One thing distinguishes this song from many other popular rock songs is the lack of guitars. "I think that the electric rhythm guitar is so overused," Daniel said in a 2002 interview. "You expect it to have that…There's guitar on nine of the twelve songs on [Kill The Moonlight], but several people keep asking me 'What happened to the guitar?' Well, I mean, it's overdone."
"The Way We Get By" is one of the three guitar-less jams on the album. It begins with a bare piano and a quiet Britt Daniel vocal. The bass brings in the first chorus, simple and precise, and the percussion is just handclaps and tambourine. It's not until after the second chorus that Eno's drums come in, and they do so in half time. In this way, the music reflects the theme of the lyrics: the light percussion makes it seem like there will be upbeat movement, but when the dominant rhythm finally comes in, it's actually at a much slower, head-bobbing pace.