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January 2010

Mr. Vamos and I (Part 2)

January 26, 2010 14:15

The summer of 2009 would be my inaugural year with the Vamos’.      After first hearing about them from their feature on CBS Sunday Morning I always wondered about the logistics of how someone could study with two teachers.   When I first contacted Almita Vamos I felt I needed a teacher to help me with the Mendelssohn Concerto as I was asked  to perform it with the Bermuda Festival Orchestra.    So when I arrived at Chautauqua Institution last summer I rightly assumed that I would be working solely with Mrs. Vamos.    We met for a conference before my first lesson and she said:  “Call, my husband and tell him that I said that he should give you some lessons.”     She added, “He’s just home practicing….he’s not doing anything.”  


Mr. Roland Vamos was on the grounds of Chautauqua last summer for two weeks before heading to Switzerland to teach.  In the words of Mrs. Vamos “He’s very good and in demand.”   I was exited no I was so PUMPED for my lesson with Mr. Vamos.    But there was a slight problem.   Mrs. Vamos told me that I would be working on technique for Mr. Vamos yet I didn’t have anything prepared for my lesson which would be the next day.  Mrs. Vamos assured me not to worry.   “He’ll have things to give YOU!”


This piqued my curiosity.   I had never been to a lesson with no materials.  This would be interesting.  When I arrived the next day Mr. Vamos, of course, barely knew who I was and was completely prepared to give me a lesson from scratch.    While I opened my violin and tuned he began writing out an exercise on a few pieces of lined paper.  


He wrote out an exercise that he modified from one of the sections of the Hrimaly Scale Books.   It is from the section that deals with scales starting on a particular finger.  He said the exercise was to work on scales within a single position starting each scale with the same finger.   Each finger would work through about 11 positions on the violin playing a chord after the arpeggio in each position with the fingers a half step apart across the lower two strings.   I was to play four notes to every bow. I was used to practicing the vertical motion of shifting in the early exercises of the Flesch Scale System and Sevcik Op. 8.   and worked horizontally across the same position in Schradiek Book I.  I thought it was absolutely brilliant to concentrate on the scales within the various positions horizontally across the fingerboard while each day changing which fingers started the scale.  Wow!  This would change the half step relationships within the hand each day within the same scales.   I was sold!


Here is the fingering for the first exercise;

Scales Starting with the first finger:

G:  1234                                    A:    4321

D:   1234                                    D:    4321

A:   1234                                    G:    4321 (first note of the arpeggio)

E:   1234     321



The instructions state that I am to start on an A-Flat on the G string  and play up to G on the G string.   A final G Major chord across all four strings in 1st position would conclude the Scales starting with the first finger.   He wrote exercises for each of the fingers.


After this exercise he then gave me the fingerings he uses for three octave scales with accompanying Arpeggios.  Both the scales and arpeggios were to be played through a pattern of increasing the notes played in a single bow.    I was instructed to play all the scales the 1st day starting with a down bow and then the following day start each pattern with an up bow.  The arpeggios would be played both down bow and up bow in the same day.   Mr. Vamos talked about wanting the student to feel comfortable in all parts of the bow and having the flexibility and versatility to play patterns in either direction of the bow.  I thought this was very wise.     He believes that introducing the three octave scales chromatically starting on G helps the students to have a better grasp of the finger patterns.    After going through all the scales HIS WAY he said he gives the students the Flesch Scale System “to keep them off the streets at night.”


Below is his fingering for the G-Major Scale

G:            0210123

D:            0123

A:            012 --1234

E:            12 -1234 44321  --21

A:            4321 –21

D:            4321

G:            4321021/0



The above fingering was to be played with the metronome around quarter note=60 and in the following manner.


 Each note of the scale play as a


1.     One Half half note

2.     Two Quarter notes

3.     A Triplet over the space of two beats

4.     Two sets of Two Eighth notes

5.     Two sets of  Triplets

6.     Two sets of   Four Eighth notes

7.     Two sets of Sextuplets

8.     Two sets of Octuplets

9.     Two sets of  12 notes


If you’ve tried the above at Quarter Note=60 you maybe now sweating if you are anything like me and not used to playing scales that fast.   What I now do is I practice one scale for about 15 minutes a day.  I start with the metronome set to Quarter note=35 then 40, 50, 55, 60 (if I make it that far).


