I'm getting the impression that some ways of asking questions that are, to some extent, instrument/equipment identification questions are acceptable on this site.

I'll claim that What instrument is this woman playing with Ravi Shankar?, which prompted this question, is not a good one. Even so, it's received several up-votes.

However I can imagine alternative ways of asking related questions like:

  • What are the traditional group structures for Indian trad. music, kind of like string-quartets?
  • What techniques/instruments are used in Indian trad. music to produce droning sounds?

which would yield overall better answers while still providing the OP with the information he/she wants.

Just posting a picture/video and saying "What is this?", i.e. Asking Instrument from Reference Material, is clearly bad; however, it seems that with some guidance, some questions of this ilk could be made into good ones.

I have vague ideas that if the question is able to pull in something more substantive about the the sonic or performance characteristics of the instrument/equipment or the milleu in which it is used can make some "what is this instrument" questions valid, and useful.

Are there some guidelines that apply for making valid and useful instrument/equipment identification questions?


2 Answers 2


For me the answer is simple: does the question apply to broader themes of musical practice and performance?

Black and white identification questions such as:

  • Who wrote this song?
  • What is this instrument?
  • What makes this sound? (With link to song / piece)
  • What should I buy?
  • Equipment recommendations / comparisons

Are all likely to be unable to help future visitors as they are specific. However, each of these questions can be recontextualized to fit the site and have larger appeal. For example:

  • How does this song fit in (or not) with this genre / time period?
  • How does this instrument fit in with this genre / time period? Is it historically accurate?
  • How is this timbre / texture achieved in this piece of music?
  • Guidelines / advice for purchasing "_____"

The latter four questions all encourage elaboration and some discussion instead of mechanical one word answers like the above questions. These questions also relate more to processes and application of concepts than merely identifying them. With respect to purchasing guidelines, I personally support it as guidelines for instrument purchase can definitely be helpful to many other visitors. However, comparing two distinct products is not.

I think if people took a few moments to consider their questions before posting, we wouldn't have to close so many questions.


I think this question outlines an underlying problem for us, but I'll talk about about the question in your example first.

Personally, I voted to close the question 12+ hours ago because there was nothing to the question and it is (as currently defined by our scope) off-topic. Here is the whole question below minus the picture:

Title: What instrument is this woman playing with Ravi Shankar?

I'm not sure if this is an appropriate forum for this question.

This is a frame shot of Ravi Shankar playing on the Dick Cavett show in 1970.

Does anyone know who is the woman on the right? What instrument is she playing? 

If someone was to search the site and try to identify that instrument, they most likely won't find it. Also the substance you are talking about in the related questions that happened in the answer. The answer and comments together are very good for what is given and provides a lot of information about the instrument in question. The question doesn't even reference what the instrument looks like without the picture or it's purpose so rephrasing the title is useless.

Stepping back for a second I learned the instrument in question was a Tambura and produces a droning sound, but this question will be useless for anyone to search in a week almost because of the title and content.

Identifying an instrument is off-topic as per our scope, but I believe if the question has substance and is descriptive in the title and the actual question I think it would fit fine here. I'm pretty sure the real reason identifying and instrument is off-topic is so we don't get questions like "What is this instrument? I found in my basement. Here is a picture." which is useful to no one but the asker. An easy one for example "What is the four stringed instrument that is found in most pop and rock bands called?" (Bass guitar). A very very simple example, but is much better than "What is this? + picture".

The community has changed even in the short time I've been here and I feel every once in a while we should have a discussion about the scope and loosen it/tighten it as needed.

I also feel like a good chuck of the community (mostly newcomers) does't know what the scope of the site is. Even though this isn't the best stat, there are 204 awarded Informed badges compared to the 1.7k awarded Autobiographer badges so while 1.7k people filled out all user profile fields only 204 read the entire about page. To me that say people don't check what's on-topic and off-topic.

The last point I want to bring up is even when a question is 100% off-topic it still takes about a day for it to be closed. For example, as of now the example question has been posed for 19 hours and there are 3 votes to close.

I think in general we need to figure out what's on-topic and off-topic, enforce it a little better then we currently are, and reward good examples of questions and answers.

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