Composition questions are listed as on-topic here https://music.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic

But, questions leading to "every answer is equally valid" responses are discouraged here https://music.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask

Why are there no specific guidelines about how to ask composition questions? Better guidelines would help avoid overly broad questions and subjective, generic answers.


As in the last post, we control the on-topic page not the don't ask page. Composition is a very big part of music so having it be off-topic wouldn't make much sense. We're not going to compose something for people, or judge compositions but instead focus more on the general concepts. Look though the tag should give someone an idea on what composition questions should look like.

In general, the composition questions here focus mostly on compositional techniques, styles, and strategies which are objective in nature. With composition and many other tags on our site like practice, performance, learning, musicology, and improvisation there's always going to be a little bit of objectiveness and opinionated answers due to the nature of the subject of music itself (after all, it's an art). So IMO it makes no sense to single out composition to have a specific guideline especially when we already have plenty of good objective questions and answers for composition already for others to point to for example. A short of them being list being:

As for improvisation, I'm not sure why it would need to explicitly be addressed as we say we have practice, performance, and composition as on topic and improvisation is a mix of all three. Explicitly saying every topic we cover would be too much to easily digest on a help page like that as we cover a lot.

  • My point was not to suggestion composition should be off-topic. But there are no guidelines so that this question music.stackexchange.com/questions/13708/… was accepted, but this one music.stackexchange.com/questions/39773/… was not. They are both equally vague questions, and the on/off topic guidelines insufficient to support either action. Feb 4 '16 at 22:10
  • @MichaelCurtis the second one was actually a duplicate of the other that was not written as well which is why the too broad was choose over the duplicate. It's pretty easy to see what a majority of those questions have in common and unless there is a sever problem with the tag we're most likely not going to create a set of guidelines for the question as it is unnecessary, but if you want to you can improve the tag wiki to try and be somewhat of a guide line as it is for other tags.
    – Dom Mod
    Feb 4 '16 at 22:16
  • I know why the second question was closed: duplication. (Even though the stated reason was "too broad.") But why wasn't the original question closed for being too broad? For a better comparison look at this question which was closed as too broad. music.stackexchange.com/questions/38133/… Both are equally broad but the community seems to be arbitrary about which ones will be accepted. On/off topic guidelines don't clarify the issue. Feb 4 '16 at 22:34
  • @MichaelCurtis The actual questions asked are How do bands such as the ones mentioned compose music? What knowledge is required in order to be able to compose? What course of action should I follow if I am interested in learning to compose music if I don't have access to a mentor, teacher or classes? all except the last one are very broad questions and alone would be closed as there is way too much to talk about in each and where as there are standard strategies/techniques for creating a melody that while everyone approaches it differently most would agree to some degree on.
    – Dom Mod
    Feb 4 '16 at 22:34
  • It pretty much comes down to is there an actual technique that the question focuses on (if not it's most likely too broad) and is the question itself objectively answerable which applies to every question asked on this site.
    – Dom Mod
    Feb 4 '16 at 22:37
  • This question music.stackexchange.com/questions/13708/… has no specific focus. Yet, it was upvoted 13 times and got 7 answers. As expected the answers are subjective and all over the place. Some more specifics in the guidelines would improve the questions and the answers. Feb 4 '16 at 22:42
  • @MichaelCurtis like I said above "there are standard strategies/techniques for creating a melody that while everyone approaches it differently most would agree to some degree on." which is why that question is open and highly voted and the top two answers demonstrate the theory way and the practical way quite nicely. If you think it's too broad and should be closed you can flag it as such and see what the community thinks. TBH I'm not seeing the "overly broad questions" problem on questions tagged with composition besides a few outliers which is the same in every other tag.
    – Dom Mod
    Feb 4 '16 at 22:55
  • I tried rewording my question to focus on how to avoid the overly broad and generic exchanges. Feb 4 '16 at 22:57
  • @MichaelCurtis again, I'm not quite sure why the focus is specifically on composition as you can apply the same argument to most tags on this site. There are so many things that we could attempt to write guidelines for, but at the end of the day if we're not writing them for actual problems they are kind of useless. Most composition question are not overly broad or too generic so there's not a problem for a guideline to solve.
    – Dom Mod
    Feb 4 '16 at 23:02
  • I chose composition, because it seemed more subjective that performance, instruments, etc. But, yes, it can apply to all topics. I thought I was making a reasonable suggestion for improvement to get more specific questions with more specific answers. I certainly don't want to see questions simply closed or marked off-topic. If others like this answer they can up-vote it. But I'm not satisfied, because it leads to vague, summary-style answers, and arbitrary closures. That doesn't seem to be the SE way. Feb 4 '16 at 23:31

