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Zlata Brouwer

Interview with Steven McMillan - violinist and inventor of the SureTone Rest

August 27, 2014 01:56

He swore never to use a shoulder rest again when his shoulder rest fell off during a solo concert.

He owns a box filled with over ten different shoulder rest all covered in dust, but none of them provided a good solution.

str-home-photoAfter years of playing without a shoulder rest violinist Steven McMillan decided to design a shoulder rest himself. As a lot of ‘new’ shoulder rests look like a copy of Kun or Wolf, this SureTone Rest is really something different.

I’m very thankful that Steven took the time and effort to be interviewed by me and tell his story. He is a bussy man as he plays in a professional orchestra, plays a lot of chamber music, teaches private students and runs a business designing and selling new shoulder rests.

He just had his morning coffee in Houston, Texas (USA) and I was just closing my violin shop in the Netherlands in the evening after a busy Saturday at the time of the interview we did via Skype. Hmm, I hope you can’t see I’m tired after a day of hard work.

In this interview:


  • Steven tells his story about how he tried every shoulder rest in the world, swore never to use one and in the end invented a new shoulder rest

  • You learn what the advantages are of playing without a shoulder rest in the ‘old fashioned way'

  • Steven explains how he made his first SureTone Rest out of a violin soundboard to ensure a good tone of his violin

  • Steven explains how important it is not to have a shoulder rest fill up all the space between your shoulder and chin

  • You learn how important the chinrest is after the example of Hillary Hahn and that it is extremely personal

  • You learn that you shouldn’t imitate other people in choosing our shoulder rest and chinrest

  • I talk with Steven about the future of chinrests and shoulder rests (devices that are chinrest and shoulder rest in one, 3D imaging, scanning and 3D printing)

  • Steven tells about his cooperation wil kinesiologists to optimize his shoulder rest

  • Steven demonstrates how to adjust the SureTone rest exactly to your individual needs and how place it on your violin to optimize the tone

  • You learn why it is worth the effort to experiment endlessly with the adjustment of your chinrest and shoulder rest

  • You learn that you can’t feel if a shoulder rest is right for you in an instant, but you have to practice with it a lot before your know if it’s right

  • We talk about the different SureTone Rests that are available now: violin, viola, children’s sizes, electric violin shapes and custom rests


Watch the interview below:


This is what Hillary Hahn says about chinrests and shoulder rests:

Do you have questions for Steven about your individual situation? Go to his website www.suretone-rest.com and fill out the contact form.

Would you like to order your own SureTone Rest? Go to www.suretone-rest.com and order online. Are you living in the Netherlands? You can visit my shop to try out the SureTone Rest.

Is this useful to you? Please let me know in the comments below!

Love,

Zlata

PS: Have you invented a product or service that violin and viola players can benefit from? Have you invented an accessory (mute, chinrest, case, whatever), written a book, recorded a CD or made something beautiful that serves violinists and violists. Just e-mail me at info@violinlounge.com. If I think your product or service is interesting for the viewers of Violin Lounge TV, I might invite you for an interview. Being interviewed on Violin Lounge TV will get you visibility and sales. In this way I hope to support innovation in the area of violin and viola playing.

PS2: Take a look at more interviews I did here!

1 reply

Should You Lift or Rotate Your Shoulder when Bowing on the G String

August 21, 2014 05:02

In this episode of Violin Lounge TV I answer a question from a viewer. Mike Pearson writes as a comment on my video ‘What to do if your shoulder hurts when playing on the G string':

How important is it to rotate your shoulder forward when playing on the G string? My teacher says to show everyone behind you your armpit. I am a beginner and when I bow like this it seems to aggravate an old rotator cuff injury. I know this is probably the correct technique, but it is painful especially when at the tip of the bow on the G string and I rotate to the D string. I don’t want to quite, any advise would be appreciated.

First I would like you to ask yourself this question: Should you play exactly the same way your teacher plays? My answer is: NO!


Everybody has got a different body. Everybody plays in a different way. Everybody has got a different muscle tonus. Everybody should find their own way of playing.

Of course there are standards, proven ways and best ways to play, but there is a certain part of playing the violin that is personal.

You play with two instruments: your body and the violin (three, if you also count the bow as a separate instrument).

When a certain technique does not fit your body, you should look for an alternative technique. This is true for a lot of techniques, amongst them playing on the G string.

When you use a certain technique, it should match your violin AND your body. You should find a balance between what result you want, for example playing on the G string with a beautiful tone, and what is good for your body.

If you develop a lot of tension or an injury using a certain technique... you will hear this in the sound of your violin. The violin is a very sensitive instrument. You can hear everything you feel and everything you think in the sound of your violin. You MUST find a way to play comfortably to be able to play beautifully. You shouldn’t quit because of pain, because it’s possible for everybody to play effortlessly and comfortably.

If people behind you should see your armpit, you have to do something really strange with your shoulder. If it works for you, it’s fine. If it hurts you, don’t do it. This strange shoulder position doesn’t improve your tone.

When playing on the G string, you have to keep your arm and elbow a little up, but never higher than your wrist.

Sometimes the cause of the problem can be in a different area than the problem shows itself. The solution to your problem can again be in a different area. Think about this. A good violin hold might be the solution to the pain in your right shoulder. Let me explain...

