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Shoulder rest effect on tone?


polkat
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I think you all have valid points on shoulder rests. One must also take into consideration the role of chin rests. I believe that comfort is the most important thing, allowing you to play in tune. A shoulder rest allows you to grip the violin more easily when shifting down from high positions so that the violin does not fly out of your hand. In the old days, when projection was not a problem, players held the violin on the right side of the tailpiece. Then chin rests allowed the player to expose the f holes to the audience. Then all kind of devices surfaced to compensate for the loss of comfort. I teach young students and some advanced students and they all gravitate toward putting their chin on the right side of the tail piece. If one looks closely at old videos of Oistrakh, Heifetz and the such they all used a pad under their clothing to compensate for the loss of sound in order to facilitate getting around the instrument.

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Some violins sound better with a shoulder rest, and some sound better without. The exact position of the shoulder rest can make quite a difference too.

Some compensation can be made with sound adjustment, and adjustment should always be done with the players shoulder rest, positioned exactly as the player uses it, and with the players bow, tightened exactly as they use it when possible.

Added mass isn't necessarily a bad thing. Many violins lose their "punch" when the chinrest is removed.

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  • 7 years later...

I have a Pro Musica shoulder rest, which I left on all the time (to encourage me to practise without having to set up).  Yesterday my e-string sounded tinny.  Maybe the pressure of the shoulder rest changed the back plate and affected the tone?  The sound is OK today.  The shoulder rest was off overnight.   

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Since this didn't come up, I'll mention a study of shoulder rest influence, conducted back in 1969. It was the doctoral dissertation of James Thomas Poulos, at Indiana University. The paper's title is: An Investigation of the Possible Effects Shoulder Rests Have on the Character of Violin Tone. I believe I downloaded it via ResearchGate.net at a local university.

 

Here's part of his conclusion, from the 187-page paper: "The character of the violin tone is affected by the use of shoulder rests. Theoretically, the amount of change exerted by the rests, particularly with the hand-bowed method, can be perceived. However, the differences do not appear to be spectacular, and the perception of such differences are dependent upon ideal location and diligent effort."

 

He had used both mechanical and hand bowing--hence, his remark about the "hand-bowed method." He comments that "Every reasonable device was employed to impose maximum, stringent requirements on the values of significant change." So, I guess he tried very hard to come up with conclusive results, but failed to do so.

 

He concludes that further study may produce additional insights.

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I think the sound entering the skull from the fiddle is indeed an important contributor to the perceived sound for a player. Just play with earplugs, earmufflers or sports earphones and listen. The impacts from the fingers tapping the fingerboard can be heard quite clearly, and I belive more so the lighter the neck and fingerboard. Stronger finger and bow impacts (starting transients) will also be audible.

I think there may be sound entereing the skull both via the chin and the collar bone below. Test with a tuning fork. Maybe also some sound might for a player be coloured via the respiration system.

 

What is good for a player may be good for a listener, but mainly through the players efforts, not the sound propagation per se. What the performer does comes first.

 

Holding the instrument for playing will damp most resonances except the tailpiece and the open strings. Damping the resonances makes the instrument easier to play, because the admittance (velocity over force) spectrum at the string ends (bridge and nut) will be slightly flatter. Lower bridge admittance equals easier to get the Helmholz motion to go for the bow on the string for a given bow acceleration and force. The extreme example is the wolf note. A wolf can be killed by just holding a finger on the correct spot on a fiddle. It might take a finger on the bridge side if it is severe.  

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Good points Anders.

I agree that the biggest effect of the shoulder rest (and indeed the chin rest) is in bone conduction, which of course is only relevant to the player, not the listener.

However, as David said back in 2008, some fiddles are affected in their wider sound propagation, and some aren't. I suppose predictably enough, I've found that some 18th century instruments with very light build (perhaps particularly thin ribs?) are very adversely affected by the shoulder rest. I can think of one Viennese violin where the effect was dramatic.

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The short answer concerning tone is that it makes bugger all difference if you use one or not.

Whether you use one or not otherwise also makes bugger all difference to anyone but yourself, 
unless you're Anne Sophie mutter coz then you have an ageing fan club of skin to varnish droollers who 
don't know their Handel from their handle. 

There's a lot of crap written about shoulder rests by people who you'd expect to know better. 

 

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I don't play with a shoulder rest myself. I've tried all kinds over the years to see if there was anything I liked, but I've always felt like the most comfortable position for my physiognomy is for the violin to be right against my chin and collarbone. I have noticed a difference in sound with and without the shoulder rest on some violins, but I agree that there is no clear rule. Ultimately what makes the decision clear for me is the natural way the violin feels under my chin. Having something wedged between the instrument and my body just makes the violin seem like it's locked in place unnaturally, and I like the violin to be an extension of my body that moves with me. I can appreciate that some people feel that the shoulder rest is similarly natural, however.

