Playing without a chin rest

September 8, 2008 at 05:36 PM · Can anyone explain to me how to play modern violin music without a chinrest? Virtuosos such as Kreisler, Ernst, Paganini, and Sarasate seemed to play well without a chinrest. They shifted into high positions and made use of vibrato. How do you do this?

Replies (25)

September 8, 2008 at 06:40 PM · Ruggiero Ricci's new book, Ricci on Glissando, may solve part of the mystery.

September 8, 2008 at 11:40 PM · Are you sure you dont mean shoulder rest?

If not, the only way I can see playing without a chinrest and not damaging the violin's varnish wouuld be to use a cloth.

But yeah, it is possible to play without them. All the baroque violins had no chinrests.

September 9, 2008 at 12:14 AM · Honesty I don't mind if the varnish rubs off. Do you know if there are pictures or explanations of the technique available?

September 9, 2008 at 12:17 AM · Beard will act as sandpaper of the varnish and wear it... Sweat can damage the varnish too, so I think using a soft rag over an instrument without a chinrest is a good idea.

September 9, 2008 at 01:13 AM · There's really no technique. It's just like playing without a shoulder rest, Akward and takes a while to get used to. But it's not difficult.

Why dont you want to use a chin rest? This could seriously damage the violin. Your going to want to use a cloth over it.

There is a reason why you dont see many people playing without chinrests.

September 9, 2008 at 01:19 AM · As a baroque violinist, and a bit of a purist, I do not use a chinrest or a shoulder rest. I find there is little difference in both tone or technique. It is the effect that is achieved that makes the difference. Even when I am playing bluegrass or a fiddle tune, I hold the instrument at breast level, and sometimes if required, at chin level. This technique is achieved by using the left hand in a relaxed manner and slightly gripping the neck with the thumb and forefinger of the left hand. This takes practice, and once mastered, it will feel as if it is very natural. It is very difficult to go back using a chinrest or shoulder rest (which I do not condone in my students' practice). The violin was played this way for centuries without any question. The space problem is usually eliminated by using a cloth under the violin. Despite objections, it does not harm the violin's structure any more than usual. The varnish will eventually fade, as it is a normal reaction to the acids in the perspiration. This takes a long time to achieve, if not done artificially, but in the end it renders a non-slip surface that hold the violin firmly in place. Music historians are always at odds at certain ancient practices, and can only rely on the many treatsies left behind by both famous violinists and unknown violinists through their letters. In the modern age, I have seen certain violinists who use only a shoulder rest. They cannot say that it is authentic practice. I even know of a certain famous baroque violinist who uses a scarf to "tie" the instrument around his neck< eliminating any slip backs from shifting. I would be interested in knowing the origin of the chin-rest if anyone would be interested in finding out.

September 9, 2008 at 04:22 AM · Thanks for the responses!


Is vibrato possible when holding the instrument with the hand?

Do you know of any pictures on how to position the neck in the hand and on the chest? thanks

September 9, 2008 at 04:52 AM · Yes, vibrato is possible, but is not actually considered good taste in baroque playing, believe it or not! If it is used, which is call a shake (as in palsy, which the baroque composers and players thought it sounded like, particularly Francesco Geminiani,in his treatsie, who took the pains to actually notate the various ways in which it could be executed) in the old baroque terminology, it is used very sparingly. Trills were executed using the "shake" as opposed to our modern method of actually lifting the finger off of the fingerboard. There is still controversy over this argument, but if you try it out for yourself, you will find that your trill will be much tighter and quick,respecting the tempo,of course. There are many picture, or engravings and paintings of the baroque period that show the violin being held, and one that comes to mind is Leopold Mozart, as he is portrayed on the title page of his Violin Manual. It is not confined to just the breast, within real performance, sometimes it is held on the collar-bone as well. It depends on the appplication needed in a particular piece of music. There are countless numbers of photos that show the modern square-dance fiddler holding the instrument at the breast. There is a reason for this: he would often have to perform vocal calls during square-dances in order to instruct the dancers as to what their next move would be, and play at the same time. Further image research and baroque violin research should bring up some pics and resources if your interested it baroque performance or country dance fiddle styles. I hope I helped.

September 9, 2008 at 04:59 AM · jerald, the chinrest was invented by spohr who was a tall man with a tall neck.

from my research into baroque music i believe in baroque music, vibrato is not used, or if it is, it was described as a light shake... i don t see how the modern vibrato is possible without extreme pain!

September 9, 2008 at 05:01 AM · ah well regarding vibrato, your last post appeared while i was typing my message, thanks for confirming!

September 9, 2008 at 05:02 AM · from my research into baroque music i believe in baroque music, vibrato is not used, or if it is, it was described as a light shake... i don t see how the modern vibrato is possible without extreme pain!

Yeah but didn't Paganini use vibrato?

