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Play It By Ear: Definition, Useful Conversation Examples & Synonyms List

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What does “play it by ear” mean? Learn the definition, how and when to use this idiom with interesting conversation examples and different ways to say “play it by ear” with ESL infographic.

Play It By Ear Meaning

Play It By Ear

What Does “Play It By Ear” Mean?

The idiom “play it by ear” is used when talking about future plans. If you “play it by ear”, you deal with a situation without a definite plan, you just see how things turn out and then will decide what to do as you go along.

This idiom has a musical meaning too. When you play a piece of music by ear, you play it without looking at printed music for a song.

Example Sentences

  • We’ll see what the weather’s like and play it by ear.
  • John decided to play it by ear when he went for his interview.
  • You have to play it by ear when it comes to the regularity of feeding.
  • Anna doesn’t like to make plans. She prefers to play it by ear.
  • If you play it by ear, you can lose your chance.
  • In this game, you have to play it by ear sometimes.
  • I’ve had no time to prepare for this meeting, so I’ll have to play it by ear.
  • I don’t know how long I’ll continue touring with the band. We’ve always said we’ll just play it by ear.
  • We’ve booked the flight, but not the accommodation, we’ll play it by ear when we get there.
  • I’m not sure what to tell Dad – I’ll just have to play it by ear.
  •  I haven’t decided what to say when he comes; I’ll play it by ear.
  • We can’t plan for today’s interview. Let’s just go and play it by ear.
  • We should have a plan in learning English, don’t play it by ear.

Conversation Examples

Example 1:

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Tom: What do you want to do this weekend?

Anna: I don’t know, we can see a movie or have dinner. Why don’t we play it by ear?

Tom: Sure.

Example 2:

David: What are the plans for tomorrow night? Any parties?

Jame: idk, guess we’ll just play it by ear.

 Other Ways to Say “Play It By Ear”

Here is the list of synonyms for the phrase “play it by ear” with useful example sentences:

Go with the flow

  • If you want to stay sane, just go with the flow.


  • Sometimes I improvise and change the words because I forget them.

Wing it

  • We have to wing it in the first game, but we’ll be more prepared for the next one.


  • He has to extemporize because he has forgotten to bring his note.

Busk it

  • Many presenters don’t bother rehearsing, preferring to ‘busk’ it.


  • He’s good at ad-libbing his way out of trouble.


  • The band gave an impromptu concert on the roof of the studio.

Off the cuff

  • I’m just speaking off the cuff here-I haven’t seen the results yet.

Happen to do something

  • happened to see Sarah at the store today.

Stumble into

  • My habit is to stumble into the bathroom and pee.

Fall into

  • fell into my job quite by accident.

Rush into

  • We must not rush into anything without careful planning.