 

I will admit that I really hate it when customers bring in beautiful violins that have ghastly scars from shoulder rests (especially if those scars are caused during trials)....

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One reason players (who have previously used a rest) prefer to think that using a rest affects the tone is because
they're not used to playing without a rest, it's a very different way to play and their ears get very confused. 
All the old greats like Heifetz Milstein didn't use a rest, but then they held the violin up with the left hand more
and didn't sit for hours in orch. Using a rest can lead to 'fiddle clamp', where the instrument becomes fixed and 

doesn't move laterally at all, that in itself is uncomfortable and unnatural for someone who doesn't use a rest...
Of course, it won't change the tone of the fiddle but the player's method will change and yes that impacts the resulting sound. 

These days kids aren't taught to hold the violin without a rest, and they often find it very hard to do so later. 
Even people with a long neck don't really need a rest if they hold the fiddle well and are confident shifting without
the instrument clamped to their neck.  Of course it takes effort to play and hold the fiddle / viola well 
(you should be able to hold a 17.5'' viola with no rest) but most players in orch just sit there in a slouch. 
Zukerman holds it like a bloody shotgun with his shoulder hunched, not good but then he's Pinky so no one cares. 
Look to the old school (Auer, Huberman Prihoda etc) for how to hold the violin. Primrose writes well in his book on the subject. 
Even modern players like Anne Sophie Mutter (long neck) manage well without a rest. 

If you're interested then look closely at the video of Heifetz playing Weiniawski's Scherzo Tarantelle slowed down, you can see the violin
move laterally (side to side) in his left hand, it's not at all fixed. 

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Shoulder rests often have a rubber covered fixture. There will be a vibration insualtion effect from the static downforce from the weight of the fiddle on the shoulder rest and the rubber covered part. A shoulder rest should add resonances, of which the first one will determine the vinration insulation. At about 5 times the fundamental resonance there will be a very effective vibration insulation between the shoulder rest and fiddle. The mass of the shoulder rest will effectively be decoupled from the rest for frequencies above the vibration insulation frequency. So the effect of a shoulder rest is by no means simply an added mass. I think the most important factor is the reduced damping from not touching the back plate by the shoulder or clothes. More damping should in theory give an easier instrument to play, because the resonaces become weaker at their maxima. But it will then sound less powerful. 

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Some violins sound better with a shoulder rest, and some sound better without. The exact position of the shoulder rest can make quite a difference too.

Some compensation can be made with sound adjustment, and adjustment should always be done with the players shoulder rest, positioned exactly as the player uses it, and with the players bow, tightened exactly as they use it when possible.

Added mass isn't necessarily a bad thing. Many violins lose their "punch" when the chinrest is removed.

A few years back I did an experiment with another maker involving chin rests mounted on both the end of violin and on the "side".  The violins were in in 3K - 20K range.  We tried each instrument with end mounted , side mounted and none. There was no pattern to see, but some violins sounded significantly better with one vs the other, some made no difference at all and some sounded better with no chin rest.  There would seem to be a few variables involved, including the mass of rest, the location of the mass and the effect of clamping at different points on the instrument.

 

I imagine the same may apply with shoulder rests

 

Another thing to maybe consider with shoulder and chin rests is how the "fit" with a particular player effects how well the player interacts with the instrument, how stable the set up feels to the person and to some degree how confident they play as a result.   This effect could be subtle and not even in the players conscious awareness  

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This is a shoulder rest that I have experimented with a long time ago. The holder is attached under a center mounted chinrest and the shoulder rest itself is attached/de-attached with a click. No contact with the violin body.

 

Unfortunately it's not that comfortable for playing

 

post-37356-0-33566400-1465990556_thumb.jpg

post-37356-0-29806100-1465990573_thumb.jpg

post-37356-0-07455600-1465989717_thumb.jpg

 

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I actually tested this with a variety of shoulder rests. Here is what we found from least dampening to most dampening; Linnd shoulder rest, Ever Rest, Kun, Bon Musica. The Linnd was clearly the winner too, the minimal feet and the extra support that keeps the rest from squeezing too hard combined to yield the most resonance. The Bon Musica which is the one I use because I have a long neck, dampened the instrument most with the Kun being only very slightly better than the Bon Musica. The Ever Rest is a great choice for the money and did not dampen nearly as much as the Kun and BM. We also tested with no shoulder rest, but dampening changed with bone structure of the player and playing position. I should repeat the test with some other rests, but I'm pretty sure the Linnd would win out every time.

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The short answer concerning tone is that it makes bugger all difference if you use one or not.

Whether you use one or not otherwise also makes bugger all difference to anyone but yourself, 

unless you're Anne Sophie mutter coz then you have an ageing fan club of skin to varnish droollers who 

don't know their Handel from their handle. 

There's a lot of crap written about shoulder rests by people who you'd expect to know better. 

 

 

It makes a clear difference if you use one or not. The tone changes and the way one plays the violin also changes which again changes tone. Maybe you do not like ASM but you should be polite - she is a famous violin player with long career behind her and received numerous accolades. You are a total nobody ranting on Maestronet.

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One reason players (who have previously used a rest) prefer to think that using a rest affects the tone is because

they're not used to playing without a rest, it's a very different way to play and their ears get very confused. 

All the old greats like Heifetz Milstein didn't use a rest, but then they held the violin up with the left hand more

and didn't sit for hours in orch. Using a rest can lead to 'fiddle clamp', where the instrument becomes fixed and 

doesn't move laterally at all, that in itself is uncomfortable and unnatural for someone who doesn't use a rest...

Of course, it won't change the tone of the fiddle but the player's method will change and yes that impacts the resulting sound. 

These days kids aren't taught to hold the violin without a rest, and they often find it very hard to do so later. 

Even people with a long neck don't really need a rest if they hold the fiddle well and are confident shifting without

the instrument clamped to their neck.  Of course it takes effort to play and hold the fiddle / viola well 

(you should be able to hold a 17.5'' viola with no rest) but most players in orch just sit there in a slouch. 

Zukerman holds it like a bloody shotgun with his shoulder hunched, not good but then he's Pinky so no one cares. 

Look to the old school (Auer, Huberman Prihoda etc) for how to hold the violin. Primrose writes well in his book on the subject. 

Even modern players like Anne Sophie Mutter (long neck) manage well without a rest. 

If you're interested then look closely at the video of Heifetz playing Weiniawski's Scherzo Tarantelle slowed down, you can see the violin

move laterally (side to side) in his left hand, it's not at all fixed. 

 

Complete nonsense. How many "kids" did you teach violin ? For how many years ? From what level to what level ? I get the feeling you wake up once in a while and dump some of your "knowledge" on Maestronet just so that is not lost.

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 There was no pattern to see, but some violins sounded significantly better with one vs the other, some made no difference at all and some sounded better with no chin rest.  There would seem to be a few variables involved, including the mass of rest, the location of the mass and the effect of clamping at different points on the instrument.

 

 

Absolutely true.

 

There's no way to tell, beforehand, what type of violin you have - other than putting the various (chinrest, or whatever) fittings on and then playing it. Some improve the tone a bit and some violins may then sound a bit muted, Or perhaps no real difference in tone with or without one.

 

It all depends on the violin.

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I'm sure I posted this somewhere on MN previously, but I couldn't locate it.

This is just for a chinrest, and only looks at the frequencies of the signature modes:

post-25192-0-56718400-1466028830_thumb.jpg

 

The general idea is that if the chinrest moves at a particular frequency, then more mass will move the frequency lower.  The lower modes (particularly CBR and B1-, the lowest body modes) have the most movement, and therefore are the most affected.

 

Amplitudes too should be affected, as the mass will move nodal lines around, although whether they become stronger or weaker is not as straightforward.  Generally I think more chinrest mass will increase the B1- amplitude.

 

For the shoulder rest, it grabs onto the body in different spots, but also I believe the lowest modes are primarily involved, and my general impression (for the few times I've used a shoulder rest) is that it weakens the amplitudes.  

 

The bottom line is that it depends on the instrument whether the changes help or hurt.  If it's a stiffer instrument than you'd normally like, then a heavy chinrest might be good.  If it's a more compliant, boomy fiddle, then maybe a shoulder rest would help, with just a light chinrest.  These are extreme oversimplifications, and other things (clamping rigidity, mass distribution, etc.) can be important too.

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Anders, I've had a notion that increased mass or rigidity in some lower sound-emanating areas, may increase motion and sound emanation in more important areas. What are your thoughts on that?

David, I have seen that adding a large coin with putty to the corners of a cornerless violin improved its B1+ response quite dramatically, so I added corner blocks and improved the response. Adding clamps around the fiddle is very easy to do. I haven't played around with this much. But I'd guess that it matters to have something to work against for the light string bridge system. Adding clamps will alter the frequency response more or less, unless they are vibration insulated in some form. 

I have carved out the inside of dragon heads on Hardanger fiddles I have had produced in China. The response did not alter much from that, puzzling enough. But the neck became lighter to hold, which is useful. The fingerboards and tailpices are ultra light on my HF's. I do not know if that is good or bad yet. The fiddles sound pretty good though, and we can live with different results than violins because of much use of scordatura and choice of pitch at will.

 

Interesting observations. What do you mean in particular? That heavier and stiffer fingerboards might help sometimes? Coins under the fingerboard or buried in the neck or scroll? 

Long versus short pegs might have an influence as bowing gives some body torsion. Torsion resistance might be useful? I just speculate. 

