Playing without a shoulder rest
I've been trying to play violin without a shoulder rest for a while now. I play for around five minutes each day without one, and I can play fine, except if I shift up, I can't go back down because my neck is long and I can't support the violin without scrunching my neck (which hurts), I can't shift back down without completely disconnecting my hand from the violin's neck. How can I support my violin like I did with a shoulder rest, but without using the shoulder rest?
Find a taller chinrest that fills the space between your jawbone and collarbone, so that you don't have to "scrunch" to keep the instrument in place.
You may well need a higher
Why would you want to play without a shoulder rest? I 100% agree on getting a taller chin rest, though. Even then, long-necked people tend to be better off with a shoulder rest, but then again, everyone's different. Search this site for similar threads. There are a ton of them.
I don't know how long you've played, whether you have a teacher, whether you started from day 1 with a shoulder rest. One thing to determine is whether or not playing restless is the best way for you personally. I've long suspected that many players who successfully ditch their SRs would have been better off without them in the first place. As I've said before, I oppose having kids start off with them. Better to find out, for each player, whether these devices help or hinder.
Before you pay attention to the "naked neck" advocates, check out
If you want to play without a SR it is important that the violin is horizontal - the scroll on the same level as the centre of the player's face - and ideally it will rest on the collar bone. If the violin drops below the horizontal then gravity immediately becomes unfriendly in down shifts, the player therefore exerting downward pressure on the chin rest to compensate and keep the instrument from slipping, and so increasing tension in the neck and shoulder area which will cause a knock-on increase in tension both in the left hand and the bowing arm.
Another vote for why?
And you can’t know which is better for you until you paractice enough both ways to be comfortable in each. I switched to restless and it’s much better for me, but it took about two weeks of cold turkey to adjust.
I agree with what Jason Broander said. Find a comfortable setup both with and without a SR, and then decide which will ultimately be best for you.
And another vote for Why?, Specially if you have long neck, as you say.
Nina if you can't shift down without completely disconnecting your hand from the neck, I take it this is *with* the shoulder rest, right, well then your shifting technique is not OK yet. Without the shoulder rest you can't do that, but even with a shoulder rest you are clearly not supposed to do that. Without shoulder rest it helps if you prepare the downward shift by pull your thumb down so you have some support down there.
Maybe it is worthwhile to rehash a few videos posted on Youtube by violinist.com:
Parallel to the floor for tone? I must tell this to my 'cellist friends!
But "how" may not have a good answer without the "why."
Been there, done that. Moved one.
"Sure, sounds like a great idea. For a day or two..."
A good link is "STRINGPEDAGOGY.COM" where the videos (there are several of them) go into some intelligent detail about changing to restless.
And how about airplanes, automobiles, trains and indoor plumbing?
"Introduction of modern aids brings advantages to a wider range of people."
Because you will gain deeper insight into left hand technique and how the instrument balances on your body rather than trying to prop up the violin with your shoulder.
I went through a phase (in high school) of not using a shoulder rest. Got to Oberlin and just about the first thing my teacher there did was strongly recommend that I start using a shoulder rest. The improvement in my ability to play without excess tension was instantaneous.
The idea that people in the 17th century played without SR, so should we is puzzling.
17th cent folks didn't have indoor plumbing and bled themselves as a medical treatment. Yeah I don't do that...
My wife and I have around 40-45 private students at any given time. In the past decade, we have had exactly *one* student for whom going without the shoulder rest worked out well, and for me personally maybe 2-3 at most out of hundreds of students going back about twenty years.
Using a shoulder rest is an affront to the violin!
As mentioned somewhere up above; a commonly overlooked, and very important element is having an appropriate height and shaped CHIN REST.
I may be lucky or I may be very insensitive to what's right for me, but I pretty much forgot chin-rests and shoulder rests even exist. I say lucky because I have no pain or strain in holding the instrument --all my issues right now are with getting a nice tone and good rhythm in the bowing --pretty much right hand issues (I think). Of course I may be blundering far down the wrong path as I have no teacher to tell me I'm doing everything wrong. I work full time and I'm struggling financially, so overall I am pleased with my progress, in my 36th month of playing and although it's not yet music, the Corelli and Handel and Croft sonatas are at least becoming recognizable, and in some passages I can play with genuine feeling.
Partially, I have to disconnect my hand because it sweats too much. It's been sticking to the violin. The other reason is that I was pulling the violin off of my shoulder while shifting down. I've been playing for eight years, with a shoulder rest and teacher. I tried taking it off because it started getting in the way of my shifting on the G string, and it helped - I just needed help shifting down.
stringpedagogy.com is worth looking at.
Hi Everyone - I've been away for maybe 4 years and I see the issue has not resolved itself! Perhaps just as well because if it did perhaps violinists would have nothing to talk about..
Thanks for the links, Peter: they actually go towards answering the original query!
... !! No, I've stopped using a SR (I nearly put ST!) which has resulted in me having to re-learn left hand technique and at the same time (for me) a new fingering regime. All very painful but worthwhile - I hope.
"Hi Everyone - I've been away for maybe 4 years"
Elise great to see you back!
Peter, you traitor!
Well, it's been forced on me - I cant use a SR as it pushes the violin onto the shoulder and I can't use my jaw to hold it, only my chin. This is due to problems which have arisen since December last year.
First, Elise, good to see you once again. I was wondering where you were.
Yes, I agree we should not be dogmatic about this subject. Everyone usually has good reasons why they use/don't use a shoulder rest.
Here's the danger of going this route, as many have doubtless discovered:
Scott, if you're having pain for more than a day or two, I agree you don't want to persist on that path.
Sounds like an addiction...
Oh no...if you playing without shoulder rest makes you take advil, then you're doing something wrong. Again, I'm proposing mainly as an exercise as a learning experience on how the instrument can balanced on your left hand and collarbone. I ended up going all the way, and that works for me. Some people don't have the curiosity to try it and are fine with sticking with how they've grown up with, and that's fine. Used correctly a shoulder rest has great merits, and indeed most people use one. It's a big investment in time and life is short...
I wonder if "scrunching" doesn't often include raising the shoulder to stabalise the violin - and then forgetting to release it?
I don't lift my shoulder - I'm too lazy. *
I have seen countless SR users that also incorporate raising their shoulder. So, I don’t think that is unique to playing restless.
One further note on always playing without any SR or CR: although I said I do it without any problems holding the violin steady, that's not quite the case. I've found it matters what I'm wearing. I have a favorite thick hoodie sweatshirt I wear often, and I've come to learn I can't play violin while wearing it because it pushes my violin away from where it normally rests. So if you're having problems but want to figure out how to play without any SR or CR, experiment with different clothing on your shoulders!
No shoulder rest, no chin rest, no clothing...as God (or whatever) and Amati intended for you.
"It might take a while (a couple years for me, but I'm a slow learner...) for all the pieces to fit together."
"It might take a while (a couple years for me, but I'm a slow learner...) for all the pieces to fit together."
Thanks for the return-welcomes :) I guess I'm a returner in two ways now....
... addendum. Do you raise the shoulder at all? Well, yes of course! Thats the whole point of playing restless - you can move your body naturally rather than be constrained what should be called a VC.
My point about raising the shoulder is that everyone does it sometimes, SR or not.
" ... addendum. Do you raise the shoulder at all? Well, yes of course! Thats the whole point of playing restless - you can move your body naturally rather than be constrained what should be called a VC."
My point about raising the shoulder is that everyone does it sometimes, SR or not. And a SR doesn't have to remain in constant contact with the shoulder, but it's there when we need it. Any rigidity will cause problems in the long term.
You have to change your whole left hand technique, or there is no point. It takes time, maybe even a few weeks. It also is helped by a fundamental re-think of fingering, so you move about in tones and semi-tones, and not huge jumps, or jumping over fingers, as we have been taught to do and you find in most editions. (i.e. open - 1-2 -1 or open a b natural (1) c sharp (2) D natural (or sharp) (1) again. That's the old first to third position syndrome. Also good to move with same finger on weak beats, rather than on strong beats.
