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Shoulder Rests (to do or not)


Karla
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Menuhin often gets credited with introducing the blasted thing!

I'm sure it's been suggested in previous threads that he used one for a while then thought the better of it. He definitely is using one in the mid sixties - obvious in the EMI DVDs - and he definitely wasn't when I saw him live in the eighties.

(As to comparisons with Hahn - that's for another post!!)

Would that it were as simple as using one or not! I'm worn out trying to get the right position and height to save me from becoming incapacitated.

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Andrew, could you please let me know what style of chinrest you use? I posted on "Pegbox", but got no response. I find the Guarneri ones uncomfortable, as the lower line is too narrow and cuts across my chin. I'm in the process of swapping rests, and right now I have a Vermeer for a week. (The violin shop I went to wants me to try each for a week, they know how fickle I can be.). I'm also going to try a Hampton which is similar, but does not curl over the tailpiece (the current one is touching the tailpiece, but can be filed if I decide on it). Really wierd to feel the vibrations on your chin.

I'd just like to hear your experiences with chinrest trying and hopefully pick up any tips. My neck is not overly long, but I like to feel secure without pressing down with my jaw on the violin. I used to use a Wolf Segundo but that wire metal bar scratched my violin when I lowered it too much.

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...that "our" teacher suggested a shoulder rest for me because it made sense for me to try it. I think this has nothing to do with being old fashioned so much as exactly what the others have said on the matter. We are built very differently with my neck being longer and perhaps it make sense for me.

Quite honestly though I did not feel much of a difference and the teacher wasn't really thinking that I should buy it from what I could tell. I think for now that I will wait until I have a better feel of what this is supposed to feel like and supposed to be like.

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Rufviol:

I cannot easily do as Carlo suggests as this board is unGodly slow on my dialup and doing a search on Shoulder Rests brings up a ton of information that is not pertainent to my question.

It appears to me that you are the only one saying that there is a definitive answer to this question. (You say it is "Yes") I believe everyone else is saying that it matters on your build and your ability to stay relaxed and natural without one. Do you disagree with this?

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Karla, no need to choke that phone line with search results, the response you've received on this thread itself is starting to provide an indication of the level of agreement in the violinist community on this particular issue.

Also, my comment '(to do or not) is YES' is just my standard line when asked for advice, obviously a weak attempt at humor. Much like for chinrests when I often advice placing chin on chair until completely rested, but I'll leave this one alone for now

(I will examine though, from some of the suggestions here, the possibility of converting to Judaism to improve my own playing)

Bottom line, experiment a bit and settle on what's most comfortable for you. If you're not comfortable, or worse if in pain, you're going to be somewhat occupied and not completely focused and that will only take away from your performance.

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I prefer a STUBER chinrest. I have 3 original German-made Stubers. My fourth was "misplaced" by a dealer who had that violin on consignment for a while.

Unfortunately, these chinrests are no longer made in Germany and the new Asian or Caribbian-made ones are off dimensionally a mm here or there - enough to be useless to me. I know, I've tried a few newer ones.

But, take heart, most other players find my chinrests painful and useless to them. They catch under the jaw which is great for me - since I hold me fiddle way out to the left, but if I don't use it that way it HURTS.

I've never been satisfied with the over-the-tailpiece chinrests because there is no flexibility and you have to place your jaw where it is comfortalber (if there is suchh a place). They weigh more than the left-side ones, and that has more effect on tone. A left-side chinrest can be shifted to suit the player. Just my choice!

Andy

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Karla, I think you are in an envious position as a beginner, as you appear to be faced with a decision "to use" or "not use" the rest. You may find that at times in your life you may use one and at other times do fine without.

I will tell you that there is a physical freedom one encounters when dispensing with the use of the rest that is unknown while using one.

As for Alexander technique and not using a rest---that is the ticket. Don't worry too much about straight back/neck--often this is over-played by Alexander zealots. Breathing and balance are far more important than imaginary straight lines---after all, nothing in nature forms a straight line. There is a balanced "nod" that the body naturally uses in the "restless hold," which is discoverable using Alexander technique. At no time should the body pinch or grasp the instrument.

But alas, it may be far too early in your studies to worry about this.

It is good that you are thinking about it, though.