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I'm sure I posted this somewhere on MN previously, but I couldn't locate it.

This is just for a chinrest, and only looks at the frequencies of the signature modes:

attachicon.gifChinrest mass effect.jpg

 

The general idea is that if the chinrest moves at a particular frequency, then more mass will move the frequency lower.  The lower modes (particularly CBR and B1-, the lowest body modes) have the most movement, and therefore are the most affected.

 

Amplitudes too should be affected, as the mass will move nodal lines around, although whether they become stronger or weaker is not as straightforward.  Generally I think more chinrest mass will increase the B1- amplitude.

 

For the shoulder rest, it grabs onto the body in different spots, but also I believe the lowest modes are primarily involved, and my general impression (for the few times I've used a shoulder rest) is that it weakens the amplitudes.  

 

The bottom line is that it depends on the instrument whether the changes help or hurt.  If it's a stiffer instrument than you'd normally like, then a heavy chinrest might be good.  If it's a more compliant, boomy fiddle, then maybe a shoulder rest would help, with just a light chinrest.  These are extreme oversimplifications, and other things (clamping rigidity, mass distribution, etc.) can be important too.

Yes these effects may be larger than what one may get from regraduating the plates. Interesting post, as always from you. 

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David, I have seen that adding a large coin with putty to the corners of a cornerless violin improved its B1+ response quite dramatically, so I added corner blocks and improved the response..

 

....Torsion resistance might be useful? I just speculate. 

Yes, I was partly speculating that torsion resistance might be useful. If the entire violin rotates at low frequencies (which it does), I wouldn't expect that rotation to emit much sound, versus the energy used to do it. I'd think that energy would be better used to deflect the plates, and that mass at the right places would reduce the (wasted?) rotation of the body.

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Yes, I was partly speculating that torsion resistance might be useful. If the entire violin rotates at low frequencies (which it does), I wouldn't expect that rotation to emit much sound, versus the energy used to do it. I'd think that energy would be better used to deflect the plates, and that mass at the right places would reduce the (wasted?) rotation of the body.

 

Some mass is necessary in order for body modes to exist in the first place.  The distribution of the mass (and stiffness) determines the mode shape and frequency, and that in turn determines how well the bridge drives the mode, and how well the mode radiates sound.

 

As a simplified example, consider a simple beam or plate of uniform mass:

post-25192-0-75556100-1466087356_thumb.jpg

 

Assuming you drive it somewhere in the middle, the ends move opposite to the main area, and would weaken the acoustic output at low frequencies.

 

Now say you add a bunch of mass to the ends.

post-25192-0-72852800-1466087371_thumb.jpg

 

The mode shape then comes closer to the simply supported mode shape, where there is less deflection at the ends, and therefore more efficient low-frequency radiation.

I think this is conceptually similar to the chinrest mass effect on the violin B1- mode, although it isn't quite this simple.

 

A couple of other things... adding mass like this will lower the mode frequency (simply supported mode 1 frequency is far lower than the free-free mode), and the mode shape will influence how well coupled it is to the driving force (bridge).  For the simple beam example, if it was driven at .224L from the end, the mode in the upper diagram would have no response whatsoever, and the added-mass example would have some response.

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Yes, I was partly speculating that torsion resistance might be useful. If the entire violin rotates at low frequencies (which it does), I wouldn't expect that rotation to emit much sound, versus the energy used to do it. I'd think that energy would be better used to deflect the plates, and that mass at the right places would reduce the (wasted?) rotation of the body.

I find this very interesting! Like many  of the people posting here I have anecdotal experience of certain violins sounding audibly better on the lower end, more focused, greater volume, faster response, when fitted with an edge-clip shoulder rest (like a Kun), while with others, there was hardly a noticeable difference. One of the most striking examples was a deep, dark sounding violin with a one-piece slab back and matching slab-cut ribs. This idea of energy being lost to torsion certainly gives a plausible model to describe what might have been going on.

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Yes, I was partly speculating that torsion resistance might be useful. If the entire violin rotates at low frequencies (which it does), I wouldn't expect that rotation to emit much sound, versus the energy used to do it. I'd think that energy would be better used to deflect the plates, and that mass at the right places would reduce the (wasted?) rotation of the body.

Do you think this is related to the motorics involved in the playing or the vibration modes of the violin or both? Hardangerfiddles have four or five pegs. It would be easy to add weight to these, copper, silver or gold, like used coins, or just supermagnets. Or just with lead corns (e.g. from the fishing bag) drilled into the pegheads or strategic places in the neck or whatever. Maybe we would get some unpleasant surprises if the fiddles are CT scanned or if we might want to put the fiddle into the microwave oven.. ;-)

 

Maybe the future violins will look like pro arch bows with counterweights on long rods. And to deal with the weight, it may be suspended in a personal TV camera mount?

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