You might raise the shoulder when you are expressing, it should not be about needing it to support the violin. But I'm by far not perfect either - sometimes I will notice my shoulder up and feel stress and I have to correct it. It happens. Also, please don't assume I am an anti-SR snob - I do put it on occasionally and might try having it with me for those long orchestra sessions; playing without is a little more work for the R arm and a change is probably healthy.
Expressing? Expressing what? Expression comes from the music and not from the body, surely?
As it happens, I never raise the shoulder as my long-legged SR acts a fulcrum on a relaxed shoulder, with just weight of my head to counterbalance the fiddle (and a much perfected CR/SR setup). No tension, no hickey, just contact and motion.
Peter: "Expressing? Expressing what? Expression comes from the music and not from the body, surely?"
1. "...my long-legged SR ... no tension, no hickey, just contact and motion.
I don't do videos anymore I'm afraid. More things to life. So you do bodily expressions? Interesting, could be quite a floor show! Maybe you should make a video!?
The real question, in my opinion, is wether to use a shoulder rest or support the violin with the left hand.
Dear Peter - the only bodily impressions I do are snow angels :)
... agreed Carlo - and nicely put.
as to the "why" question, this is very different for amateurs vs professionals. as long as you are a not-very-advanced student you have the time to learn or relearn playing sans SR. but a student doing higher violin studies or a professional who relies on a SR may not have time for that. note, however, the notable exception of Nathan Cole, and he is probably not the only exception.
When I see players who really can play without an SR--soloists--I've seen that they do indeed raise their shoulder all the way up to contact the violin. They do not play with space between the shoulder and violin, and it does not simply rest on their collarbone. That's what I've seen, especially sitting right behind the soloist.
Yes, with a SR my tone is steady, and I can voluntarily make it as unsteady and subtle as I like if inspired to do so!
Scott - did you see what I wrote about bringing the shoulder forward, not up?
For me the jury is still out regarding non SR use, and I have an open mind. I'm not suggesting anyone should ditch their SR. However, one annoying thing about the SR (and that's ALL SR's) is that they tend to fall off without fail, unless you remember to push them back into place. That's partly why I ditched mine. (And don't say there are ones out there that work - I've yet to find one).
They tend to unhook when the fiddle tries to swing round in front.
I've found a nice intermediate solution is the Acoustifoam pad (I use a #4 thickness). It lets the violin and shoulder move more freely, thus sounding better and feeling better. At the same time, it has enough friction and firmness that it keeps the fiddle wedged back onto my collarbone without requiring any noticeable heroics.
I was interested in what Scott wrote about his observations sitting right behind the soloist. As is typical with all things violin, there is often a difference between what people SAY they do and what they actually do, e.g., tilted-vs-flat-bow-hair wars.
Yes, the fingering aspect applies to both SR and non SR users. It uses a logic that gets away from the conventional and often dangerous ways of fingering things. But it depends on how your brain works (or doesn't in my case) and some people may find it unsuitable. I'm in the process of re-fingering all my music and really going through the Ricci book in great detail, at the moment looking at double stop scales and his fingering logic on those. (He doesn't think single note scales are much use for developing left hand technique).
I think the OP has probably given up entirely by now and has switched to playing the non-contentious accordion...
The "geezer" is, of course, Enrico Onofri who was CM and soloist with Il Giardino Armonico for many years. The scarf he habitually uses when playing Baroque is an aviator's white silk scarf that passes underneath his violin's tailpiece and round his neck. Clearly secure, comfortable and efficient, otherwise he wouldn't have been using the system for all these years.
The “Happynex”(I think that’s the name) is a commercially available version of that apparently
Thanks Trevor - the link you gave didn't work though. The "Happynex" (thanks Craig) was interesting. I think I could make one up myself using one of my wife's dresses - Oops - shouldn't have said that.