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Ah jeez... It is my fault as I don't get yet what is supposed to be humor and what is not to be humor in the violin world. Give me a year and I'll get the insider jokes. If all I have to do is convert to Judaism to improve my playing, I'm in!!

Ecrivain: I don't know of any Alexander person (zealot or otherwise) who is consumed with straight lines. It is more about "doing less is more" and "body awareness" than anything else.

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Karla, talk to enough people in the string arena, and you will undoubtedly come across those who will bend the Alexander technique to profess a certain way to hold the instrument...usually referring to a "straight line" in the back to the top of the head, rather than body/instrument position being the result of a balanced and natural body positioning, whater form that may take for the individual. This is a very common misperception amongst some players. Granted you should never come across a person who actually teaches or coaches AT speak in this manner. But, you will find many string players who do and you will find that you will discuss the ideas of body/instrument balance in circles with them.

It does sound like you have a firm grasp on AT, so I don't think anyone would worry about you being steered in the wrong direction.

Good Luck!

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There must be more AT folks in the orchestra pit than in the guitar world. I have only met one other guitarist who even heard of it. Thanks for the warning. I will likely not engage in conversation with that sort of person. I just finished my second practice and am noticing that I have to lift my shoulder a bit or hold the instrument up with my left hand. I don't think the lifting of the shoulder is a big deal so long as I can control the tension (and release it) in my lower arm and fingers right?

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What you are experiencing is very common. In fact it is the very thing that tends to make violinists and violists seek the shoulder rest. We tend to do them automatically when we are not balanced--sort of an attempt to compensate for our body, the instrument and gravity. We also tend to re-enforce the problem with our cognitive "reasoning." By which I mean we know something is wrong, so we use physical action to correct it via an argument that goes something like this:

"I know my left shoulder is high, but I've got to keep this end of the thing (violin or viola) up with my shoulder (sic) and my chin, but I don't want to clamp down with my chin, so I think I'll put a little more hand/finger/thumb pressure on the other end, after all, I'm trying to "hold" this thing up, aren't I?"

You do not want to lift your shoulder unless it is a deliberate action initiated by you. By this I mean, only if the action is compensated for in another part of the body and instrument dynamic and only for a specific reason, such as change in bow/body/instrument relationship for tone and technique.

It should not happen under normal circumstances. Also, you do not want to hold the instrument up with your left hand.

I hate to be so esoteric, but it is the kind of thing that comes with time and one can see and critique what is “wrong” more readily than explain in writing what should be “right.”

Try standing without your instrument and bow and practice your “preparatory position.”

How you move to prepare to play.

Note that without the instrument, your left arm is not moving up to meet and hold an instrument.

What it really is doing is moving in such a manner that your elbow makes a small circular movement that ends with the forearm sinking towards the waist and body. Your arm is actually moving from a relaxed state to another relaxed state.

This movement is the very same used with the instrument, so the actual “holding up of the violin” is simply a consequent of your arm/elbow moving down and in towards the body. The violin is “up” simply because the elbow, forearm and hand are in a position that naturally occurs from the movement. The instrument just happens to be at the terminus.

As for the other end of the instrument.

The shoulder does not hold the instrument up. Nor should the chin. It is a combination of natural head weight (sometimes referred to as the "natural nod" or just "nod") via the chin on the instrument and the colar bone supporting below.

I hope my ramblings shed a little light.

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My instructor sent a shoulder rest home with me this week. I note that when I use it the instrument does feel more stable. This makes the LH fingering a little easier. I believe the instrument sounds a bit better too as it is up off my body. The problem I find is that it fatigues me more than when I don't use it. When I am done a 20 minute practice session I actually feel my muscles whereas this doesn't happen without one.

I know this isn't suppsed to happen. Can anyone suggest what I might be doing wrong?

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You don't say exactly which muscles you are "feeling" after your practice sessions...and I'm certainly no expert, but I'm not convinced that it is automatically bad or wrong that you are "feeling it" in your muscles. I agree that they shouldn't hurt. But couldn't it be normal to feel some fatigue when you are just beginning to use those muscles, as with any exercise that causes you to use your muscles in new ways? In other words, is it uncomfortable fatigue or just a new awareness of certain muscles? Maybe without the shoulder rest you aren't using muscles that you should be and that's why you feel them when you do use the shoulder rest.

