Fixing my set-up. Or not.

Edited: November 21, 2017, 1:25 PM · I've got set-up issues.

In the past I've played without a shoulder rest (which quasi-worked due to my short neck but really seemed to hinder my shifting and vibrato). I own a Kreddle and messed around with it a bit on my old instrument but it seemed to cause a buzz (something was loose) and wasn't very comfortable, so I didn't explore its full potential.

I'm currently using a chin rest that I suspect is too far left of center and may not fit my chin, as well as a Comford shoulder cradle which is the first thing that has really managed to anchor my violin and free up my left hand.

When I last took lessons ~ spring 2016, the teacher thought this setup was fine and didn't address it at all. But there's still tension in my left shoulder and pain in my right middle back. I really hear it in my bowing and at times (still) in my vibrato.

It's something I've played around with for years but there are too many variables: shoulder rest (which kind?), no shoulder rest, various mounts and heights of chin rest, right-left orientation of my scroll, etc. I'm ready to put myself in the hands of a pro. But which pro?

The teacher I worked with was a seasoned, highly regarded university-level instructor. If she didn't see the problem, my hunch is a lot of other teachers wouldn't either.

Has anyone out there successfully addressed their setup issues? are there people in the Bay Area that you'd recommend? Is this a problem that I could address in a couple of sessions?

(I worry, perhaps irrationally, that I'll end up with a position so radically different that I need to rebuild my technique from scratch.)

Replies (56)

November 21, 2017, 1:28 PM · I'd have to see the situation in person to know what the issue is, but pain is never good. Sometimes there's just nothing you can do about a bit of tension, but overwhelming tension needs to be addressed.

I hate comfords. I've wanted them to work so many times but they just never do what they seem like they should, and the heaviness is a problem. I highly recommend a Bon Musica instead of a comford if you want your violin to be free of your left hand. It's lighter and also way better in every way.

Once again, I'd just have to see you in person. I'm in Sacramento, BUT I must warn you, I'm a 4th-rate teacher!

If you don't want to drive here, please at least post a picture of your violin up on your shoulder, with your head in a neutral position (not pressing on the chinrest).

November 21, 2017, 1:35 PM · Just discovered this website: http://www.violinistinbalance.nl/index.html

Haven't looked through it yet but thought it could be useful to others with similar questions.

Erik, thanks for the offer! I'm working up to the point where I'm willing to post photos/videos here. Not quite as courageous as you. :-) If I can't find someone in the immediate vicinity I may come visit you.

November 21, 2017, 1:36 PM · I second Erik on the fact that pain is never good.
I’m no expert on setup, but have been having problems with mine as well, so I’m trying something new now.
Following recommendations from this forum (and Magic Posture), I’m going to experiment with the Wolf Secondo Forte as a shoulder rest, still waiting for it to get shipped home.
It is described as very customizable, and people seem to like it.
If just the rest is not enough, I’m also going to try the Tika chinrest, as I have a long neck, and this is a higher chinrest.
I’ve tried to go shoulderrest-less, but it just doesn’t work for me.
November 21, 2017, 1:45 PM · I really only need one photo; it doesn't need to be a performance video like mine or anything like that. You can even blur out your face. I just need to see your basic setup, how the violin/shoulder rest sits on the shoulder, and the distance from the chin to the chinrest when your head is neutral. Make sure to be holding the violin at the leftward angle that you would when you play.

Of course, this won't tell me anything about your shoulder mobility or a variety of other important factors, but it would be a good start.

November 21, 2017, 1:51 PM · I don't want to endorse this product ( https://fiddlershop.com/the-impressionist-chin-rest-comforter.html ), but I do have one, although I've never actually used it because I did discover my perfect-fit chinrest model some 50 years ago (but I did do one heat-and-mold test to see how it works). But the "Impressionist" might be a good way to get YOUR perfect contour chinrest pattern. I suspect the weight it adds to a wooden chinrest might spoil an instrument's tone, but it might help in the search for the right chinrest design.

I don't think you can count on violin teachers in general to necessarily delve into violin accessories. Some might. I did when I taught because of my own experience.

I know many elderly life-long violinists who seem to have settled for the chinrests that came mounted on their instruments and then just worked around them with pads, shoulder rests and never tackled the real problems. I have not been one of them since I was 30.

