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Sports training provides fertile ground for concepts that we can transfer to horn playing; an earlier Horn Call article of mine was entitled “Lessons from the Gym” that listed a number of such lessons. My wife (a musician, but not a horn player) has serious interests in sports training. She’s become an expert the past couple years in Cross Fit training and recently has done a number of “300” training courses. 300 training comes from the intense training program that the actors in the movie “The 300” had to endure to acquire the sensational bodies of Spartan warriors. Her class included a Big Ten football player, a bouncer, a policeman, and various athletes in their 20s. She’s in her mid-fifties. The trainers call her “mom.” This is the kind of training that gives Navy SEALS pause, complete with trainers who scream “more weight!” if they see actually able to lift what they give you. It’s an hour or so of very heavy training (often involving moving either yourself around quickly or very heavy objects not quite as quickly) 3 times a week. You get to run 3 miles on off days. I couldn’t do this kind of thing at gunpoint, but my wife found that she thrives on it. It takes some serious motivation to get through it; the class started with 20 and finished with 6. Wife not only completed it (they take a brutal test at the end for lagniappe), but signed up for it two more times. Recently they discontinued offering the 300 training, so wife has been looking to put together a new training program for herself that is suitably demanding.

She was musing about this, and I piped up, “Have you considered Fartlek?”

She gave me about the same look you’re giving me right now, but allowed me to continue and define my terms.

Fartlek is a Swedish word that refers to a type of conditioning training that alternates the intensity of exercise, e.g. alternating walking with sprinting. Its opposite is continuous training, such as jogging at a steady pace. Fartlek sessions can be custom-designed for both the athlete and the particular sport. According to Wikipedia, a typical session would include:

•5-10 min. warm-up (jogging)

•Steady, hard training (e.g. running for a mile or two)

•Recovery (walk for 5 min.)

•Alternate sprints (50-60 meters) with jogging; repeat until a little tired

•Easy running with 3 or 4 “quick steps” (sudden acceleration)

•Full speed uphill (200 m.)

•1 min. fast run

•Repeat whole routine until total prescribed time is achieved.

One big advantage of Fartlek training is that it can be adapted for each sport. “Athletes can make the most of the flexibility of fartlek training by mimicking the activities which would take place during the chosen sport.”  Most fartlek session are kept frequent and short. Longer training becomes interval training. The opposite of both of these is continuous training.

There is plenty of information on the internet for those interested. What interests me is brainstorming ways that fartlek training might be applied to horn playing. I invite readers to brainstorm along with me. Let’s see…

•Depending on what a player’s current goals and playing demands are, the player could select from the three types of training: fartlek, interval, and continuous.

•Fartlek is comprised of a mix of jogging, “cruising” (medium speed), and all-out sprints. What are the horn playing equivalents?

jogging: soft-medium dynamics, middle/low range

cruising: mf-f dynamics, range to top of the staff

sprint: ff dynamics, upper register

•Horn practice session corresponding to fartlek session might be something like:

-Warm-up 5-10 min. Easy on the embouchure – middle and low range, not too loud – overtone series. Intersperse rests.

-Technical review and development 20-30 min. Scales, arpeggios, patterns

-5 min. rest.

– Work on technical problems in etudes or solos; upper register work; intersperse short rests. Continue until a little tired.

-Alternate high/loud excerpt and solo problem solving with low range practice and/or rest.

-Speed drills with scales, arpeggios, or patterns; or: sight-reading


Just a start. Feel free to add your own thoughts on how we could apply the training benefits of fartlek to horn playing.