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Playing without a chinrest

Instruments: Is it bad for the instrument?

From Andrew Holland
Posted February 22, 2008 at 04:57 PM

Last night, I was experimenting with a few chinrests I ordered from Dov Music, and found playing my viola without a chinrest very comfortable.

I'd like to continue experimenting with this, but I wonder if the weight of my head (which supports the viola, not my left hand) could damage the wood, or if perspiration, etc. could destroy the varnish?

Has anyone else tried playing this way? If so, what were your results?

Thanks a lot,
Andy

From jake bush
Posted on February 22, 2008 at 05:05 PM
If you perspire a lot while playing a stressful, intense piece, or during the summer heat, the sweat can indeed damage the varnish. Many concert musicians play with a cloth under their face for this reason, even when they are using a chinrest.
From Marina Fragoulis
Posted on February 22, 2008 at 05:40 PM
Baroque violins are usually played without a chin rest so there doesn't seem to be a problem with damaging the structure of the instrument. But do use a cloth to protect the varnish - find one that doesn't slip though.
From Ricky Chan
Posted on February 22, 2008 at 05:43 PM
I wouldn't go with that option. The chin rest is made in such a way that sends the pressure to a lesser extent of surface area. Touching the varinish alone is bad enough, sticking your chin on the surface would make things works. I suggest that you get a very flat chinrest.
From Bob Annis
Posted on February 22, 2008 at 08:35 PM
I've played around with a baroque violin with no chin or shoulder rest. While it's fun, beards and perspiration will have a negative effect on the varnish over time. Unless you're the Incredible Hulk, I can't see the pressure doing much harm, though there may be some vibratory inhibition of the plates.
From Jon O'Brien
Posted on February 23, 2008 at 12:23 AM
There are very few problems in my opinion. Even chinrests can end up damaging violins slightly over many years. The really old Italian instruments are damaged from direct contact with the top but I suspect the original owners were not very careful about using a cloth between them and the instrument.

I don't find problems with perspiration. If it's too hot I just change the cloth as needed.

My main violin I have had for a long time. It has been played without a cr on and off for years. For the last year and a half I have only been playing cr-less. I use a piece of chamois to protect the varnish, and provide a non slip surface. I find that cotton and other woven cloths slip for me. Others might go well with cotton.

Either way, I would make sure you use a cloth or a piece of chamois (can be bought in automotive stores). Make sure it is real chamois, not plastic. A big piece should cost you about $18 but it will last a long time. You can wash it, but when you do, use pure unscented bar soap, and don't rinse the soap out of the chamois. Let it dry and the soap will keep the chamois supple and soft.

My violin has almost no mark at all on it where I put my chin to the left of the tailpiece - just a slightly duller patch of varnish but not ugly looking. You can only see this slightly duller patch of varnish at certain angles in the light. From a distance of 3 or 4 feet away you can see no mark at all. All of the varnish is still there and has not worn off. Even if it does, the varnish can be replaced. Enjoy playing without a chinrest!

Regarding vibration change to the instrument from contact with the top plate, I find this is pretty negligible myself. I notice more of a difference with the body touching the back of the instrument rather than the top.

From Ron Gorthuis
Posted on February 23, 2008 at 03:10 AM
say,... nice to know I am not the only odd one who says no CR is more comfortable. For me, no CR means no hickey or rash, and a relaxed grip. But the sound of the violin is muffled and the contact does wear the varnish rather quickly. Except for wear, no CR is a better way to play.
From Jon O'Brien
Posted on February 23, 2008 at 08:19 AM
The chinrest exerts downward pressure on the top as well. The pressure is closer to the edge of the top plate, but a proportion of it still extends into the free vibrating surface. So the use of a chinrest also has a factor in lessening vibration. And of course the ribs, end block and back of the violin are involved in vibration as well, both of which a chinrest lock down on to to some extent.

A concentration of pressure at a localised point - for instance the small feet or connection point of the cr - creates lines of stress that spread out beyond the point of contact. This alters the top plate vibrational performance I would say (being scientifically speculative here, but I think there's something in it).