November 21, 2017, 2:02 PM · I have found that oftentimes, the highest-level-performing teachers know the least about accessories, because everything has always worked well enough for them due to talent, so they stay "vanilla" in their setup.

Of course this is not ALWAYS the case, but simply what I've observed in general.

Edited: November 21, 2017, 2:42 PM · My theory is that, much like in athletics (swimmer's bodies, thin ankles in marathoners, levels of IGF-1 or PPAR, or lack of myostatin) high achieving violinists are simply a select bunch. Ideal body proportions and size, muscle type, comfort on our awkward instrument give them an advantage. At each stage of the evolution of violin playing, technology and technique have allowed more varied people to be comfortable earlier in the process, and join the ranks.

I used to have quite a conventional hold, using red sponges, quite flat and elbow tucked well under, until I injured my left shoulder about 10 years ago. I'll write in more detail later, but I had to completely change setup. It's not yet perfect (I hope to tweak some more in the coming weeks) but allows me to play quite a heavy work schedule without injury, though there is still some discomfort with high volume. More soon...

November 21, 2017, 2:43 PM · Ifshin's was actually very helpful to me. They let me try their whole (extensive) inventory of chinrests and shoulder-rests until I found a combination that worked for me.

Later on I got a bit more customization when the folks at Kamimoto in San Jose cut down the legs of a Mach One for me, to make it lower.

I really like the unusual chinrest that my current violin came with (no one has successfully identified it to date), but I've had trouble finding the right shoulder-rest for it. I use a Korfker currently, but it's not 100% the right fit.

November 21, 2017, 2:50 PM · Alexander Lessons could help as well.
November 21, 2017, 3:04 PM · This is such a variable subject. For me, I settled on a center Flesch chinrest, no shoulder rest, and a more level and left pointing position along the lines of Anne Sophie Mutter, but without the bare shoulder. It is supported by my collarbone and back of my jawbone solidly, but without squeezing and ‘cringing’ or tilting, so my neck is neutral (my chiropractor concurs that it is not an unnatural position.) I cut down my viola rest to match the violin height within a few millimeters and I play a smaller/lighter viola. My collarbone and jaw are solid enough to prevent the rolling that many experience without a shoulder rest. I use a low Peter Mach Mach One for both only when I’m not well as I don’t like the response of either instrument with any brand of rest.
In past years, I played Guarneri and Vermeer before getting an Augsberg with integrated shoulder rest and experimenting with placement, tilt, and height. The adjustable rest (like your kreddle) is how I settled on my current setup. Thanks Anne Sophie!!!
November 21, 2017, 3:10 PM · This setup solved several issues: 1. My right arm could get lazy and fall out of position as I tired. 2. Placement on the strings (tilt and lane) is more controlled with a more level table. 2a. My right hand is better able to do more subtle changes in bow. 3. Both instruments (violin viola) opened up in resonance without the shoulder rest. 4. I don’t get neck cracking / discomfort. 5. I can hear myself better when things around me get loud, which also helps intonation. 6. The instrument doesn’t slip out of position as much.
November 21, 2017, 3:11 PM · My violin teacher has been quite deliberate about chin rest-shoulder rest setup. I found a combination that works well for me within the last few years. It may not be 100%, but I don't play with pain or discomfort. I'm happy with my chin rests, but have messed with the height of my shoulder rests a lot to maximize comfort. I think teachers need to ensure a good chin rest-shoulder rest setup in order for their students to reach their own potential.
November 21, 2017, 5:38 PM · I found going restless resolved most of my setup issues. If you aren't holding the violin right, you'll drop it or can't play anything. It forces you into the right position out of necessity.

Rafael Klayman (a regular poster here) has a great article on his website about playing restless that I found to be very helpful, along with some old threads here from half a decade or more ago.

November 21, 2017, 5:47 PM · Jason, with all due respect, may I ask you how far your left elbow is able to pivot inward? I've found that those who are capable of comfortably playing restless have excellent left shoulder mobility.

On the A and E strings I can play restless, but D and G are extremely difficult for me.

I try every single week to play restless. Different chinrest, different setups, different everything. I'm hindered by the fact that I don't have a nice "shelf-y" collarbone, combined with the fact that my shoulder mobility sucks. Put those two together, and it becomes nearly impossible to play any difficult repertoire without a shoulder rest.

