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Violinist.com Interviews: Vol. 1

Our exclusive, one-on-one interviews with 27 of today's best-known violinists, including Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, David Garrett, Anne Akiko Meyers, Maxim Vengerov, and others.


Jaimie Wisnia

The Evil Kun Rest!

January 31, 2013 at 9:02 AM

Last lesson, after falling in love with my sponge temporary shoulder rest thing, I got my Kun collapsible. I love everything about it except for the fact that it gives me massive, searing pain in the shoulder. The "scoop" isn't deep enough or something because with my shoulder and chest there's no way it can lay both on my shoulder or chest without pain. I've tried putting cloth to keep contact with my chest but that just makes it slide everywhere. I had no idea that the Kun would do so much damage. I miss my sponge so much! I must be in that small percentage that Rigid shoulder rests are just out of the question.

I play tense because I have almost no clavicle for the violin to rest on; without supporting it with my left hand my violin will slide and fall, no matter what. The Kun gives me pain, no shoulder rest gives me pain, but the sponge is the closest I've ever gotten to relaxed and comfortable playing. My issue with the sponge pad is that it will move under the elastics after a while but I'd rather deal with that.

I'm curious, though, about the Bonmusica rest because it has that "hook" shape whereas the Kun just has this groove thing (that no matter what adjustments it does not help at all and of anything has made my playing back to square one- wobbly bow, hitting two strings at once). Has anyone ever switched from a Kun to a Bon Musica with success or will I just have the same issue as I did with the Kun, where it won't lay comfortably and flat on both my shoulder and chest? I love the sponge but it does move and it will "flatten" after a while, and it just doesn't have that sturdiness a Kun has.

-J


From Kathryn Woodby
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 2:42 PM
You are not crazy--there are lots of people for whom the rest causes more tension and they play with a sponge or something else!

However you made a statement that reminds me of me--you said you have very little clavicle. I struggled with that for years and ended up trying a bunch of different things and usually clamping with my shoulder instead. Until! An excellent instructor (Drew Lecher; posts on here sometimes) helped me realize that it was a posture issue; I was standing slightly "scrunched" which didn't allow my collarbone to open up. Once that changed, with a little reworking of my arm balance (for me, the left arm does help in the support; it's a question of using the right mechanics to keep the hand free), the collarbone did all that I needed it to! Everybody is set up differently, so I can't say what would work for you, but if you can spend some time on this with your teacher, or have a couple lessons with a teacher who works well on setup and can help you notice these things, you may find the solution more easily.
Best to you!

From Patrick Tinney
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 5:59 PM
I use my old KUN with my fiddle (Knilling), which hardly sees the light of day.

With my new (last August) violin I started using a Bonmusica. If you can find someone who can help you set it up that would be the optimum. It took several days of manipulation to get the Bonmusica adjusted to fit me. You actually have to bend the shoulder rest to your shape.

I love the Bonmusica, but it is so specific to me that my teacher has difficulty even helping to tune the instrument. (Yes I can tune my violin, I just get nervous and I believe she is a bit faster than I am, though it is usually in tune when I get there).

I also use a Flesch chin rest, which is also difficult for her. My jaw is definitely over the tailpiece irrespective of the chin rest I use.

I am also big boned (hee hee) so I can't relate to the clavicle issue you are having.

HTH
Pat T.

Quick Edit: There is a logistics issue you should be aware of. My Knilling is in a Bobelock 1007 Wooden Shaped Case. I, at my teacher’s urging for weight considerations purchased the same model for my UCWV (Unlabeled Chinese Workshop Violin). Two days later I exchanged the case for a Bobelock Wooden 1002 Oblong case. Neither the Shaped nor the Half Moon (1047) could accommodate the Bonmusica, its too long.

Even with the Oblong the shoulder rest is not in the case proper, it is in the outmost pocket. Just be aware. I believe some people buy a drawstring bag that they hook to the outside of the case.

So twice the case cost to accommodate the shoulder rest, of course I had originally wanted the better case, but gave my teacher’s thoughts deference, at first.

