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The Infernal Shoulder Rest.

William Bradford

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"Galamian's book also says at the end of it, re. the attitude of a teacher... "

That same passage that you misleadingly quoted a small part of says the teacher should only lose his/her temper with the student (no mention of interrupting parents) as part of a plan (psychology, because simply saying "please do this, rebellious young person" is not always enough in the real world), not out of actual emotion. And an earlier part of that same book also mentions that a book is no substitute for a real person. Looks like the old man beat you to it.

Your story confirms Galamian's dedication to his students, and hints at his consistent 55 minutes of undivided attention no matter who the student. Thank you for sharing.

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The fact that Galamian`s book does not reflect all of his "praxis" is irrelevant.

The book and the teacher have different purposes.

Yes, the relationship teacher/student has been a major factor on learning the violin, but that is definitely not the point here.

Galamian`s book is among the major references on violinistic issues. No matter if you don`t like the author.

If someone disagree about Galamian`s writings, great, but one should try to prove it at the argumentation field, describing( objectively and rationally) why and how he`s( supposedly) wrong, instead of subjective comments about how his bad temper at some class.

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What is relevant in this thread has to do with the origin of this discussion. It all begun with the idea that the shoulder pad is despised. I then proceeded by saying that indeed, none of the GREAT MASTERS used the shoulder pad. What great masters are these? they are people like Tosha Seidel, Jasha Heifetz, etc. Why do I say that? it is because they had a special tone, a special relationship with the fiddle. It just happens that it is THAT particular sound that I am partial to. So, my point is that there is no way that one can get that tone with the usage of a shoulder pad. They themselves said it! and guided their pupils in this regard. That is what is relevant in this thread!

You want to talk about books? fine, go ahead, write as many as you want and read as many as you want and learn from them as much as needed, I do! Still, the issue is the shoulder pad and how it gets in the way of getting THAT tone. Furthermore, the answer to getting THAT tone is not just wheather one does or does not use the shoulder pad. Case in point, take a violinist such as Anne Sophie Mutter. She does not use the shoulder pad, yet, she does not produce THAT tone! Why? because it is not what she wants, it is not what she hears in her head. Thus, the answer is not just the shoulder pad, is more than that.

So, you may ask, what is THAT tone you are referring to? One can listen to it in a few examples that we have of recordings by Tosha Seidel. THAT tone IS different, no questions about it. WHY? because it goes straight to your heart, it becomes embedded into one's heart and soul, at least for me, much more so than the tone of Anne Sophie Mutter to give you an example. And I will add, bless her heart, but her tone doesn't do much for me ok? that is MY personal opinion

I will say that yes, I am partial to THAT tone, and I aim for it. Why? because it is what I heard as a child. That little old guy that I heard when I was 6/7 never read any books, he had no idea who Galamian was, never even heard of Tosha Seidel, and he didn't have that much money NOR A GREAT FIDDLE, but produced THAT tone, WHY?, because it is what he heard in his head And I love him for that dearly!

I realize that not all agree, and I say fine. Some of my pupils do not see it that way, and they use the shoulder pad, others want THAT tone and do not use the shoulder pad. I am THAT open minded. But when it comes to me? I threw away the stupid thing years ago!

Disclosure statement: This is MY position. It is MY idea of who the GREAT MASTERS were, and MY idea of what a great tone is. It does not reflect anyone else's position. You may disagree, you may throw ANY book at me (and I have them all), but one thing is for sure, NO ONE will EVER move me from MY position.

Respectfully submitted,


PS: I want to add, it is time to have Maestro Redrobe back in Maestronet!

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Question? .....

I bought a "Yehudi Menuhin" rest from Shar a few years ago and tried it off and on a few times since. I never could get used to it and finally gave it away. Now I either use nothing at all or ocassionally a Kun. My question regards Menuhin. Did he actually design this model or just lend his name. It is very ornamental-looking. And did he ever use it himself?