Dom's points are all very good so I won't revisit them, but look at the broader view and hopefully address some of your points in the question and your comments.

Yes, there are questions here which seem very vague, especially if you are used to the specific questions you can get on more technical Stack Exchange sites, but a huge part of that comes down to the subject.

Music is not a science, and it does not have a specific set of rules

Music covers such a broad set of areas from John Cage's 4'33" to noisecore bands that you cannot define what makes a composition.

You can however look at standards, such as scales, modes, melodies, analysis, ways to approach composition based on your genre etc. and whenever we get questions in that are in more difficult areas we take each one on its merits, and the community here is broad enough to provide useful steer on whether a question should be closed.

And we (mods and community alike) listen to each other. I have on occasion reopened questions I thought should be closed based on a challenge from community members with specific experience in that area. So it all kind of works as a growing community.

That said, if there is specific improvement you, or any other, can describe that we can take action on (such as tuning our close reasons or scope etc) then we have done that a number of times, and expect to do again as the community matures.

  • 2
    "I have on occasion reopened questions I thought should be closed based on a challenge from community members with specific experience in that area." I can testify to this from personal experience - Rory is an exceedingly fair mod. Our mods in general do a good job. I think the touchstone for some of the more general questions has been, are they amenable to advice based on experience? When broad, less objective questions have been closed, they have lacked that qualification - the ones that stay open tend to invite answers based on experience, and tend to be of interest to experienced people.
    – user16935
    Feb 5 '16 at 19:37
  • Why would expanding the guideline a bit for points like - explain what research you have already done, don't ask for topic summaries that can be easily found in textbooks, focus on a specific problem not broad subjects - preclude avant-garde music questions? (Cage and noisecore being the examples given above) Feb 5 '16 at 20:01
  • This discussion makes me really regret my original question. The concern isn't specifically composition, it isn't about closing questions. It about answerers who seem more satisfied to give a generic summary answer instead of asking the questioner to focus the question or directing them to a textbook or an encyclopedia. The existing SE guides aren't being following in this regard. Maybe a bit more detail on the on-topic page would help. Feb 5 '16 at 20:05
  • Well, generally we don't want to steer people towards a textbook unless that is the specific canonical source of information. The aim of Stack Exchange sites is that the specific question asked can be answered without the OP needing to go elsewhere. Sure, it's good to also add links to follow up info etc.
    – Doktor Mayhem Mod
    Feb 5 '16 at 20:08
  • I'm actually getting less and less clear what you are after - Dom gave examples, but if you have specifics so we can see what you mean, that would help; or better yet - can you provide draft guidelines that you would like to see. That may actually help us understand
    – Doktor Mayhem Mod
    Feb 5 '16 at 20:10
  • I did look at Dom's examples. Did you look at mine? Do you actual believe this question - music.stackexchange.com/questions/13708/… - is specific? Do any of the answers address a specific problem? Do you really think an exchange like this follows the SE guidelines? music.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask Feb 5 '16 at 20:44
  • Let's go to Music: Practice & Theory Chat to discuss this better
    – Doktor Mayhem Mod
    Feb 5 '16 at 20:48
  • I have the chat page open, but don't know how to connect with you... Feb 5 '16 at 20:57
  • just type in it
    – Doktor Mayhem Mod
    Feb 6 '16 at 0:04

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