Leave nothing to the Imagination: Violin Teaching Tips and Resources


Notes from a Violin master class and workshop by Pedagogue Sally O’Reilly


“I LOVE teaching because I love the outcome…”

-Sally O’Reilly

Teaching is the greatest legacy of a musician.  Their artistry, wisdom, character, and knowledge is given immortality through all the lives they have touched.  My parents came to the United States in pursuit of the American dream from a small country in the Caribbean called Nevis.   They told me and my siblings that we could become whatever we wanted in our new country, but they never imagined that I would find my way into the American Dream through a free violin program.   I’ve been blessed with many teachers along this journey but the first to give me a thorough technical foundation on the violin was Sally O’Reilly.   When she discovered I was “musically illiterate,” like a good physician she went to work filling in the holes in my journey.   She showed me her technical sequence taking a beginner through beyond the Paganini caprices and asked me which books I had covered as a young child.   My answer… “I’ve never heard of any of these books.”  So, she started from the beginning.  She handed me a book 1 and a metronome and sent me to the practice room.    Over the next few years she patiently began to build a solid foundation.  A few years after this “make over” I was moved to tears when I found out that I won a spot in the YouTube Symphony, the first orchestra auditioned on the internet, and would be one of its Concertmasters.  Sally O’Reilly is one of our country’s greatest pedagogues. Her passion for teaching and her care for each of her students lasts long after they leave her studio.  


Through a generous grant by the Sphinx Organization I was able to bring Sally O’Reilly to Boston to give a teaching workshop and master Class to teachers who are giving their lives away to young musicians from under-served communities.   I wanted to share with you my notes before they slipped from my memory.

Below you will hear tidbits of her class in areas regarding shifting, vibrato, motivation, repertoire, practice, performance, and technology.  

Also, be sure to download her technical sequence and her Repertoire Sequence (coming soon)

-David France


  • Our open strings are our most resonate strings
  • There’s a difference between hearing and listening.  Hearing happens…listening means you’re paying attention
  • Every note needs to be a part of a coherent line
  • Be a person with your students
  • Your ear is only helpful in reverse
  • Making quantum leaps (in a student’s technical development) leaves holes
  • A student taught well in the first 6 years can survive almost anything after that
  • I love teaching because I love the outcome
  • If you spot a weakness in a student…don’t give in and say it’s too late
  • Leave nothing to the imagination….be as specific as possible
  • Repetition = Memorization


Before you shift ask yourself 3 questions

  • Where am I?
  • Where am I going?
  • How do I get there?


Anticipated shifts

  • Travel up and down (the fingerboard)
  • You shift on the old finger to the new position
  • You shift on the old bow
  • It’s used for transportation and can be camouflaged
  • Often used for expression in Kreisler
  • The timing of the shift should be subdivided and in-tempo

The Delayed shift

  • Only goes up (the fingerboard)
  • Shift on the new finger
  • If there is a bow change, shift on the new bow
  • It’s like sliding into home base


Revisit old repertoire…..play things they enjoy 

“A major part of good teaching is teaching a student how to practice”


  • The problem for musicians is that everything has a price tag…..but you don’t know the price
  •  “start paying me and I’ll let you know when you’ve paid me enough”
  • Our art form takes time
  • Review is GOOD
  • As a teacher you want to keep it as interesting as possible
  • Make the metronome your best friend


“The hallmark of a great vibrato is that it is even."


  • If you practice vibrato slowly on every note in a fast passage, when you play it up to tempo there is a residue of vibrato on every note
  • Angle your finger on the pad of the finger
  • Non-Vibrated notes in a vibrated line sound louder
  • The hand is most vertical in 3rd position
  • (wave hand with heel against shoulder)
  • Use 2nd finger when starting vibrato
  • The 2nd finger is the end of the arm, the center of the hand
  • When you vibrate you want to feel the finger board
  • Put your hand on the students knuckle to keep the joint loose
  • The hallmark of a great vibrato is that it is even
  • The thumb stabilizes hand in vibrato
  • Re: Arm Vibrato:  The larger unit is going to be slower and wider
  • One of the reasons we love certain colors is because of how they contrast with other colors



You can use garage band to record your playing then listen to it slowed down and it doesn’t alter the pitch


  • You LOOK like you mean business….now play that way
  • Performers have a big responsibility. How they play a piece might determine whether a listener will listen to that piece and continue to explore works by that composer or decided never to listen to that composer/piece again



Recommended Violin Repertoire Anthologies

  • Old Masters
  • 37 Pieces you like to Play


Pieces mentioned in the class

  • 3rd and 4th Concertos by F. Seitz
  • Accolay Concerto
  • De Beriot Concertos #7 and #9
  • Donkey Doodle
  • Mazurka
  • Souvenir by Drdla
  • Kabalevsky Concerto



Technical Material Mentioned

  • Sevcik Op. 8 (Shifting)
  • Fiddle Rhythms by Sally O’Reilly
  • Fiddle Magic by Sally O’Reilly


David France