May 14, 2012 at 3:05 AMAfter a few months of practicing a few minutes each day without a shoulder rest, I gave the 2nd movement of Telemann a try without one.
First, the up-side of playing without a SR. The sound of the viola is noticeably purer of tone without a SR. The position of the instrument to my body feels more natural without the extra hardware and I do tend to relax more than with a SR. It took quite some time to find the balance point, but once found, it was never lost.
The downside is that shifting down is a bear. I'm amazed that I can do so without the instrument hitting the floor even with a small 1/2 step down-shift. The challenges without a SR, on viola at least, are extensions (even the most minor to reach a fingered 'A') and vibrato. The smallest bit of tension make these basic techniques nearly impossible. But then, that is why I'm doing this.
So, all that being said, here is my first attempt at Telemann sans SR.
... and no, I'm not giving up on my SR just yet.
I have the same problems as you do with shifting without a SR, even on the violin. My ability to do vibrato also essentially disappears without a SR. I understand why you are trying to be able to play without it, but I hope I never have to.
During long tacets on orchestra gigs (eg someone giving a speech or a soloist playing a cadenza), when I want to rest the violin on my lap, I put the suede under the violin there too, and it really helps keep the violin from slipping off my lap. I also use it as I would a hankie, so it is also a chinrest cover. It's even good for adjusting a hot stand light - a chinrest cover and a pot holder!
Restless in Brooklyn
Karen, my vibrato sans SR is coming slowly. It took finding the right balance first (no teeter-totters left to right) before the vibrato started coming back.
Tom, this is all highly supervised by my teacher and a regular part of my lessons to play without tension.
But on the subject of the viola, I feel a need to say that even a greater preponderance of players, with the right technique and motivation, should be able to go restless, simply on account of the viola's higher ribs filling in more space. And with the viola being heavier, why add more weight to it? The LH on both instruments should feel less strained restless, when it has a chance to come over the fingerboard more readily, come up it in shifting more directly, etc.
See my website for a more detailed discussion http://rkviolin.com Go to "writings", then "Fundamentals".
The next challenge was vibrato, which added alot of wobbliness. Once I got my left hand balanced and relaxed, that started to become less of an issue.
Shifting up is relatively easy, but down-shifting is still problematic. My left hand tends to pull the viola away from me and I'm clenching with my chin to keep it in place - not what I want. I think that the suede and again, a more relaxed left hand will get me there.
I'm not ready to ditch my SR, but practicing a little every day without one to learn how to play totally relaxed.
It appears to me that you need a slightly higher chin rest. When you place your chin on the rest, there is a fair bit of forward tilt in your head. You want a little tilt, but not very much. Perhaps if you had your chin rest raised about 5 mm or so, you might find it grippier, and therefore easier to downshift. It might be worth a try. When playing without SR, the chin rest plays a much more critical role in keeping the violin in place, so it is important to get the best fitting chin rest possible. At least, that has been my experience.
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