From Andrew Holland
Posted February 22, 2008 at 04:57 PM
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,
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.
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.
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.
#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?
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.
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.
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?
search for this link. you should find most players 100 yrs ago preferred no CR, or SR. must be a good reason.
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?
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.
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