November 21, 2017, 10:00 PM · The choice of going restless or not depends largely on physique (except Baroque performance).
November 21, 2017, 10:01 PM · Every body is different.
Edited: November 22, 2017, 4:46 AM · If I may... I find the seemingly perpetual search of the "perfect" chinrest and shoulder rest puzzling. It is not like they are A-B-C by decree of Saint Stradivarius.
I don't use a shoulder rest (any of them puts the violin at my lips...) but for the chinrest I just took it out, put a plastic bag in the butt of the instrument and a big mass of putty (plasticine) on top. I did several tries of position of the violin, of the face, of the position of the bulk of the putty until I got the combination I found most comfortable and that's the mold I am taking to a woodworker to make MY chinrest. I guess the worst that can happen is to try different woods with the same shape.
I suppose the same idea can be used for the shoulder rest.
What I mean is that there is no need to adapt ourselves to whatever the market has, they are not rocket science. Make a mold, find someone with woodworking machines and ask them to make them. It might be even cheaper to the current options and they will be for life...
November 22, 2017, 10:34 AM · Carlos, I think the challenge for me is that what may feel most natural at the moment isn't necessarily the most ergonomically correct. And I don't trust my inclinations. I've adapted my technique to my equipment instead of the other way around. I worry about the whole damn house of cards coming apart if I change one thing. Obviously this is all the more reason to deal with it.

What really jumps out at me from this thread and others is that the answers are not super obvious, teachers are sometimes but not always going to be positioning experts, and that this is a huge gap/need in the violin community that isn't being obviously filled by anyone. Violin shops, Alexander technicians, teachers, etc. each hold a piece of the puzzle but there's not really a one-stop shop to help you adapt the ergonomics of your instrument to your unique body. If I were more of an entrepreneur I'd say this was an opportunity.


November 22, 2017, 11:49 AM · "What really jumps out at me from this thread and others is that the answers are not super obvious"

That's because we don't have a PICTURE!!!!


Essentially, experienced teachers ARE one-stop shops, or at least they're supposed to be. My studio is filled with different shoulder rests and chinrests, for example. I used to dream about a brick-and-mortar shop that had EVERY shoulder rest and chinrest imaginable. But I'm afraid that would be a bit niche and would quickly go out of business. One could opt for an online store where there was a "fitting expert" on hand, but then they would still need to see you in person to truly give you a good fit.

If you contact Frisch and Denig at http://chinrests.com/ they have a list of people - including some in the bay area - who have ordered their "fitting kit" which allows them to find the ideal height of chinrest and the ideal type of chinrest for your body.

However, they don't believe in shoulder rests as far as I know, so you will end up being fitted with a custom chinrest that will NOT work with a shoulder rest, since it is too high.

You really just need to experiment quite a bit, preferably with a teacher that has also experimented. They need to be able to ask you "does this still hurt? Does that feel better?" While slapping on various combos of shoulder rests, at various angles. There are so many variables here that the list is essentially infinite.

You know you can send shoulder rests back if you order them from some shops, like Shar, so that would allow you to try some different ones. Given your statement about pain in your middle right back and tension in the left shoulder, I'm thinking you're just holding your violin way too far to the left. I can ALMOST confirm this by simply knowing that you're using a comford shoulder rest.

If this was the case, you may benefit from just getting a less-curved rest, like a Viva La Musica, and holding the violin in front of you more.

November 22, 2017, 12:43 PM · Erik, you might be right about holding my violin too far to the left. But I think I have limited rotational ability in my left arm/shoulder (residue of a broken/frozen shoulder back in 2005) and I'm pretty sure my hand frame suffers when I move the scroll to the right, especially on the G string (really hard to align knuckles with neck and play with a curved/non-flat 4th finger).

One thing about the Comford that I like is its utter stability. I used to use Kun rests and they would pop off, sometimes while I was playing. I was probably exerting too much vertical pressure on the instrument (see, there's this chicken-egg technique-equipment thing I'm contending with) but the net result was insecurity. Does the Viva la Musica feel similarly stable?

Edited: November 22, 2017, 12:56 PM · Also/again, I think about the bike industry for analogies.