Just a thought.

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Oh... Hadn't thought of that. It is not a bad pain as you so rightly suggest rather a fatigue as if I just don't really use that set of muscles. Let's see if I can isolate it. It is my bicep but more towards the side of it than on the front. I also have some shoulder fatigue back near the scapula I believe. It goes away in a few minutes and it isn't pain. I don't feel anything like that when I play without it. I am getting sore fingertips though. Not sure if that is from guitar or violin.

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From the muscles you describe, it sounds like you might be hunching your shoulder into the shoulder rest. Check to make sure you're not setting up a feedback loop wherein your shoulder wants to press against the rest, so you use muscles in your left arm and hand to press the instrument back against your shoulder, which causes you to press your shoulder against the rest, followed by the left arm and hand pressing back... you get the picture.

At one point I noticed that I was developing some left shoulder tension, and switching rests resolved the problem. I also spent some time evaluating at exactly what angle and tilt I could hold the instrument without tension or fatigue, that allowed enough range of motion to reach all the notes, that worked well for bowing, etc., and I bent/adjusted the rests until they conformed to my body's optimum posture (rather than conforming my body to the rest). Rests are only an aid in supporting that magic position that your body will come to know well the more you play. If you are fighting against the rests, then there are still some explorations and adjustments to be made.

For what it's worth, although I play with rests, I have experimented with stripping off both chin and shoulder rest for awhile. It's amazing how sensitive one can become to the balance of the instrument while playing. Any tension in the shoulder, arm, or hand can upset that balance.

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Yes, the great temptation with shoulder rests is to misuse them to aid in "clamping" the instrument between shrugged shoulder and tilted head, which will definitely lead to muscle problems. The trick is to search for a rest, and adjustment thereof, that will help in holding the instrument properly, i.e. balanced on the collarbone with some support from the left hand; that is, simply an enhancement (by providing a broader, cushioned surface which rests on the shoulder as well as the collarbone) of the way it would be held without a shoulder rest. The combination of chinrest and shoulder rest that accomplishes this will be very different for different people. That's why I'm pushing the Bon Musica these days- it's the most adjustable shoulder rest I've ever used because it's metal and can be bent in all sorts of ways.

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I was exactly griping around the instrument with the shoulder rest. I discovered also that I can put it on backwards which I might have done in one of my earlier sessions. DOOOh...

I learned that I can tilt the violin in order to make it easier and I can also control the gripping thing now that I am aware of it. It just isn't as natural for me as playing without yet I do feel the stability of the instrument improve. I think I will spend a few more weeks with this and then try a different one. Tell me there are not a million different shoulder rests to try please.

I really appreciate everyones help in getting this old dog off to a new start.

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There are a million different rests to try! Or at least a hundred... But as you start to understand what you need, you might be able to make an educated guess and only buy two or three!

As an adult re-beginner (I'm almost one year old, now), I can at least offer you hope that the posture/rest situation gets easier over time, and you will be able to comfortably extend your practice time because of it -- it's fun!

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When my daughter's teacher wanted her to try out a bunch of different shoulder rests, I ordered them from Shar, took them to the lesson, and the teacher weeded out all but one. We opened each package very carefully, and I then carefully repacked the ones that we didn't want and sent them back to Shar. I asked ahead of time if their return policy really would apply to this sort of situation and was assured it did. So that's one way you can try out some rests without having to buy a bunch that you end up never using. I think that you really can tell pretty quickly if there is one that is just never going to work for you so you can at least narrow it down to a style of rest.

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You know... I just can't help but wonder still exactly why all this is worth it. I get the stability which means (I suppose)that I'll spin up quicker, but is that better?

For today, I'm feeling like I can learn this best without having to deal with figuring out all this other stuff. (sigh...)

That initial learning ramp is beginning to look like a giant death defying mountain range...

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Courage. The violin is a particularly physically awkward and unnatural instrument, but that awkwardness does pass with time and practice. And the rewards are great. You are not making a lifelong choice of things like a shoulder rest, either- your preferences will change as your skills and body do. With shoulder and chinrests just shoot for "good enough", not "perfect" which doesn't exist.

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