phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Playing it by ear

Posted by Masakim on August 07, 2002

In Reply to: Playing it by ear posted by Word Camel on August 07, 2002

: : Playing it by ear. Any idea where this comes from, or its particular meaning? I searched the achives, but found nothing.

: : Thanks,
: : Michael

: Playing music by ear maybe? Some people, like my father, can listen to music then replay it perfectly from memory - and yet can not read music. The meaning is to proceed without a plan, or figuring out what to do as you go. No clue about the first use or origin, but I'll see if I can find anything

: Camel

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]
From The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer
To learn to play it by rote or ear without a Book. (John Playford, _A Brief Introduction to the Skill of Musicke_, 1674)

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