Reasonable people disagree about what is or isn't valuable in music theory. For example, some musicians like to think about music in terms of scales and modes, while others don't. Some musicians find these categories useful, while others don't. These preferences are largely personal and subjective in nature, and one such preference isn't objectively better than another.

Unsurprisingly, some people find certain questions to be lacking in value. For example, this question asks what scales to use when improvising over a particular chord progression:

What scale(s) can I use?

I've just come back from my jazz workshop and the lines I played over a G7 C7 G7 D7#9 Eb7#9 D7#9b13 G7 progression were ok, -ish. When asked, our teacher told me to try dorian scales, over mixolydian and altered chords. What is your angle on this?

This answer states:

You're not really asking the right question! It's taking a narrow, inward-looking, mechanical approach to a wide topic - how to play good jazz.

It's often a good idea to find a song using the chord sequence and see what the original melody was. That may well be the BEST thing to play over that sequence. And I bet is isn't just scales.

I wonder if this is an acceptable answer. Perhaps one would argue that this type of answer is fine when the asker explicitly states his/her goal. In the example above, we can imagine the asker saying "I want to improve my improvising, which is why I'm wondering what scales to use." If this were included in the question (or if it has been sufficiently implied), then perhaps it's acceptable to answer the question by saying, "thinking about scales won't improve your improvising."

But this type of response amounts to commentary about the question, not an answer to the question. Answers that explain "you're asking the wrong question" are essentially arguing/asserting that the question lacks merit or value. (Then they often continue by answering a very different, far broader question like "what will improve my improvising?") My understanding is that people who think a question is not valuable should downvote the question and perhaps leave a comment, not post their disagreement as an answer. The purpose of answers, as I understand, are to answer the stated question.

Am I thinking about this the right way? Is "you're not asking the right question" an acceptable answer?

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    One thing I would point out is that "technically," almost anything within the community guidelines is an "acceptable" answer. It's up to the community to decide whether it's any good. Dec 19, 2017 at 17:46
  • When flagging an answer, one of the options is: "not an answer This was posted as an answer, but it does not attempt to answer the question. It should possibly be an edit, a comment, another question, or deleted altogether." Maybe this feature isn't in the community guidelines? That might make answering my question a little trickier...
    – jdjazz
    Dec 19, 2017 at 17:55
  • Fair point, I guess I had never noticed that. In that case, I would say maybe it's not a very good answer, but I don't think you could reasonably say that it's not a valid answer. Just my two cents... Dec 19, 2017 at 18:01
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    @GeneralNuisance, this page in the help center states: "Answers that do not fundamentally answer the question may be removed. This includes answers that are: (a) commentary on the question or other answers (b) asking another, different question (c) “thanks!” or “me too!” responses (d) exact duplicates of other answers (e) barely more than a link to an external site (f) not even a partial answer to the actual question"
    – jdjazz
    Dec 19, 2017 at 18:07
  • IMHO, none of those directly correspond with a generic "You're asking the wrong question" answers. Technically, such an answer may "fundamentally answer the question" by pointing the asker in a better direction. For example, the other day I asked a question about learning chords ("How to target learning chords" or something like that) and both of the two answers there more or less point me in a different direction than I started. I find them both to be valid answers however... I don't want to die on this hill, because to me it doesn't really matter, but I thought I'd present this view. Dec 19, 2017 at 21:07
  • @GeneralNuisance, my question is whether saying "you're asking the wrong question" is fundamentally an answer. I think you're suggesting that "helpfulness" in one metric by which we can evaluate answers that resolve the question but not by answering the question. I'm interested in this idea, but I think additional discussion would be instructive. I encourage you to post an answer!
    – jdjazz
    Dec 19, 2017 at 21:20
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    That response to a question can never be acceptable, as the responder can never be aware exactly what was in the OP's mind. There have been several questions, though, that are nebulous or ambiguous. They needed to be answered from some standpoint, so that has to be established. And if it seemed useful to do that, I have made assumptions that perhaps it actually wasn't the question the OP was trying to get answers to. But actually saying 'you're asking the wrong question' isn't productive.
    – Tim
    Dec 24, 2017 at 15:55

2 Answers 2


I think you have a very good point here, and Music is one of those sites where there is so much subjectivity, that question could be taken in many ways.

A better answer would not have started with that first sentence, but to be fair, the question shouldn't have asked "what is your angle on this?" as that ends up very opinion-based.

So there is a bit of blame on both sides (although blame is too strong a word here, I know) for getting this a bit out of whack.

My personal opinion is that if someone is going to tell the asker their question is wrong, they should simply not post. We have a similar take on Parenting.SE - if someone asks how to do X better, only answers helping do X better will be allowed. Those stating that X is stupid and you should do Y will not count as answers and will be removed.

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    I feel like there is value to the asker of being told politely that their very perspective on the topic is part or all of their problem. Would you say that kind of feedback is better as a comment? Dec 21, 2017 at 8:50
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    That might be better @Todd - it is one of the areas where SE guidelines and subjectivity don't mesh that well, so I think anything we try will not be quite right, but let's see what works best :-)
    – Doktor Mayhem Mod
    Dec 21, 2017 at 9:37
  • @ToddWilcox, I would tend to agree, except that a frequent response is "don't worry about the rules--if it sounds good, do it." I don't find this helpful to someone who is attempting to learn theory. Having a theoretical background helps listen with greater scrutiny. Theoretical frameworks allow people to see structure in music and organization in techniques they like. Those two things facilitate greater understanding, memory, and usage of music. That's the value in theory, I think--providing ways to listen more productively. Theory isn't a replacement for listening, it's a supplement.
    – jdjazz
    Dec 22, 2017 at 19:05
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    Ahh - yes, I think the two overlap. There are questions where a strict framework is the answer, and there are others which should just say, "go for it" - both of which are okay. The challenge is in the overlap.
    – Doktor Mayhem Mod
    Dec 22, 2017 at 19:06

A question that rigidly defines the parameters of an acceptable answer is usually a bad question. (It is in a subject like music anyway. Not in a topic like 'code golf' for computer programmers, where rigid restrictions are all part of the fun.)

That doesn't mean it should be banned though. Particularly if it opens the door to useful discussion of how to approach a problem.

None of this is absolute. 'How do I do this with a string quartet?' is not usefully answered by 'add a trumpet'. Except that that MAY be an excellent answer! Look for the good in both questions and answers, look outward rather than inward. Educate rather than train where possible. Embrace diversity. Put that axe away unless someone's being offensive or incomprehensible!

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    This is specifcally a Q&A site, not a site for discussions. It's not a bad thing especially in music, but that's not what the site is for.
    – Dom Mod
    Dec 31, 2017 at 22:51
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    But when there are no right answers... Music's like that. A framework of rules designed for computer programming issues needs to be relaxed.
    – Laurence
    Dec 31, 2017 at 23:29
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    there are many objective answers in music and the site was designed for that. There are many music discussion sites, but this isn't one of them. If there are truly no right answers or no "commonly accepted answer" then the question should be closed as opinion based.
    – Dom Mod
    Dec 31, 2017 at 23:43

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