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 6:43 PM
I can see that there is a problem with some shoulder rests and cases. I know two violinists, whom I play with every week, who use the Bon Musica. One ties it to her case, and the other player completely disassembles it so that it fits in his case - occasionally an essential nut or screw gets lost on the floor, so there will be a panic while everyone searches for it.

I don't use a shoulder rest, but for lessons, orchestral rehearsals and concerts I also carry a briefcase equipped with a strap to sling over my shoulder. The briefcase is big enough to take all the sheet music I would require for the occasion, including that which is inconveniently bigger than A4, and a steel music stand that folds up just small enough to fit in the bottom of the briefcase, because some orchestras require us to bring our own stands. There is plenty of room in a side pocket to take a fold-up umbrella; I like to walk to and from most venues whenever possible. There is an end pocket for that all-important flask of coffee.

From M.L. Scott
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 7:13 PM
Just curious - if you had a sponge rest that was working, why did you give up on it?

Although some people love Kun-type rests, they don't work for everybody. My shoulders don't have much slope, so a Kun-type rest ends up pointing the scroll too high, and my left hand tries to pull it back down. Very uncomfortable.

I'm currently using a homemade pad made from this:
http://www.amazon.com/Grip-Shelf-Drawer-Liner-Black/dp/B000KFSOFI

sorry I haven't figured out how to post a clickable link, but you should be able to copy & paste). I got it at a drugstore. I cut off a piece and folded to the size and thickness I wanted.


From Jaimie Wisnia
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 7:30 PM
Scot-

I originally used the sponge as a temporary rest until my Kun arrived. I miss it so much! I'll have to look into the material you use for a homemade setup! Thank you!!

Kathryn-
Thanks for your input. I will try to "open" up but I think it's more of the odd shape of my clavicle? I'm not sure how to explain it. One thing I do know is that I scrunch my shoulder or grip with my left hand because if I don't, my violin moves down and falls (don't worry I caught it!). That and my violin gave me really deep red marks and it was uncomfortable, but a cloth made it slip.

Patrick & Trevor,
Cases are definitely finicky! My sponge had to go in the top outer pocket as well as my Kun, but the Kun almost didn't fit!

As for the Bonmusica, Patrick, I didn't know it was bendable, and I don't know what to think of this. If I bend it too much, is it easy to bring it back to "neutral"? That and I'm not sure how the Bonmusica effected tuning the violin; I am pretty new and I only tune myself if its absolutely necessary. Thank you for your input!

From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 7:42 PM
I had to ditch my Kun foldable rest. Even in its lowest position, it shoved my viola so high I had to tilt my head back to play it. A sponge is the most comfortable for me, however, my viola is black and I don't like the looks of the rubber bands holding the sponge in place. Currently, I play with a Kun rest that doesn't fold, but it really doesn't fit the viola. I am still on the hunt for a way to make the sponge work without looking like I'm in the 5th grade.

---Ann Marie

From Patrick Tinney
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 8:12 PM
The Bonmusica is fairly pliable so depending on your care you might be able to get it back to its original shape. I haven’t had it bend on its own so they must have engineered a nice compromise between pliability and firmness.

Sorry to be a bit difficult to understand at times. The problem with tuning is that with the Bonmusica shoulder rest and Flesch chin rest my teacher cannot hold my violin securely while tuning it.

Pat T.

From Jaimie Wisnia
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 8:19 PM
Ann-
I know what you mean about the rubber bands but at this rate I'm desperate! I've learned to hook the elastics on the corners on my violin just on the back instead of the corners on the front so they're not as noticeable. That's cool that you have a black viola!

Pat-
Okay I understand now hehe. Tuning scares me because I tuned my E string too tight and as I was playing it snapped and almost hit me! Thankfully I moved out of the way- lesson learned though!

I'm really thinking about the Bonmusica but I'm afraid that I will just have the same problem as I did with the Kun.

From Patrick Tinney
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 8:48 PM
I have also had an E string go past my face. Very scary.

The one time I over tuned an instrument I tried to tune a guitar using a singer's A (perfect pitch?). Cracked the bone saddle on the bridge. Not a cheap replacement, though maybe compared to some violin work.

