play it by ear(redirected from they played it by ear)
play by ear
1. To play a piece of music without referencing sheet music or a recording. In this usage, a noun or pronoun can be used between "play" and "by ear." Wow, George is such a talented piano player! The way he can play pieces by ear after hearing them just once is so impressive! Just because he can play by ear doesn't mean he's a great songwriter.
2. By extension, to make decisions about what action to take in an adaptive, flexible way, based on the circumstances. In this usage, a noun or pronoun is used between "play" and "by ear." A: "Are we meeting at noon on Saturday?" B: "Around then. I have to run some errands in the morning, so let's play things by ear." I could tell he had forgotten his notes and was playing the presentation by ear.
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.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2022 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
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.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 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.
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012
play (something) by ˈear
1 play (music) which you have heard or remembered but which you have not seen written down: She can’t read music very well, so she plays all the tunes by ear.
2 (also play it by ˈear) (informal) decide how to act in a situation as it happens or develops, rather than by planning in advance: You can’t really prepare for the questions the interviewer will ask — you’ll just have to play it by ear, I’m afraid.
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
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.
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.
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer