Duke Ellington time guitar

Duke Ellington on finding the time


Duke Ellington was a busy guy. He would write tunes in the morning and his big band would perform them that very night. He sometimes even held the music up in front of soloists so they could stand and still read the music.

He toured, performed, composed, and ran the business that was his life. There were always obligations and opportunities vying for his attention. But that’s true for us all.

One of the most common obstacles to a consistent guitar practice is finding the time.

Something urgent is bound to arise, and when it does, guitar is often one of the first activities to go.

But we do have time. We find time to eat and sleep. We find time to binge-watchNetflix. We fritter away hours each day without even thinking about it.

So why is it so hard to make time for something that brings joy, meaning, and fulfillment?

Like the Duke called it, we need a deadline.

We need something that brings urgency and importance to our practice time.

Performances can work well for this. So can lessons or anything else with a financial obligation. But on a day-to-day basis, it can still be difficult to “find” the time.

Many have observed that, “99% is hard, but 100% is easy.” If we have a choice, it’s hard. If there’s no choice, it’s easy. This is why we find time to eat and sleep and go to work.

One way to be consistent is to practice at the same time each day. Make it a ritual. Put it on the schedule and respect it.

If we defend our scheduled time just as we would if it belonged to someone else (i.e. an appointment, or work), we find that it happens.

This requires sacrifice, because the time has to come from somewhere. Any activity is a tradeoff between it and what we could do instead. There’s an “opportunity cost” to hitting the snooze button, watching TV, or mindlessly surfing the web.

We may have to take an honest look at how we currently spend our time. We may have to find new ways to trim the fat and be more intentional. But would spending more time on high-quality activities like guitar be worth it?

On something non-urgent, like guitar, we have to find ways to keep it high in the importance hierarchy. Any small (specific) deadline can make guitar a top priority.


“I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.”

Duke Ellington



allen mathews classical guitar

About Allen Mathews

Allen Mathews learned guitar as an adult, and has been a full-time guitar teacher for almost two decades to students age 4 to 96.  He has taught classical guitar at Reed College and Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and has been a guest lecturer and clinician at schools and universities throughout the U.S.  Allen is often praised for his creative teaching abilities, and his dedication to helping adults learn classical guitar.  He has a popular Youtube Channel offering regular classical guitar tutorials, and has gained fans worldwide for his weekly emails and articles at ClassicalGuitarShed.com.

Allen Mathews was recommended to me as somebody who could help me expand my guitar vocabulary.  Allen started me on a really fun cycle of lessons and practice.  He is a very good,and very enthusiastic teacher, and I feel that I'm on the road to learning.  I couldn't be more pleased with my experience.

-Peter Buck (r.e.m.)

Hi Allen, just wanted to provide some feedback. Since I've started doing the exercises [in The Woodshed program] my guitar is sounding a lot better, with fuller sound, less effort. Its as if I bought a new guitar or got a new pair of hands (or both). Amazing my friend. Thank you!

-Nusret Aydemir

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