play it by ear, to

play it by ear

To decide how to act in or deal with a particular situation in an adaptive, flexible, or improvised way, based on the circumstances. A reference to playing a song without referencing sheet music or a recording. A: "Are we meeting at noon on Saturday?" B: "Around then. I have to run some errands in the morning, so let's play it by ear." My apologies in advance, but I forgot my notes for today's presentation, so I'm afraid I'm going to have to play it by ear a little bit.
See also: by, ear, play
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

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: by, ear, play
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

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: by, ear, play
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

play it by ear, to

To improvise; to act as the situation requires, without advance planning. This term for playing instrumental music without reading the notes from a score, but simply going by the sound, dates from the seventeenth century. It was not transferred to other kinds of improvisation until the mid-twentieth century.
See also: by, play, to
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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