Good luck with the shoulder support issues. I now have a small collection of chin rest and still go back and forth on them. But I like both the Bonmusica and the KUN, but as I said, "I'm big boned".

TTFN
Pat T.

From james holmes
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 8:43 PM
I do not know about the Bonmusica rest. I would like to tryout a sponge or pad though. Do you really need to have rubber bands to hold it into place?
From Randy Walton
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 10:44 PM
I couldn't get comfortable with the Kun either, it dug into my chest. The Wolf Forte Primo works for me but I need a very high rest and it may be too high for you. The first time I tried it, it was like putting on a pair of old shoes, all broken in and comfortable, no getting used to it at all.
From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 11:13 PM
I use a Kun on my violin. My teacher sometimes catches me tilting the violin to the point it's about to slide down my chest. My viola, on the other hand, is thick enough that I can't use a shoulder rest, so I play without one - and it slides around during fast passages.

I need find an expert in fitting instruments, shoulder rests, etc. - is there such a thing as a specialist in such matters?

From Eric Rowe
Posted on January 31, 2013 at 11:20 PM
I have found a small shaped piece of $2 car wash sponge far better than my $100+ Kun (which hurts and causes other problems). I attach it with one elastic between button and underside of lower bout. I have bony, sloping, narrow shoulders and long neck.
From Jaimie Wisnia
Posted on February 1, 2013 at 12:08 AM
Pat-
Those e strings are scary! Hopefully I will find a solution because I'm so far behind in my lessons that even my bow grip is getting bad again!

James-
I would highly recommend you try a sponge or pad before a more expensive rest and if you can properly balance your violin you shouldn't need elastics but I use them.

Randy-
I've heard great things about the Wolf rests. I feel like I need a high shoulder rest but then again I don't know much; I'm a beginner. The Kun just doesn't go with the shape of my body and I'm still feeling the pain it gave me.

Charlie-
I need a shoulder rest expert, too! My teacher swears by her Kun but she also reminds me that everyone has a different setup. My problem without a rest is what happens to you with your Kun violin setup. When I have my Kun it shoves my shoulder down and causes massive pain.

Eric-
It goes to show how different everyone is! Where did you find that sponge? I'm not sure what type of material I should use if I go buy a new one.

From Eric Rowe
Posted on February 1, 2013 at 12:44 AM
I got mine at Kmart (not in USA) but here is a link from US Kmart, in case you are there, that shows a very similar one, if not identical. Actually they are $1 each (I got a 2-pack).

Sponge

Mine was flexible and springy and easy to cut to shape. I only use a fraction (about an eighth) of the sponge and could make at least 4 "rests" out of one. I may be able to reduce it further. I don't use it to support the violin when I play but it keeps it angled (not too flat), though not rigidly so, and from falling down my chest.

Edit: Goodness, I just checked my local Kmart and can get 6 for $3.50

Jumbo Sponge

From Scott Cole
Posted on February 1, 2013 at 2:54 AM
What's always amazed me is how popular the Kun remains despite its poor design. If it doesn't flex and touch the back, then it often just falls off (happens all the time in orchestras and with students). Or the skinny and weak legs strip out.
From Peter Currivan
Posted on February 1, 2013 at 3:53 AM
If you haven't, you should try removing the chin rest as well as the shoulder rest. I was amazed that doing so let me play completely without pain, and embarrassed that I hadn't tried it before in my many years of playing. My chin tends toward the right side of the tailpiece, where before it would be jabbed by the pointy corner of my chin rest.

The center rests I've tried don't work (they force a change in the angle of my chin). What I would be interested to try is a thin "chin rest" that simply protects the violin's varnish but does not perceptibly change the experience of playing without a rest. Or perhaps it could provide a hint of a lip, as Menuhin said was was necessary.

From Corwin Slack
Posted on February 1, 2013 at 4:43 AM
Why would anyone inflict pain on themselves to pay a musical instrument? It isn't a penance to play. I promise you that when you are old and suffering you won't say but it was worth it.

But I am not saying quit playing. Find a solution for your pain. Perhaps that could mean playing the cello.

