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    #1

    Instrmental THE

    Instrumental "the"

    In my school days (more than 30 years ago), I used to be taught that "the" is essential in a sentence like "I play the guitar", "I play the piano", etc when the sentence means "performance of a musical instrument".

    This "instrumental THE" is very unique in that it is used without pointing any specific guitar or piano. Teacher said, "This THE cannot be explained within the basic usages of the definite article."

    I know people, both in US and UK and others, already accept "play guitar" and "play piano" but even today in Japan, many teachers unfortunately still insist that THE must be there and that if not it is wrong", which is not true any longer....

    I still wonder:
    1, why "the" was used in "play the guitar" before, in a sense of grammatical usage or language history.
    2, why people started not to use THE there


    I hear, the tendency to drop the 'instrumental THE' started among jazz musicians in the US and rapidly spread all over the world.

    "Guitar" is a countable noun itself.
    So, I have to say "This is a guitar", not "This is guitar".
    I can also say, "I tune pianos for my occupation", "I make guitars", etc
    When a musical instrument is handled as an ordinary countable nouns, the usage is the same as pen, desk, ball, dog, etc.

    On the other hand, in some idiomatic expressions, countable nouns can be used without any article: "go to school (when meaning "to be a student"), "go to church (to pray)", "by car/train/ship/plane (as a means of transportation)".

    So, I am feeling that "play guitar" is regarded as an idiom when it means "performance of a musical instrument".

    Rarely do I see "He played a piano" but I guess this can be OK when I say, "Last night, he played an old piano but the sound was still excellent," "I have played a lot of pianos but this is the best one."

    3, Let me add my questions: When the following phrase can be correct and natural?
    "play a piano"
    "play pianos"


    Thank you in advance.

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    #2

    Re: Instrmental THE

    Quote Originally Posted by KEN JPN View Post
    So, I am feeling that "play guitar" is regarded as an idiom when it means "performance of a musical instrument".
    What definition of idiom are you using? It seems literal to me and not idiomatic.

    Rarely do I see "He played a piano" but I guess this can be OK when I say, "Last night, he played an old piano but the sound was still excellent," "I have played a lot of pianos but this is the best one."

    3, Let me add my questions: When the following phrase can be correct and natural?
    "play a piano"
    "play pianos"
    When you're thinking about instruments as objects - your age example. How about this:

    I have always played grand pianos, but last night I played an upright piano for the first time

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    #3

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    #4

    Re: Instrmental THE

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    What definition of idiom are you using? It seems literal to me and not idiomatic.
    This is a piano.
    That is the piano he played last night.

    In these expressions, the countable noun, singular, 'piano' is used with 'a' or 'the', where they are not idiomatic but quite usual as a countable noun; while in "play piano", 'piano' is used without any article. When a countable noun singular form is used, it is usually regarded ungrammatical, as is "This is book", "I am student" but in idioms it is allowed as in "go to school/church", "by bus/train/bicycle", "on foot", etc.

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    #5

    Re: Instrmental THE

    We're using different definitions- I wouldn't call any of those idioms.

    Also, in I play piano, is it really a countable singular? I don't think it is- it is the concept of the instrument rather than an individual case. I play piano in most cases would not refer to one instrument but the ability to play any piano IMO.

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    #6

    Re: Instrmental THE

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    We're using different definitions- I wouldn't call any of those idioms.

    Also, in I play piano, is it really a countable singular? I don't think it is- it is the concept of the instrument rather than an individual case. I play piano in most cases would not refer to one instrument but the ability to play any piano IMO.
    Interesting point of view. In no dictionaries, "piano" is defined as an abstract noun. So, when "piano" is used like "play piano", the common noun (countable, singular) is temporarily treated as an abstract noun, which means "play piano" is idiomatic. If "piano" can always mean "the ability to play any piano", we should be able to say "Piano is difficult", which would probably mean "To play an instrument with a very weak, soft touch is very difficult."

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    #7

    Re: Instrmental THE

    In BrE, "I play piano" and "I play the piano" both mean "I am able to sit in front of a/any piano, put my fingers on the keys and produce a tune relatively proficiently".

    At school, I played flute in the school orchestra.
    My sister plays violin for a living.
    My friend plays bass in a band.
    My other friend plays the guitar in another band.
    I can't play the clarinet but I can play the oboe.
    My grandfather played clarinet, piano and trumpet when he was in the Army band.
    My mum tried to learn to play the guitar once but she was useless!

    All of the above are fine as written and they would be equally acceptable if you added/omitted the article in each case.
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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    #8

    Re: Instrmental THE



    Also 'a' is possible in rare conditions. 'I normally play the clavichord, the virginals, or the spinet. Occasionally, if there's nothing else to hand, I will play a piano'. 'The' would also be possible here.

    b

    PS Does anyone in the EFL world really call this sort of 'the' instrumental? Sheesh
    Last edited by BobK; 02-Jul-2012 at 12:03. Reason: Added PS

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    #9

    Re: Instrmental THE

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post


    Also 'a' is possible in rare conditions. 'I normally play the clavichord, the virginals, or the spinet. Occasionally, if there's nothing else to hand, I will play a piano'. 'The' would also be possible here.

    b

    PS Does anyone in the EFL world really call this sort of 'the' instrumental? Sheesh
    In Japan, at least, both at school and in grammar books being published for students "THE for musical instruments" is being taught. Those grammar books say, THE is used because piano, guitar, etc are musical instruments. This "the" is different from usual one which means "that" or "already mentioned"....

    Many teachers still regard (or even insist), this "instrumental-THE" is obligatory and if students fail to write "play the guitar", those teachers never hesitate to deduct the points.
    Last edited by KEN JPN; 02-Jul-2012 at 12:22.

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    #10

    Re: Instrmental THE

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post


    Also 'a' is possible in rare conditions. 'I normally play the clavichord, the virginals, or the spinet. Occasionally, if there's nothing else to hand, I will play a piano'. 'The' would also be possible here.

    b

    PS Does anyone in the EFL world really call this sort of 'the' instrumental? Sheesh
    I want to come and join you in your marvellously medieval musical world. Can I bring my hammered dulcimer?

    As far as calling it "instrumental" is concerned, it took me several posts to realise that the OP (presumably) did not mean "helping to accomplish something", but simply "to do with musical instruments". I think it's a rather sweet ambiguity.
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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