I have found this in Sherlock Holmes's "A Study in Scarlet"

That he could play pieces and difficult pieces, I knew well, because at my request he had played me some of Mendelssohn's Lieder, and other favorites. When left to himself, however, he would seldom produce any music or attempt any recognized air

I can't find the comprehensive meaning of the highlighted phrase.

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    It's not a phrase, just a series of independent words. Please use the "edit" button to show that you've looked up these words (especially "air," which is the more rare usage here), what you found, and how it didn't resolve your questions. Voting to close until edited. Commented Jun 24 at 14:38
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    "air" is defined in the dictionary: [music] a tune or short melodious composition, typically a song. example: "traditional Scottish airs sung in the Gaelic tongue"
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Jun 25 at 6:12
  • @AndyBonner phrases are made up of words. This is most certainly a phrase even if it is not a set phrase or a particularly common one, just as "made up of words" is a phrase.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 25 at 22:22

2 Answers 2


An 'air' in music is a song-like vocal or instrumental composition, for example, Bach's Air on the G String.

  • Thank you for kind answer
    – M.Hasitha
    Commented Jun 24 at 13:17
  • 4
    In other words "he would seldom try to play a tune that [his hearers] could recognise." Commented Jun 24 at 13:38
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    Related to, and derived from, the musical term “Aria”.
    – KrisW
    Commented Jun 25 at 14:17
  • "Air" in tbe 19th century just meant "tune" or "melody" -- to the extent that it has a more specific technical or formal definition, that is certainly not the sense employed here.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 25 at 22:36

In the late 19th century, and for a couple of hundred years before that, "air" was used more or less as we use "tune" or "melody" today. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary includes this quotation from 1819: Frequently, the principal vocal part is called the air.

A mere eight years before the publication of A Study in Scarlet in 1887, Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance (1879) featured a major general who bragged

Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

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