September 9, 2008 at 05:09 AM · well spohr invented the chinrest roughly towards the first quarter of the 19th century (not sure of exact date)... paganini was born in 1782... so if he used one it would be much later in life...

HOWEVER! based on my resaerch (mainly of reading his biographies) that paganini had extreme health problems towards his later years; some of these are mostly likely caused by violin pain!

so if paganini was able to achieve any kind of beautiful vibrato, he must`ve achieved in a very uncomfortable way which over the long years crippled him...


correct me if i`m wrong maybe there`s a musicologist who can confirm this but i heard of a saying that back then, it was normal to end your violin career at around 35 years of age because of the crippling nature of the instrument (without shoulder rest and chin rest AND the increasing technical demands of the instrument)

September 9, 2008 at 05:13 AM · btw if anyone is interested i have a friend who specializes in health problems related to the violin.. he`s done extensive research into a lot of these issues :playing with/without shoulder rest, with/without chinrest; holding the violin in different ways and their pros and cons, etc...

he has a lot of interesting things to say about these issues; here`s an intervew with him:

September 9, 2008 at 04:58 AM · I have tried many different CRs and SRs and all combinations.

To my surprise, and against all advices from pros, NO CR feels the best. I discovered I needed the direct contact (no cloth) to provide sufficient friction. And, I needed an SR for height, as tilting my neck leftwards and downwards gave me some pain after a while.

Since trying this, I have researched history, and have concluded the virtuosos of old were all much shorter then me, and so did not need to raise the violin much if at all. And many moderns are similar: eg Stern, Perlman. Stern used only a CR with foam pad under his shirt.

I did not wish to wear off the varnish of my violin, so I tried Stern's approach. For me, the key is the CR. None of the in-store ones worked, and I was lucky to find one made by a luthier unknown in the USA. The pad is of high density foam, as I find the others are too soft to provide support.

This CR+foam combo was comfortable immediately, but required about 1 week of playing adjustment. No difficulty for vibrato. Actually, this combo makes playing easier, as I can now alter the positioning with shoulder and hand, to get maximum bowing effect. I see now why Stern advocated this combo, and many others. Lastly, this combo creates more "intimacy" with the violin, as I can now hear and FEEL the response.

you can search the archives for the great Vcom discussions.

good luck!

September 9, 2008 at 08:33 AM · I want to thank Dennis C for helping me in finding out who first utilized the chinrest in music history. It is my understanding that although Paganini did not use a chinrest, it was not necessarly any violin pain that caused his downfall, but rather his very unregulated lifestyle. Gambling, heavy drinking, woman troubles and a constant bouts of both gouty arthritis and severe tendonitis contributed to his pains, professionally related and otherwise. It was noted that he played rarely in his old age, as he had aready amassed a considerable fortune by the time he was 40 years of age. As for the theory that most baroque violinists were debilitated by the age of 35, due to the absence of a chin-rest, I have to say it is just that; theory. As a musicologist, I have to take in account the events of the time as playing a great role in both the success and failures of many musicians. It was not a secure thing to be a musician at that time, as the whims of the public changed like the wind. Many social/political factors are to be considered as well. Most famous violinists (especially those who composed) performed up until the time that they absolutely did'nt have to. If they were seeking fame, they knew it would not be because of their playing, but due to their musical compositions, which usually had to be on the edge, but not over the top. That acceptance gained, if not totally secured, their place in music history. Some were not so lucky in their lifetime, but gained recognition in a later century, Bach and Vivaldi being the examples that come to mind. It must be kept in mind that the people living then believed that the world would never change. This attitude prevailed even in the minds of people up until the Industral Revolution, when change rushed in like a raging river. But during the Baroque period,if they were lucky, they had the favour of a monarch or high church official. To possess this was no easy task and an even harder task it was to maintain it. Most were content being teachers, which was much more secure, financially speaking. The violin, alone and in itself, with or without any contrivances invented to make it "easier" to play, is one that utilizes an unnatural position. The human anatomy is in natural opposition to how the violin is held and bowed. It is a fact that most violinists, like athletes, have a limited number of years (glory years) in which they may perform at top level. As they get older, many factors, especially arthritis and gout, can lessen the way in which the violinist is able to play effectivly. I personally suffer from severe bouts of arthritis and gout, but it stems mostly from years of joint/muscle overuse and stress, and not so much from the technique of how I play the violin. A quarterly steriod shot usually does the trick, but I can only vouch for my own individual nature. No two violinists are built alike, and this individuality makes for unpredictable outcomes. One should use the tools available if one chooses, but be wary that it is not the tools that make the player, but how the player uses the tools. P.S. Thanks for the link on violinists' physiology studies. I hope to find them useful and informative, as I am in the process of writing a book on violin playing and want to include a chapter on that subject.