Going without a cr is not a perfect system by any means, but it ain't as bad as some cr users think it is. Putting your jaw (more or less cushioned as the case may be) down on the top plate just spreads the pressure over a wider area, and is therefore less pounds per sq. inch if you want to put it in terms of numbers. It is, however, a larger surface area of contact, obviously.

It is overall a softer pressure effect on the top plate; or at least one of a different quality, not necessarily worse (I don't think it's worse, for what it's worth. If I did I wouldn't play this way).

As Ron pointed out, the technique of playing is more relaxed (at least for Ron and me), so you don't actually need to press down hard with your jaw or chin on the top plate anyway. It works! Not for everyone by any means but great for those for whom this method of holding works well. That's my take on it.

From Andrew Holland
Posted on February 23, 2008 at 04:52 AM
Thanks, everyone!
From Hans Pluhar
Posted on February 23, 2008 at 10:26 AM
Hi Andrew!

Many great classical instruments show a pattern of wear next to the tailpiece (often on either side). That suggests players not having used a chinrest.
Of course in earlier times people were not as concerned with wearing down their instruments as we are today. And yet those instruments have survived.....
A lot of makers who do antiquing even make that spot lighter and wear some of the varnish off in these spots. So I wouldn't be too concerned about wearing off the varnish of your instrument. However, if you have a valuable instrument or simply don't want to wear the varnish of it, just use a cloth as other have suggested. A leather shammy would be the perfect solution because it also gives you grip.
I don't think you need to worry about actually damaging the front or causing any cracks.

Cheers hans

From Christopher Ciampoli
Posted on February 23, 2008 at 01:28 PM
I just tried this right now (with a piece of felt that was lying around) and I'd like to share my findings:

#1 I have a dark-sounding violin and when I bought it, while the tonal quality was superb, the projection left something to be desired. However, as soon as I played without the chinrest the first immediate difference I noticed was an amazing change in my instrument's sound. The volume noticeably increased and sounded better than ever when I recorded myself. Second, new overtones appeared that weren't there before (previous ones were also stronger). For example when I played a C in first position on the G string, I distinctly heard a brand new and very obvious "E", which in the harmonic series, doesn't even come until the 3rd octave. Combined, it almost sounded like a dampener had been taken off. I'd personally have to verify what Jon says in his second post wherein he mentions the spreading of the pressure (and it also felt like reduced pressure).

#2 I've been having problems with right shoulder/arm tension and as I played into the mirror just now, my right shoulder was completely relaxed the entire time, and I never raised it as has been my perpetual habit. I've been trying to get rid of this for months! My conclusion is that the static position from the chinrest just really resulted in ever-mounting tension for me. Without the chinrest, I make small micro-adjustments and can really relax.

Very intriguing. I'm going to show my teacher. I'm anxious for his reaction and opinion.

But I feel weird thinking that playing without a chinrest might be better for me, or saying that to my teacher! Almost no one does it. Should I really believe what I just experimented with?

From Brian Hong
Posted on February 23, 2008 at 03:06 PM
Baroque violinists are not supposed to touch the varnish. If they rest their chin on the instrument, it is usually on the tailpiece, with minimal pressure. All pressure is meant to be put in holding the violin with the left hand.
From Jon O'Brien
Posted on February 24, 2008 at 12:46 AM
Yes that is the current practice in baroque HIP playing I believe. I think historically there is some evidence that violinists also held the violin by putting their heads down directly onto the top plate, either side of the tailpiece, just as often as they put it down on top of the tailpiece, with the violin being centrally placed.

Later textual evidence, and physical evidence from surviving violins, shows that you could rest your chin on either side of the tailpiece. The balance of evidence seems to suggest that Paganini - to use the example of a much later player - put his jaw down on the left hand side of the tailpiece more often than the right. When you do this the technique is basically exactly the same as what you do when you use a left-mounted chinrest. The only difference being that the cr isn't there. In the case of the 19th C there are books/treatises that specifically advise this manner of holding the violin.