Casual cyclists will buy bikes based on the online sizing guide and be done. They might raise or lower the saddle but otherwise will just ride.

But for the racer and elite/pampered weekend warrior, there's a whole industry that's sprung up around bike fitting. People spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars to sit on a stationary bike and have someone analyze their unique body geometry, pedal stroke, flexibility, etc. for the optimal positioning (and even optimal means different things for different people: some are going for comfort, others for efficiency, others for aerodynamics). The variables (not including frame size) include stem length, stem height, saddle fore-aft positioning, saddle width, saddle height, cleat positioning (on bike shoes), and probably more that I'm not considering.

Coaches don't do this, for the most part (except for the really famous ones who have training centers). They lack the equipment. Bike shops will *say* they provide this service, but not at the same level, as most of them can't afford highly trained salespeople (and frankly it's not in their interest to have customers spending a ton of time dithering over customized parts–the margins are too thin). It tends to be the province of physical therapists who have developed a specialty in cycling.

I'm guessing that there aren't as many people like this for violinists–but it's not clear to me why. Professionals don't necessarily get paid much (neither do cycling pros!) but a functional, non-injured body is essential. And there's a non-trivial community of adult amateurs and ambitious parents, especially in metro areas like the SF Bay, Boston, DC, who could in theory provide thriving business. Is this just not a problem people know they have?

Edited: November 22, 2017, 1:57 PM · There is a growing number of body work specialists and string teachers/professional musicians who help fit the setup to the player so the equipment works for the player, not the other way around. They have experience working with children, adult amateurs, college/graduate school level string students and professional players, with a focus on:

1. Systematically "fitting" a chinrest of the appropriate height, shape, and position on the instrument for a given player and recommending an appropriate shoulder pad, if needed.
2. Identifying where the player's body is out of alignment and helping the player learn to connect how the body works with how one plays efficiently.
3. Using the chinrest to keep the body and instrument in balance while playing.

Just to name a few cities where such help can be found:

Utrecht, The Netherlands -- Crissman Taylor
London, UK -- Claudio Forcada
Boston -- Regina Campbell
New York City -- Claire Stefani
Philadelphia area -- Barbara Greenberg
Washington, DC/Baltimore, MD -- Lynne Denig
Chicago -- Andrew McCann
Los Angeles -- Mei Chang
San Francisco -- Oscar Perez, Elbert Tsai
Bloomington, IN -- Brenda Brenner
Knoxville, TN -- Hillary Herndon
Lansing, MI -- Judy Palac
Ann Arbor, MI -- Rebecca Hunter


November 22, 2017, 1:38 PM · The violin industry is probably 1/100th of the size of the bike industry. If that. Actually probably way less.

Even in a metro area, how many violin students do you think exist? And of that small number, how many do you think are serious enough to be thinking about their setup at all, let alone willing to go to a physical location and pay extra money to have their setup evaluated? Most students already consider this to be the job of the teacher, whether or not the teacher is actually competent in that area (and what teacher is going to admit when they don't know how to set up a student properly?).

The thing is, setup is more complicated that just taking measurements. It's also dependent on how much freedom the student needs/prefers, which is often directly correlated to how "full" the void between the chin and shoulder/chest is, via the shoulder rest. In other words, a form-fitted shoulder rest and chinrest that "perfectly" fills that space will inevitably lead to a lack of freedom with the violin itself. On the other hand, if we underfill the space, it could lead to pain issues or security issues.

So because all of these considerations/experimentations are done far more efficiently by the supercomputer that is the human brain, it makes way more sense to simply go to a competent teacher with setup experience, rather than a shop with lots of fancy equipment.

There are also at least 10 other reasons that the shop would fail business-wise, but I'm not going to write a full on essay about how much it wouldn't work. Just trust me when I say that - mainly because of overhead - the shop wouldn't be financially feasible, as opposed to a competent private teacher.


Ok, my last and best recommendation based on what you've said so far: go order the "suretone" shoulder rest. This has the security of the comford combined with the pliability/freedom of a sponge, combined with a high level of experimentations potential (customizability).

