Why play the violin without shoulder rest?

by | Mar 7, 2022 | 6 comments

I accidentally started playing the violin without shoulder rest

And no, this wasn’t because I forgot my shoulder rest at a concert. That happened some years ago though. It wasn’t exactly comfortable to walk on stage like that, haha! I felt completely naked.

Cold turkey isn’t the way to start playing without shoulder rest

It requires an adjustment of your violin hold and playing technique in general: left hand technique, position shifts and vibrato. ​​

This time it was because I was experimenting with different chinrests. Suddenly I found one that seemed to be more comfortable when I ditched the shoulder rest, so I tried that for some weeks.

Now you might be wondering what the advantage of playing without shoulder rest is.

First of all your violin sounds more resonant without shoulder rest

I picked the VLM Augustin Diamond shoulder rest I play with for the last 10 or so years, because it doesn’t mute the violin as much as for example a Wolf rest. It has special feet. However, the violin is a delicate instrument and the shape has been optimized. When you put on whatever type of shoulder rest, this will always have a muting effect.

When playing the violin without shoulder rest you’re more free to move and express yourself

You might know that all violinists from the Golden Age of violin playing (1860-1960) and of course also all violin players before that, played without shoulder rest for the simple reason that the shoulder rest wasn’t invented.

You’ll understand that it’s a myth that playing without a shoulder rest stops you from doing position shifts and vibrato, because those players played all the virtuoso repertoire.

​​Their playing technique was different from current performers

The weight of the violin is balanced between the collar bone and the left hand. The fingering they choose is often with smaller position shifts in which you sneak like a cate instead of release the neck and grab the next position out of thin air (very difficult to practice).

The violin hold is flexible without shoulder rest

You can move around the scroll and tilt the violin in different ways to support you in creating sound. For example you might tilt the violin forward to be able to dig into the G string. When playing on the E string you might tilt the violin in a different direction. There’s a dynamical relation to your bowing technique.

Hi! I'm Zlata

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

In the short couple of weeks I played without shoulder rest I certainly noticed these two differences. I loved the more resonant sound from my violin

I found it a challenge not to clench the violin between my shoulder and chin, but to play with the dynamical violin hold.

Playing the violin without shoulder rest is a matter of letting go, like riding the bicycle without training wheels.

Watch my first performance video without shoulder rest right here.

For me it’s hard to experiment with things, because I have such a busy recording schedule and have to play a lot. This means that I can’t try around and take time, but I have to teach and perform in a correct and intense way right away instantly.

For now I switched back to my old set up, just because it was hard for me to do long recording sessions in a set up I wasn’t used to yet. Also I lacked the time to experiment with a new technique.

When I have some time between recordings, I’ll definitely try again, but I’m not sure I’ll stick with it.

Comment below if you play WITH or WITHOUT shoulder rest!

I’d love to read what you’ve tried and what set up you’re playing with at the moment. Let’s give each other ideas.

6 Comments

  1. Susan Barch

    At 71 years of age I started learning to play violin and used only a folded dish towel as it was the perfect thickness to hold the instrument. After trying a shoulder rest for six months there was so much pain in the left shoulder sleeping was becoming difficult. Off with the shoulder rest and back to the folded towel. As I’m still in first position the future still remains to be seen….. The chin-clenching of the instrument is now less but is something to eliminate for sure. Thank you for talking about this!!

    Reply
    • Paul Barnett

      I also play with the VLM Diamond shoulder rest it is only the 2nd shoulder rest, I have tried and I love it. It can me customized far more than other shoulder rests and fits my coller bone superbly. It is also has lovely flamed maple and is very light. Highly recommended.

      Reply
      • Zlata

        Yes, I like it too!

    • Zlata

      That’s wonderful, Susan!

      Reply
  2. Yona

    Shoulder rests was a huge issue of the past . once I got the https://dolfinos.com/ , it solved the issues. now, I can open an museum for the shoulder rest collection I have. ( I dont get any benefit from the above link)

    Reply
    • Zlata

      That’s wonderful!

      Reply

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