Conflict between teachers

July 19, 2017, 1:37 PM · I, personally, play without the chin and shoulder rests.
I recently had a teacher demand I change my bow hold, and put on chin and shoulder rests.
At a loss what I should do, as I'm being told this by a big time violin teacher at a large conservatory. A violin performer/private teacher told me to play whatever way is most comfortable and lets me gets the notes out clearly and correctly.

What should I do?

Replies (43)

Edited: July 20, 2017, 12:41 AM · Before asking for a radical changes in setup and technique, the teacher absolutely must listen and observe the student's playing. If he or she judges that further progress is unlikely without thess changes, this must be both explained and demonstrated.

Being unwilling to teach otherwise than the "carbon copy" approach is a sign of arrogance and incompetence.

Edited: July 19, 2017, 1:49 PM · Presumably you are taking lessons from this teacher for a reason? My approach would be to try it his/her way before blowing the righteous indignation gasket.
July 19, 2017, 1:55 PM · Agree with Adrian. Can you get an explanation of exactly why teacher A demands you to use a chin rest and shoulder rest and change your bow hold? Shoulder rest and chin rest preferences must be adjusted to fit your physique, except if you're specializing in baroque permance.
Edited: July 19, 2017, 4:20 PM · I don't know what your bow hold looks like, and no shoulder rest and chin rest is definitely non standard. I would be gobsmacked if you didn't have technical issues related to your setup. Absolutely gobsmacked. And I would for sure want to see a video of a player with flawless technique and no chin/shoulder rest/odd bow hold.

July 19, 2017, 3:02 PM · Bow hold sounds like a separate matter, especially since we can't see your hold. But, regarding CR and SR, especially if you've had the comparison of playing with and without them and found that playing without works better for you, then stand your ground.

I haven't tried playing without the CR, but I do have the comparison of playing without, then with, the SR. I played restless from elementary school till I was 18 y/o. Then I tried a few SRs for comparison, selected the one I considered the best fit, and have felt more freedom since then. I can play without it, but I prefer to play with it.

I strongly suspect that a lot of people who have successfully ditched the SR might have done better not to start with one in the first place.

July 19, 2017, 3:51 PM · Jack, it says in your profile that you are a teacher. I think the logic of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is pretty sound, but it's possible that your teacher has a specific reason for asking for you to use these that relates specifically to some issues in your technique. It's also possible that your teacher believes that these two tools are necessary to play at a high level, and there is nothing currently wrong with your playing. I'm curious about what you teach your own students?

Sometimes some way of playing is a crutch that works pretty well until you get into advanced repertoire and it no longer does. At that point you have to go back to square one and fix something really fundamental, whereas the work could have been done at the very beginning with better long-term results. Maybe your teacher is taking this idea.

I couldn't play without a chinrest, but I have this damn graceful dancer's neck. Likewise, a shoulder rest works for me.

I think the more relevant question is, how willing are you to take YOUR teacher's advice? The teacher-student relationship relies on the student believing that their teacher is giving them good advice. When there is a conflict in this vein, you have to figure out whether the advice is bad, or whether you are coming in with a pre-conceived notion of how to play violin.

Edited: July 19, 2017, 3:55 PM · I find chin rest and shoulder rest discussions to be controversial to the point that I think physique is the #1 consideration. After all, shoulder rests and chin rests are optional, and they're only aids to help us hold up our violins (and violas for that matter).
Edited: July 19, 2017, 5:19 PM · @christian I teach composition, not violin itself above the level of beginner.

Just to clear up for everybody, none of my past teachers/judges have had issues with my bow hold, and one actually praised me for it

And, this teacher was just at a 1week camp. There were two teachers there, one of which I never got to speak to myself, although I have heard negative things about her from graduates of the conservatory, I can't hold them up to anything without firsthand experience with her

EDIT: also, thank you all for your feedback. Lots of help has been handed to me and I'm grateful

