play it by ear


Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Acronyms, Encyclopedia.

play something by ear

 
1. to be able to play a piece of music after just listening to it a few times, without looking at the notes. I can play "Stardust" by ear. Some people can play Chopin's music by ear.
2. and play by ear to play a musical instrument well, without formal training. John can play the piano by ear. If I could play by ear, I wouldn't have to take lessons—or practice!
3. to improvise; to decide one's next steps after one is already involved in a situation. If we go into the meeting unprepared, we'll have to play everything by ear. He never prepared his presentations. He always played things by ear.
See also: ear, play

play by ear

1. Play a musical instrument without the aid of written music, as in By the time she was four, she could play a dozen songs by ear. [Late 1600s]
2. play it by ear. Proceed gradually, depending on the circumstances; improvise. For example, I'm not sure how much we should say about our plans, so let's play it by ear. [Mid-1900s]
See also: ear, play

play it by ear

If you play it by ear, you deal with things as they happen, rather than following a plan or previous arrangement. `Where will we stay in Gloucestershire?' — `Oh, I guess a bed-and-breakfast place. We'll have to play it by ear.' I don't know what will happen next. I'm playing it by ear. Note: If someone plays a piece of music by ear, they play it without looking at printed music.
See also: ear, play

play it by ear

To act according to the circumstances; improvise: I don't have a set schedule, so we'll have to play it by ear.
See also: ear, play