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In particular, I am looking at this Q&A: Detect piano notes and chords. The original post was an explicit request for software recommendations:

Is there an app or open source software that can detect piano notes being played in real time?

It was closed, then edited and reopened. The edited question is a more ambiguous version of the original post which now asks:

What is a reasonably good way to detect chords in solo piano music?

As often seems to be the case with questions like this, the question began as something like "What is the best tool X to accomplish Y?", or "Can someone recommend a tool X to accomplish Y?". In an attempt to adhere to site guidelines, and after prompting from well-meaning commentators, the question is transformed to something like "How can I accomplish Y?", to which the answer is probably "Use a tool X." This will almost inevitably lead to a recommendation of the form "Use a tool X. Here is a good one: X1."

This process seems misguided to me. Getting back to the specific example from the beginning of this post: the answer to the revised question of "What is a reasonably good way to detect chords in solo piano music?" seems to be "Use some software" or "Use your ears."

OP already knew that they needed software, although in the attempt to comply with site guidelines the fact that they know this has been left implicit at best. Reviewing the posted answers to this question, almost all of them are explicit software recommendations.

There is some good information in the answers. One answer actually suggests that OP should just use their ears, which isn't a bad answer (except that OP really wanted, and accepted a software recommendation). Another answer states that the type of software in question is called transcription software, which may be a bit helpful, and refrains from recommending any software before going on to suggest that someone else will probably recommend some specific software. The answer that probably adds the most non-recommendation information with respect to software solutions cites two technical papers about pitch detection, before finally making a recommendation at the end.

There are currently nine answers to this question, of which six are exclusively recommendations for one or more specific software packages. Further, all of the answers which are exclusively software recommendations (including one that is a self-answer by OP) came in after the question was edited and reopened.

I think that the reference question above should be closed. "What is a reasonably good way to detect chords in solo piano music?" seems overly broad as a question, but the reality seems to be that this is really a veiled request for a software recommendation, a position that I think is supported by the fact that the answers are almost all software recommendations which were posted to the question after it was edited into an "on-topic" state.

But what I am more interested in is the notion that when someone posts a blatantly off-topic question (in this case a naked request for a software recommendation), we often go out of our way to try to help the OP make it an on-topic post through symbolic gestures and superficial edits; this often seems to lead to half-baked questions that are not what the OP really meant to ask. They meant to ask what they asked.

My post here is an attempt to facilitate discussion, not only of the specific example Detect piano notes and chords, but of how the community feels about handling these sorts of questions.

Is it possible to edit a question which is some variant of the form "Can someone recommend a tool X to accomplish Y?" into a question that is on-topic?

Should we attempt to edit such questions into on-topic questions?

Should we encourage OPs to edit their off-topic questions into on-topic questions?

Are there any examples of off-topic equipment recommendation questions which were transformed and reopened in which this was a successful and satisfying outcome?

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I'm going to post a self-answer; it is probably obvious that I have some opinions on this. I hope to see other answers and viewpoints, too.

Is it possible to edit a question which is some variant of the form "Can someone recommend a tool X to accomplish Y?" into a question that is on-topic?

It seems obviously and trivially possible; any question can be edited into any other question by using delete and starting fresh. If the question is already off-topic, then a new question must be formulated; that new question must stand on its own as on-topic.

Some questions contain an explicit on-topic question, with a request for recommendations added on as a superficial appendage. These questions really contain two questions; in these cases it seems trivial to simply excise the offending appendage.

Should we attempt to edit such questions into on-topic questions?

If a question has such an offending appendage requesting recommendations, it seems fair for community members to remove that bit if removing the request leaves an intact question that is on-topic. Under no circumstances should we be editing the questions of others in a way that changes the meaning of their question. Further, under no circumstances should members of the community decide that they know what the OP really meant and impose that view on the question.

Should we encourage OPs to edit their off-topic questions into on-topic questions?

