Playing piano or playing the piano?

We can say "ride a bike", "drive a car", why should we say "play the piano" instead of "play a piano"?



Contrary lớn what is being said by other answerers, there is a real reason for this, and it"s not just for musical instruments.

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We use the phrasing "play the piano" because the piano isn"t technically what is being played - it"s the tool by which music is being played.

We see this type of phrase whenever someone uses the tool as a reference to lớn the activity. You "wield the sword" as a swordfighter. You "wield the pen" as an author. You "use the keyboard", you "work the shovel". An alcoholic would "bury themselves in the bottle". An artist would "wield the brush" and a photographer would "wield the camera".

The construction also works with the tool replaced with the..., the canvas, or whatever equivalent it might be. A farmer would "work the soil", the artist would "work the canvas", & the travaquabigman.comer would "ride the rail".

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answered Aug 10, 2015 at 16:46

Glen OGlen O
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Actually, you can say "play a piano", it just means something different than "play the piano".

We use the definite article when describing the skill of piano playing:

I started learning khổng lồ play the piano at six years old.

We use the indefinite article in all the same places as you use it for "ride a bike".

I prefer to lớn play a piano a couple of times before deciding lớn buy it.

We use the definite article for describing the skill of playing any musical instrument; we don"t bởi that for non-musical instruments. So:

I want lớn learn khổng lồ play the piano.

I want lớn learn to ride a bike.

But also correct are both:

I want to learn khổng lồ play piano.

I want khổng lồ learn to lớn ride bikes.

It would be technically correct but very unidiomatic lớn say:

I want lớn learn lớn play pianos.

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edited Jun 16, 2020 at 9:11

answered Aug 10, 2015 at 7:52

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JohnBentin Unfortunately, there isn't some general semantic principle that explains why. It's part of a small class of exceptions with no apparent semantic basis.
Aug 10, năm ngoái at 13:26
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In "play a piano" the word "piano" will mean a particular single physical instrument.

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In "play the piano" the word "piano" will mean the whole class of instruments.

Both are valid but with different meanings, so correct usage depends on the intended message.

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answered Aug 10, 2015 at 18:38
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We use "the" with any named thành tựu from a phối of items of the same category.

Have you ever taken the redeye from LA to lớn NY? (category: scheduled flights between those hubs)

I always take the express to work in the morning, but coming home I take the 6:15 Local out of 30th Street Station. (category: trains on the schedule)

Do you play the trombone? (category: musical instrument types)

Have you driven the năm ngoái Mercedes Gelaendewagen? (category: vehicle models or vehicle models from Mercedes)

Have you tried the strawberry cheesecake at that restaurant? (category: desserts served at that restaurant)

I can"t wait to lớn try out the iPhone 6. (category: điện thoại cảm ứng models)

I"ve never operated the M841. (category: microscope models made by Leica)

But we would say:

I"ve never ridden a zebra.

P.S. But we can create a context where "the zebra" would be used:

I"ve ridden many a four-legged beast: the hippo, the rhino, the onager, and the horse, of course, but never the zebra.

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edited Aug 10, 2015 at 23:47
answered Aug 10, năm ngoái at 20:10
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There is no logical reason for the use of "the" + musical instrumement. It is simply an idiomatic matter. Maybe there is French influence, though in French it is "jouer du piano" (to play of the piano; I have never found out how this genitive can be explained; but "du" is a khung of the definite article).

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answered Aug 10, năm ngoái at 15:35
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As a Grammar rule in AE, when you refer khổng lồ playing a musical instrument, you usually use the definite article in front of the instrument, though omitting "the" is also possible For example:

He plays the flute/piano/guitar/clarinet, etc.

On the other hand, when you refer lớn a musical instrument as a unit, you can use the indefinite article. For examples:

I have a piano. There"s a guitar on the table.

Interestingly, when you refer to sports or games, you don"t use any article such as "He plays tennis/cricket/volleyball, etc.

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edited Jun 12, 2019 at 20:50
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answered Aug 10, 2015 at 7:10
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I"m guessing here, but I think the correct answer is that piano is being used in two different ways.

We say:

"I learnt to see the future" to indicate a specific future."I learnt lớn build a house" lớn indicate a generic house."I learnt to lớn speak the language" to lớn indicate a specific language."I learnt lớn speak a language" to indicate a language without specifying which one.

So if you say I learnt to lớn play the piano, you"re saying that you learnt the skill of playing a specific type of keyboard instrument... The piano referring to lớn specific knowledge rather than a specific object. The the is associated with the implied skill & not with piano.If referring lớn the object you kết thúc up with I learnt to lớn repair a piano, communicating that your ability isn"t specific to a single particular piano.

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I can play the piano = I have a specific skill.I can play a piano = I can operate any piano.I can play that piano = I can operate the specific piano being indicated.