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Is it possible for a long neck to shift and more or less 'play' the violin without a shoulder rest?

Technique and Practicing: After searching the site for hours, there seems not to be a definitive answer nor opinion on whether having a long neck means playing without a shoulder rest is possible

From Andrew Yi
Posted February 3, 2012 at 03:52 PM

After searching the site for hours, there seems not to be a definitive answer nor opinion on whether having a long neck means playing without a shoulder rest is possible. I've read several posts by Nate Robinson and even Grigor Kalinovsky about this with Grigor suggesting shoulder rests for those with long necks. My teacher doesnt play with a rest and for about a year I have been playing without a rest. I have tried using a piece of chamois underneath the violin but that does little for the psychologocial aspect of shifting. I have realised that because of my long neck I have resorted to extra tension from my head in clamping the violin down for support. My teacher keeps telling me about Balance and recovery and this is all well and good but still I find when I balance all the contact points, shifting is very difficult as the violin does not feel stable and as a result my thumb gets stuck in one position meaning very messy shifting. Also I do not want to go back to a shoulder rest due to the severe dampening of the natural and resonating overtones of the violin. When looking at professionals, I havent yet seen a violinist with a long neck that plays without a shoulder rest. I was hoping that a professional that doesnt play with a shoulder rest could help me out as I am due to commence tertiary studies in violin performance this year.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 03:56 PM
People talk on and on about the merits of playing without a shoulder rest, but yes, most professional violinists play WITH one. It should be perfectly possible to play in a balanced way, WITH a shoulder rest. I don't want to say anything against your teacher, but in general, I'm pretty frustrated with teachers who are unable to be flexible enough in their teaching to teach to someone with a different kind of body from their own, who would benefit from a shoulder rest. I do not see the need to injure someone, just to prove a point. Plenty of people find this balance, are able to play without clutching the violin with their neck, etc., and still use a shoulder rest.

Sigh. End of lecture. I hope you find a set up that allows both the balance you are seeking and keeps you from injury and pain.

From Jim Hastings
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 04:48 PM
"I do not want to go back to a shoulder rest due to the severe dampening of the natural and resonating overtones of the violin."

Some rests will dampen the sound -- I've experienced this. But others, as I know from firsthand testing, don't do this. The material in the device is a factor; placement is another, as I also know firsthand. I orient my SR from SW to NE on the back of the instrument. No loss of tone this way -- and I feel a good balance of flexibility and security. Can't speak for the next player -- it might or might not work.

I have a fairly short neck. Yet I prefer playing with the SR. I went all the way from beginner stage to age 18 without one; but ever since I first tried the device, I've never wanted to return to playing without it. I have the personal comparison. If someone tried to tell me I should be playing without one, I'd say, "Sorry -- but I'm not you, and you're not me."

Consider, too, the chin rest you're using. In my experience, the center-mounted ones, which I've used for a long time, yield more resonance than the left-mounted devices did. I also use a Strad Pad on the CR, which gives me added traction and is very easy on the skin.

And keep in mind the professional players -- e.g., Isaac Stern -- who have tucked foam pads into their jackets. They may look like they're playing restless, but they're not.

From Jim Fellows
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 05:00 PM
You can always drop some cash for a custom built high chin rest. Arnold Steinhardt's is quite high.
From Scott Cole
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 06:21 PM
When I was at Peabody in '88, I had a sample lesson from a well-known soloist that tried to remove my shoulder rest, as he did everyone else's. His method was to stack those round red foam makeup-removal pads to the height of the current shoulder rest, and then slowly remove them with time. It's probably the best method--I doubt that people who go cold-turkey are often successful, especially if they go back and forth agonizing, putting the rest on and taking it off. This will just drive you insane.

I never did study with that teacher (and frankly, knew that whether or not I used a shoulder rest was the least of my problems at the time and wondered why he was obsessed with it).

I think there are several factors determining whether or not a successful switch can be made. These include:

-Age. The older you are, the more difficult it may be
-physique
-proportions and arching of the instrument (some are easier to hold than others w/o a rest)
-type of vibrato

I would guess that a very young person with a short neck and a wrist vibrato would be more able to change than a 20-something with a long neck and an arm vibrato. In the end, I think that the ability to comfortably vibrate well in all positions, and not shifting, will be the determinant.

From N.A. Mohr
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 06:45 PM
I'd rather risk any miniscule dampening of sound vs. not being able to play properly. Priorities.

