I’m giving my opinion in a very dangerous discussion here: whether to use or not to use a shoulder rest. Some people think you can’t play the violin comfortably without a shoulder rest. Others say that shoulder rests ruined violin playing. The discussions around this topic can be very heated. People are very secure about their own opinion.
First of all I would like point out how dangerous it is to recommend someone to play with or without shoulder rests without analyzing how someone plays and what the shape of their body is. Chinrests and shoulder rests are very personal and must be adjusted to the individual player. Also the choice whether or not to use them is highly personal.
There are fantastic violinists playing without shoulder rest and there are fantastic violinists playing with shoulder rest. This proves to me that both is perfectly possible. If there would be ONE ideal shoulder rest (or none), every single soloist would use it. And they don’t… so there is not one answer for everybody.
There are so many types and shapes and brands of chinrests and shoulder rests? Why? Because we all don’t fit into the same shoes. Just like shoes there are various shapes, types, sizes and brands. Besides: wearing the same shoes every day isn’t good for your feet.
It’s good to change and it’s good to walk barefoot once in a while. The same applies for chinrests and shoulder rests. Don’t look for the perfect solution, but have a couple of option at home and change them once in while.
To help you on your way, here are three ways to discover which shoulder rest is ideal for you:
Stability versus freedom of movement
Personally I like freedom of movement while I’m playing the violin. I want to be able to look around, at my fellow players, at a conductor, at the audience and of course at my sheet music. Besides my neck and muscles don’t like to be in the same position all the time. That’s why I have a relatively low shoulder rest. I’m not stuck in one position.
With most shoulder rests stability and freedom of movement are two barrels.
For example the Bonmusica shoulder rest is very stable. This can be nice for people who’s violin wants to slide off their shoulder all the time. The Bonmusica has the advantage that it’s very stable and solid, so you can relax. The disadvantage is that you are a bit locked into one position. It works for some, others don’t like it.
Playing without a shoulder rest offers maximum freedom of movement, but it can feel less stable en can cause you to tense up. It works for some, others don’t like it.
With my VLM Augustin Diamond rest I’m a bit in the middle. I have the stability of a shoulder rests, but as it’s low I still have a lot freedom of movement.
Long neck vs short neck
If you have a short neck you probably don’t want a big shoulder rest. You might be happier without shoulder rest or with a shoulder pad, like the inflatable Playonair. It’s also softer than a shoulder rest.
If you have a long neck, you might prefer a high chinrest and a high shoulder rest. There is more space to fill up between your collar bone and chin. Otherwise you have to tilt your head too much and you might get an injury. I haven’t seen much people with a long neck playing without a shoulder rest, but of course there can be exceptions.
How is your collar bone shaped?
When your collar bone sticks out you need to run to the hospital… Hmm, how can I phrase this correctly? If your collar bone is very pronounced, like with a lot of women, you might get pain when playing without a shoulder rest. However, if you have a nice layer of fat over your collar bone and your collar bone isn’t that much pronounced, playing without a shoulder rest might be easy for you.
- Determine if you are looking for stability or freedom of movement. Do you move around a lot while playing?
- Determine of you have a long neck or short neck… or normal perhaps?
- Is your collar bone pronounced?
- Don’t take advice from people who haven’t analyzed your individual body shape, playing style and possible problems!
I know a lot of you are struggling with finding the right combination of chinrest and shoulder rest. I hope I have attributed something to this topic.
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PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to email@example.com and I might dedicate a Violin & Viola TV episode to answering your question!