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

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s.  Despite a lot of practice and work with teachers, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well.  I struggled with excess tension.  My music sounded forced.  And my hands and body were sore after playing.  I was frequently frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward.  Then I studied with two stellar teachers –  one focused on the technical, and one on the musical.  In time, I came to discover a fundamental set of formulas and movements. These unlocked my playing, and brought new life and enjoyment to my practice. Now I help other guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.

This is the ideal starting position for me. As a relative beginner with no teacher this is helping me enormously in developing good technique and not falling into bad habits. I no longer feel (A) That it's a struggle to learn a new piece and (B) That I am alone in my endeavors. My advice is to try The Woodshed program. It is fantastic and will not only bring up your playing but his explanations of musical concepts as you go along put things into perspective.

-John Andersson

Hi Allen,
Greetings from the UK. I would like to thank you for providing such an excellent resource. The effort and skill which has gone into creating this program is very evident. I started classical guitar a year or so ago with a teacher but was unable to commit to same time regular slots each week.

The Woodshed Program was exactly what I was looking for. I have found the site very intuitive and well structured and have taken your advice and started from the very beginning of the program whilst still practising some of the pieces I was already working on. It is clear that I will benefit greatly from these early technical studies. There were clearly weaknesses and gaps in my knowledge even though I am still at an early stage. Once again many thanks for the program and very best wishes.

-Rodger Paylor

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