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David France

Mr. Vamos and I (Part 2)

January 26, 2010 at 9:15 PM

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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