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on February 1, 2013 at 11:58 AM
The cello - the most ergonomic and generally injury-free instrument of the violin family.
From Dimitri Musafia
Posted on February 1, 2013 at 12:45 PM
I for one wish shoulder rests didn't exist. That would leave me with a lot more freedom in case design! ;-)
From jean dubuisson
Posted on February 1, 2013 at 1:02 PM
My eye fell on what you wrote "I used a cloth but that only made my violin slip all over the place". You should use a piece of chamois leather (they sell it in car shops). No slippage, guaranteed!
From Scott Cole
Posted on February 1, 2013 at 3:45 PM
"Why would anyone inflict pain on themselves to pay a musical instrument?"

You've forgotten the pain I inflict on everyone else when I play.

Besides, if it were easy and pain-free, everyone would play violin with their i-Phones, underbid all our gigs, and yet another perfectly good profession would be ruined.


From Juan Manuel Ruiz
Posted on February 1, 2013 at 4:15 PM
I also struggled with the Kun Collapsible SR for more than a year, changing the height, width of the right and left end, screw lenght... Altough it was not as uncomfortable as a Wolf Forte Secondo (for me), it seemed that I always had to make some awkward effort to keep the violin from falling away.
I finally switched to a higher (35 mm) chinrest and the Viva La Musica Diamond shoulder rest, which I had read about on this website. It is by far the most comfortable, less obtrusive and highest quality SR I ever tried. It also has more possibilities for adjusting the angles of the feet, so it took some time to get it into the right shape for me.

It is also possible to get some excellent results with a home-made sponge rest, fitted to the size you need. It is certainly lighter and cheaper.

From Duane Padilla
Posted on February 1, 2013 at 4:23 PM
With or without a shoulder rest, playing the violin should not hurt. if it does, that is a sure sign that something about your playing posture needs adjustment. Sometimes that adjustment is not obvious. if you are holding your center of gravity too high in your body, no shoulder rest or playing without a shoulder rest will stop the pain. you will be forced to be tense to keep the violin from falling to the floor. I would suggest going to see a specialist in the "alexander technique". They specialize teaching how use posture to maximize the efficiency of the skeleton to carry the weight of your body to allow muscles to work with the least tension.

From Rocky Milankov
Posted on February 1, 2013 at 5:16 PM
There is no "one-size-fits-all" shoulder rest. If the Kun does not work for you, try another one, than another until you find the best ergonomic solution for your body.
I found Bon Musica too perfect, clutching over my shoulder and suppressing the blood flow. Does it mean it is an "evil" shoulder rest? No, it simply does not work for me, but it may work for you.
As some already posted, a higher chin rest with a lower shoulder rest have many advantages, one of them is violin being closer to your body and thus more accessible by both hands.
Lastly, even if you use shoulder rest, the violin should touch and rest on your collar bone. If there is no contact there, your shoulder rest is not placed properly, or is too high.
From Simon Streuff
Posted on February 2, 2013 at 12:20 AM
My old teacher said a wise word after I asked her wether to play with or without shoulder rest:
"You can play wrong with or without. Also you can play right with or without."
Of course the shoulder rest must fit properly. But sometimes perfect fitting is the key to pain. So the question is very individual and also there are no answers.
Personally I like the Kun, because its much smaller than the Wolf for example and for me I also like, that its not too soft.
I played one year without shoulder rest and it was an quite pleasing experience. But I had quite much headache that year so I switched back. Also I changed teacher and he told me to. I actually played in my "Aufnahmeprüfung" without shoulder rest. Soundwise i still prefer playing without shoulder rest, but I am afraid if I switch I will lose some technical abilitys, wich I learnt with the shoulder rest.
Some heavy wooden shoulder rests can actually damp an instrument quite drastically. I once tried a rest of a collegue wich looked very nice, because it was made of wood. After that I couldn't recognise the sound of my violin and was in panic if the soundpost or bridge had moved. I swiched the shoulder rest back, and there was the sound again. Totally without shoulderrest its even more resonating and the sound benefits from not clamping the shoulder rest on too tight.
From Kevin Keating
Posted on February 2, 2013 at 3:43 AM
I use a fairly rigid Kun non-collapsible rest that I'm pretty comfortable with. However, the first rest I ever used was an older Wolf rest. It was flatter, but it was made of what looked like sheet metal, or maybe thin aluminum, with padding on it. I liked it because you could bend it to fit with more scoop or less scoop. In that way it was adjustable not just in height, but also in the contact arch, if you will. I'm not sure if they're still available like that anymore, but you might try one of those.
From Jenny Visick
Posted on February 2, 2013 at 10:15 AM
1) The BonMusica is DESIGNED to be customized. You're not supposed to leave it in a "neutral" position, you're supposed to work with it and bend it and angle it and lower and raise it, etc., etc., until it fits YOU.