And of course you don't want to injure yourself, then you'll neither be able to play, nor get any sound at all. ;)

For myself, I tried a shoulder rest - since I was told I 'had' to have one to play properly - and it hurt horribly. So I don't use one, but I'd never insist that someone else shouldn't use one if they needed one.

From Jo Parker
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 07:46 PM
I am 42 years young and I played for 4 years with a shoulder rest, it is now one year ago I started playing without one.

my neck is not very long but it is not as short as many other players either.

For me the crucial thing was to find the right chin rest and in this year of playing with no shoulder rest I have gone through 6 of them. I have finally settled on a custom Guarnieri, it is 'custom' as it's higher than the ones you buy in the shops, I bought it from here:

From Jo Parker
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 07:46 PM I am 42 years young and I played for 4 years with a shoulder rest, it is now one year ago I started playing without one.

my neck is not very long but it is not as short as many other players either.

For me the crucial thing was to find the right chin rest and in this year of playing with no shoulder rest I have gone through 6 of them. I have finally settled on a custom Guarnieri, it is 'custom' as it's higher than the ones you buy in the shops, I bought it from here:


http://www.strijkers.net/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=101_295&zenid=6bed30f1e19c09a26886344dfa2c1103

the reason why this heightened Guarnieri works for me it's because the way I hold my violin with no shoulder rest I found I needed a left mounted chin rest (not a centre one) but the ones which had the metal clamp on the left used to hurt my collarbone (plus the metal clamp used to 'hop' on and off my collarbone too whilst playing and was SO annoying!!!) and using a chamois under the clamp I found it extremely uncomfortable and I really could not get used to it! so the solution was the Guarnieri, I place my chin on the left side and the clamp is centred and never hits my collarbone! heaven!! LOL :D

it took me 10 months to discover 'the' chinrest for me as initially I 'dismissed' the Guarnieri as it was not high enough (it was only 5 millimetres too low!) until I found this website!! (making higher with extra cork ended up in a mess LOL)

From Tom Holzman
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 08:17 PM
You have received good advice. I would be concerned with a teacher that is not flexible enough to let you do whichever way works for you. However, I think you would do well, as advised to try changing chinrests so that you have one appropriate to your neck length. Then you will be in a better position to experiment. Remember that there are lots of different shoulder rests out there to try. And do not worry about the dampening effect. Your comfort is the prime concern. If you are more comfortable with a shoulder rest, that is likely to more than compensate for any dampening effect.
From John Cadd
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Remind me again of the reason not to have a high shoulder rest. I have a short neck but like to understand these problems. Of course a high shoulder rest departs from the collarbone contact but tell me the exact mechanical reason why this is a bad thing (trying not to sound argumentative here .) I am picturing a high rest with just chin downward pressure balancing the scroll and left hand end like a seesaw with dad standing and working his end while the child is balanced at the other end.The body contact of the rest pad is resting on a steep slope. Don`t drop the baby. Long neckers need more help.
From Frieda Francis
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 09:36 PM
From marjory lange
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 09:37 PM
'Possible,' probably. Comfortable? wise? you'll have to experiment.

Raising the chin rest need not be hopelessly co$tly. My luthier made a nice job with several (I kept switching styles) for ~$20.00@. I found the center mount made things MUCH easier--and the sound improved on one instrument; stayed the same on the other.

I've played both ways now w/ & w/o sr. For ME, the sr lets me play with less tension and greater facility, but playing w/o let me learn where I needed to relax. I'm a lot older than you--and didn't start experimenting till I had problems. A teacher had me reverse my Kuhn sr, and, oddly, that has worked very satisfactorily for both height and angle of the instrument; who'd-uv thunk it?

From Nate Robinson
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 09:52 PM
I'm about 6'0"-6'1" the last time I checked, have a relatively long neck, and play with no shoulder rest or anything else under the violin. One of my friends who played in the NY Philharmonic, ditched his shoulder rest and he is about 6'5" with a long neck but has no trouble playing without a shoulder rest. Erick Friedman, was about 6'3" (built more like a NFL player) and he used no shoulder. Eugene Ysaye was well over 6 feet, same story, very long neck - no shoulder rest. So it is possible to have a larger build and play with nothing.

