There are suddenly two votes to close my 1+ year old question What instrument is Stevie Wonder playing in this video?. It received a speedy and well-received answer a year ago, and seemed to be fine.

Suddenly there are votes to close it as (I believe) off-topic.

In this comment I've said:

while the Wiki excerpt for the identification tag says "Find the name, term or phrase for the presented technique, instrument or notation...", answers to the recent meta question Do we still agree that identification of types of instrument is on topic? Should we change the on-topic page, or the identification tag guidance? tells me that there's some ambiguity. Perhaps it's time to firm this up with a clear statement as an answer in meta, or perhaps fixing the identification tag to explicitly exclude instruments?

followed by my second comment

Rock identification was successfully "outlawed" in Earth Science SE, and I helped and Moon landing Hoaxer questions outlawed from Space Exploration SE, but in both those cases there was a clear reason - there was harm being done to the site. Here the argument seems more existential. You have relatively few of these questions, but fears only that they might not be adequately searchable.

Currently the tag suggests that instrument identification is on-topic, but answers to the recent meta question (also linked above) seem to give tepid support to making them off topic. To me the mood seems ambivalent, and there seems to be very few users with any strong opinion either way. That, plus considering it took a year to decide my question was off-topic, it seems to me the community has not really clearly decided either way.

Also, this answer says:

The identification tag (which you used on your post) is not used to identify which instruments are used in a piece of music, but as you will see from some of the other examples using that tag, for identifying from pictures and documentation what a specific instrument is.

which to me suggests that my question, and other properly written instrument identification questions are in fact on-topic.

Isn't it about time some consensus is built and this ambiguity finally gets cleared up?


3 Answers 3



  1. the question rate is low (and that seems to be the case)
  2. the general quality of the questions is satisfactory
  3. the questions are about music

then I don't see how any negatives can be identified that offset the benefits of user participation and people actually getting music-related answers.

That these questions get asked and answered certainly doesn't interfere with the search-ability of the site. Personally I don't see any harm whatsoever, and having such a definitive and well-received answer posted so quickly improved my user experience here, and that does seem to be one of the goals of any SE site.

Keep instrument identification questions on-topic, it encourages both user participation and allows users with expertise in unusual instruments the opportunity to use their knowledge and post answers.

While my question may not have been about a 13th century curiosity, the next one just might be!

Searches don't only apply to question titles, they turn up terms in answers as well, and depending on the answer, it may contain additional insight or hard-to-find links or other gems. So the "we're writing a searchable database" argument against topicality of instrument identification questions doesn't really hold water.

  • 2
    1. It's currently low, but allowing them makes them come up more. On music fans once we allowed those types of questions they flooded in when they used to only be once in a while. 2. Is definitely not true for these questions. Your question is a stronger example, but the title is still not the best for helping in the future and the crux is a video which have a history of rotting. 3. It's a little more complex than that. The music fan's site exits for a reason.
    – Dom Mod
    Commented Oct 29, 2019 at 18:32
  • Thanks for your thoughtful comment!
    – uhoh
    Commented Oct 29, 2019 at 18:36

In general a question open does not mean it's guaranteed to be on topic nor an affirmation we want to make questions like this on topic. I'd love for the site to be consistent, but we do occasionally miss things.

If you look at the we have recently closed several questions like this via the community. For example this question was closed within the last few months : What is this blowing instrument used in the acoustic cover of "Taekwondo" by "Walk off the Earth"? .

I'd also like to highlight my answer from before and ask Do we even want them? and my points from before still stand. If someone has a different picture of a harpejji, there's nothing really they are able to search. The keywords in the question table, long strings may help, but it's not a garuntee.

I honestly think the best solution is to remove the until we decide exactly what we want it for. Though the tag say's it can be used for notation, we pretty much never use it along with the notation tag and there have been many odd questions it's been tagged in for example analysis. I don't think we want across multiple categories anyway as the tag can't really stand on it's own.

  • Thanks for your answer; as a user who used the tag wiki excerpt as a "quick-guide" for at least potential topicality, I agree that ironing out the tag's use is a great idea!
    – uhoh
    Commented Oct 29, 2019 at 18:38

I don't agree that they aren't searchable. No, people can't search for the instrument itself, since they wouldn't know what it is when asking. But they can search for the song or artist that uses it, and then read the question to see if it is the instrument they are talking about. This would narrow it down enough in most cases, as there won't be many instruments that aren't obviously identifiable in a particular work or by a particular artist.

In the case mentioned in the OP, people who see the video will likely look up the video title and artist to ask about the instrument. So it is perfectly well searchable.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .