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Shoulder rest question again


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Is is normal to be unable to play the violin without a shoulder

rest? ---ok, i know the answer to that one...but just want some

reassurance  but given that the shoulder rest is a

relatively recent invention, how did the violinists in the last few

centuries manage without one? Or did they all have such short necks

that there wasn't the need to use one or alter the shape of the

violin for that matter?

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It is more about comfort surely than the inability to play.

I have found myself on stage without a shoulder rest and played that way until the interval.

During set-up I play without chinrest or shoulder rest and for short "bursts" this is quite pleasant.

If you are playing this way for eight hours per day your neck and shoulder muscles would complain!

I think that the heavier clothing worn, and the playing postures used in the past, that were certainly different, made the use of a chin rest and shoulder rest together unnecessary.

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Many did have short necks -especially my teachers. They often used a cloth over the chinrest - sometimes below the violin back too. Some even used little sponge-pillows under their suit jackets - and playing with padded shoulders makes a difference too.

Also, people use shoulder rests to compensate for a less than optimum chinrest. If the chinrest is a perfect fit for your jaw and neck height you don't need a shoulder rest. Although even then it may increase your comfort.


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i used a shoulder rest for several years.......i think i must have

spent countless hours trying different shoulder rest and chinrest

combinations trying to find the perfect fit.  nothing would

work and it was a very frustrating experience, not to mention an

expensive experience since some of those shoulder rests cost more

than $50

but then in college i was taught how to play without one, and

that's how i play now.  i have a rather long neck, but i use a

very flat and low chinrest.  it's similar in shape to the

kaufman chinrest but lower.

playing without a shoulder rest comes down to 2 things: 1. holding

the instrument correctly and 2. holding the instrument relaxed,

with minimal tension.

if you do these 2 things it'll work out for you.  there is a

book on william primrose's technique called 'playing the viola' by

dalton, which has numerous pictures and shows how to hold the

instrument without a shoulder rest...... the book talks mainly

about viola, but i find the same techniques apply to


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I have a mach one and I feel it's restraining my left shoulder movement. The muscle of my top-left chest is under tension constantly. I've tried a Menuhin style shoulder rest and I felt the freedom that was never there before, however the feel of security is lost. I guess I have to try out a new shoulder-rest, maybe a wolfe?

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Actually i kind of feel 'handicapped' without a shoulder rest...without one i need to clamp down on the violin to keep it from falling down and i can barely do vibrato at all. I've used a rest since young and never knew how to play without one. I wonder if it's the structure of my clavicles or neck but i think it would be really convenient to be able to play without a rest...like a scenario where someone hands you a violin but you can't play because there's no shoulder rest provided. might look up some of the tips above though

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littlefactory, what you describe is exactly how i felt when i first

started at college and my teacher told me to get rid of my shoulder

rest.  for the first two years, i kept switching between no

shoulder rest and my trusty KUN rest. deciding on the benefits,


my teacher would demonstrate for me how to play without it, and i

would stand there in amazement while he played, it looked like he

was defying gravitiy.  i would also be amazed when i saw his

other students play, all without shoulder rests.....and at the same

time they were performing with great fluidity and technique.


think of the violin/viola as a steering wheel on a car..if you can

hold it more relaxed, you will gain more control...... it can take

years to reverse the tendency to squeeze excessively, and shoulder

rests tend to enforce squeezing habits.

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Having a muscular physique or bulky clothes to substitute for the shoulder rest wasn't what helped me make the transition to doing without the SR. Instead, some technique adaptations made it work, and work very well.

First, as Andy Victor says, you have to find the right chinrest. Once I found that, the shoulder rest seemed to cause a *lot* of neck and neck-to-shoulder muscle tension. It actually pushed my head back, and I fought it by clamping harder, trying to get my head more in line with the rest of me. I couldn't find a shoulder rest low enough to relieve this. But without the shoulder rest, it felt like the slippery violin was going to squirt right off my shoulder. Eventually I figured it out. The gist of it is, seek balance.

My technique changed a little bit to accommodate the loss of the head clamp: elbow a little more under, toward the body's center line (there's space for this now because the shoulder rest isn't pushing my upper left chest muscle away). This brings the thumb a little more under the neck of the violin, for support; the left hand is more definitely to the right of the neck, rather than under, and base row of knuckles a little higher. This arrangement both supports the outer end of the violin and frees the left hand for getting around quickly and easily. Access to high positions on the G string is now easy. In fact, I was amazed at how much faster I could get around, and how much easier it is to play in tune, when not fighting with the equipment. It works very well for my small stature, so much so that there are passages, especially those with no shifts, that I can and do play with my chin off the chinrest, which helps relieve any tension that may have begun to build. Now my chin rest is much more of a rest instead of a clamping point, though I can of course hold the violin up from there when necessary (huge shifts, for example). I'm just not always clamped, like I used to be. Your arrangements may vary depending on your physique, especially if you have a large hand or long fingers; but what you're looking for is balance and freedom.

You may benefit from some transitional assistance from something like a chamois, held in place with a rubber band, if you like. It does away with the feeling that the violin's going to squirt out or slip sideways. You can start with it folded up, though if your chinrest is correct for you, you won't want it as thick as any shoulder rest. Gradually reduce the number of layers. Then cut it smaller, when it's so unfolded that it's flopping around. I still use a layer of chamois when wearing clothes with anything rough about them, like buttons, beads or zippers, or when otherwise the violin will be against bare skin a lot.

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Hi all,

I have seen and heard my master class teachers who recommended using

shoulder rest and also teacher who did not (both kinds). Either way is acceptable.

Reasons are very simple. One reason is for the comfort and security of holding the violin

in place, other conflicting reason is to squeeze the last drop of good responsiveness of the violin.

All depends on what you want. These were very competent players I am talking about.

PS I am using Kun, having three of Kuns which I don't take them off my

violins. So I hang my three violins in the coset.

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I tried many different shoulder rests, and now use a gewa foam pad.

It frees up my left shoulder a bit while giving adequate


I think the slope of your shoulders also enters into the equation.

You probably don't need (or can try not) to use anything if

you have really square shoulders, even if your neck isn't short.

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I recently saw the NDR Symphony with Gil Shaham on TV and I did not see one violinist playing without a shoulder rest (including Gil of course), which does seem to indicate that the vast majority of violinists do play with a shoulder rest. Of course if you don't need one and feel comfortable then why not ditch it? 4strings, I'm interested in how much you think the left hand supports the violin whilst playing and what exactly happens if you were to remove this hand from the violin eg. when tuning, in relation to your face/body at what level is the scroll?

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Shoulder rests, in the grand scheme of being a violin owner/player, are small potatoes. Try different rests. I like several. To my mind it is unnatural to hold between my neck and shoulder an instrument with chinrest some 2.5" wide. I need a little more elevation to raise my head.

Don't cheat yourself out of finding an optimum shoulder rest. Most are not expensive, and don't be cheap with yourself. You will only hurt yourself, not us. Buy several and try them out. Sell those you do not like on eBay.

Mike in NJ

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I've tried them all - and have finally settled on the Bon Musica. When I look around our orchestra i find more of the older, experienced players have finally settled on this brand. I really had to disfigure and reconfigure mine before it would fit my violins - I owned it for 5 years before I finally began to use it. Before that I had found the Wolf Secondo worked best for me. But it does depend on which of my violins I am using, because some are still most comfortable with the Wolf - and one seems more comfortable with that new Kun Graphite contraption.

I found my ideal chinrest about 35 years ago (this after 30 years of violin playing). Shortly after that i tried shoulder rests for the first time - first were the Kuns - and they helpe stabilize my vibrato even more. Earlier Menuhin and Resonans never worked right for me.

Among the factors to be considered in selecting a shoulder rest is the circumference of the neck and how it hits one's thumb. This will affect the side-to-side angle that works best for your instrument.


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For mignal: When I take my left hand away from the violin it sags about 4-5" -- unless I raise my shoulder to help, momentarily; then I drop the shoulder away as soon as the thumb gets back under the neck, or wherever. There are a number of places where the left hand can be and support the far end (or middle) of the violin.

In general though, when I'm playing, the violin is pretty much parallel to the floor. It doesn't sag at all.

I notice too that most violinists, including the Great, play with shoulder rests. Going without a shoulder rest doesn't mean one has a great advantage over those who use them. It just seems to me the key is to find the setup that allows you the most mobility plus stability (the factor Andy just mentioned), and the technique that goes with it. If someone wants to do without a shoulder rest for some specific reason, maybe some of the things I said above will help. Like so much else, it all depends!

The first reason I gave up the shoulder rest was that it was uncomfortable; I just couldn't find anything small enough. A secondary reason was that it was always squishing off. Still another was that a listener noticed an appreciable improvement in resonance on the violin I was using at the time, when I played without the shoulder rest. Don't know if that would be true with my present violin.

I've been looking at Shar today, and see that there are many new kinds of low shoulder rests! Maybe one of those would actually suit me very well. Wish I could find a way to try some of them out. There've been times when I've missed the stability of the old shoulder rest...

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I'm another fan of the Bon Musica. It's the first rest I've ever used that I've been so completely comfortable with over a long span (over 3 years now, I think) that I've never even thought of trying anything else (and I have the usual drawer-full of leftovers from previous experiments). The secret is the ability to bend it into a shape that fits your needs perfectly- i.e. it can be many very different shoulder rests for different people. For example I like the little extension that hooks over the shoulder but if you don't, you can just bend it out of the way.

(P.S. I'm talking above about the viola- I don't need so much support for my occasional bouts of violin-playing, so on the violin I'm happy with a Playonair.)

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Hi Thom -- My "local" luthier is 220 miles away. :-} There is one small shop in the area, but they don't carry every new thing on the market, or even samples; just the common stuff. I mail-order when I want to try new items, and hope for the best. I have to admit that things are far better nowdays with the internet, than they were before, when I couldn't even get any *information* about stuff that was available, let alone try it. I'm not complaining!

Last time I wrote I hadn't practiced much for about 3 weeks due to work commitments. Now I find, after 3 days of practice, that I don't miss the old shoulder rest or chamois one whit, once again. Interesting. Being in shape does make a difference.

I paid closer attention to how my violin rides when my hand is away from the scroll end. 4-5" sag was a big exaggeration. It varies more from 1-3", in fact. Not much. I can keep it horizontal if I want to. I do use good posture when I play--straight back and all that, no slouching, which I think helps. Not bragging here; it's just what I find is actually the most comfortable, allows me to play for the longest time, and makes me sound the best. I slouch plenty at the computer keyboard. Like now.

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Reflecting on the recent thread 'Baroque violin technique' by mignal, is it possible to do away with anything at all to play the violin? ie not using even a single strip of leather or sponge; the ability to be able to play comfortably when being given a violin, no matter what clothes you're wearing.

Regarding my first question, some said the people in the past really had short necks, but it can't really be that everyone had such uniformity of necks? How come no one in the past (16th-19thcentury) seemed to have any trouble playing at all without sacrificing comfort? Any historical evidence of shoulder rests or padding material used by those people?

My theory is if they struggled to adapt they would have done some modifications to the violin itself, and there would be different violins with different chinrest region contours to suit different players

So is this sort of playing achievable by anyone, or just a portion of players?

Sorry about the nagging....but i've been pondering this question a lot...keeps me awake at night

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