If you measure the amount of distance it is from the back plate of the violin to the top of the chinrest, it is about 3.5" or 4" with some chinrests. So really that's all the space the average person needs for the instrument to fit snugly between the collarbone and chin. In the very rare case that the violin doesn't fit into that slot between the collarbone and chin, I'd recommend first to try a higher chinrest.

As far as situating the violin, you want to make sure that you are not pressing the shoulder into the back plate, or that you are tilting your neck. You want to keep your neck straight at all times, and use the chinrest for your chin and not for your cheek (many players do this). I think the ideal positioning of the violin should be relatively flat (almost parallel to the ground). Your nose should align with the scroll of the instrument - this way you can see everything in front of you.

If people are getting injured playing the violin, it's not from playing without a shoulder rest, but rather,I think it has more to do with playing the instrument with bad positioning. People have been playing violin for centuries without shoulder rests (or even chinrests).

Some of the greatest violinists of all time (Heifetz,Kreisler, Auer, Kogan, Oistrakh, Elman, Seidel, Milstein, Rabin etc.) haven't used shoulder rests. Heifetz told all of his students using them, to throw them out because they mute the instrument's tone.

I heard a few people in concert halls playing some musical selections with a shoulder rest then playing the same things without the shoulder rests, and the difference in sound was stark. Sometimes, I think people base what they hear on what it sounds like under the ear as opposed to what it might sound like in a hall.

From David Christianson
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 09:53 PM
The human body is an amazingly adaptable machine.

With all the different contraptions available, it should be possible to find a combination that works as close to perfect for any individual.

I started at 9 with a Guarneri chin rest and no shoulder rest, and played that way through high school. Many aeons later it's still the way that feels most natural for me. I tried several shoulder rests but just cannot get used to one. I know players who are the exact opposite, and they look at me like I'm from Jupiter. They've always used a SR and wouldn't dream of ditching it.

I'm one of those who has gone through the maddening process of trying different chin rests and shoulder rests, taking them off, putting them on, pulling off, back on, swapping styles, etc. And I have to say, though I have a preference, not one setup ultimately worked better than another. Same goes for SR or no SR. I find I'm able to somehow adapt to almost anything except the extremes. Even with different style rests, you can still adjust and position the instrument such that your bowing geometry is correct, the instrument is resting on your collarbone, etc. I dunno, maybe I'm just not as sensitive to it as most people. I just try to keep relaxed and make do. But I certainly prefer to use a certain setup in the long run.

So, now I'm back to using an average Guarneri chin rest and no shoulder rest and that's the way it's gonna stay. Why? Partly because it's what I've been used to ever since I was a 9-year-old who didn't know any better. It just feels the most natural to me. People ask, "How can you play like that? Don't you feel tense/weird/like you'll drop the violin, etc?" Well, no.

One of my peers & I swapped during a community orchestra rehearsal, hers with a center-mount chin rest and Bon Musica. I adapted and played fine all rehearsal. Just not my preference. She said she couldn't get used to mine and was tense because she was afraid of dropping it, but I thought she adapted quite well and played wonderfully. I think the difference was more psychological than physiological.

I think if you're most comfy and secure with a particular setup, then you'll be more relaxed and able to concentrate on making music, which makes you a better player. I wouldn't listen to anyone who says you "must" use one specific setup. We're all individuals after all.

From Charles Cook
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 10:30 PM
I knew someone who smoked all his life and live into his eighties. Doctors have it wrong smoking doesn't cause cancer.
People drive better when their drunk.
From Smiley Hsu
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Hi Andrew,

I ditched my shoulder rest a couple of years ago. I had the same problems that your are having. To document some of the issues that I faced, I made a series of videos. You might find this one helpful. Good luck.

Proper setup for playing without a shoulder rest

From John Cadd
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Nate , in your 3rd paragraph , can I assume your head is turned to face along the instrument at the normal angle to the centre line rather than having you looking straight ahead? It sounded as though you were pointing the violin straight forward from your body . You have definitely posed a problem if you want the violin to be horizontal all the time for many players reaching the G string at the bow tip. Mind the lampshades. How about tilting while playing ? James Ehnes recommends a 45 degree tilt to the violin .(ie treble side lowered ).Michael Rabin used to squash his chops down on the violin and used his double chin to advantage. Would you recommend that ? Also Kogan , Oistrakh, Brainin , Elman ,Milstein and (?) Stern (?) . and finally Toscha Seidel , I just checked that short bit of film he`s in. All used their double chins to great effect .
Where did the relatively flat ,almost horizontal part get in.Is that chinrest to scroll or bass side to treble side. Even Heifetz tilted the treble side lower and he was pretty flat compared to some others. End to end tilt and you`re looking at Milstein and Ruggiero Ricci. Another double chin to add to the long list. You see how that fold of skin pressing into the chinrest works? When you finish it just flops back where it came from and never gets tired. Like magic.
From Trevor Jennings
Posted on February 3, 2012 at 11:45 PM
If people use shoulder rests is it too much to ask that some of them learn to fit them properly? I'd say in about 1/3rd of the rehearsals I attend there will be the guaranteed distraction of a shoulder rest clattering on to the floor while we're playing, and it's not always the same player at fault.
From Andrew Yi
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Thank you all for your insights on the matter. I've actually tried several chin rests ranging from guarneri to the current 'berber' chin rest I use. The berber I find is most comfortable but it does not fill the entire space between the back plate of the violin to my chin. In fact, I'm going to state right now that I doubt there would be any chin rest (custom or traditional) that will fill this gap. The Berber is quite a high chin rest and I'd need another on top of that to fill the space up to my chin.
Also when I play, due to this gap under my chin, my neck is forced down to shift or either I have to raise my violin up which means that when I shift, the violin scroll will fall back down so that it is facing the floor.
Now the sort of chin rest that would fill the spacing between backplate to chin would be ridiculously tall and I think would seem redundant (I might as well use the shoulder rest)
To those of you who advocate the shoulder rest, I do not want to start any arguments but I really do not want to go back to the shoulder rest.

So would there be anything I can do to fill that space from the top of the chin rest to under my chin without an insanely high chin rest?

From John Cadd
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Ivry Gitlis has an interesting hold.His head sticks well forward , like Michael Rabin used to do , and the tip of his chin is nearly touching the string adjusters. The head is across the wrong side (treble side ) since his chinrest is on t`other side ,and the tailpiece is conveniently stopping any slide downwards as it`s got some double chin in the way ---again.Dooooh. None of this is helping the long neckers though. I just needed a reality check with the players mentioned.
From Trevor Jennings
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Now here is Andrew Fouts, tall and long necked, playing very effectively and efficiently without SR or CR. Ok, so he's playing baroque violin, but the principle is excellently shown. I'll wager his shifts are equally relaxed.
From marjory lange
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Try this link--they've done a lot of work with many different physiological types. Something may click?
From Henry Butcher.
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 04:18 AM
The thickness of my fiddle and chin rest at the tail end is 2:1/4 inches, and that's to the top of the ridge, so over the ridge is less than that. The distance from my chin to my collar bone is 4;1/2 inches, because I am 6'2". So I 'roll' up my chamoise and sling it over my shoulder. It goes half way down my back and sticks out the top button of my shirt, this keeps it in position. I can shift around , no problem, because I found the 'balance'. Yes and I can play some of the S & P's too! Oh! Maybe not to the standard John Cadd would like to listen to. But I am not a professional, I'm only self-taught.
From Charles Cook
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 07:21 AM
SHTUFF shoulder restless people say:

My neck hurts , does your neck hurt???

How do you shift , I can't shift???

My chin hurts , is that normal???

I read a book with more than 550 pages on proper technique for playing without a shoulder rest.

I wish I could shift ???

My vibrato's weak, I wish I had a wider vibrato.

I only play Baroque music ????

I love Bach, Tchaikovsky who??

My neck hurts ????

I don't swing my elbow, I just keep it in one position.

My chin hurts??

Shifting is overrated.

I like playing 2nd violin.

My collarbone hurts???

The head is suppose to be forward.

My neck hurts???

Neck posture , what's neck posture???

My shoulder hurts???

Forward tilt to the violin? My bow never touches my stomach.

Vivaldi is great, what's a Mendelssohn??

My neck hurts???

From Gene Wie
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 09:51 AM
I have a colleague with a long neck that plays viola who was able to use this chinrest to fill the gap between her jaw and collarbone:

https://www.viva-sas.com/chin_about.htm

It doesn't eliminate the need for her to use some padding and/or a shoulder rest from time to time, but she no longer has to take her neck out of alignment to hold the instrument.

