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I've had several occasions recently where I've felt frustrated, either by deleted comments or by closed threads (others, not my own). Although I have a music degree (theory major) and a lot I'd like to discuss, or even to teach, I kind of feel I can't breathe here sometimes.

A recent example was a question where someone asked how to modulate between C major and e-flat minor. I could think of a few interesting ways to do that, and felt it would be worth a cup of coffee and 30 minutes of my time to discuss equal octave division, relative keys and so on in this particular case. Instead, I came back to find the thread already closed with a link to a HUGE thread on every modulation technique under the sun. If that's the practice, why not just answer every single theory question with a link to Wikipedia?

I felt quite disappointed, because I felt I'd lost a chance to contribute what I felt were some interesting ideas. And I can only imagine that the person who wrote the question felt even worse.

Monica in Friends famously shouted, "But. . . rules help CONTROL the fun!" I disagree. I come to a forum for free interchange of ideas, not to feel like I've accepted a 2nd job and the boss is always looking over my should to see if I'm "doing it right." Can we maybe chill out a little and let people breathe?

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  • Could you provide a link to the question you mention? – user1079505 Mar 19 at 1:41
  • Yes, I can. HERE is a question about a particular modulation that someone would like to get comments about. You can see that the question was marked as duplicate and a link provided. The supplied link was in fact VERY useful, but was not a duplicate in any regard. – Bennyboy1973 Mar 19 at 2:00
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    "I come to a forum for free interchange of ideas" - Perhaps that's part of the disconnect. Stack Exchange sites are not fora and were not created for the free interchange of ideas. In fact, the whole concept behind Stack Exchange is to be different from fora and hopefully better in some ways, but potentially worse in others, at least from some points of view. – Todd Wilcox Mar 21 at 0:50
  • @ToddWilcox +1 for using "fora"! (I've actually never seen it used before, but now I will at every opportunity). Oh, and I find the comment helpful, too. :-) – Aaron Mar 21 at 5:46
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I will address the question in question only (How can I modulate from C Major to E-flat minor and vice versa?)

"How can I modulate from C Major to E-flat minor and vice versa?"

I want to understand the ways to modulate between foreign keys in musical contexts. C Major has no sharps or flats, wheres E-flat minor has 6 flats (Bb-Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Cb).

My largest concern is that OP (of that question) doesn't show any research they did.

The question is open ended. One can modulate between two keys in any way. It is unclear what kind of music context or style OP considers, which could help to narrow down the possibilities.

It is very nice of you that you spend time on writing the answer. However, how do you know the OP would be capable to understand it at all? It is unclear if they know anything about modulation at all, and what do they understand about music theory. This is kind of a question where you need to guess what the actual issue is, and if you guess wrongly, your work turns out useless.

Lack of research suggests they make no effort towards understanding, which feels disrespectful. It doesn't help to build the community.

OP recently posted a troll-style question (deleted from the site already), which makes me wonder if they seriously need to know the answer. And if not, would their question be useful for other people? Unclear to me.

Possible solution: If you believe your answer is worth sharing, consider asking a well written question, and answer it by yourself.

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    I think the person showed some specific awareness, because they listed out the flats in the 2nd key and verbalized that as the reason why they thought that modulation might be hard for them to understand. And it turns out that those particular keys share a couple interesting relationships that don't apply to other modulations: for example, if you flip the tonic keys between major/minor, they share the same key signature. Sometimes, even if you don't see value in something, there's still value there if you let others find it. To quote Hardy: "1729? What a horribly boring number!" – Bennyboy1973 Mar 19 at 3:59
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I can speak to two instances, both of which I think prompted this question. (And before I start, I want to emphasize how important I think this discussion is, so thank you for bringing it up!)

In regards to How can I modulate from C Major to E-flat minor and vice versa?, I was the fifth of five members that voted to close. My fear was that this was ultimately seeking a list of possible ways to modulate not only from key x to key y, but then from key y back to x again. List-type questions aren't ultimately a good fit for the Stack Exchange setup, because several answers could all be equally valid. (This is actually the first example given on the What Types of Questions Should I Avoid Asking? page in the Help Center: do not ask questions where "every answer is equally valid.")

And more recently I single-handedly closed What is the function of this chord progression in Schubert's Winterreise. Now, I'm certainly not perfect, and I make mistakes far more often than I'd like to. I see that there are currently 4 votes to reopen (out of the necessary 5), and so if this question is reopened, then the Stack Exchange system is working as it should: if the community feels a moderator made a mistake, the community can democratically override it. But if I can be frank, I still don't see why this question should be reopened; even after the edits to the question, the question still seems to be "what is the analysis of all of these ca. twenty-seven chords in this section of a Schubert Lied," which is far too broad for our site.

(And there's actually another issue at play with this particular question: shortly after it was posted, a few users commented suggesting improvements, and those comments received several upvotes. I then cross-referenced when those comments were made and when the OP was last on the site. By this time the OP had had at least 30 minutes to address those comments but had not, so I felt comfortable closing the question.)

But to the broader point of your question, that we sometimes close questions too hastily: I agree wholeheartedly. Especially when it's clear the user is a less-experienced musician, the language in other answers may be too dense for the askers to actually understand that their answer can be found in the proposed duplicate. And in situations like this, I absolutely agree that we should be more careful with close-as-duplicate votes.

