Getting Fitted for a Shoulder Rest - Or not!

January 11, 2016, 10:28 PM · Today, we delve dangerously close to a hot topic in the violin world - it involves shoulder rests. Rather than commenting on the pros and cons of this unwinnable battle (see the 101 comments on violinist.com about this if you don't believe me), I will use the space below to talk about what needs to be done to ensure that your child has good posture from the outset.

Here's why this is so important:

Most children from the very first lesson want to start playing. They want to feel that they can get some kind of instant gratification from the new "toy" (later, they find out that it's not a toy). Usually, the new instrument will include some kind of fitted sponge which tends to work for 30% of the students, in my opinion. From the very first lesson, this sponge will be applied to the instrument and the student will get a first impression of how the violin is supposed to feel on the collarbone. Of course, children who try to play before the first lesson will usually incorrectly put their chins on the chin rest (a big no-no - the chin rest actually should line up with the left jaw with the chin over the tailpiece).

Now here's the problem...If one's neck is too long for the sponge, the instrument will slip. The student will be forced to contort his or her head to the left and unnaturally tilt the neck while clamping the instrument. If the student's neck is too short, which is rare, the student will find violin very uncomfortable. He or she might remove the sponge and then the violin will slip as in the situation above because a)the violin is slippery as it is and b)the angle of the violin in relation to the body will usually be too flat.

So now that you understand why a shoulder rest is usually needed, let's go over the basics of how to fit the violin in the first place.

It all begins with the chin rest...That's right - not the shoulder rest, the CHIN REST! Parents - don't fret :-) The shop where you purchased or rented the violin should be able to help you with this. The chin rest is attached to the instrument but it is easy to remove and replace.

In fitting a chin rest, the most important aspect is to see that the violin becomes a natural outgrowth of the left jaw (remember - the chin goes over the tailpiece). In other words, when one places the violin under the jaw, the instrument should be perfectly angled in such a way that it is an extension of that jaw. In doing this, you will not be able to hold the violin in place with out help from your right hand - just yet. Once the ideal chin rest is chosen for comfort, you may then - and only then - move on to the next part - the shoulder rest.

According to Isaak A. Vigdorchik's fantastic book "Violin Playing: A Physiological Approach", there are three very important places that must be in contact with either the violin and/or the shoulder rest AT ALL TIMES. These places are the ends of the collarbone and the left jaw. One side of the violin touches where the collarbone meets the shoulder and the other side of the violin touches where the collarbone meets the sternum (breastbone).

Based on the experience of my students, I can recommend the following models - remember though, there is not a one-size-fits-all as the chin rest will also impact the angle of the instrument - what works for one will often be completely different for another:

Long necks, long arms: Bonmusica

Bonmusica Shoulder Rest

Average build for men: Wolf Forte Primo

Wolfe Forte Primo

 Broad shoulders: Everest - particularly for children

Everest Shoulder Rest

Smaller frames and average women: Kun  or  
 Wolfe Forte Secondo - particularly with more square-like jaw bones

Kun Shoulder Rest

Wolf Forte Secondo

Shorter necks with more square-like jaw bones - Hand towel folded as necessary

Hand Towel

Steep jaw-line with average shoulders - Half a kitchen sponge inside a sock with the end cut off. Secure onto violin with elastic from button of tailpiece to lower part of rib. This is what the author uses!

Kitchen Sponge

So folks, do yourself and your child a HUGE favor when purchasing or renting your first instrument. Go to a reputable shop where the person behind the counter has experience playing the instrument and GET FITTED for the right shoulder rest and chin rest. This will save you or your child from unnecessary discomfort and even pain while playing. This investment in time and money could turn a break-it into a make-it for a future violinist!

Have your own experience to share? Please do so below!

Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Parent tested, Child approved
Maestro Musicians Academy
Greater Boston, MA

Replies

January 15, 2016 at 04:43 AM · Thanks, Daniel. Regarding neck length: there was some discussion about HEIGHT of chin rests in one of the discussion threads recently. Can you comment on chin rest height as a concept? Because it seems that as well as choosing the right shape of chin rest, you need to take a height variable into effect as well. And if you do, then that would have an effect on the shoulder rest chosen. My luthier recommended the Everest for my viola. It works well with my long neck and broad shoulders, but I'm not sure my chin rest was taken into account.

January 16, 2016 at 06:33 AM · I've got most of my students using the Everest. This seems to allow them to support the violin with the least amount of effort.

January 16, 2016 at 12:36 PM · I prefer a shoulder cushion just like Isaac Stern did.

It gives more support without the strain of a wolf rest.

January 16, 2016 at 06:12 PM · I have a drawer full of this stuff, including everything reviewed here. I've settled on the Bon Musica shoulder rest and NO chinrest, just a beard. The fiddle sounds best, and stays put . . .

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