Duke Ellington on finding the time

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!

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

Duke Ellington

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-watch Netflix. 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.

Allen Mathews

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 schooling, 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 often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two stellar teachers – one focused on the technical, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully. Click here for a sample formula.

Hi Allen, I am thoroughly enjoying your website and I find it is just what I need in my renewed passion for classical guitar. I have rediscovered a great love for this instrument and the music I can learn and play and it has changed my life for the better dramatically! Thank you facilitating this process.

-George Rogers

I appreciate the organized, well thought out progression of each level, as well as a measurable means to determine when to proceed to the next level.  I had burned myself out by pushing too hard and playing beyond where I was comfortable.  This course is just what I needed, and I am happy to be back on the road to playing again.


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