In music, some good learning books can be hard to find, and when searching for this in Google or shopping sites, it can be hard to find exactly what you are after. I agree that general shopping lists for "nice to know" stuff and subjective "your favorite ..." should be off-topic.

But questions about how to find good learning books for conducting, playing harmonica, etc. would be helpful as you can then search for specific titles when you go shopping ). These question should however include some details about your current knowledge level, what music style you'r interested in etc.

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