I should also mention that I'm starting to think your biggest issue isn't your setup, as much as it is your mindset. You seem really terrified to experiment because you're afraid it will somehow ruin your technique and you'll have to relearn everything. Yes, you'll have to spend a couple weeks adjusting, but it's not like you have to restart with Twinkle Twinkle every time you change shoulder rests. You should know by now that the TENET of violin improvement is being willing to take some perceived steps back in order to make actual steps forward.

Edited: November 22, 2017, 2:09 PM · isn't the viva la musica something like a pound of steel and foam rigged up like a weightlifting station. I'm sure that you'll notice a difference in sound, but at least it will be as secure as that old night retainer headbrace some of us wore as kids. That is, at least until it falls off and hits the floor. Sorry VLM. Not my cup of steel.
November 22, 2017, 4:09 PM · Erik, I am able to bring my left shoulder around and forward. Rafael’s article explains how to do this, and it is essential. I also have a nice protruding collar bone in which to set the violin after doing this. But, I only use a tiny sliver of it to balance the end of the violin on, my left hand does the rest to hold up the fiddle. My shoulders do nothing, which allows them to remain disengaged and relaxed.
November 22, 2017, 4:20 PM · Jason, out of curiosity... if you place a stick across your collar bones (the inside ends, where they attach to the sternum) where does the stick intersect your shoulders?
Edited: November 22, 2017, 7:51 PM · Interesting question. I just lined my bow up to check, and it looks like it doess’t intersect at all when i’m at rest, and when bringing my left arm into playing position that line barely grazes the front of my left shoulder, although it still may barely miss, hard to tell absolutely precisely on my own.

How do some of you compare regarding the line? We talk about different hand geometry all the time but not collar bone and shoulder geometry.

Also, regarding my setup, for the purposes of full disclosure, I use a 3 sq ft chamois folded up twice into a square and place it on my collar bone and neck. It lifts the violin slightly and helps it to not slip. I also use a Hill-style mount Guarneri CR, but I only use the tiny center part. I should probably get a new chin rest that makes more sense given my center chin placement.

November 22, 2017, 7:56 PM · A VLM Diamond is a fairly lightweight shoulder-rest, comparable to a Kun. Like all rests that have rubber-grip legs, there's a slight damping effect; the more tightly the rubber clamps, the more this is noticeable.

But we're talking a difference that will be imperceptible to a listener five feet away.

November 22, 2017, 8:16 PM · Hey thanks for checking that, Jason. For me the stick is about an inch above the tip of my shoulders. I believe the height of the collar bones above the shoulder socket is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, factors contributing to comfort (or lack thereof.) For some the stick intersects almost at the ball and socket joint itself, and the clavicles are angled quite steeply, so the fiddle truly just sits there.

Not saying it will pose a problem for you, but having the shoulder forward was a big problem for me by the time I hit my late 30s and regularly playing 30+ hours/wk.

November 22, 2017, 9:44 PM · My collarbone almost doesn't exist as far as my violin is concerned, to the extent that I'd have to shove - quite hard - the violin back into my neck for it to sit on the collarbone. Otherwise it slips forward onto the shoulder. And trust me, I've put in dozens of hours attempting different ways of making the restless setup work for me. Even when my shoulder is free and relaxed (due to using a shoe lace to TIE the violin back into my neck so it wouldn't fall onto my shoulder), my shoulder mobility prevents me from playing on the G with proficiency.
Edited: November 23, 2017, 6:42 AM · Katie, Body in Balance is a good website, lots of good information. Our body shapes are all so different and what works for me may not work for you. There have been some excellent suggestions and I would like to add one more site to check out if you are still looking. wavechinrest.com. Randall Olson is very helpful and very much into body balance. He makes very short chinrests to tall ones, which is what I use. Good luck in your search.
November 23, 2017, 3:03 PM · Edward - the VLM diamond is not steel. It is made from maple with a layer of foam. And the feet are mounted in springy legs so it is much less prone to falling of than the Kun rest. I think you are referring to the Bon Musica rest which is a big rest made from steel and has a hook going around the shoulder. I never tried it myself. I have used the VLM Diamond for years until I got the Pirastro Korfker rest about a year ago. That rest is extremely light, but I am still not sure it is the best solution for me. Too much hook, so there is a risk it locks the violin too much. I also have the wave chinrest from Randall Olson. I got the Wave 2, but am starting to think I should have gotten Wave 1 that looks like it has a more pronounced edge. It is always possible to add another chinrest to the collection.....
November 24, 2017, 11:47 AM · You guys! This is great and helpful information. I'm still not quite sure where to start. I guess I'll reach out to my local luthier and find out what he has in stock. It's tempting to start ordering everything online and messing around at home but it would be great to rule out some things off the bat.