July 19, 2017, 5:21 PM · I think this all depends on your skill level. What type of music are you playing right now?
July 19, 2017, 5:37 PM · We go to teachers for a reason. If you don't like the teaching philosophy of your present teacher, find another. Sooner or later you will find someone who will teach you what you want to be taught.
However...if you might consider that the teacher, who you have described as a "big time violin teacher", might know something. Perhaps something that you don't know. Perhaps the teacher has something in mind that you don't understand. No harm in asking. Or, perhaps, the big time violin teacher is just an instructor who can't really teach and forces all of their students into the cookie-cutter mold and some flourish and some flounder.
Shoulder rests are sort of like spring in the bass bar for violin makers. Make a definitive statement in a room full of "experts", then step back and listen and watch. If the person you are working for/learning from puts spring in the bar, so do you. If the person you are working for/learning from fits them without spring, so do you.
July 19, 2017, 5:49 PM · When I started having violin lessons about 10 years ago my violin teacher was naturally expecting me to use a SR, but raised no objections then or later when I said that I had been playing Irish fiddle without a SR for the previous 5 years. This was at the stage when the details of my posture and holds were being sorted out properly, and the absence of a SR was therefore taken into account during the process. Some years later I started experimenting with no CR, my teacher raising no objection (possibly because of her deep experience in the folk music world as well as classical), and I now feel comfortable and at ease without one - although I do use one for most of my orchestral work.

Circa 1820 the CR was invented by Louis Spohr. The SR seems to have come into being well over a century later shortly after WW2 - I certainly remember a couple of the first SRs being used in my school orchestra, in which I was a cellist, in the early 50s, to the puzzlement of the music director who apparently hadn't heard of them, and a year later every violinist had one.

There was a tremendous amount of violin music being composed in the 17th and 18th centuries, some of it technically difficult even by today's extraordinary standards. So, how did violinists cope before 1820?

July 19, 2017, 6:03 PM · I should probably add: she should have explained her reasons for having you change something. I hate teachers who just tell but don't explain.
Edited: July 19, 2017, 7:34 PM · "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear"
"When the teacher is ready, the student will appear!"
"When none of them is ready, their appearance is an illusion"
July 19, 2017, 8:02 PM · I agree with Erik. If a teacher wants to change something about a student's technique/position, there's got to be an explanation.
Edited: July 19, 2017, 8:15 PM · Trevor wrote, "So, how did violinists cope before 1820?"

Part of the answer, I believe, is that they weren't trying to play Brahms, Mendelssohn, Paganini, Prokofiev, etc. Even the Beethoven concerto, which was composed around 1806, was not really in full circulation until around 1850.

July 19, 2017, 8:18 PM · Okay ..... So, the OP tells us his teacher "at a large conservatory" wants him to change his bow hold and his setup. That's what conservatory teachers do.

Only later do we find out this is happening at a one-week summer camp. Obviously very different situation. Obvious enough that I believe that information would have been included from the outset.

July 19, 2017, 8:42 PM · Lol Rocky. Indeed.
July 19, 2017, 9:00 PM · "Circa 1820 the CR was invented by Louis Spohr."

That's' true—but also somewhat misleading. He's credited with the idea, yes, but the chin rest definitely wasn't in common use up til the end of 1800s...look at photographs of Joachim quartet, Sarasate, (and Zimbalist I believe...), in some pictures they have a chin rest, some don't. Photos of students and amateurs at the turn of 20th century are usually senza chin rest.

Speaking as a modern player, I've encountered a conservatory teacher at a master class who plays without chin rest or shoulder. The man explained that his neck is basically non-existent and he couldn't find any chinrest that is low enough, so he only uses a cloth.

Setup is so personal, I would be wary of any teacher who requires everyone to have the same set up. That being said, there's a good reason why 99.999% of modern violinists and violists uses a chin rest (not talking early music here).

July 19, 2017, 9:03 PM · Re Paul's comment: "'So, how did violinists cope before 1820?' Part of the answer, I believe, is that they weren't trying to play Brahms, Mendelssohn, Paganini, Prokofiev, etc. Even the Beethoven concerto, which was composed around 1806, was not really in full circulation until around 1850."

I actually do believe these concertos were played by violinists without chin rest from the drawings and photographs of violinists we have. For a fact, none of the Paganini's portraits have a chin rest...

That being said, the chin rest is a wonderful invention and I use it for modern playing for sure.

