the Indefinite and Definite Article with Musical Instruments


Rule 6.1: Use the definite article when generalizing about an entire class of musical instruments.


Mastering the piano takes years of study. (not one piano, the entire category of pianos)
The origins of the guitar can be traced to India. (not one guitar, the entire category of guitars)


Exercise 1: Fill in the blanks with the or Ø.


Rule 6.2: Use the indefinite article a, an, or the definite article the when it is possible to generalize about an instrument by entire category or by each individual case.


The piano has 88 keys. (the entire category of pianos)
A piano has 88 keys. (each and every piano)

You need space to play the trombone. (the entire category of trombones)
You need space to play a trombone. (each and every trombone)


Exercise 2: Fill in the blanks with a, an, and/or the: Some blanks can be filled with more than one article.


Exception to Rule 6.2: Be aware that there are cases when it is possible to generalize about an instrument by entire category, but not by each individual case.


Correct: The violin originated in Italy. (the entire category of violins)


Incorrect: A violin originated in Italy. (each and every violin did not originate in Italy)

Correct: The most beautiful sounding instrument is the piano. (the entire category of pianos)


Incorrect: The most beautiful sounding instrument is a piano. (each and every piano may not sound beautiful, some may be out of tune)


Exercise 3: Fill in the blanks with a, an, or the. Some blanks can be filled with more than one article.


6.2 Extra!: The definite article is often used to refer to the music that an instrument emits.

The indefinite article is often used to refer to a musical instrument as a physical object. The same is also true when a musical instrument is pluralized.


Andy loves the piano. (piano music)
Andy loves pianos. (pianos as physical objects)

Jude can play the cello. (cello music)
Jude has a cello in her bedroom. (a cello as a physical object)


Exercise 4: Fill in the blanks with a, an, s, or the: