There seems to be some confusion on What Musical Instrument is this? as to whether such a question is on topic here.

My reading of the answers and votes on Why are instrument identification questions off-topic? is that we've discussed this and concluded that

  • We are happy with identification of types of instruments...
  • ...but we don't want to allow identification of specific models, years, or brands of a particular type of instrument.

Does that seem a reasonable reading of that discussion?

If so, could we remove "instrument/equipment" from "identifying a song, style/genre, instrument/equipment, technique, chord progression, etc." in the "it is not about..." bit of the current on-topic page and add a new bullet along the lines of "Identifying specific instrument/equipment brands or models"?

If not, we should probably edit the current identification tag guidance, which states that identifying instruments - including from a picture - is fine: identification


2 Answers 2


I don't think that there is any confusion about whether the question is off-topic according to site guidelines, since the quote you provide states clearly that it is. But within the community the application of those guidelines may vary. Even one of our venerable moderators would seem to agree with you in regards to this question.

My instinct is to agree as well; I didn't vote to close this question, and have a hard time with casting votes to close similar questions. It does seem to be a perfectly reasonable question.

But, the overarching goal of the site is to create a searchable repository of information that will be useful to future visitors, and questions like "What Musical Instrument Is This?" don't seem to fall into this category. It seems unlikely that a future visitor with the same question would be able to find the answer without blindly checking all of the instrument identification questions, so not very useful for future visitors. Do we want to allow similar questions that show an image of an effects pedal or similar device asking for identification?

We have a similar situation with notation identification questions. These don't seem to be explicitly forbidden in the help pages, but I think that it is implied; these questions also seem unlikely to be useful for future visitors. Yet the community seems to accept notation identification questions.

I suppose I have mixed feelings about this. Should usefulness to the asker outweigh the site mission and usefulness to future visitors?

This seems like a can of worms, and I'm not sure that rewording the help pages will solve the problem. My personal approach is just to abstain from voting to close on questions like this when I have such mixed feelings.

  • My line of thinking was that the help centre guidelines should reflect what has been decided on meta - it seemed to me that something had been decided within the linked meta question, based on the replies and votes, but that is only my reading. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:17
  • I agree that "What Musical Instrument Is This?" isn't the best wording for future readers; ideally we'd edit those titles to include some characteristics of the instrument. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:19
  • @topomorto -- as for question title wordings, I thought about that too: I'm not sure that a good title could be created by the asker in the absence of specific knowledge (maybe in some cases), and if we edit the title after the fact, I'm not sure that we could edit it so that a future visitor with the same question could find it in search (maybe in some cases).
    – user39614
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:22
  • Yes, that is a issue. But I've made the point elsewhere that SE sites aren't only about making a repository of text searchable questions; they're also about helping individual users with specific questions. And answers can be found through other means than search - if all such questions were tagged with identification, then that tag would link to an interesting selection of weird and wonderful instruments! Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:27
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    @topomorto -- I think that it is a really important question: how do we balance the needs of individual askers with the needs of future visitors, and how should that impact our interpretation of site guidelines? I'd love it if you could drop a link in the comments to the meta discussion that you seem to be alluding to.
    – user39614
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:32
  • Just the one we've both linked to in our main posts here I think? (music.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2443/…) Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 14:53

I think we need to take a step back and ask what we want in these questions before we try and edit the FAQ.

I'd say that the question in it's current condition should be closed because it's not really searchable so it will be little use. The title "What Musical Instrument Is This?" along with minimal detail and a picture should not be acceptable in questions like this even if we accept them. If the picture was removed, we'd have next to no information to base any of the answers or questions on. This question is only highly voted because it's currently on the hot network questions.

The linked meta question on this kind of shows how question those questions age. Even under the meta effect, the post has low views and while the detail is a little better, its still not searchable nor very useful for future users.

Please let's not just allow these types of questions without thinking about quality and how it will help future users. Identification questions once allowed can be hard to get on top of without some quality template.

  • You're obviously right that these questions aren't very searchable. However, they are browsable (through tags, user pages, sidebar, etc.), discoverable (when new) through being on the list of newest questions, and useful to the asker (if answered, which often they are). So there still seems to be a net positive, unless we can think of some actual harm that they cause? Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 21:09
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    @topomorto perception of low quality is a harm along with filling up the site with questions that aren't useful to others besides the OP. Just because we can have this on topic does not mean we should and this is a large reason why the scope exists.
    – Dom Mod
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 21:15
  • @topomorto I also don't think them being browsable is helpful in our goal and if a question is only useful to the asker, it doesn't necessarily bring much value to the future of the site. It only helps the OP. I see the argument for keeping these questions could bring in newer users that will stay and bring us other questions, but I've never seen this work in practice for identification questions and I have seen them drown out questions on other sites.
    – Dom Mod
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 21:18
  • It doesn't seem that these questions have to be low quality in themselves - many of them are well-asked, quickly-answered, and attract upvotes. When you talk about "filling up the site", are you thinking of the "what's this film?", "what's this song?" question that other sites get? I'd be surprised if there are anywhere near enough unusual instruments or people interested in them for that to be a major risk, but I could be wrong! Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 21:58
  • @topomorto I'd consider neither of the questions presented on the meta high quality. The linked one on the other meta is a better, but neither is very good at describing what they are seeing and making the title unique to the question. I do admit myself at least with instrument identification there is a theoretical limit, but if we want to start allowing these questions we need to be very clear in what we are looking for. "What is this instrument?" can easily lead to many, many questions coming from just a sound sample or just a picture which we should not start to allow without clear bounds.
    – Dom Mod
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 23:11
  • Yep, being clear is all we are after here I think. At the moment we have the on-topic page saying one thing, tag documentation saying something else, and a bit of confusion all around. Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 0:07
  • We're putting the cart before the horse. Changing the FAQ before we know what we want in this is not very clear. We need to talk about the policy before changing the FAQ. That's why I want us to take a step back before we start changing it. And we can easily change the tag when we want.
    – Dom Mod
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 0:33
  • Well, as I said in the question, my personal reading of this meta question was that what we want had been discussed and something of a conclusion reached, to the extent that one ever is on meta. That may not be others' perception of course, or it may be that people's feelings have changed. No problem either way - if there's more discussion to be had, here we are! Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 0:42
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    The last sentence of that post is "tl;dr - I'd support reopening this one, but lets work out boundaries". I'm happy to discuss the policy, but the FAQ update should come after that discussion which to my knowledge has not happened yet.
    – Dom Mod
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 0:45
  • sure - that was a large part of the point of this meta question :) Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 0:48
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    @topomorto -- "...we have the on-topic page saying one thing, tag documentation saying something else...." It was before my time, but I imagine that the content on the help page was arrived at through some consensus-generating process involving the community when the site came out of beta; the tags, on the other hand, can be added and edited with little or no input from the community. It seems to me that the message of the help pages should outweigh any message communicated by the tags.
    – user39614
    Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 3:53
  • @DavidBowling Sure, but isn't our aim to have a site that's easy to understand for all users? To that end, isn't it better if the guidance on the tags and the on-topic page agree? Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 8:41

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