I have a question about my Music: Practice & Theory Stack Exchange post: What's the key and verse chord progression in this song?

I believe that the rule forbidding users from asking for help with chord progressions should be removed.

It currently is deemed 'off-topic' because it's 'basic analysis'.

To me, it seems arbitrary and, as we know, chord progressions are a fundamental part of popular music.

Where else can I, or any user, go online to get this kind of assistance? Yes, there maybe discussion forums out there, but Music Stack Exchange is the exact place and I should be able go to ask this kind of question and get a helpful answer.

I believe my question is well-defined and was 'substantial'.

It was suggested, essentially, that I 'beef up' the question a bit. But why should I need to? I dislike superfluous information and it's irrelevant to the respondent what my attempts had yielded: I want to know the correct answer, not advertise my ignorance or poor ear.

Also, is the fact that working out a chord progression by ear is deemed 'basic analysis' on this site not subjective and/or indicative of a bias towards more talented musicians? That would surely be against the total ethos of Music Stack Exchange in its attempt to help us all learn.


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We accept questions of all levels, but questions on the site are designed to answer questions other will have and that have a defined answer. While knowin what key a song is in is important, having a valid question of "What key is X song in" for every single song creates a lot of noise and doesn't address the underling issue of learning how to identify the key of a song.

There's many, many songs out there and there will be many, many new songs. You want know this song's key and someone else will want to know the key of a different song. The question will only be useful for this specific song since the answer you are looking for only pertains to that song and as a site we would like to build a general knowledge of music rather than a specific especially when the questions on this specific topic (what key is a song in) is near infinite. It's the teach a man to fish argument.

A more useful question would be asking how to determinism the key of a song by listening to it which has already been asked. This is more useful because it can be applied to any song that someone has a question about rather than a specific song.

This question itself was not easy to find because we have so many other questions on the site that this one was buried. The requirements for analysis have also not been met as just having the link there, someone would need to transcribe it. Here are all the related discussions on these topics on the meta:


Firstly, my current rough understanding of what 'analysis' questions are allowed is - we don't allow anything where having 'the score' of the piece would answer the question. To be fair, I think the users of this site are fairly consistent in applying that idea - and hence the question you mention falls foul of that, because if you had 'the score', you'd be able to see what the key was, and the notes in each chord.

I put 'the score' in quotes there because, for many pieces of music, there isn't a good-quality score representation available. When I talked about this in SE chat before, IIRC we discovered that there wasn't a score readily available for about half of a random selection of popular works - so the logic of not allowing 'transcriptions' can't reasonably be based on the idea that a person could just get the score - as often that's not actually possible.

One reason that's sometimes given for not allowing transcription-type questions is that they wouldn't be useful to future readers. I don't think this argument necessarily holds up; wanting to know how to play an existing song is a common need amongst musicians; I imagine there are a lot more musicians who will want to know the chords to Kylie Minogue's Golden than want answers to some of the other questions asked on this site. At best, you might say that the usefulness will come down to the popularity of the song, but even then, people might be interested to come across new songs they haven't heard before.

Another argument for allowing transcriptions is that stack exchange users are encouraged to

Focus on questions about an actual problem you have faced. Include details about what you have tried and exactly what you are trying to do.

And "I am trying to figure this out and I can't" is very much along those lines. Sometimes on Music.SE we seem a bit leery of helping people with their real-world, individual problems; we seem to want to pay more attention to the very general purpose, 'library of answers' type question. And there is value in that, but there's also value in the specific. Sites like interpersonal skills and language sites are full of very personal questions that for whatever reason, many other users find value in. Sci-fi is full of story-identification questions that you might think would be useless to others, but they're often very well-received and appear in Hot Network Questions.

One area where I particularly agree with you is:

To me, it seems arbitrary and, as we know, chord progressions are a fundamental part of popular music.

Absolutely. "I have this audio and I want to work out what notes to play" is just as much of a real and present problem for people doing music as "I have this score and I want to do a roman numeral analysis".