July 19, 2017, 10:21 PM · At first I thought the OP was a conservatory student. But now that I see it was a one-week camp, I'm surprised a teacher is trying to change setup this drastically. Unless of course it's necessary. We don't know because we haven't seen the OP play.

I had the opportunity to study with Daniel Heifetz a couple of times, once at Peabody and another time in graduate school at Carnegie Mellon. He seemed like a nice guy and a good violinist, but I wasn't willing to take away my shoulder rest when it became clear that he was going to be quite dogmatic about having me ditch it.

Edited: July 20, 2017, 1:54 PM · I'm trying to figure out what Jack Urban's status is. His bio seems to imply he's a working pro (teaching, and trying to do some performing), which makes the 1-week summer camp a little weird. But there are plausible explanations there -- for instance, a recent conservatory grad, attending a camp for young professionals. (He mentions performing in local orchestras, but that he's trying to get his foot in the door as a performer, so I'm guessing he's playing at the community level rather than freelancing.)

So I'm replying to the OP with the assumption that he's a recent grad who hasn't yet found a performing job (either full or part-time):

I think once you reach the level of a working pro (or for that matter, the level of a content adult amateur), that any major revamp of your technique has to have a significant cost-benefit analysis. Not playing with a chinrest will have a significant impact on how you hold the violin. (Going from no SR to having a SR represents a relatively minor change by comparison, and if no SR works for you, there's no reason to play with a SR.) Major changes in bow-hold can require significant technical rework of your bowing. If you're already playing at a satisfactory level, then the benefit may not be sufficient to bother.

I think there are two reasons to make a change at that stage. The first is that your current set-up is causing you pain or is likely to cause pain/injury as you age (or if you end up playing for hours a day, as is the case for many freelancers); if you want a lasting career, you want to make the changes before pain/injury force you to do so, since it's much harder to recover once you've damaged your body to that point. The second is that your current set-up is preventing you from improving your playing to the point where you can get a performing job at the level you want.

I do think that any teacher who is teaching at this level needs to be able to explain to a student why they are being asked to make a particular change -- and lay out the steps and timeframe necessary so the student can think about the cost/benefit ratio.

July 20, 2017, 5:03 PM · Oooh, oooh, I bet he's in his 60's!
Edited: July 20, 2017, 5:39 PM · In a separate thread, the OP states that he is starting his third year on the violin and plays the Bruch concerto as "simple warm up."
July 20, 2017, 7:07 PM · Hrm. I can't find the thread you're referring to, David.
July 20, 2017, 7:17 PM · Lydia, the thread was titled "Practicing - What else?" or something like that.
Edited: July 20, 2017, 7:27 PM · Interesting. Alert for Laurie: I'm not seeing that thread on a site search for "Jack Urban". Indexing may be partially broken.

I did find the thread by title (LINK).

July 20, 2017, 10:21 PM · It's this thread:

Elsewhere Jack stated he is still in school (

Given that he seems still relatively new to the violin, the teacher at the summer camp might have had a point and there are indeed things to improve regarding bow hold and such.

July 21, 2017, 3:54 AM · Possibly unpopular opinion incoming. This doesn't seem like your regular teacher, but if you somehow sought them out, and sought their instruction, then you've got to follow their instructions. It's nice if they explain things to you, but if they don't, so be it. Just do it.
July 21, 2017, 4:21 AM · This is not necessarily an unusual situation. Back in 1970, when I was still the fairly recently chosen concertmaster of our community orchestra, our newly hired conductor told me that i played well but that I held my bow in an unusual way. So I read a number of books on bowing (including the one Galamian had recently published) and spent about one month changing the way I held my bow (it was very difficult to continue playing at the same level during that transition). It paid off in my playing - I remained CM for 20 years. And using the cello bow hold for playing cello is the only way to avoid damaging physical problems for a cellist ---but it can work for much violin playing, if not all.

Apparently the reason I had an unusual bow hold was that after playing the violin for 10 years I had started cello lessons at age 14 and my violin bow hold must have gradually changed to a cello bow hold. (My cello teacher had whipped my original violin bow hold off my cello bow at the first lesson - literally with his cello bow against my right arm!)