September 10, 2008 at 03:53 AM · I play my 15" viola without a chinrest. It is more comfortable for me. Funny thing though - with my 16" viola, I need a chinrest. I just switched to a low profile type with just a hint of a "lip". Best I can figure is that with the larger instrument I need a little more leverage with my chin to shift and keep it from slipping down my chest. Can't do it with my hand alone, it is too heavy.

September 10, 2008 at 08:11 PM · Just for the record, trills were in fact executed in the normal way during the baroque, as you will find by a quick glance at the tutors of Geminiani and Leopold Mozart. Additional references to earlier treatises can be found in Judy Tarling’s wonderful compendium “Baroque String Playing for Ingenious Learners”.

A form of vibrato was used in the baroque, although it appears to have been a more gentle wavering akin to sustained notes on open strings rather than the wide modern sort of vibrato. Geminiani called it the “close shake” and recommended that it be used as often as possible. Leopold Mozart called it (according to the English translation by Knocker) the ‘tremolo’, and recommended that it only be used on longer notes.

Leopold Mozart complained that there were players who used the tremolo constantly, so he and Geminiani appear to have been at opposite ends of a wide range of playing styles which existed during the late baroque period.

September 10, 2008 at 08:49 PM · Hi, I'm new to this website, I finally signed up, since I often come across it when I google for some violin-related information on the internet.

From what I know, Spohrs chinrest was quite large (similar to a modern one) and fixed in the middle of the instrument over the tailpiece. But I've heard about and occasionally seen other early chinrests, that were very small and narrow, not much more than wooden rims really. Does anyone know more about the use of those?

It seems to me that shoulder rests as we know them today are very recent inventions, but apparently Baillot already recommends using some cushioning, mostly for women and children.

September 10, 2008 at 09:13 PM · There are illustrations of those other chinrests in Heron-Allen's book, I don't recall any associated dating information. I suspect that what little is widely known about them all comes from that one source.

September 10, 2008 at 11:59 PM · When I started, I never played with a chin rest and shoulder rest. So, I never experienced any discomfort because I was used to that form of playing from the start. When I put on a chin rest, it hurt forever. And no one can convince me to put on a shoulder rest!!! I put on the chin rest because my teacher told me I'd ruin the varnish on my new violin. I had played three years on another violin and never had ruined it, but it was cheap and I did not want to take the chance with my new, more expensive violin. Everyday is challenge, trying to get use to the chin rest, but I have noticed some pluses to it. My shifting has improved, but that could just be because I am learning and improving everyday. So, I don't know.

I never experienced problems playing without a chin rest and shoulder rest. I felt comfortable and, technically at ease. But everyone's body is formed differently. What works for me might not work for the next person.

September 11, 2008 at 12:44 AM · Jasmine, have you tried playing with a chamois on your shoulder (to cushion your shoulder and keep the violin steady no matter what you're wearing/not wearing) and then fold the end over the violin and rest your chin on that(to save the varnish)? I use a Berber chinrest(low)and chamois only. Comfortable, secure, and the violin finish is protected from the chin and shoulder.

No hickies on your chin, no dents in your hide;>)

September 11, 2008 at 12:57 AM · Greetings,

we use the same combo. Do I just yell `snap` or does it go deeper?



(Can`t you tell I`m bored at work?)

September 13, 2008 at 08:20 AM · Let it be noted that Mr. Sender is CORRECT in his post as to the facts that he presents, and that mine are not, but rather backwards in their facts. I went back to review both works, and discovered this after reading Mr. Senders' post, which jogged my memory! I hope I this error of mine will not cause undue confusion in the future. It has been a very long time (25 years, I think) since I perused either one of the manuals that are spoken of in the posts...It goes to show that it is not a good practice to always rely on one's memory (especially mine, which is often "cluttered" by too much extranious information) and, as in an attempt to be a credible journalist, it will probably do me well, in the future, to review my sources, and not to rely on my jumbled memory...It makes for a better educational experience in the long run and eradicates errors of fact, that comes sometimes with age and too much information. Please accept my apologies.

Jerald Franklin Archer

September 17, 2008 at 03:24 AM · Gout is not likely caused by playing the violin, else there would be far fewer cases of the disease. It is a defect of uric acid metabolism, and can be controlled by oral allopurinol. Originally suspected to be caused by a diet of rich food, especially red meat, this has been called into question of late, although alcohol consumption can, in excess, precipitate an attack in susceptible individuals.

September 17, 2008 at 04:28 AM · Dear Max, You should be concerned with the varnish wearing off. When the salt from your sweat penetrates the wood, you have serious problems... and some serious future repair bills. If you don't want to use a chin rest, at least use a handerchief... and spend some time cleaning the instrument every time you play it. Accumulated rosin dust is not your instrument's only enemy. GG

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