(for what it's worth, I play both violin and viola without a rest but have chosen chinrests that fill my "gap" perfectly)

From John Cadd
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 11:50 AM
The list just reminded me how long I endured a horrible solid plastic Strad chinrest that was nothing like the shape of my chin.I played second violin ,which I always enjoyed more. I was happy to be a galley slave pulling on the oars . The shoulder rest still had to be invented but already I was stretching to fit the chinrest violin combination in the gap.I never got a hickey but my shirt collars would get threadbare on that side. Overall the struggle put a limit on practise time which was a pity. But people said violin was difficult and that seemed to be the explanation. If I ever bothered to think about it . Then the Menuhin rest appeared but there was never was enough room for it .But I endured that too. So long or short neck , I can sympathise with both ends . In that era money had to stretch a long way and playing school rugby in heavy brown leather boots was another misery. The studs were nailed to the soles and over time the shape of the sole was a mass of bumps where the studs had distorted it all. Imagine trying to run in them.Then I would forget it till the following week. Very disorganised. But very similar to the chinrest situation .School days were a mixture of misery and fun with lots of laughing mixed in , but too much Religion.
What did you mean Henry ? Oh.Playing too fast you mean. I`m with you now .
From elise stanley
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 11:55 AM
I have a long neck too and use the SAS (caution there is concern about it damaging the violin with its single- off centre clamp). However, it creates a problem with holding the violin with your collar bone becaue the single clamp sticks out just where the violin contacts the collar bone. This resulted in quie a bruise which I have only fixed partially with padding.

Incidentally I also use a shoulder rest - but a very short (3/4 violin) one that almost skirts the edge of the violin. Thus, my grip is intermediary between a SR-less and SR-using. The violin is held between chin and collarbone with the SR providing resistence against the instrument slipping out during shifts. I suppose I should make the video!

From Millie Bartlett
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Hmmm, lots of good advice here. My two cents worth is that I have a long neck and tried to get to play restless, but no luck. I used my playonair blow up shoulder rest and gradually let it down over time, and had my chinrest built up a little, but all I got was a crick in the neck and shoulder from 'clamping'(much as I diligently tried not to), as well as a very sore collarbone. In the end I got a playonair duo-mate, which is a solid rest built especially to attach the playonair to. It immediately surprised me with an increase in violin volume, because the soft rest is no longer in contact with the violin. And the clamping effect is fairly gentle, you can set it yourself as it is 'driven' by the elastic used for attaching the blow up playonair, which is adjustable. So now I am a more confident player, no more death grip with the left hand and I can forget about wriggling about all the time adjusting my violin placement for comfort. Now I can just get on with learning and playing.
From Andrew Yi
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 01:49 PM
I have settled for a temporary "compromise". I bought a foam pad at the supermarket and attached it to the back plate of the violin. It feels better than having nothing underneath as my neck doesn't have to bend down any more, but disappointingly the perfect overtones and vibrations have dampened obviously due to the foam pad touching the back plate. Looks like I'm going to have to lose that brilliance and carrying power of my violin in order for comfort. Such a shame.
From Jo Parker
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Andrew, if the pad works, never mind, you'll get used to it (the 'less brilliance in sound') :)
happy you found a way to make it work
From John Cadd
Posted on February 4, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Don`t give up just yet Andrew. The pad may be too soft and squashy so you need a different kind of foam that gives more resistance to pressure with a soft thin outer surface.Then make it to stay near the edges and you can use the bottom block area without spoiling the sound. Tell me what thickness would be ideal if you added up violin and chinrest on their own. I can make a new pattern for long neck players to try out.You need to try a paper back novel in the gap and then tell me what that thickness is. Good project. It will be different to the above description .That was working on your idea . Just measure collar bone level to violin back , but use a solid shape like a book and not a ruler. On top of that can I assume you also have long fingers and a long thumb for playing high positions with your thumb still around the neck ? The other way to ask this is , do you use a shoulder rest to support the violin during downshifts ? Is there any time you try to play without the thumb doing it`s proper supporting job?
From Henry Butcher.
Posted on February 5, 2012 at 03:02 AM
If your desire is to retain the 'natural and resonating overtones' of the violin then don't attach 'anything' to the violin. Place the padding under your shirt and fold it for correct thickness. 'Balance and Recovery' must be practised through 'specific excersises'. Practising just 'etudes and pieces' may eventualy achieve the objective, but you may have a few years to go yet.
From elise stanley
Posted on February 5, 2012 at 09:47 AM
Henry, just out of curiousity, where is a woman performing in a strapless dress supposed to put the padding?

(I just caught myself, we're just talking shoulders OK?)

I also find it astonishing how so many top performers use a shoulder rest ATTACHED TO THE VIOLIN and sacrifice their tone... Perhaps they start off with violins that have ample spare :p

From Henry Butcher.
Posted on February 5, 2012 at 10:39 AM
Elise, that is a very good question and I don't know the answer.

<< top performers = top quality instruments >>

Hmmmmmm..

From John Cadd
Posted on February 5, 2012 at 10:44 AM
Elise , you know all those spare silicone implants that will not be needed now .I was wondering if one inside a spare sock would be acceptable. How do feel about that? This site is so topical it`s cutting edge !
From Andrew Yi
Posted on February 5, 2012 at 12:34 PM
I think I have found a solution!
I folded a piece of chamois cloth and instead of fastening it underneath of the body of the violin which would mean that the elastic is constricting itself onto the backplate, I looped the 'elastic' string around the two clamps of my chin rest. Very Minimal to no loss of sound quality and comfort as I dont have to bend my neck down in an awkward position. I am very happy that I have not had to compromise the perfect resonating overtones for a shoulder rest or similar. Thank you to those who offered their advice and opinions.
From elise stanley
Posted on February 5, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Andrew: I'm wondering if you are overreacting and settling for sub-perfect support (which can have dire physical outcomes) because of a tone difference that you are sensitive to - but the audience is not. Have you tried playing your violin to a couple of listners and testing blind whether the use of a pad, SR or nothing really makes a difference? I know from my own primary violin that it sounds not as good to my ear as my other two but outperforms them without comparison from a few feet to many meters away.

[John wrote: "Elise , you know all those spare silicone implants that will not be needed now .I was wondering if one inside a spare sock would be acceptable."

I'm afraid you're too late - once it was realized they out-performed the standard personal protectors wear for football, their price skyrocketed out of reach for a musician.]

From John Cadd
Posted on February 5, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Well Elise it was a nice thought anyway. When Andrew finds that paper back novel I still want to know how thick it is. If it`s too big just try it up to page 100 . Just to measure the gap . At a rough guess you may soon become disillusioned with the pad.There is a chance that the leverage caused ,with the pad being the fulcrum , may start some neck joint problems. As the support is so close to the neck , you should be able to lower the violin scroll end without strain at the neck end . If you expect the pad to support the violin without the left hand like a conventional shoulder rest then a more serious problem occurs . The violin ,unsupported by the left hand , while tuning and fiddling round with the bow , has become so iconic these days ,and is a curse on young violinists and they need to be warned about it.
From John Cadd
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:56 PM
I wonder if Andrew will reply.
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on April 8, 2012 at 12:19 PM
I keep promising myself not to post any more in shoulder rest threads - and here I am again. I'm not out to convert all of you, ahem, "Rest-a-farians"! But I do want to help Andrew a bit, if I can - and others who want to go restless. It's true that now-a-days most use a rest. But while many are oddly threatened by the very suggestion of trying to go restless, some would really like to, but don't know how. But I doubt if there are any non-resters who wistfully wish that they could learn to play with a rest some day.

I'm basically with Nate on this issue, and I'll add Arnold Steinhardt to the list of well-known, long-necked, restless players. My own own neck is longer than it seems on account of it also being thick, and I don't use a rest. (I did for many years, so I've been on both sides of this fence. Aaron Rosand taught me how to play restless.) I also would draw a distinction between using some padding - as indeed Stern, Rosand, and many other non and indeed anti-resters have done, and using rest of the type that clings to the sides of the violin and tends to lock you into one agle and cant. I go into more detail about this in my website.

I agree with Laurie that teachers shouldn't be too doctrinaire - especially if the student is in pain, has tension, etc. But that cuts both ways, as there are teachers who insist that the student use a shoulder rest. The most famous example I know of was a favorite violinist of mine, Arthur Grumiaux, though he just used a small crescent pad, like Oistrakh. What I object to is the a priori assumption that many teachers have to use a rest as the natural default position. I say that if all else fails, use a shouder rest and anything else that works, and there are certainly many great players who do. But why put on more than we need - IF we don't need it? We can only find out about that "IF" being true by experiment and using the right technique, and not expecting that technique - or any new approach on the violin - to provide instant comfort and security. But if someone is motivated and interested, my approach might help them. And I repeat an offer I made on another thread: one free, short lesson at my home in Brooklyn, NY on how to play restless. Otherwise see my website below.

