There was a small outbreak of comments on this question:

What chord is this from Hungarian Rhapsody No.2?

about its topicality. Specifically, @MatthewRead and I engaged in the following exchange:

Can you clarify why you're asking? (Why does it need to have a name?) – Matthew Read♦

@MatthewRead Asking for the name and/or function of a sonority would seem to me to be a valid, answerable "theory" question. "I'm curious" would seem sufficient justification for asking. – Andrew

@Andrew Not really, we don't want one question for every conceivable set of notes. A better question would be about how to identify chords, so the poster actually learns something useful. – Matthew Read♦

I think there are improvements to be made in the linked question. However, I would point out that:

  1. A question per conceivable sonority seems unlikely.
  2. A question about how to identify chords (generally) would require reciting entire harmony texts here, which does not seem useful.

What seems better to me is to permit and perhaps even encourage questions about sonority identification. A good question would provide sufficient context around the sonority (printed or aural) to allow a detailed answer. (The linked question does not currently meet this criterion.) This way, it is not necessary for those answering to find a score or a recording for themselves. A good answer would not merely identify the sonority (or several possible interpretations thereof) but explain the process of determining the sonority and/or cite sources of explanation for more "famous" examples where there is legitimate scholarly debate.

Finally, if someone has a specific reason for asking a question, presumably the asker will make that reason known, possibly through a later edit when the reason becomes relevant. Otherwise, "I'm curious" or "I just want to know" seem like reasonable defaults for any question on this site.

Discussion?

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How will questions like these ever be useful to anyone but the asker? An image of notes isn't searchable, and "G Db F" is hardly better. By my reading of the FAQ, idle curiosity isn't a good basis for a question; You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. –  Matthew Read May 23 '12 at 23:05
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Then we should change the FAQ. Music theory is on-topic here, yes? Music scholarship is on-topic here, yes? And, searchability is more of a problem/enhancement challenge to the site, not a reason to reject legitimate questions. Further, if the asker asks about the piece and context, not just "what chord is this," then the question is already searchable by piece, composer, or whatever other information was included. –  Andrew May 24 '12 at 1:03
    
Heh, good luck changing something core to the network, but you can bring that up on Meta Stack Exchange if you wish. –  Matthew Read May 24 '12 at 15:41
    
@MatthewRead This has nothing to do with the network. This has to do with Music.SE. That statement in the FAQ makes sense for SO and probably some other sites, but it doesn't work on this site, nor should it have to. You pointed at the FAQ for Music.SE, not something for the entire network. –  Andrew May 24 '12 at 16:25
    
No, it's very much about the network and how it's designed to work. All of SE is about solving people's problems, see stackexchange.com/about: We welcome questions that are clear and specific, representing real problems that you face. Individual sites have their own topics and form specific policies for site-specific issues, but we can't just run the site however we want and ignore the core policies of the network. That portion of our FAQ is not editable, and for a reason. –  Matthew Read May 24 '12 at 18:15
    
@MatthewRead That makes no sense. Any site in which theoretical (not hypothetical -- those terms are different, especially here) questions are welcome is going to have to welcome intellectual curiosity, else the site becomes useless. In the case of Music.SE, the effect will be that many advanced, expert-level questions will be forever off-topic, helping even more to ensure that the site does not rise above beginner level. Not all sites can be run like SO, and frankly, if we don't welcome questions of intellectual curiosity, there won't be much left to ask here. –  Andrew May 24 '12 at 18:42
    
I would claim that intellectual curiosity arises from some problem or confusion, which can be described in a post. "I saw a chord, what is it" isn't the same thing. If the post is the former and not the latter then it needs to be worded as the former and not the latter. –  Matthew Read May 25 '12 at 5:19
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1 Answer 1

I think it's important not to dismiss this kind of question due to a lack of searchability at the present moment. That will come in time--I'm sure Google is working on figuring that out as we speak.

Theoretical analysis of functional harmony, I believe, should be valid and on-topic. Questions should be structured with the proper context, and titled either referencing the music itself (say, "Db triad in the key of F#") or the title of the piece ("Second chord in Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2")--that's not terrible in terms of searchability, either.

What should be off-topic are questions that are just asking for note or chord identification without regard to functional analysis. Non-functional harmony should be dealt with separately.

We clearly already do allow questions about high-level theoretical analysis already, so we have to allow questions of analysis at a lower level. If we don't, we're insisting upon some arbitrary cut-off that would be impossible to justify and even less practical to enforce.

I think something that can be done for cleanliness' sake is to treat two questions that ask about the same function of chord as duplicates (i.e. "F triad in Bb major" and "D triad in G major").

Lastly, I would not consider the reason for asking to be very relevant in this type of question. If you're playing a piece of music and can't figure out the function of a chord, that's enough. "Idle curiosity" would lead someone to write random notes on a staff and then ask about it--clearly off-topic. Functional analysis is useful enough in virtually all disciplines of music that I don't think it needs to be rationalized.

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Searchability isn't directly my concern, it's helpfulness to others. Someone searching for that information is unlikely to find it and can't be helped, and IMO someone stumbling across a basic "what is this chord" question is not going to be helped either. I don't think it's too much to ask that questions provide some rationale. Otherwise I really don't see any reason why the asker wouldn't go through the entire song and ask about every chord. Identifying basic chords is not taking advantage of our users' expertise, nor is it helping anyone gain expertise. IMO that's what SE is about. –  Matthew Read May 24 '12 at 18:22
    
We also can't get away from the subjective interpretation of guidelines and inconsistent human application of them, try as we might; this issue is no different. The cutoff doesn't have to be arbitrary, see Are Some Questions Too Simple? for one set of guidelines. I'm all for helping beginners, and I think substantial Q&A that teaches something applicable to more than one set of notes is a better way of doing so. –  Matthew Read May 24 '12 at 18:22
    
@MatthewRead The asker won't go through the entire piece (not necessarily "song" -- that is a specific term, so let's try to raise the bar here by only using the term when it applies) chord-by-chord because it isn't worth the effort. Even if someone did, we would start closing questions as duplicates rather quickly. It's unnecessary for an asker to say why harmonic analysis is useful, and that's precisely what you are asking him or her to do. A better question, as on other sites, would describe the source of confusion more specifically, which was not well done in the linked question. –  Andrew May 24 '12 at 18:48
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