One thing that I worry about is the same thing Erik described: a lot of the ergonomic experts seem to be in the business of fitting custom chin rests and discouraging shoulder rest usage. It's a big up-front investment for something that may or may not work. (I've seen people like Smiley play restless and then go back so it seems to not work for everyone, even those who give it a solid try.)

I do try to play restless from time to time and seem to manage only by tensing up my left shoulder to a painful degree (and violin still ends up too far to the left). I'll go read Raphael's website and try again.

Erik, I took some pictures, although I think that the act of self-photography might have messed with my position. Here's one: https://photos.app.goo.gl/7fxM6Jc2UEkm2bzo1

November 24, 2017, 12:16 PM · I've been pleased with the Acoustagrip

( https://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=acoustagrip&tag=googhydr-20&index=aps&hvadid=178319462285&hvpos=1t1&hvnetw=g&hvrand=9393262306267258982&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=e&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9032089&hvtargid=kwd-68893904816&ref=pd_sl_6zamyrpvhw_e )

and carry one in my double violin/viola case. Mine is a low-hight (not thick) soloist one that I bought from SHAR, but they don't seem to be advertising that size at this time.

I was carrying both violin and viola shoulder rests in the case - but I don't always want to use any rest. This rest sticks to the back and peels off easily - and since a colleague was using one on his $150,000 Enrico Rocca I think one need not worry about any damage. I can hear no effect on the tone of my instruments - and it is a single item inside the case with no hard bits that might do damage. So there are days when I need no shoulder rest at all, days when I find the Acoustagrip helpful, and days when I find a "hard" shoulder rest works - but not always the same one. Oh! to be young again !!!

So many professional orchestra violinists and soloists use shoulder rests these days that the onus should be on those who vehemently oppose them like the short-necked teachers of 70-100 years ago rather than on those who find such aids to be useful. Finding a chinrest that conforms to your jaw, on the other hand, is very worthwhile.

November 24, 2017, 2:48 PM · Katie, I honestly can't tell a ton from your picture since it is so far away and much of the setup is obstructed. In an ideal situation, I would be able to see under the violin in one picture, and over in another. The more angles, the better.

With that said, I get a feeling that you would benefit from trying a violin sponge, secured with rubber bands, specifically this one:

https://www.amazon.com/Players-Economy-Foam-Violin-Shoulder/dp/B000EEHDBG


Then, I would try experimenting with putting your chin further to the LEFT of the back of the violin, like you're trying to put your chin more on the "cup" part of the chinrest.

The comford is making it so you have to lift your left arm very high in order to make it over the strings, which I suspect is the source of some of your pain. It is amplifying this by flattening the overall angle of the violin, which might be a problem if you have limited shoulder mobility.

Definitely try the basic sponge that I linked, as it's a very cheap experiment and, unlike a regular shoulder rest, will allow you to place the violin in multiple different place to see what's comfortable. A rigid shoulder rest will generally limit you to one or two positions. The sponge is not necessarily a long term solution, as it requires rubber bands and dampens the sound somewhat, but it will allow you to explore a lot of different options comfortably. I would not personally get the "acoustagrip" sponge, as I find it's a bit too rigid to experiment with different positions, and still doesn't have the security of something that uses rubber bands.

Let me know how that goes. I wish I'd tried sponges a loooonnnnggggg time ago instead of buying a dozen different shoulder rests.

Oh and by the way, if you're looking for a setup that allows you to hold the violin perfectly level with only your chin and without the input of your left hand - stop. You ideally only want your setup to allow you to upshift and downshift, as well as vibrato, without the violin pulling away from you. But the violin should be supported at minimum 1-2" upwards with only the left hand, so that if you were to lower your left hand, the violin would also lower. Does that make sense? If you create a "diving board" setup where the violin stiffly sticks out without left hand input, then you will not have the freedom necessary to play nicely and without built-in tension.