In my approach, the space between the shoulder/clavicle area and the chin is lessened without tension! Please visit my website, http://rkviolin.com Go to "writings" then "fundamentals" for a detailed discussion.

This is clearly the most endless subject, so like "Fez" on "That 70's Show" I'll say "good day". (IOW I'm done.)

From sharelle taylor
Posted on April 8, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Where I find I need support, is the space below my collarbone - if I put my right hand on my left shoulder, its the space where my palm and wrist lie. I have tried acoustifoam, foam pads, crescent pad - these were more trouble than worth to adjust. In solid rests I have tried kun (works for one instrument, not for the other), everest (works well for both instruments), and when I get another one of the VLM diamond I shall try that (I say another one, becasue I purchased 1, offered it to my teacher as her little old italian with barely anything to grip had a problem of letting all other SR fall off, and the VLM stayed on. So I gave it to her. but i digress).
I like Scott's comment above about the player's style being something that impacts on the success of the switch over, and I also wonder if the shape of the chestal area makes a difference. If there is just that bit more table to support the back of the violin in some body shapes. I use my rests on lowest setting neck and about 2 turns body, so we are not talking about huge distance, its not like you need to br built like a barrel (although many of those older players it seems were some what rotund)
From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on April 9, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Sharelle, I like to joke that before, the players were adapted for the violin and now, the violins are adapted for the players! :)
From Corwin Slack
Posted on April 9, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Search for YouTube's of Joseph Szigeti playing the violin.
From julio Custode
Posted on April 9, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Looks like almost everything has already been said. I was just going to say that I use a chin rest placed in the middle above the tailpiece. It's just a personal preference for me to use this kind. However, it does hover higher above the violin than a normal chin rest. For someone with a long neck (myself included) it might be more comfortable for playing without a shoulder rest. Of course I love my shoulder rest too much give it up. Perhaps there's another type of shoulder rest out there that sounds better with your violin.
From David Burgess
Posted on April 9, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Using a shoulder rest is not a sin. Using a shoulder rest is not a sin. Using a shoulder rest is not a sin.

I felt that this needed to be said several times, to counter the prolific posts of the anti-shoulder-rest cultists.

Please DO NOT put yourself at risk of injury by trying to play without a shoulder rest, (or by playing the violin upside down behind your back), if your physiology and body feedback suggest that this isn't a good idea.

From Peter Charles
Posted on April 10, 2012 at 06:52 AM
David Burgess, Buri and Laurie have got this absolutely right.

The rest of you are living in a complete fantasy world.

From David Burgess
Posted on April 10, 2012 at 09:26 AM
Since the sound of a violin with/without a shoulder rest, and with different types of chinrests often comes up, I should mention that there is no universal answer. Some violins sound better with a center mounted chinrest, and others with a side-mount. Some violins sound considerably better with a shoulder rest, and others without.

Some of this will depend on whether the adjustment of the violin is optimized for use with or without a shoulder rest. If it's optimized for use one way, it may sound worse the other way.

When I worked in the Weisshaar shop in Los Angeles, we used to make some insanely high chinrests for Heifetz students with much longer necks than he had. I guess that whatever worked for his particular body type was supposed to be ideal for everybody. ;-)

From tom utsch
Posted on April 11, 2012 at 05:01 AM
I am not a pro by any means but have not had any problem using no shoulder rest ever in my violin experience. This originated with my first teacher and I guess it just stuck. I am tall and have a long neck. Having a chin rest that has a geometry to give some kind of grip on the violin helps but is not essential. Also a shoulder rest does not fit in my vintage case....for a reason!

Every once in a while I get frustrated with where I am at and try a playonair and I always throw it back in the closet 5 min later. I have come to believe that it is really just a choice and as with all choices people get attached to them. As for the whole shoulder rest dampening the sound, I will never ever be in an environment where that is a factor. To me that is irrelevant unless you are some Julliard phenom. If I could make my playing better by having it only be heard by amplification I would go for that in a NY minute.

If somebody invented a small crane that you could attach to your upper torso and then it held up the violin scroll, I would try that too but it would probably make no difference.

From Joseph Galamba
Posted on April 11, 2012 at 10:12 PM
I think it actually has more to do with the rest of your skeleton. The neck can be filled with a chinrest after all.