There's also the argument that the 'teach a man to fish' approach is more useful. In many cases, I agree - working out a key, for example, often isn't too tough, and we do already have some decent answers giving some good ideas how to do that. However, the "teach a man to fish" idea only has value if you actually do it, and I haven't actually seen any really good general answers on this site on how to work out chords. There are a few good bits of advice here and there but not much that I couldn't tell you, and I'm far from brilliant at working out chord progressions quickly.

There's also the argument that we're not trying to replicate existing archives on the internet (or elsewhere) of musical transcriptions. Again, this is true - but that doesn't necessarily prevent us from stepping in where there is a problem with what's already available. I'd see that as analogous to a problem that SE language sites have - they want people to be able to ask about words, but not take the place of dictionaries. And I'm pretty sure they have ways to solve that.

One possible argument for not providing transcriptions or parts thereof might be if there would be likely to be any legal issues. But the issues there would be the same as with reproducing transcriptions in questions for the purposes of more 'substantial' analysis, and that's not something I've heard any concern about.

That's probably enough rambling - Just some thoughts, and I'm not expecting to change many people's minds, so I won't go into any thoughts on how we could service these questions without devaluing the other content on the site. I'd like to think we could do it, if we put our heads together though!

  • Would upvote, but I can't. All good points, thank you. – jjswin Mar 28 '18 at 18:27
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    I think the legality aspect is an overplayed risk: giving roman numerals and key on a site like this is not going to result in lawsuits. Agree teach a man to fish; tell me what the chords are AND say how you worked it out. I'll learn for next time; that would be a friendly AND productive approach. There would also be no replication of this transcription as there's barely any Kylie transcripts available online. Also, in this instance, I wasn't asking for stave-notation (not sure what the technical term of that is!) Thanks again – jjswin Mar 28 '18 at 18:35
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    @jjswin a transcription is not the same thing as a roman numeral analysis or giving a key. You need to have some kind of transcription (whether written or mental via auditory ) before that can be done. The examples on the site are "fare use", but getting questions like "Transcribe X for me" are definitely not in fare use and can very much cause issues since you are going around the means to legally obtain the scores which are a product. – Dom Mar 28 '18 at 19:32
  • I also don't think Iannis Xenakis math question is very good in and of itself nor does it make sense for the site so using it as an argument in this answer is misleading along the "just because it's open does not mean it's a good on topic question" thought. – Dom Mar 28 '18 at 19:44
  • @Dom 'good' is subjective, but it being both open and recent does imply it is on-topic according to our current assessment. If it gets closed I can swap in another question that makes the same point. – topo morto Mar 28 '18 at 19:47
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    Again, please don't base "on-topic" as being open. This causes a lot of trouble and misunderstandings. I will mention again that we still don't have a lot of users in the queues so a lot of things slip by. – Dom Mar 28 '18 at 19:50
  • And popular search does not mean something would be on topic here which I think is something that is really not true at all regardless of example... – Dom Mar 28 '18 at 19:54
  • @Dom I've removed mention of that particular question, as it seems a distraction. Nevertheless, while I fully agree that while an old question might be open and not adhere to our current on-topic rules, I think it's pushing the logic too far to suggest that an open asked a week ago here hasn't been assessed by a number of the site's regular users as on-topic. – topo morto Mar 28 '18 at 19:59
  • "And popular search does not mean something would be on topic here " - sure, but here we're discussing (amongst other things) what the on-topic rules could actually be. – topo morto Mar 28 '18 at 20:02
  • It also doesn't make it a good example to use in a meta discussion like this. This specific question is in an area the site typically doesn't get into so it's up in the air (and I'd lean towards off-topic). If I were a normal user I'd probably flag it to put it in the review queue so the community could directly review it. Either way, using X is on-topic to justify a completely unrelated question is pushing the logic too far as so many things are taken out of context. – Dom Mar 28 '18 at 20:03
  • @Dom as I said, I've edited it out. It's gone :) – topo morto Mar 28 '18 at 21:37

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