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The shoulder rest is not necessary but playing without a shoulder rest requires acceptance of one basic premise or the student can be just as crippled as someone who uses a shoulder rest. That is: The shoulder must never be lifted. The violin is held up with the left hand. There is no need to be able to support it between shoulder and chin without the left hand.

If this is the going in premise then a "no shoulder rest" approach is preferable.

Another reason to use a shoulder rerst is to make oneself sound like a pianist with a seamless percussive technique. If this is your aesthetic of violin playing then you must use a shoulder rest. Violinists who play without a shoulder rest and hold the violin up with their left hand sound like they are playing the violin. This sound offends many modern players and if it offends you get a shoulder rest.

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The first post of this thread says precisely: "It has come to my attention that none of the great violinists of the past and present have ever used a shoulder rest".

The last Paganiniest`s post says it`s merely a matter of subjective taste about a kind of sound.

These are two completely different things.

I agree that playing without a shoulder rest doesn`t makes a sound of Seidel-Heifetz kind.

Milstein plays without a shoulder rest, and his pure and ellegant tone can be very alike Szeryng and Grumiaux, who used the rest. These are probably my favorite players ever.

Szigeti, on the other hand, played with a shoulder rest, and his tone style is totally "old-fashioned", in the best sense of the word, even being such a modern music-thinker. It has everything to do with his particular technique.

In my humble opinion, violin playing is much, much more than a particular sound. The sound of Artists like Grumiaux, Szeryng and Szigeti may not please everyone ( but I enjoy their sound quality very much, as a lot of people do), but even so, there`s so much beauty( and intelligence) in their way of play the violin and make MUSIC, that even if you happen to prefer other`s "sound", it doesn`t matter.

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I'm afraid I'm going to disagree with you in the strongest possible way. I hardly know where to begin but here goes:

1) I wholely disagree with the principle of the left hand holding up the Violin. One of the most important lessons taught to me by some of the most famous teachers EVER in England is that the hold of the left hand should NEVER be so strong as to take precedence over the support offered by the shoulder/chin. The left hand acts correctly when it can relax up to 100% (not that it does all the time) and work completely unhindered by the need to support the instrument.

One of the checks used by my teachers regularly was to see how I would manage to keep the violin up without the left hand assisting.

This completely contradicts your sweeping statement....'There is no need to be able to support it between shoulder and chin without the left hand'.

2)To the paragraph...

'Another reason to use a shoulder rerst is to make oneself sound like a pianist with a seamless percussive technique. If this is your aesthetic of violin playing then you must use a shoulder rest. Violinists who play without a shoulder rest and hold the violin up with their left hand sound like they are playing the violin. This sound offends many modern players and if it offends you get a shoulder rest.'

I have never EVER heard such a ridiculous statement in all my life. Your suggestion (if I am right) is that to sound like a violinist you must NOT use a shoulder rest and with one you will be nothing more than 'simulating' a Piano......well.....incredulous.

All of us chasing the art of truly great violin playing have heard the great players and try (mostly in vain) to utilise/imitate/learn from (whatever words fit 'your' circumstances) what we believe sounds good in their playing. There are many fine players playing with and without shoulder rests, to draw this distiction between the two is grossly unfair and belittles EVERY player who creates beautiful music - how (and please tell me) can the tones of so many great players 'offend' the modern player - we aspire to be like them by learning from the best teachers possible and devoting out lives to practice and painful grind. If we are all wasting our time if we use shoulder rests (or creating an artificial or truly 'incorrect' stlye of playing) then I think I should pack away my Violin for the last time and move to a desert island ASAP.

I am otherwise lost for words - I wish I had the English skills to destroy your argument forever, but sadly I spent too many years practising hard and bringing pleasure to many people with my music to aquire the skill. If this has all been an illusion you can consider yourself responsible for the final nail in my coffin.

Yours, extremely upset and desperately requiring support from my collegues...........


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Well said!

I've noticed that nobody yet has said you must play with a shoulder rest. The poll indicates that the shoulder rest players do not take such a militant stance, a (loud and dogmatic) minority of players insist they should not be used, most agree that what the individual finds comfortable is best and so far, get a life is in the lead!