Two years ago, at age 80, about 45 years after making that change in my violin bow hold I found that a problem with my right shoulder caused a tremor when I held a violin bow correctly and I gradually reverted to my old cello-bow hold to reduce the tremor. Sometimes I have to hold the bow "around the frog" because the tremor is worsened when my fingers come close together. It also helps to use a viola bow instead (and I do have one viola Coda bow that works pretty well on violin) - but I've moved to the viola section - and these days most of my playing way from home is almost entirely viola and cello.

July 21, 2017, 7:16 AM · There is also this thread where he asks about the CR directly:
Edited: July 21, 2017, 10:13 AM · Summer camp teachers can sometimes impress their quirks/prejudices upon students, although it pretty much doesn't hurt to try their suggestions for the week you're spending with them, and see what you think. What might be initially uncomfortable may yield benefits if you work with it for a few days.

A student playing for three years (even if he thinks the Bruch is simple, which I'm deeply dubious about) almost certainly doesn't know what he doesn't know, and I would be inclined to believe the teacher when they are concerned about some element of physical set-up. And I can easily see a situation where a teacher compliments a beginner's bow-hold but it would be "good for a beginner", as opposed to being good for an advanced student.

July 21, 2017, 10:14 AM · Indeed re: bow hold Lydia! What worked for me even a few months ago as being "good" is now being further refined and improved upon. I assume that one day it will be less of a hurdle? I certainly don't know, which is why I am following what my teacher says, no matter how strange (comparatively speaking) it feels right now.

I agree with going with the flow of the teacher you are currently working with, then you can at least decide whether it works for you from first hand experience vs advice from strangers on the internet.

July 21, 2017, 12:47 PM · I took a couple of lessons from an excellent and well-known teacher here in the area and one of the first things she did was get me to change my chinrest and my bow hold. These changes have definitely benefited my playing. All I can suggest to the OP is that you have to decide who you can trust, or, at the very least, try what is being suggested and see what works. You can always change back later.
July 21, 2017, 4:29 PM · Asking a student to *change* a chinrest may be quirky, may not be, but asking a student who is playing without a chinrest to add a chinrest is not quirky at all. It is mainstream.

I would have to see the OP playing with his current setup to have an opinion on the rest. I will say that I have had students question my judgment regarding requested position changes, which always came as a bit of a surprise considering how very much more I know about such things than did these particular students.

Edited: July 21, 2017, 4:44 PM · Well, this all is in the realm of speculation with only a few details to chew on... who is in the know and who isn't?
One of my teachers (chamber music) used to say that a toddler struggles with a spoon, misses, spills and then eventually learns how to eat or stays hungry. While I am not a fan of self-taught fiddling school, a good, or a great teacher does not misuse "magister dixit", but rather invites a student to introspection and greater awareness of complex interplay of muscles, ears, sense of touch and brain. This, in particular if the student is an adult.
I sometimes think that talent is nothing more but a natural awareness and sophisticated neural feedback, which inevitably leads to a faster progress in acquiring violin technique.
In other words, prescribing CR or SR or whatever out of authority, may save student a lot of trouble, bur obedience does not guarantee progress. It is more valuable if a student finds his/ her own way with a little guidance and inspired curiosity. (2 Canadian cents)
Edited: July 21, 2017, 5:56 PM · Rocky,

Interesting thoughts - I tend to strongly agree with that approach.

However, Mary's also has merits. Her approach would not work for me as a student, but I do know people who both want and need that sort of authority if they're going to make progress. This can be from a lack of confidence, a submissive personality, or any of a thousand and one reasons. It doesn't always have to do with respect for experience or someone thinking they know better than the teacher, rather it has to do with how you learn best and what sort of personality you have. When I question a teacher, disagree, or offer an alternative idea it isn't because I disagree with the teacher or believe I know better, but rather because I want to gain insight into their thought process. Part of learning from a specific person is learning how they think and approach problems. To me a dogmatic approach doesn't give that. For other people, it is exactly what they need. That said someone with no background in music is probably better off just listening and doing until they have a broader base of knowledge.