November 25, 2017, 8:34 PM · Hey Katie, you might be interested in these articles:

https://www.thestrad.com/4053.tag

Haven't looked at them in depth, but they look promising.

"When we watch very good players, we can observe different bow grips, positions, etc. It is not as much a matter of position but of the inner kinesthetic feeling and directions: What remains the same is their freedom of movement and being in balance." [https://www.thestrad.com/elements-of-alexander-technique-discovering-a-natural-approach-to-string-playing/2044.article]

November 26, 2017, 12:55 AM · Agree. Key is relaxation. Somehow Hillary Hahn is relaxed with that huge shoulder rest of hers, so it works for her. But if you can play restless, I recommend it. The violin was invented and perfected before the shoulder rest, after all.
November 26, 2017, 1:32 AM · You could make the same argument about pre-chinrest violins, Jason, regarding the violin being perfected before the shoulder rest.
November 26, 2017, 6:14 AM · I am finding that where I thought I was relaxed I am in fact tense. This being the case I susoect that most people who have problems with their "set-up" simply have not learned how to relax.
November 26, 2017, 12:56 PM · Body awareness is very important Jessy, but I recommend against blanket statements unless you have the experience to back it up (meaning more than just your own experience).
November 26, 2017, 1:20 PM · Erik, I had in mind the changes in technique that accompanied the introduction of the chin rest (or that followed it). Has there been any new techniques developed because of the SR? Not saying it isn’t needed in some cases, but ubiquity comparable with the CR doesn’t seem to have the same technical justification absent unique body geometry.

Anyway, sorry all. I am turning this into one of those threads. I just had such a positive experience with switching to restless I just want to share the good news sometimes;)

November 26, 2017, 4:32 PM · Literally everyone's body geometry is "unique." In fact, I would argue that it takes a very niche body geometry to be able to play comfortably without a rest, rather than the opposite.

Playing restless is definitely "the key" for some. However, I think that experimentation is the universal key to finding comfort.

I have several factors that work against me when attempting to play restless (even though I WANT it to work more than anything, which is why I keep trying). These factors are: longish neck, having a beard, deep-set collarbone (not a shelf), natural forward neck tilt, poor shoulder mobility, short 4th finger and very long 2nd finger, long thumb which is far away from my other fingers (although the long thumb is helpful in very high positions).

However, I have students who have short necks, no beards, and acceptable shoulder mobility, who absolutely love restless playing and who seem to benefit from it.


Regarding technique development, ABSOLUTELY the technique has changed since the popularization of the shoulder rest, just as it changed with the advent of the chinrest. Please analyze the technique of someone like Hillary Hahn vs an older player, such as David Oistrakh, and you will see a profound difference in overall technique. I mean, maybe the bow technique is the same, but I would argue even that has changed somewhat. All of that aside, "one standard technique" really doesn't exist anymore whatsoever. We simply do what works, because that is the smartest way to approach learning an inherently dynamic instrument with inherently varying anatomies. Just as - many years ago - we got rid of the concept of having to learn piano before learning violin, or that violin shouldn't be started until 8 years old, we have also done away with the fallacy of "one proper technique"...... - actually, as I wrote that, I realized that it's obvious we HAVEN'T entirely done away with that fallacy, because there are still plenty of people that claim there is "one true way" to play. But, it's a fallacy nonetheless. Proper technique is simply what allows the particular student to produce the best sound in the most comfortable way, in the greatest range of repertoire.

The violin certainly has not been "perfected" until it is able to be played comfortably by a very large range of anatomies. There is still much work and evolution to be done. Yes, the tonal aspect of the instrument was perfected a long time ago, but the ergonomic aspect still has quite a way to go before we can say that it's been perfected - and in this context, "perfected" means comfortably accessible to a very wide range of the population, just as piano is.

I think the biggest cause of the fallacies that are developed in any performance field - violin being one of them - is that we tend to look at the best performers and want to replicate what they're doing. How many times have we heard "well it was good enough for Heifetz!" or "Well it worked for Paganini!" ? And then those performers often reinforce this idea because they teach in the way that worked for them. Since they never struggled with their anatomy, they assume everyone else can do it the way they do it. And when someone CAN'T, they just disregard them entirely as players, either claiming that the student didn't work hard enough or that they simply weren't meant to play at a high level. "The talented can only teach the talented" is my personal belief. I'm not very talented as a player, and therefore I can relate much more to the plights of less talented players and am willing to compromise heavily on my idea of what a "perfect technique" looks like.