Putting your chin/jaw down on the top plate is a great and efficacious method of playing. I like holding the violin to the left side. There is no reason why a violinist should be prejudiced against it. In my opinion the sound is not muffled, at least no more than what a cr and pad combination would create. But if you prefer it the other way, put your chin down on top of the tailpiece instead. I can hold it and play it either way. To each his own.

From Jon O'Brien
Posted on February 24, 2008 at 02:18 AM
That's a great post, Christopher. I, too, need all the encouragement I can get. So thanks!

You might find yourself going back to using a chinrest, but good on you for having the openmindedness to experiment. I sometimes think I'll go back to using a cr, but so far I haven't. I'm always looking for ways for me to get better. With or without is great either way in my opinion.

Regarding increase of tone, it is interesting and encouraging to note that Wilhelmj, who played without a cr, was renowned for having a big sound. This was in the late 19th C, at a time when the cr had reached almost universal use. Some critics bagged Wilhelmj slightly, saying he tended to play to the gallery, implying he was a bit cheap and commercial, but too bad. Big sound is big sound. Another guy who played without cr around the same time, and who was very popular, was Ole Bull from Norway. I used to know a geologist girl from Norway who lived near his old house. Mannes and Hartmann were more classicist type players who also did not use a cr in the late 19th and early 20th C. There are others.

Also, about Wilhelmj, there is an extant recording of his which apparently sounds fairly terrible. I don't put too much store in this. He was very popular in his day and must have been an excellent player, during a time when standards were universally high and a large and discriminating audience held sway over the success of any artist.

Best of all, non cr users have a fairly certain role-model in the form of a one Niccolo Paganini from Genoa. I hear tell he was pretty good.

From Brian Hong
Posted on February 24, 2008 at 03:12 AM
Great insight, Jon! I need two hours to mull this over.
From Kevin Cheung
Posted on February 25, 2008 at 12:26 AM
I have taken off the chinrest on my second violin to experiment with the left-hand glissando technique described in Ricci's book. Very interesting experience so far.

BTW, I rest my chin on the tailpiece when it's needed to stabilize the violin. Is it possible to do a proper vibrato with the chin completely off the violin?

From Brian Hong
Posted on February 25, 2008 at 12:58 AM
You know, it is. I can't do it-but some great baroque violinists who employ more use of faster vibrato, especially in Vivaldi, can get a great vib. Only problem is the violin wiggles, but what can yo do?
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on February 25, 2008 at 01:28 AM
Greetings,
>Is it possible to do a proper vibrato with the chin completely off the violin?
Yes. If you support the violin with the left hand (actually a misnomer for the sky, left arm structure, torso , legs and planet earth) then a relaxed and variable vibrato without the head on the isnturment is actually rather easy.
Cheer,s
Buri
From Kevin Cheung
Posted on February 25, 2008 at 02:04 AM
Maybe I need to see in person how this is done.
From Ron Gorthuis
Posted on February 25, 2008 at 06:55 AM
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15535/15535-h/15535-h.htm

search for this link. you should find most players 100 yrs ago preferred no CR, or SR. must be a good reason.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on February 25, 2008 at 07:40 AM
"....late 19th C, at a time when the cr had reached almost universal use."

I've seen old, old chinrests on attic violins. They weren't like a modern CR. The were small, flat, low, and kidney-shaped, and really only presented a surface to put your chin on. In fact if I remember them right, they look like they were striving to make them as low as possible, unobtrusive, evidenced by the kidney shape, perhaps to help clear the arch. You know, new things use the appearance of the things they replace as a starting point. Therefore the earliest cars look like horse-drawn carriages. You'd expect the earliest chin rests to resemble a violin without a chin rest, like they do.

"...role-model in the form of a one Niccolo Paganini..."

Just pitch that one next time you get your ears boxed for playing without a CR. That will be your shock and awe weapon.