I think Jack, our OP, might be in that camp and might need some of Mary's style of instruction. I see the op as someone who doesn't quite have the confidence to just strike the idea down or stand up to a teacher to open discourse about why, and instead might be questioning their own motivations for playing without a shoulder rest or chin rest. They're at least unsure if they're still in the 'right', as subjective as that can be in an art. It is important to remember the op is young, and only has ~3 years experience on the violin. They may be playing at a highly advanced level for their years invested, but there is a large difference between technical prowess and experience.

I think that if the op were studying with this teacher for more than the aforementioned week they should do as they say. However, whereas they are not studying under this teacher any longer and it was a brief engagement, I think they should do as they're comfortable, with the caveat that perhaps they should at the very least attach a chin rest for a week or two and see if there is an improvement. If that is amenable to their playing maybe give the shoulder rest a try also. They might like it better with one or the other, or both, or end up preferring their 'naked' approach, but since someone who has authority said they should do it, there is value in at the least trying. The more important part of what a teacher offers is their experience - not always their technique or musicianship. While surely important parts of the relationship, they are secondary to seeing the world through the eyes of decades of experience.

(Just a few more outdated Canadians pennies)

July 21, 2017, 7:12 PM · When I was a teenager, my teacher (who I'd had for a while at that point) took a thoughtful look at my arms seemingly apropos of nothing during one lesson, and announced that he thought I needed a different chinrest, and that I should go to the violin-shop and try different ones until I found something more comfortable. He was right.

Later on as an adult, a different teacher suggested the same, and was also right. My physical set-up and body had changed enough in the intervening years from young teen to adult that I needed a different chinrest.

Asking for a CR/SR change doesn't really need anything more beyond a, "You don't look comfortable," or "You aren't relaxed" or "How you are holding the violin is interfering with you doing X well". That's about all the explanation necessary.

July 21, 2017, 10:30 PM · I don't think I'm any more dogmatic than most violin teachers, and I don't tell a student that they *must* get a particular CR or SR. Several times I have noticed that a student was naturally holding the violin with his/her chin on top of the tailpiece, and I have strongly suggested that that student consider changing to an over-the-tailpiece center mount chinrest (a style that I personally loathe because it is so uncomfortable for me). The students have, without exception, thanked me when they (sooner or later) got around to making the change because it was so much more comfortable for them.

Playing without a SR is not a big deal if the student is relaxed and is holding the violin correctly. Playing without a CR (I mean a non-Baroque violinist playing classical-romantic-modern repertoire with modern technique) is something more than unusual. I have never met anyone playing that way who was not a period specialist.

I appreciate a student who asks intelligent questions, and I can be persuaded when a student provides a compelling argument, but I find that lessons are much more productive when both the student and I are in agreement that I know more than the student does about how to play the violin. And the less experienced the student, the more likely it is that the student does not know what he does not know.

July 22, 2017, 5:19 AM · Mary Ellen,

I trust that you know more abut teaching that I do .... my comment was of a general nature, not really an answer to your previous post.
I am puzzled with cases of great performers who are poor teachers. Teaching methodology is of utmost importance, but I am not sure it is studied in detail.
If I am not mistaken, Nathan Milstein once said during the interview that his teacher did not explain anything to him - Milstein was instructed to "figure it out on his own".
As you stated, it depends on the student... and if I may add, a good teacher will not apply a "cookie-cutter" approach to every single student, but adjust teaching methods to student's personality.

July 22, 2017, 2:31 PM · The OP might be a country music fiddler who holds his instrument at breast level in which case both CR and SR are useless.
July 22, 2017, 7:07 PM · A country music fiddler who warms up on Bruch?
July 23, 2017, 6:23 PM · Hi Mary;

Sorry, I didn't really choose well with the word dogmatic. I meant that from previous posts you appear to prefer a top-down teaching style. Nothing wrong with that, but dogmatic is the wrong word.

I frequently post from work (hence inactive on the weekends) and don't always get the best word choice or proof read as well as I ought to! Usually it's a small grammar error, but in this case poor word choice had a large chance to skew perception of my post.

I felt it was important to clarify this because I have found your posts informative in the past and defiantly do not want you to think I implied a slight or was making a negative comment about you - perceived or in reality. I have massive respect for anyone who bothers to pass on a skill as complicated as musicianship.

Hope you're well :)

July 23, 2017, 9:48 PM · Thanks, Michael, I appreciate that. :-)

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