3 Checks to Know if You Should Use a Shoulder Rest on the Violin or NOT | Violin & Viola TV #214

by | Jan 5, 2016 | Play Comfortably | 10 comments

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.

Hi! I'm Zlata

Classical violinist helping you overcome technical struggles and play with feeling by improving your bow technique.

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.

To summarize:

  • 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.

Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below! If you like it, share it with your friends!

Love,

Zlata

PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to info@violinlounge.com and I might dedicate a Violin & Viola TV episode to answering your question!

10 Comments

  1. Tom Lockney

    I though it was helpful, as far as it goes. But there’s no real mention of chin rest aspects. I’ve read and heard several places that a long neck needs a high chinrest more than a shoulder rest. And, what is the “definition” of a long vs. short neck?
    As Zlata recommends, I go back and forth from no shoulder rest, to experimenting with them. But it gets pretty overwhelming to consider all the options–both different types of shoulder rests, then how to place them on the violin and body. I recently purchased a kreddle chin rest
    http://www.kreddle.com
    And their tips page
    http://www.kreddle.com/tips.pdf
    shows how incredibly complicated the adjustment of just the very adjustable kreddle can be. So, although I found this video useful, I think the “comfortable” placement of the violin involves a lot more than just the chinrest and Zlata’s three factors, although they are useful as a starting point. Anybody have any experience using e.g. an Alexander Technique teacher to help and give an objective viewpoint about one’s position, posture, etc.?

    Reply
  2. Fallon

    What about AcoustaGrip Shoulder rests? Have you ever tried one of those? They allow freedom of movement and they won’t damage your instrument.

    Violins and violas are merely sound amplifier boxes. The things that control the sound output are: the sound post, base bar, and most importantly the side & edge blocking inside of your instrument. These magnify and direct the sounds made as the bow strokes the strings. When you clamp any part of these components of your violin or viola, especially the “edges” or “internal blocking,” you will dampen your instruments’ sound and projection. The AcoustaGrip Shoulder Rest uses no clamps, glues or rubber bands and attach securely to the bottom or base of the instrument, and do not interfere with all of the instrument’s major internal or exterior acoustical parts. That is exactly how the great Master Violin makers designed violins hundreds of years ago.

    Reply
    • Violinist Zlata

      Hi Fallon, thanks for your comment. I use a VLM Augustin Diamond rest which doesn’t mute the violin. One of my students has used an AcoustaGrip. For her it was comfortable. She maintained it well and used the plastic thingie to cover it when she didn’t use it. However, after a while it didn’t stick to the instrument anymore and she thought it too expensive to buy a new one every few months. Are there solutions to this? All the best, Zlata

      Reply
    • M Kathleen McDonald

      Hi Zlata
      I partially tore my right rotator and have arthritis too. My classical Violin teacher made me raise my arm very high when playing and it caused pain so I quit lessons. An Irish violin teacher said I could play with arm much lower. Can you talk about position of violinist when playing that helps eliminate shoulder pain? I do seem to need a low chin rest too thank you

      Reply
      • Zlata

        As you see I also play with a relatively low violin and low right arm, because I have chronic neck and shoulder issues. We should all adjust the violin posture to our body. Everybody is different. What works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for another.

  3. Ronald Mutchnik

    I think it’s important to know how the bones work with muscles and how to balance the violin without thinking of holding the violin. The Alexander Technique and Body Mapping, in particular, can be of great benefit to learning how to understand the appropriateness of the movements we make to play. For example, the collarbone is not one shape and it moves when the rest of our arm moves. So, when hands are up in playing “position”, the collarbone will be elevated and leaned back so that the broader surface of it can be in contact with the violin. If the gap in the jaw down to the collarbone is filled with an appropriate height and contoured cup ( basin) in the chin rest to fit the jaw type of the player and allow for different angles the head may move to when playing, less support will be needed below. Finding the place where the violin balances on the broader surface of the collarbone is crucial to choosing where any pad or rest fits below. You want moveable or dynamic balance so that you can have the maximum freedom. A shoulder rest or chin rest that fills the gap too tightly or puts the violin up too high will strain the rotator cuff muscles that surround the shoulder blade. An incorrectly fitted shoulder rest too deep into the chest will tend to put pressure on the muscles of the chest and the ribs and could affect normal breathing. Also, players who use a full length shoulder rest and still allow the scroll of the violin to point down may not be using muscles that could be engaged to support a floating arm feeling as one bows or shifts. Many who try to go “cold turkey” from rest to no rest experience pain and confusion because they don’t realize how to tone muscles that have been neglected or unused or don’t know how to find balance with the violin resting on the collarbone and jaw lightly touching the chin rest at one end, and the hand (thumb on one side of the neck and a bit under and side of pointing finger on the other side) providing a shelf for the neck at the other end. For too long a time, they may have mistakenly been relying on the shoulder rest to hold up the violin and unknowingly squeezing or pressing at that end so their left hand does not actively do any supporting. This is a dangerous path to travel on. If balancing the violin is found at both ends, and the shoulder blade itself is not caught in mid-shrug to hold up the violin, tremendous freedom of movement in both arms is possible. And it does not stop there. The use of the lower body is crucial to establishing comfort in the upper body. But that is another discussion for another day.

    Reply
    • Zlata

      Thank you for sharing, Ronald!

      Reply
      • l feldman

        I play with a rest and without. I am at the point where I can play with the violin in the crook of my arm and not on the collar bone at all. Yehudi Menuhin ” The Violin part 1″ video on youtube was helpful. I think of playing a violin as riding a bycycle or juggling. You only get into trouble when you stop moving. I am 70 years old.

      • Zlata

        Very true!

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  1. How to Adjust Your Shoulder Rest and Play Comfortably | Violin & Viola TV #218 - Violin Lounge - […] 3 Checks to Know if You Should Use a Shoulder Rest on the Violin or NOT […]

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