What does ‘Let’s play it by ear’ mean?

Have you ever heard the phrase `Let’s play it by ear’?

If you hear this phrase, it means the speaker doesn’t want to make a fixed plan for something.  Instead, the speaker wants to decide what to do at the time the thing happens. 

So, we use the idiom ‘play something by ear’ when we want to be more flexible with our plans.   It is often used in everyday conversation, especially when talking about less formal arrangements, for example, social or travel plans.  This idiom comes from music where ‘playing something by ear’ means to play a musical instrument without reading from a music sheet.

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But be careful, when using this idiom to talk about the future, it is always used with a noun (often ‘it’ or ‘things’) between ‘play’ and ‘by ear.’

Here are some examples:

A: ”So where are we going after the concert?”  

B: ”I’m not sure what time the concert finishes, so let’s play it by ear.”


A: “Where will we stay when we go to the lake?”  

B: “Oh, I guess a bed-and-breakfast somewhere. Let’s just play things by ear.”

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If someone says ‘Let’s play it by ear’ to you, you can reply using phrases like ‘sounds good’ (=yes, I agree) or ‘don’t you think we should make a plan?’ (=no, let’s make a plan).

Another idiom with a similar meaning is ‘go with the flow.’ This idiom also means to not make fixed plans for something. However, rather than decide at the time, it means to copy what other people do at the time. For example:

A: “Do you have any plans after the game on Saturday?”

B: “No, I think I’ll just go with the flow and do what everyone else is doing.”


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What does ‘I’m pulling your leg’ mean?

What does ‘Can you give me a hand?’ mean?