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  • Thank you. I appreciate the thoughtful feedback. Maybe I need to learn more about the actual consequences of not closing a question. My experience with other forums is that poorly written questions will usually get a couple of follow-up requests, and if the OP doesn't oblige within about a day, the question will just slide down the list, off the first page, and into the void. But this does seem to be quite an active forum, so maybe once I understand the process better, I'll be glad that things are done the way they are. ;D – Bennyboy1973 Mar 19 at 2:47
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    An observation on your 4th para. It could easily have been that OP went to bed, work, etc soon after posting, or soon after the comments were posted. That could mean several hours would pass before OP had the opportunity to respond. It could equally mean OP didn't want to respond.And, I feel that most of us at least try to answer at the perceived level of the OP, although that's not easy. – Tim Mar 23 at 7:58
  • @Tim I agree, my logic wasn't foolproof there. But in light of the other reasons for closing, this was another added to the pile. If that were my only reason for closing, I never would have done so. – Richard Mar 24 at 2:14
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I think you're right that there can be an issue in this area.

A phenomenon I've seen a bunch of times: a question is asked that looks unfocused and unclear to some users; they start to put a couple of comments expressing the fact, and the close-vote vultures start circling... then....

... a heroic answerer comes along and detangles the question, supplying a nicely-focused answer that somehow makes the question seem clear after all; the question goes from having a downvote or two to having a net positive score. Yay, all is good!

OR....

a heroic answerer comes along and detangles the question, supplying what they think is a nicely-focused answer... but then another heroic answerer comes along who has understood the question differently, and then another - and you get a situation where it's not really clear to people finding the question what it's about, or what the answer is... and you might say 'well, big deal', but part of the idea of stack exchange is that it becomes a resource consisting of clear, well-answered questions that will be useful for many readers in the future.

So... it can work both ways.

I guess it's fair to say that this site is more 'Monica' than 'Joey'. But to reference Monica again - questions are able to 'Claw their way back in', and we've had a quite a few questions that have been reopened recently after a little tidy up.

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    If a question needs to be "detangled" from the post, and if it can be interpreted in multiple ways, it suggests it's poorly written. – user1079505 Mar 19 at 1:39
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    I would not call someone who is trying to guess what the OP wants as a "heroic answerer". Closing an unclear question until it is clear helps everyone from the OP to the people answering the question make sure they have aligned expectations and information. Nothing is worse than having a question edited and invalidating all current answer which has happened in the past and can easily deflate a "heroic answerer". – Dom Mar 19 at 3:58
  • @user1079505 Well, yes - this meta question is about 'weak questions', after all. I think the issue here is whether, and how, to rescue such questions. – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 19 at 8:45
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    @Dom I mean "heroic" in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way, inspired by the lifeboat and lifejacket badges - the latter of which I see you are a recipient of! – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 19 at 8:47
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    There have been cases where OP isn't versed enough in musical terminology, thus making it difficult to make themselves clear. If one doesn't know a word, how does one look it up? Maybe it's up to the more experienced to sometimes 'read between the lines' - I have many times - to try to help those less experienced. – Tim Mar 23 at 8:21
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    @Tim that's largely how I see it. As a teacher, my view is if you give me a whiteboard and a marker, I will go into any situation and try to make something useful out of it. If questions had to be at my level for me to answer them, then I would never answer any question. I will sometimes start real-life lessons like this: "Here's what you said. Here's what I THINK you want to know. . . here's what I think you should have asked instead." – Bennyboy1973 Mar 24 at 23:27
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The general issue

There are mechanisms in place to address the type of problem described.

Vote to reopen the question

It can help to include a comment on the OP explaining why it should be reopened.

Example

That recently occurred with What is this open, vertical rectangular symbol? The question was closed in less than an hour as "needing details or clarify." After editing the question, it was reopened a couple of hours after that.

Post here on Meta

If a question seems to have been closed inappropriately, requested an explanation or a reopen allows for some discussion of why the question was closed and, possibly, what would qualify it to be reopened -- if not to be reopened outright.

Example

Reopen request: Daily schedule of a composer (the original question is now deleted and may not be viewable by all), address (IMO) a wonderful and interesting question. While the reopen request was rejected, there is a satisfying (to me) explanation of the problem with the OP.

The specific issue

In the case of the question that prompted this discussion, a different solution would be in order. The question itself is not a very good one. Do we detail every possible modulation between C and Eb? And do we also keep open every question that asks how to modulate from one key to another? Clearly neither of these is helpful to the site.

What could be done, however, since there's a specific modulatory technique in mind for an answer, would be to open a separate question along the lines of "how can one modulate using equal divisions of the octave?" and the (self-)answer the question. This involves a bit more work -- to search to make sure that Q&A doesn't already exist -- but satisfies both the need to keep Q&A focused while also providing a valuable contribution to the site.

Example

Here, an example might be What are the primary historical piano training methods, and what are their defining characteristics? There are many (many, many, many) questions on the site about how to get started playing piano, or which methods are best. Those questions are nearly "all off" topic either because they're resource requests or opinion based (or both). However, many of us have experience and opinions we'd love to share in that area.

To accommodate the interest in piano methods, the above question was introduced. It provides a way to answer the question about "best methods", but in a more objective and documented way.

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  • At the moment OP doesn't have required 250 reputation to vote for reopening a question. – user1079505 Mar 19 at 2:19
  • @user1079505 Good point. In the meantime, leaving a comment and/or opening a meta post might suffice. – Aaron Mar 19 at 2:24
  • 212 in the last week, I suppose it won't take long. :D – Bennyboy1973 Mar 19 at 2:29
  • @user1079505 it's not 250, it's 3k when a site is fully graduated. – Dom Mar 19 at 3:20
  • @Dom 250 to vote to reopen one's own questions; 3K to vote for any question. – Aaron Mar 19 at 3:25
  • I will note that the post in question is not from the OP so the 3k rep applies. – Dom Mar 19 at 3:26
  • Thanks for clarification @Dom , I had some trouble to find the right list. – user1079505 Mar 19 at 3:35

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