I think it just emphasises that a small minority of purists will always be on this crusade and won't be content until everyone sees the world their way.

It strikes me as so odd. Was there ever a time when people got worked up about the chinrest?

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Speaking of chinrests, check out Arnold Steinhardts'; have you ever noticed that he uses a custom built one that is very high? This approaches the idea of support/comfort from a different angle.Is he not a superb violinist? I surely think so.

Concerning this resurrected argument, wouldn't you say that in music the ends justify the means? After all, even Milstein couldn't figure out how Szigeti was able to play so well with his old German style low arm/high wrist bowing - but he held a very high regard for his (Szigetis') playing.Similarily,no-one since Heifetz has been able to use such a high wrist& arm Russian bowing style...with such superb results!

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Enjoyed your post tech-doc.

On the subject of relying primarily on the left hand to support the violin, I would have problems in all positions above the fifth. In sixth position and higher, I (thanks to lots of effort over the past year) slide my thumb on the side of the finger board. This preclude using the left hand to support the violin at all. In the past, I more or lest left the thumb hooked underneath neck for all high positions. By sliding my thumb along the finger board, I have reduced the stretch and resulting tension that I used to have when shifting to higher positions. This, thankfully, has also led to an almost complete loss of pain associated with cysts that use to develop on top of my wrist.

For me, the shoulder rest is crucial for this reason, as well as the fact that my collar bone (do to my own odd physiology) does not offer much support for the violin. I've noticed from studying video, that relatively few of the greats slid their thumbs. For example, on the "Art of the Violin" video, Zino Fransescati (I probably butchered the spelling) is the only one I noticed who slid there thumb as opposed to hooking it. I'm curious as to hear (from you, Pag, and everyone) whether there is serious dogma and contentiousness about this technique as well. Of course for me, the choice is simple - can't continue playing unless I use a shoulder pad and slide my thumb.

On a final side note for anyone interested, with my particular shoulder rest (a very old, no-name Kun style), there is no way for me to teeter-totter my violin. In other words, once it's in the 10:00 position, no amount of chin or neck pressure will lift the scroll further. I couldn't do the "lift against the downward force of vibrato" thing even if I wanted to.

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Klaus Webber, I absolutely agree with you, yes, there is much more to the violin than sound. It just happens to be that I fell in love with this thing because of the sound I heard. It was that sound that made me work hard, etc. In fact, as you probably know, I am partial to the teaching of children, and in my years of teaching and performing I have noticed how children are moved when they hear THAT particular sound. This is, in my humble opinion, the most powerful tool that one can use to get a child enthusiastic about his/her studies.

Disclosure statement: Yes, I don't get that sound all the time, I wish I was more consistent, but, it goes to show you. That is the way things are, at least for me

Oh, somebody asked about how come some players use something under the coat. I would say the following. I tell my pupils there are 2 extremes. You can play the violin naked, all right? I don't want you to do that all right? Do were clothing! and that includes some sort of cushion under the coat, comfort is the guiding light. On the other hand, I explain to them, what is the other extreme? The usage of a shoulder pad. To me this is the other extreme. In a nut shell I say, try to avoid either extreme. Walk the middle road in as much as you can. That is it!

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The Fish Doctor, Yes, there are various schools of though about the movement of the thumb. Should it precede the shift? such as in Francescatti? or should it not move ahead of the hand? I say this: Sevcik believed in the thumb being one with the palm of the hand, the entire palm and thumb must move together in a sort of little hop to avoid the glide, clean shifts. Fine. On the other hand, Flesch did encourage the preceding movement of the thumb, particularly in shifts down the board. So, you may ask, what is it that I tell my pupils? Learn both Is my best advice. In addition I recommend the following: remember the word PALM, not hand, not fingers, is the PALM that you must keep in mind.

Best to you,


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Heimer, Yes, to me it has to do with avoiding extremes which is, in my opinion, the main source of tension, not just in violin but in any area of one's life. "Thumb and fingers are the extreme areas of the hand". Pupils that focus their attention on either extreme tend to develop tension, leading to all sorts of mishaps. Pupils that focus on the movements of left hand fingers 'in relation to' the palm seem to be more sucessful. The palm offers them a 'central' focus point from where thumb and fingers get their support.