The Arpeggio

020 –131 –131 4 131  --313020


The arpeggio is to be practiced both down bow and up bow.  Here were my instructions

You will notice that most of the arpeggios have instructions to play them multiple times.  This is to include both the down and the up bow versions.


1.     Single notes of the arpeggio slowly both down/up bow

2.     2 notes in one bow  (played twice)

3.     3 notes in a bow both down bow then Up bow

4.     4 notes in a bow (played 4 times)

5.     6 notes in a bow (played 2 times)

6.     8 notes in a bow  (played 8 times)

7.     9 notes in a bow down bow THEN up bow

8.     12 notes in a bow  (played 4 times)

9.     18 notes in a bow (played twice)



I usually practice the arpeggio without the metronome to listen to my slow shifts so that I can land accurately in the new position.


As my lesson was concluding Mrs. Vamos walks into the house and tells Mr. Vamos about a young student he would have to teach in a few days.  She then turns to me and says I want you to come and watch the lesson because you will be following up with the things Mr. Vamos touches on when he goes to Switzerland.  


Jaw drops


After a single lesson I would have to act  as an assistant to Mr. Vamos.




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Mr. Vamos and I (Part 1)

January 18, 2010 11:55

I find myself flirting with the idea of writing a blog and like so many other things I commit for a short period and then my motivation fizzles like so many New Year’s resolutions of years past.     But I’m back and excited to start a new series chronicling my lessons with the renowned teacher Roland Vamos.      2009 was a pivotal year for me in my journey as a violinist.   I won the highly publicized Youtube Symphony Competition and had the honor of being one of the Orchestras five Concertmasters.   


My year long excitement and motivation began when I first heard the announcement for the audition.     The deadline for submission was a little less than two months away and I soberly came to the conclusion that I could  spend the time it took to make a quality video if I only had to work hard for 6 or 7  weeks.     I could put aside my lazy tendencies and make the effort.   My practice equation for the audition consisted of the following thought process.  


  1. A good student at a conservatory practices at least 6 hours a day
  2. In that period they have Orchestra, Chamber, and lesson material to prepare
  3. There is a limited amount of time in a 6 hour schedule that someone can devote to the youtube audition.


I then guessed what I thought that amount of time would be and practiced that amount and more over the 6-7 weeks.     The added element of being able to see everyone else’s audition also spurred me to practice more.   I would daily watch the auditions of the people that inspired me most and then asked myself the question: “How much did they have to practice to play that well.”    I would then turn the computer off and go back to the practice room.     After making a few practice videos I could see some basic violin technique problems that I had getting in the way of how I sounded.    So I put extra mental energy into fixing a few of these issues to make the best video possible at the time.  One of the “simple” things I was trying to fix was trying to draw a straight bow on the string.    


A few months down the road I won!    I was flown to New York with the other 90+ winners from around the world and we embarked on a rigorous 2 ½ day rehearsal schedule.     Those short days of playing alongside the people whose videos inspired me to push myself was a remarkable experience.   One of the members that I had the chance to talk to studied violin with the World Famous teaching duo the Vamos’.     My brain began to churn and I over time came to the conclusion that the Youtube Symphony was not my endgame but one stop along the road of a lifetime of learning.    I asked my new friend what would be the best way to try to get an opportunity to study with them.  She simply said, “Email them.”    So I wrote Mrs. Vamos and sent her my youtube audition and asked if I could study with them in the summer wherever in the world they might be.    Her positive reply would be the beginning of my tenure with them.


In the era of the famous pedagogue Dorothy Delay I would listen to the CD’s of Perlman and Cho Liang Lin and wonder what was it like behind closed doors with Ms. Delay.   I hope that writing this blog will provide insight into the behind the scenes of the progress of a musician through lessons with a great teacher.


Why Mr. Vamos?   Studying with the Vamos’ is a package.   I study my repertoire with Mrs. Vamos and I do my technical studies with Mr. Vamos.   Everyone wants to know about the fingerings, phrasing ideas, and other exciting information gained from a lesson studying the great literature of the violin repertoire.  Yes, this information would be useful and helpful, but fewer people want to sit and listen while you talk about how you worked on lifting your fingers properly in a Schradiek exercise which is the reason you can play that phrase in the Tchaikovsky Concerto.     So I chose Mr. Vamos for this blog because so many aspiring musicians who do not have access to teachers like Sally O’Reilly, Charles Castleman, John Gilbert, or the other amazing teachers of technique focus only on the product and not on the process.   


I hope you enjoy my journey along with me.


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