Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Are you a flexible person?

Have you ever considered this when you think about your travel style?

Some people like to wait and see what happens and make decisions as they come.

If you are one of those people who likes to make decisions in the moment, then you like to “play it by ear.”

We’re going to look at this phrase, how to use it, and how this can help to describe your style.

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We have a great listener question about a common phrase and how to use it and respond to it.

Hello great AEE team,

I am in Sacramento right now and after a long weekend I have to drive to the Bay Area early morning tomorrow. Per my Weather app it will be rainy when I get there. I texted my manager and asked him about our meeting tomorrow morning that might be affected by rain. He texted me back “ Will play by ears.” I googled it and I think that I kind of got the meaning.

I thought this might be a good topic to ask you about and maybe you could teach us about this. I’d like to know when we can use this, and what else can we say instead? I’m also wondering what could we say in response to this?

I truly appreciate your help and hope you enjoy the week ahead.

Thank you,

Masoud Masoumi

A Little Background

It can always help to have a little background when you have some confusion around such a topic.

There can be a lot of confusion on something like this because it comes down to your own individual style.

The good news is that we have done some episodes on related topics that can help.

These episodes talk about flexibility or the phrase in general, and so they can be very useful to you for some background and perspective.

These episodes can really help you to get background on this type of phrase.

We talked about travel above because the phrase “play it by ear” is so perfect for this type of context.

This phrase can be useful in other ways too, and it can be helpful to understand these various uses.

Basically the phrase “play it by ear” means we will decide what happens when the time comes.

It’s a decision that will come later when it’s the right time or at the time of action being necessary.

Seeing This In Conversation

Phrases like this can be great, but you have to really know how to use them.

Sometimes seeing examples of them and how they would actually be used is really helpful.

So with travel, you might have a conversation using this phrase such as this.

A: “Should we go to the museum or try that tour tomorrow?”

B: “I don’t know. Let’s see how it’s going tomorrow. Let’s play it by ear.”

This is good for planning purposes or setting an expectation for how things will go.

You could also say something like “Hmm..we can go to lunch at 12 or 1. Not sure when we’ll be hungry. Eh, let’s just play it by ear.”

So as you can see in the examples, you are basically telling somebody let’s wait and see.

Let’s make a decision when it gets closer to the time or when we’re sure of what we want to do.

You are taking the guesswork and the stress out of things in the here and now.

When you just aren’t sure of how to make a decision in the moment, this phrase can be quite helpful.

Looking At Where This Came From and Fits In

You may wonder where exactly does this phrase come from?

This may come from music when you can listen to something and then play it just by memorization, or “play it by ear.”

If you can play by ear in music- you don’t need to read music.

This is an amazing gift if you are able to listen and play something back within music.

It could be from the idea that you can just get a feel for something rather than reading or planning.

Some people do well without planning excessively and so putting things off a bit works well for them.

Using this phrase is like saying we’ll see what happens and then we’ll decide.

This is a good one for making plans especially if you want to say that you want to approach it in a laid back manner.

If you feel like too many decisions have to be made, it can be mentally taxing.

When you say you want to “play it by ear” it’s essentially telling others that you want to be stress free and more laid back in your approach.

This phrase can also be good for being flexible or putting things off if you just can’t deal with them at the moment.


It’s good to be flexible, and sometimes that’s just your style.

It’s good to make sure personalities match, and that’s particularly true when it comes to travel style.

Use this phrase when you are making plans and you want to let others know that you want to take things as they come.

It’s okay and actually good to be flexible sometimes, and now you know how to talk about it.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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