2) Many people find that a CHINREST change is helpful in finding the right shoulder rest. There is a new customizeable chinrest out there... check out www.kreddle.com

Also take a look at www.chinrests.com

And this is quite well worth a look: www.artistinbalance.org
www.violinistinbalance.nl


3) If you don't mind experimenting outside the Kun - er, I mean, outside the box, there are alternative ideas for helping keep the instrument on your shoulder like slings or straps - see www.happynex.com and www.viostrap.com

4) There is nothing wrong with using a sponge, or set of sponges, and certainly nothing wrong with rubber-banding or rubber-cementing sponges onto a Kun, if you must use a Kun.... something soft and NON-SLIP, like a piece of the stuff designed to line drawers or keep rugs from slipping, or little red rubber makeup sponges.


5) Look into a posture-changing kind of instruction. Something like Alexander Technique or Body Mapping (www.bodymap.org). (Shameless plug: I'm helping organize a body mapping workshop in Pasadena, CA, on St. Patrick's Day...)

Or read a book: "Teaching the Violin with the Body in Mind" by Susan Kempter, or "What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body" by Barbara Conable....

From Asher Wade
Posted on February 3, 2013 at 8:55 AM
GIVE IT UP, MY FRIENDS !!! ~ This myth that people talk about regarding having a long {or, even extra long} neck is pure & utter nonsense (& the shoulder-rest industry just loves your mis-information about this; they, remember, are the ones who make the big profits "off-of-You"). I have researched extensively with other doctors in my clinic, osteopaths, chiropractors, et.al., plus my own research to find that, unless you have some congenital birth-defect, or are related to a giraffe or an ostrich, you have the exact 'properly' proportioned-sized neck for your physique, period. I, myself, suffered unnecessarily for "years" buying and adjusting & re-adjusting, until one lesson my beloved Russian teacher grabbed my violin away from me, ripped off my shoulder-rest (bec. I was figetting and unnerving him with my constant re-positioning of my S-R) & threw it across the room and said, "Here; play - we, in Russia, didn't have such fancy contraptions to irritate us, we just had the specter of being a factory-worker if we DIDN'T play well, to worry about {sorta puts things into perspective, huh?}. Please take a look at pp. 164 to 167 of Yehudi Menuhin's big, photo book, entitled: "The Violin", where he writes, "...teachers have forgotten the role of the collarbone which is [the] ideal resting place for the violin, enhancing the vibration of the spaces (the ribcage) below the collarbone, permitting the left-arm its freedom to swing, & allowing the vibration of the fingers to take place without tightening the grip between the thumb and the fingers. THE SHOULDER MUST REMAIN FREE." (Pg 167) ~ Admittedly, it 'feels' awkward at first, but the absolute freedom, the joy of playing " PAIN-FREE " is such a delight (just think of the money & time you save from going to this doctor, that chiropractor or, God-forbid, an operation). Just collect all of your shoulder-rests in a bag, look at them and say, "`Twas simply a bad investment", but like 'shackles' of slavery, drop them in a dumpster far from home and say: "Free at last, Free at Last, now may the beautiful music, the healing & the glorious pain free music spring forth" (not to mention the amazing freedom of movement which comes with this); just make sure your scroll is pitched up at least 89 degrees [above the plane] so that the "button" drifts toward your neck {& watch David Oistrakh YouTube clips to see how he relaxes his head & neck when he moves into 3rd & higher positions, and then "leans onto the chin-rest" in 1st & 2nd positions}. And, please, don't worry; give yourself max. 2 months and you'll be writing me "thank-you" notes (even though you don't have to); string players, I feel, are my closest family & I love you all, I promise I am not mis-leading you.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on February 3, 2013 at 2:22 PM
I think everyone needs to play with the rest that works for them. When I was younger I used a "Resonans" pad, which was what a lot of kids I knew used. I had back and neck pain in high school and in retrospect I think this pain contributed to my quitting the violin for 8 years. When I started again I got the dreaded adjustable Kun, and I actually like it. I also saw an Alexander Teacher who helped me stop clamping down so hard with my chin. I had to develop a habit of lifting my chin slightly up during rests, and holding my instrument more to the center. Even though I'm now in my 40's, my playing is essentially pain-free-- much less painful now than it was in my late teens/early 20's. With a Kun rest. And with the exception of bucket seat chairs. Those are worse than any shoulder rest.