Yes, I absolutely think that we should do this, although it can be difficult to provide substantial guidance in the comments. In some cases it is probably best to suggest that OP start again with a new question after reviewing site resources such as on-topic, dont-ask, how-to-ask, or closed-questions.

As a caveat to this, it often seems that an OP edits their question after prompting, and then we squint a little bit to see the new question as on-topic as if to give the OP credit for trying, even though the new question isn't really on-topic, either. We should be just as critical of edited questions as we are of the initial postings.

Are there any examples of off-topic equipment recommendation questions which were transformed and reopened in which this was a successful and satisfying outcome?

I don't have any examples of these off-hand, but I hope to see some posted by others.

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I would say that most "resource request" questions can have an on-topic kernel, all the more so when they might be a bit misguided. A request for a resource is a request for a tool to suit a purpose. If I walk into the hardware store and say, "Hey, can you help me choose the best chainsaw," and if it becomes clear that I'm trying to build cabinetry, then it becomes clear that I really need a table saw or any of a variety of other tools. And if it becomes clear that I'm trying to build the cabinetry out of styrofoam, then the ultimate answer is "Don't do that, do this."

There are quite a few questions that start with "Help me find a piece of software that does X" that can be salvaged by revealing that the user really wants to do X to accomplish Y. A X-software title may or may not be the best approach. In many cases, even accomplishing Y is impossible or misguided.

For instance (—and I guess I'd better go leave some comments there after writing this—) this question was closed as resource-request, but the real end goal is that the OP wants to learn piano parts by ear. Maybe the best thing is for them to edit the question to ask the best way to do that, in which case working from mp3 files in which the piano part is obscured is not the answer.

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  • First, thanks for taking some time to put your thoughts in an answer here. I had given up on anyone engaging at all; Meta here isn't as active as it used to be. I can't say that I entirely agree with your answer. Often it seems that a poster really just wants resource recommendations, and our users are happy to provide them, e.g., the example I referenced above. I don't see much point in cajoling those users into asking a question that they don't really want to ask.
    – ex nihilo
    Nov 16 '21 at 19:46
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    On the other hand, when attempts are made to edit resource requests into shape (by OP or others) the results very often seem to be very generic and way too broad. I'd say that this is a good example of that. After a half-hearted edit by the OP this question is extremely broad, and I'm not sure what a focused answer would look like. If OP really wants to know about learning by ear, there are probably 50 other Q&As on the site that address some aspect of that topic.
    – ex nihilo
    Nov 16 '21 at 19:47
  • @exnihilo Yes, that is a good ... Nov 16 '21 at 20:53
  • @exnihilo ... point. Nov 16 '21 at 20:54
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Some time ago I posted Our "recommendations for specific equipment" rule seems to be catching cases beyond those looking for a brand/model recommendation .

After some discussion, that led to My Question was closed a software/equipment recommendation. What does that mean and what can I do? .

The highly-upvoted suggestion there is that questions should be written such that they

  • Describe your situation and the goal you want to achieve

  • Ask for a general solution (How), rather than a product (What/Which)

I guess that could potentially make sense, if the rules can be applied and followed by everyone in good humour.

I still feel there is a bit of a risk in cases when it's obvious to most that the answer to a question is likely to be oriented around the use of a type of HW or SW, if we require questions to be written in an unnaturally neutral way that ignores that reality - we can end up making ourselves look a bit unfriendly, or possibly, a bit nuts. Did the revisions to https://music.stackexchange.com/posts/15315/revisions really need to go through a Post Closed as "Not suitable for this site" stage? To some, that would be a perfectly reasonable application of the rules of the site. To others, it probably seems rather silly.

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  • Yes it did. If the OP was dead set on an app as an answer, it would have not been appropriate on the site and the one answer supplied that is just a software recommendation makes me think it should have stayed closed. I find it very hard to believe following basic site practices of not recommending hardware or software which is present on almost every other SE as "a bit nuts". I also really think you missed the point of this as was turned from an off-topic question to one that's on-topic, but not as useful.
    – Dom Mod
    Dec 15 '21 at 21:07

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