Why is it called drums, not drum?

duburdubur

Member
Greek
I have always wondered about this:

"I play drums" seems to be the right choice. Why? Why drums and not drum? In a similar situation you would say I play guitar and not guitars, right? Piano not pianos.

So, in general do you say drums or drum? I just want to use it in a sentence like "I love playing drums..", "I like drums" etc.

EDIT:

Sorry guys, forgot this: Why do some people say "THE drums" ?
"I like to play the drums". Why not just say "I like to play drums" (or drum, which goes back to my original question).

Why use "The"? You are not referring to anything, you are talking about the instrument, drum, in general
 
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  • Istarion

    Senior Member
    British English
    You're right that it's always 'drums', unlike with other instruments. Presumably it is because a drum kit consists of several drums, and you learn to play all of them at once, not just one.
    -I
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    When we say "I play (the) drums," we are talking about playing a drum set, which has more than one drum. I'm sure you've noticed this. But if you're pounding on a single drum and there's no other drum within five feet, I suppose you could say, I play the drum. The big question then is "Will anyone listen?" :)

    Added: Cross-posted.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I'm not a musician, but I think it's because what you generally learn to play on is actually a drum kit, consisting of a number of different individual drums of various types and sizes. So the plural "drums" is commonly used in sentences such as the ones in your examples.:)
     
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    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    It all depends. If you are a drummer in a marching band you play a drum, not drums, but you'd be specific - "I'm a drummer. I play the bass drum/the side drum." Your "I like drums" is fine, but the equivalent for piano should be "I like the piano" or "I like pianos".
     

    MattiasNYC

    Senior Member
    Swedish
    It all depends. If you are a drummer in a marching band you play a drum, not drums, but you'd be specific - "I'm a drummer. I play the bass drum/the side drum." Your "I like drums" is fine, but the equivalent for piano should be "I like the piano" or "I like pianos".
    I think a drummer in a marching band would likely say he plays the percussion, not "a drum".
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I imagined a man in full marching uniform with a tambourine or a triangle. ;) Isn't "percussion" a section in a band/orchestra?
     

    MattiasNYC

    Senior Member
    Swedish
    I imagined a man in full marching uniform with a tambourine or a triangle. ;) Isn't "percussion" a section in a band/orchestra?
    Yes, there are different sections, the percussion section being one of them. A percussionist plays the percussion. Playing "the drum" may be linguistically and "technically" accurate, but I've never heard a musician say it, ever. It's always been "I play the drums" or "I play (the) percussion". The singular just sounds odd. The exception would be if you specify which drum is being played: "I play the snare drum".
     

    duburdubur

    Member
    Greek
    Thank you everyone.

    So now I know it is better to say drumS not just drum.

    However, regarding THE and not using THE. Which one will it be?

    "I play THE drums" or "I play drums" ?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    "I play THE drums" or "I play drums" ?
    "I play the drums" is more common. "I play drums" is possible but unusual.

    From what I have heard, "I'm a drummer" is more common than either of those statements.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I think a drummer in a marching band would likely say he plays the percussion, not "a drum".
    Having spent many years in military service, I'd expect a drummer to say he played a drum (and if a side drummer, possibly a fife). I'd be amazed if a drummer told me he "played the percussion" in a marching band, because I've never seen "a percussion". A musician in the Army of the rank of "drummer" might tell me he played the triangle or the cymbals. I'd also be amazed if a member of the brass section told me he "played the brass". If from some parts of England he might tell me he earned his brass playing the cornet.
     

    duburdubur

    Member
    Greek
    Alright so in general its better to say

    drumS (with an S) and with a THE, even though it is quite possible to say "I play drums" without using THE.

    Thanks guys!
     

    MattiasNYC

    Senior Member
    Swedish
    Having spent many years in military service, I'd expect a drummer to say he played a drum (and if a side drummer, possibly a fife). I'd be amazed if a drummer told me he "played the percussion" in a marching band, because I've never seen "a percussion".
    Well maybe it's different in the British Military than it is among musicians in the US then. To me saying "I play the drum" just sounds very odd. Fine, if you're conversing with your peers in the band then that's a different bag but what I've heard is different.

    I've heard percussionists refer to playing the percussion simply because they tend to rotate between the different individual instruments belonging to that category. In other words I've never met a person who "plays the cymbal", but I have met a person who "plays the cymbal in a marching band". See the difference? So using that logic I accept that perhaps I'd meet a person who'd say "I play the drum" if he wanted to be specific about what he played in a marching band, but outside of that I have never heard nor would I expect to hear someone say it. I would expect them to instead distinguish between being a percussion player in general, playing a specific and often style-dependent instrument ("the timbales"), or just "the drums" meaning the drum kit.

    So maybe this is the difference between BE / AE and also between talking about a specific situation versus a more general note.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Beginning drummers in school bands are often taught the snare drum which gives them the basic skills to play many types of drums and cymbals. I'm not saying that they wouldn't need to practice with a particular drum but they know how to read the rhythms and hit things with sticks in various ways (diddles, paradiddles, flams, rolls, rim shots, ...).
    A "percussionist" is usually expected to know how to play things like xylophones, marimbas, glockenspiels, bells, etc (possibly even piano) which are quite different from playing drums. (I have two friends who majored in percussion performance in college and are now high school band directors.)
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I think a drummer in a marching band would likely say he plays the percussion, not "a drum".
    The American Indian Pow Wow drum was played singly. I'm sure that there are other drum-types that are played singly also. If I were referring to a drum-type that is played singly then I would say "drum" and not "drums" or "the drums". But that is the only instance I can think of for the singular form.

    Bom-bom bom-bom.

    Omigod they are playing the war drum!

    We're safe until the drumming stops!



    An example of a war drum: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Serer_Royal_War_Drum_(Jung-Jung)._19th_Century._Jung-Jung_From_The_Kingdom_of_Sine_(in_modern_day_Senegal).jpg
     

    pops91710

    Senior Member
    English, AE
    Having spent many years in military service, I'd expect a drummer to say he played a drum (and if a side drummer, possibly a fife). I'd be amazed if a drummer told me he "played the percussion" in a marching band,
    It is the same in the American military bands too. We also say Fife and Drum Corps. Note neither instrument is pluralized.
     
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