My 13-yo daughter on the other hand, never got used to the Kun, so she has a Wolf. She's not that thrilled with that either and so we're looking for other options. The Bon Musica might be a good one so thanks for the recommendation. She's tried playing restless and with a sponge and doesn't like that either.

From Eric Rowe
Posted on February 3, 2013 at 8:38 PM
"This myth that people talk about regarding having a long {or, even extra long} neck is pure & utter nonsense"

What is happening to this forum? Is it now de rigueur to rudely attack anything of which you have no personal experience?

Necks may fit the particular physique but strangely violins don't adjust.

For long neck its more about the chin rest, than SR.

From M.L. Scott
Posted on February 3, 2013 at 9:36 PM
Eric, I think you're right - neck length has to do with chinrest height; shoulder size/shape/slope affects choice of shoulder rest, if any.
From Marcos Kreutzer
Posted on February 4, 2013 at 12:10 AM
Did you try a Wolf shoulder rest? I have been using a Forte Primo for almost 20 years and never needed to look for something better. I tried the Bonmusica and I think it makes the violin sit too high on the shoulder and one needs to turn his head too far to the left to make it work. Try a Wolf!!!
From Royce Faina
Posted on February 4, 2013 at 12:38 AM
For years I used a Wolfe. But currently I use a KUN and It works out well for me.
From Gene Wie
Posted on February 4, 2013 at 4:31 AM
> unless you have some congenital birth-defect,
> or are related to a giraffe or an ostrich,
> you have the exact 'properly'
> proportioned-sized neck for your physique

While that might be true, the argument you're putting forward here doesn't really address the issue that the poster above me has pointed out...it's quite simple:

People's necks, shoulders, collarbones, jawbones, chins, etc. all come in different sizes.

By comparison, violins really don't. So for those people born without a violin-shaped indentation in their body, the equipment is a necessary adaptation.

From Brooke Leaton
Posted on February 4, 2013 at 5:38 AM
As a kid, I didn't use a shoulder rest and never understood why adults did. I find myself still wondering. I have a wardrobe of chinrests and shoulder rests, no combination of which seem to be really comfortable. So for the next few weeks I'll try going without a shoulder rest. I really appreciate and recommend the YouTube videos by Alex Marcus.
Having wrestled with the Evil Kun for the last few years, I do have a suggestion. Instead of using rubber bands to hold the thing in place so as not to drop it during performance (which does happen), I have found "clear elastic" at sewing stores, used for dress straps. Find the kind that is bought by the foot because it's the softest. Use the violin's button and the Kun's adjustment screws as the anchors. The elastic stretches across the back without strain or rubbing and is virtually invisible. Voila!
From David Stern
Posted on February 5, 2013 at 1:42 AM
You might want to try the Everest rest. It's fairly cheap (around $15 - 20). I couldn't tolerate the Kun, or the Bon Musica (with the upper end wrapped over the shoulder it inhibited free movement). But the Everest rest (which has a wider, softer cushion and better contour) has been fine. If you have a long neck or a low clavicle, order the extra long feet (at least for the forward, treble side).

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