Peter, thanks for that info. I was working from a list of useful video links that I keep. It appears the link didn't work in this case because the video has been withdrawn, and a brief check indicates that this has happened to some other Il Giardino recordings. I wonder why.
A good question might be:
"Fortunately, there is one video of a youngish Onofri in action that has slipped through the net - the first movement of the Bach A minor - possibly because it is part of a compilation. Here is the link (it worked today!)
Still need a reply as to whether the non-SR players were really raising their shoulders or rotating them forward - when you can get contact without raising.
My own comments are about raisers. If the scroll is high, rotating isn't enpough on its own.
@Douglas these are different questions, both are valid. The question of how to play without SR is important for those who have heard that playing without SR offers certain benefits and is interested in exploring that, even though, in the end, it might be better for them or it might not. The experienced teachers who are often responding to these threads would likely say that such a significant change in setup warrants expert advice.
'Who has two years to do this? Maybe that was my problem: when I tried it, I didn't have two years. I was either in graduate school or playing professionally. I didn't have the time to adjust--I had to play comfortably and well right then. What could I do--go into a lesson or audition and say "sorry I suck--I'm trying to get rid of my shoulder rest"?'
I've gone through a restless period, in early adolescence, but as I grew into my adult body, a shoulder-rest became preferable.
Adrian - why do you need a high scroll? Let the violin drape down from the chin to the forward rotated shoulder. Gradually your left hand will learn to manage not only the notes but also the violin and the violin angle will change according to need.
I don't need a high scroll!
why don't they make a viol with a rotated fingerboard? Just a millimeter higher on the C (G) string side and with the bridge adjusted proportionally. I think a lot of people would love it...
When the scroll is not high enough, the strings slope down quite steeply. Even when you just put your violin flat on a table you will see they already slope down quite a bit. Now not raising your scroll and they will slope down even more. In that case you constantly have to fight gravity with the right hand, making sure you bow close enough to the bridge. Reference: All this is literally taken from Simon Fischer "Practice".
A high scroll also allows the pinky to come down onto the fingerboard, ad opposed to having to be lifted up over the fingerboard to get where you want it to go.
Jean IMHO the slope thing is nonsense. Try tilting the violin, the bow does NOT slide off. Indeed, if it was true it would be impossible to play the cello! What that reasoning misses is that the arm is not hinged on a slider but on a point so the arm comes down in an arc, not a straight line. Thus weight is transmitted directly onto the instrument whether it is flat or vertical. Many violinists tilt the violin.
Iv'e been doing some experimentation and the problem with the shoulder rest is that it tends to push the violin over the shoulder and to the left which makes the bow skid all over the shop. So you have to force the violin back to the right some considerable distance. This position without the SR is more natural and happens without too much thought.
I don't think that's right.
"unless the bowing can just happen and stay on the best parts of the strings, in other words look after itself"
My teacher (also my daughter's teacher) teaches high scroll. Whenever I get lazy and my scroll drops, other aspects of my technique suffer. But I don't think it has anything to do with gravity vs. the slope of the strings, at least not directly, even though I think we've all heard that "reason" at least ten times. It's because all of the *other* things I was taught (hand positions, wrist and elbow mechanics, etc.) are all designed to be optimal for a high scroll. That's why cello works too, as Elise pointed out. Cellists learn a unified system that is built around how their instruments are positioned. Once in a while you see a cellist who has set things up so that his strings are *less* vertical (like Rostropovich) and people say, oh, I couldn't play like that, I wouldn't be able to drop my elbows, etc. etc.
This throws all discussions of chin/shoulder rests into the air :)
LOL Trevor - maybe, but I want to hear him play Paganini caprices on that before I'll buy...
Elise, some of the Paganini caprices have been performed on the cello - notably Nr. 24 (of course!) - so it wouldn't surprise me if Sigiswald Kuijken could if he were so minded. Doubtful, though, because he is basically a Baroquist.
It's called a Shoulder Cello (with a strap), although it looks more like a Tummy Cello: cello da spalla or cello da pancia?
@Trevor, you can find youtube videos of No. 24 on the string bass.