I wonder what we would see if a consummate modern artist deleted their CR. Went back to genuine canvas, camel hair brushes, and stinky paint. Maud Powell didn't use one. Rachel, are you reading? Lindsay? Hilary? How 'bouts it gals?

From Pamela Schulz
Posted on February 25, 2008 at 07:44 AM
My violin had one of those very low, kidney-shaped chinrests. It was made of Bakelite, though. I replaced it with a fairly low ebony one, which is quite comfortable.
From Cathy Gray
Posted on March 6, 2013 at 06:08 PM
My chin rest has been bothering me for too long. I think as we grow and get older we change. I finally decided to take my chin rest off. The pain in my neck is gone! Playing is much more enjoyable. I came here looking for comments about this and found them! Thank you! I learned a lot from you. No more chin rest for me!
From Charlotte Ryan
Posted on April 7, 2014 at 09:26 PM
For the last 4 years I have been uncomfortable holding the violin. I have both a bag of different chin rests and and a bag of various shoulder rests that I have tried in various combinations. Once when I changed a chin rest I forgot to put another on and started playing. It was very comfortable. I finally decided I was going to play without one and see how things went. I take lessons and play in 2 orchestras. I am a fairly good player but not a professional. I also have a rather expensive violin. I continue to use a shoulder rest but now have no intention of returning to my bag of chin rests or bothering to try additional types.
From Ana Gorbe
Posted on April 8, 2014 at 12:36 AM
Hello!
Finally I'm very happy with my new chinrest. Is so flat that you feel very similar to play without it, but you don't have to be worried about the varnish, tailpiece and about to stop the sound touching the instrument.If you put "flat chinrest" and look pictures in Google it is the second one.I love it and I had put it in two differents violins in wich I had used always differents chinrest.
I hope I had help you!
From John Cadd
Posted on April 8, 2014 at 07:33 AM
This reverts back to the Spohr era when chinrests were invented but were slow to catch on. Many violins have patches where the varnish has worn away with chins and beards . The advice was to rest the chin against the tailpiece.(I`m not giving out advice there by the way . It`s just what they advised ).The article about that comes from research at Leeds University. I`ll fish out the details .
Here it is; Physical parameters of 19th and early 20th century violin playing--Clive Brown. Univ of Leeds Faculty of Performance etc.
There are many photos and it covers nearly everything connected with holding violins . I will have to keep quoting it on this forum.
*** try this***----clive brown violin parameters.
From Don Noon
Posted on April 8, 2014 at 02:25 PM
Other than the wear issue, the chinrest has an effect on sound. Just recently I tested 4 violins with 5 different chinrests and without chinrest. I found that without a chinrest, all of the violins seemed weak on the G and D strings, and some transient response was lost too.
From Trevor Jennings
Posted on April 8, 2014 at 06:25 PM
Could that be because the left ear is in a slightly different position relative to the violin when a CR is not being used, for instance if the chin is on the treble side of the tailpiece? A better test may be to have a listener a few yards away.

Something I immediately discovered when I ditched the SR a few years ago was that it became a little easier to reach the far end of the fingerboard, eg the G or A in alt on the E-string. I find this even more noticeable on the occasions when I dispense with the CR. Have others experienced this?

It is also worth remembering that when violins are designed and crafted with a view to their tonal qualities they are made without CRs and SRs in situ (as they always have been). A CR/SR are users' additions the design and positioning of which can, and does, affect the tone in countless ways, so it seems that the only reliable way to test a violin's tone is without these add-ons.

From Will Zhou
Posted on April 9, 2014 at 02:18 AM
Hi Andrew,
As a matter of fact, violin players in the Baroque period did not use chinrests.
As for the varnish, it will definitely if not take it off, it will rub against your skin, and then you will need to get your instrument revarnished.
Hope this helps!:)
From John Cadd
Posted on April 9, 2014 at 08:19 PM
So when you buy a genuine old violin make sure it has no varnish under the chinrest .

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