I can't use a shoulder rest any more and I have a long neck, but I am not a professional either.

From John Cadd
Posted on April 12, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Do you think Heifetz is to blame for all this controversy ? He was absolutely against shoulder rests and threatened to expel any players that used them. Would such behaviour be tolerated today?
From Peter Charles
Posted on April 12, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Heifetz and one or two others probably.

I knew a viola player once who went to a well known soloist for lessons and he got him to ditch his shoulder rest. After about two years of painful struggle the teacher ditched the student and he came back to an orchestral rehearsal and put his shoulder rest back on.

I said to him " I told you this would happen." The teacher was a charletan in my opinion, born out by several other people who had very unfavourable opinions about him. He was however a very fine player, even though there were so many problems with his character.

So what I'm saying is that teachers who insist on something like that are probably not much good and it may be a reflection of their general teaching methods.

From Joseph Galamba
Posted on April 12, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Short answer: yes there are still teachers who will make you give up the shoulder rest

There are also teachers who will make you use one

From Bruce Berg
Posted on April 13, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Of course there was William Primrose who said he could teach a swan to play without a shoulder rest.

Aaron Rosand is another who thinks shoulder rests cause cancer.

I am beginning to think that the best way to avoid injury and be absolutely comfortable is to play without a violin.

From Adrian Heath
Posted on April 14, 2012 at 05:08 PM
William Primrose advocated holding the viola in the left hand, which in his case was large enough to reach the high positions with the thumb still under the neck.

If we want the instrument to rest on the collar-bone,
- a long neck needs a high chinrest;
- sloping sholders need some kind of shoulder rest.
It's really as simple as that!!

From M.L. Scott
Posted on April 14, 2012 at 08:51 PM
I agree with previous posters who believe individual body structure is important in the choice of whether to use a rest or pad, or go without.

Unlike the original poster, my neck is short. I once made the mistake of trying the much-praised Berber chinrest - it felt like a torture device! I'm currently using a Brandt chinrest. The other one I've tried that worked fairly well for me was a cheap plastic Mulko rest.

I'm female, slim, with a fairly small frame, and I just don't find that my collarbone is large/prominent enough to act as a support point on its own. When I try to play with no pad at all, the violin just wiggles constantly unless I grip it tightly with my chin and/or left hand, and obviously a tight grip is not good.

I have rather narrow shoulders with minimal slope. Commercial bar-type rests, like Kun or Wolf, are too tall for me even at the lowest setting. They also feel uncomfortable on my shoulder, which has very little natural padding. Playonairs and other commercial soft pads have been so-so for me.

I am currently using a homemade shoulder pad made of rolled-up rubbery shelf liner. It provides a little extra support while still being flexible.

I only ever play solos at church, and I seriously doubt the congregation would notice the subtle difference they might hear if I used a different type of pad or rest, or none at all. They probably would notice if I played badly due to uncomfortable equipment!

From Henry Butcher.
Posted on April 15, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Is it possible.........

Anything is possible, I suppose, if you really want it bad enough..!!

I think this a case of 'information overload'..

'Just do it'

From Peter Charles
Posted on April 15, 2012 at 07:37 AM
Henry's going to make a video on how to not use a shoulder rest and also how to use one.

Once we have had a butchers at that we can decide!! (wink)

From Henry Butcher.
Posted on April 15, 2012 at 09:24 AM
NO I AIN'T..!!!

YOU FIND OUT FER YER SELF...!!!

From Peter Charles
Posted on April 15, 2012 at 09:36 AM
Dear Henry

I was under the distinct impression that you were inspired by my video (which is now defunct) and that you were going to make a video. Even if it's on left hand position and vibrato, you could sneak a bit about shoulder rests in as well. As seen from the Austraaaalian perspective ... We could then have a competition this arvo about who makes the best video and give out an Oscar or two. I've even got a couple from Austraaaaalia staying with me at the mo. (Although they are Kiwis living there). They could be judge and jury.

We could share a crate of 4X as well and see who plays the best when nissed as a pewt. I could play on my special fiddle where the wood comes from the Goolagong tree. We could have lots of people entering the compo and we could have the worst video maker deported to Austraaaaalia in chains as a punishment ... (wink)

From Henry Butcher.
Posted on April 15, 2012 at 10:02 AM
inspired by my video


Sorry to mislead you....I was actuaslly being sarcastic....!?


worst video maker


HaHa....you win


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