When the position of your violin forces you to lift your arm so high that people behind you can see your armpit, then your violin might be too much pivoted to the back. Make sure your shoulder rest is not too high and that the foot on the front isn’t too high. This might seem comfortable for your neck, but it will hurt your right shoulder and arm. Besides that it doesn’t improve your tone.

Your violin should be a little pivoted to the front. This makes bowing easier. Please watch the video to see exactly what I mean. I will show you the good position and the bad position and illustrate what is best.

Your violin should not be too much on your shoulder and not too much to the left. Also it shouldn’t be too high.

Sometimes people say ‘no pain, no gain’. This is not the case in violin playing. Pain will be translated by the violin into bad tone.

My motto is: ‘Pain? No gain!'

Push your shoulder down and never lift your shoulder.

I hope you have gotten some good tips from this video. Take from it what works for you and leave the rest :).

Is this useful to you? Please let me know in the comments below!

Love,

Zlata

PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to info@violinlounge.com and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!

2 replies

Why Your Teacher's Playing Always Sounds Better Than Yours...

August 15, 2014 03:45

Isn’t it sometimes frustrating that your teacher’s playing always sounds better than yours?

My colleague Clara (who I met at a ‘Yoga for musicians’ course) is also a violin teacher and suggested me to make this video. She says students ask her all the time why they can’t play like her and why her playing always sounds better. Of course it’s a great compliment for a teacher, but for a hard working student it can be frustrating.

There are a couple for reasons why your teacher’s playing always sounds better than yours... (after that I will explain why it’s in your advantage)


  • Lot of students focus on the left hand technique and being able to play the piece they like as soon and as fast as possible. They focus on ‘hitting the right notes’. As they are in a rush, they might want to skip those boring bowing technique exercises. A lot of tone improvement comes from improving your right hand technique, your bowing technique. Your teacher has probably spent many hours on this herself.

  • Your teacher has probably been playing for many more hours and many more years than you. Besides that your teacher has had a professional education, where one has to play many hours a day. One day of conservatory practicing is over a week on ‘recreative’ practicing. Imagine you practice half an hour a day averagely, you will reach a conservatory day in one or two weeks.

  • Is your teacher more talented than you? Most of the things are trainable and can be learned, but a small portion is in talent.

  • Your teacher has taken more music education: more years of lessons and also non-violin lessons, like music history, ear training and theory. These non-violin lessons also make you a better violinist. When you understand music better, you will play the violin better.

  • How do you practice? In a conservatory study you practice very results focussed and develop your technique very fast. When practicing means for you playing some pieces you like, that’s perfectly fine. You play for fun. However your technique will develop faster when focussed on specifically developing yourself technically and musically than just playing through some fun stuff.

  • What is the difference in quality of your teacher’s violin or viola and bow and yours? This contributes to the sound. In my lessons I often play on my student’s instrument, so they can hear how my playing sounds on their instrument.


You shouldn’t be frustrated about your teacher always playing better than you...

Your teacher will always be some steps further than you are. Why? Because otherwise he or she wouldn’t be your teacher. Your teacher has to be a couple of steps further to be able to be your teacher. If your teacher’s playing would be the same as your playing, you would share a music stand in an orchestra. Always choose a teacher who can play better than you. Otherwise there not so much to teach :).

How is it possible that your teacher plays that difficult piece on your music stand beautifully without practicing? Well, remember your teacher has more students and perhaps they play the same piece you do. Perhaps your teacher has practiced the piece in the past. Your teacher is most of the times very familiar with the pieces and books you play. If the piece is totally new to the teacher, he or she might have played something similar in the past. Your teacher is definitely not playing ‘out of the blue’.

I hope to have taken away some frustration you might have had and convinced you that it is an advantage for you that your teacher plays better. If your teacher doesn’t play better, it’s perhaps time to look for another teacher :).

Is this useful to you? Please let me know in the comments below!

Love,

Zlata

PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to info@violinlounge.com and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!

2 replies

How to Play the Right Notes in Any Key by Making a Scale Scheme

August 8, 2014 06:48

tumblr_me7m34XRH81rz0keoThis weeks’ episode of Violin Lounge TV is all about making a 'Scale Scheme'.

This is something I do with my private students a lot. It makes you understand playing in different keys better. You will know what fingering (high or low) to use. Also it’s an easy way to practice scales.

Lots of people are confused by all the sharps and flats. They have difficulties with playing in different keys and don’t know if they should use a high or a low finger position. Do you recognize this struggle?

It’s a good exercise to make the Scale Scheme yourself. Don’t ask your teacher or someone else to do it for you. Make one yourself, play it through and compare it to the key you are supposed to play in.

This is how you make a Scale Scheme:


  • First make a drawing of the four strings and write their names above it. It’s like a map of your fingerboard.

  • Write all the possible fingerings down next to the strings including the low and high versions you know.

  • You can make these scheme’s with one octave scales up to four octave scales.


scale scheme G major two octavesPlease see the Scale Scheme of the G major two octave scale I made in the video here on the right. You can use it as an example of the scale scheme you would like to make. This depends on the key of the piece you are practicing or on the scale you want to practice.

I hope this video is helpful to you.

Is this useful to you? Please let me know in the comments below!

Love,

Zlata

PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to info@violinlounge.com and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!

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Zlata Brouwer is from Hilversum, Netherlands. Biography

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