What does the phrase “let’s play it by ear” mean?

The phrase “let’s play it by ear” is used when someone wants to basically say “let’s not make any concrete plans – instead, let’s just see how things turn out and then we will decide what to do.” The phrase is used when talking about future plans, so it’s always referencing the future.

The phrase comes from music – for instance, when playing the piano, if you want to play something without looking at the sheet music in front of you, you would “play it by ear”. Basically, you are reproducing a song that you have already heard on the piano. So, you are just going figuring out what to play as you go along.

Here’s an example of it’s usage:

Let’s Play It By Ear In a Sentence



Bob:  “Hey Tom, let’s play tennis tomorrow 
at 3 pm.”

Tom:  “I think it might rain tomorrow.  Let’s just 
play it by ear.”



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