Recommendations: If you can 'see' the palm moving along the board then you are on your way. If you can master the movements of the fingers and thumb by just "looking at your left palm" you are developing healthy skills. The PALM is what moves up and down the board, their little followers will adjust according to their master, the PALM.


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Thank you so much for posting this, TD. After reading An Amateur's post I tried playing without a shoulder rest (which I sometimes do anyway) without using any support from my shoulder and chin. I played Kreutzer's second study and couldn't shift without the violin going all over the place. I then tried playing it using support from my shoulder and chin. Wow. What a difference, I could play it more cleanly, faster, and with shifts correctly in tune and without having to do any crazy acrobatics to keep the violin up while I shifted.

I agree with technique_doc very adamently. On Friday night I went to see Midori playing Barber's Violin Concerto. Ok, not a 'great' player, not my favourite, but it was an incredibly passionate account, very virtuosic in the last movement and very cleanly played and well articulated. Not "percussive" on any count, so I fail to see how An Amateur can justify his comment.

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Ondina, do you normally use a high chin rest? I also was thinking of trying the "bareback" method but perhaps I should put on a higher chinrest? Either way, without a shoulder rest my violin angle changes from the 10:00 position to more of a 9:30 angle. This flattenig of the violin would force me to raise the elbow of my bow arm, which might not be a bad thing. It almost seems like it would be easier to bow the lower strings. I guess my only concern is that without a rest I need to rely almost totally on my left hand to support the violin. A higher chin rest might change that. I do have one and I am going to try it today. I was just wondering what you experienced.

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My personal belief is that use of a shoulder rest or not is a personal choice, perhaps dependent on anatomy. To continue the "argument by authority" tenor of this thread, Yehudi Menuhin, in his book (with WIlliam Primrose) Violin and Viola, published by Schirmers Books in 1976, says the following:

"Just as a vibrating bell or glass can be silenced by clamping down on it, so is violin playing entirely dependent on the absence of any impediment to the free vibrating motion of instrument and player." (page 29)

Somewhere else (I can't find the exact page reference) he says that the violin should be held by the left hand and balanced on the COLLAR BONE (my caps; note he doesn't say shoulder) so it can be rotated around its lengthwise axis by the thumb and fingers of the left hand. He advocates as little contact between the instrument and the body as possible. This is consistent with the quote about vibration. When shifting down he advocates monentarily holding the violin between the chin and the COLLAR BONE to accomplish the shift. There is no mention of the left shoulder.

This may be well and good, but it makes me wonder about the people advocating using the left shoulder to support the violin. That would result in massive contact between the vibrating back of the violin and the shoulder, certainly damping the vibration. Maybe THAT sound is a damped sound????

Finally (this is a long post )Menuhin lists some common faults including:

Head: cheek on chinrest;

too much pressure on chinrest

Shoulders: raised

Well! More fodder for this discussion. Enough for now!

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What Nathan Milstein should have clearly said is that it is the function of the left hand to play the notes!! (Joke)

In all seriousness, I spent a good deal of time last night in the garden thinking and taking a good dose of education from the great sages and their scribbles.

My conclusion is this - it is possible to entirely support the violin with the shoulder/chin. It is also possible to use the left hand but (as Galamian for example points out) there are moments when this is simply not possible. Carlojsb will know where I'm coming from.

I am a 80/20 player (Shoulder/chin vs. left hand) and would like to get nearer to say 95/5.

I have seen so many problems associated with reliance on the left hand, every new year in the studio (as we have just passed) I see pupils unable to play because of poor posture and hold. The test of holding without left hand may be overkill but I still trust this principle of support.

I cannot diagree with players if they CAN play relying on the left hand but as a general rule I think an alliance between the two will suffice. I'll stick one way, you the other....I say tomaRto...but I would because I'm English.

As for the rest of my rantings......I have no explanation...I was too hasty to judge at face value.



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