Anyways, I think you probably already know and agree with most of this, but I wanted to state it in case someone else stumbles across all of this and thinks "AH, so restless is the key!" We have to prevent the spread of rumors like that and be very, very clear that just because it worked for us, it doesn't mean it will work for anyone else.

We should also be more careful about implying that only "unique" anatomies must use a setup that involves rests. As I stated before, everyone's anatomy is unique and to have an anatomy that is ideal for a restless setup is actually the rarity, whereas using some degree of "equipment" such as shoulder rests or pads is the norm. This is also part of the reason we have a LOT more good violinists nowadays than we used to; our equipment has opened up the instrument to a lot more potential players who may have otherwise struggled immensely and quit early on.

November 27, 2017, 2:55 PM · So, last night I played chamber music with friends and messed around with my position. I found myself tending up way more when going restless, with the red cosmetic sponge coming in second place. Of course, I wasn't standing before a mirror and consciously modifying my position. In general, my left hand seems to struggle with the complexity of both holding up the instrument and relaxing enough for vibrato. I have a wrist vibrato and tend to leave space between the neck and my knuckles in order to free it fully in first position. (Holy alliteration!)

Will experiment more and report back.

November 27, 2017, 3:23 PM · Katie, a rehearsal - even a casual one - is the worst time for experimentation. You need a situation where you can work from the ground up with the new setup; that means open strings, simple scales, etc...
November 27, 2017, 3:54 PM · Another shoulder rest that I found utile at one time was the Acoustifoam ( http://www.acoustifoamshoulderrests.com ). Despite it's name it is not foam, but it is designed to minimize it's contact area with the back of the instrument. It attaches to the instrument with rubber bands.

Also, I must say that I found Erik Williams' philosophy and teaching practice most refreshing. I really appreciate the liberal open-mindedness that welcomes more and more practitioners to music making.

Edited: November 27, 2017, 9:44 PM · I think I've had most of my breakthrough 'aha' moments in performance and sometimes rehearsals in those moments of clarity. Sh*t happens in performance you often can't anticipate in practice. Of course it's important to do the kind of work Erik suggests. But you do have to test it out in 'real world' situations, and take newly gleaned data back to the drawing board.

Also for someone with Katie's experience I'd suggest lots of exercises covering full range motions, playing all over the fingerboard, full bow strokes, building up to spending more and more time high on the G and E strings. That's the only way you can determine if a setup will prove adequate.

I suspect most students don't do this kind of work soon enough and so get stuck in an inadequate setup only to find out it no longer works as they progress.

November 27, 2017, 9:54 PM · Yes, as Jeewon said. Basically, you need to make sure your setup works as a "least common denominator" for all of your playing needs.

With that said, the reason I say to start with open bows and simple scales is because if the setup doesn't work well for the simple stuff, it definitely won't work well for the complex stuff. So starting each new setup with more basic skill testing is a faster way of getting through the setups that WON'T work for you.

Once you find a setup that feels very comfy for the simple stuff, then "put it through the wringer" by attempting more complicated things, such as single-string 2 octave scales and 3 octave arpeggios, dimininshed 7ths, etc... to see if it also works for those things. Then of course, the next step would be pieces that are technically challenging for you (Whatever that might be, maybe solo bach for you?).

Edited: November 27, 2017, 10:34 PM · Actually Erik, I think the opposite is true. First position is more awkward than say 5th position from a setup perspective, because it's more outstretched. High positions should be comfortable for the arm, because it's close to the body, except for any twisting we might do to get over the bout. But if we can find a setup which is comfortable in higher positions, on the G-string, and especially 5th position, we're well on our way to finding a good setup for lower positions as well.

I think it's problematic to get comfortable in 1st and almost develop a phobia about climbing over 5th, and playing in 7th and beyond.

When I say full range I too mean start with simple and get more complex, but by simple I mean basics for setup needs, which is big shifts and full bows: e.g. octave shifts from the notes in first position should be started as soon as a student is able to pitch correct; finding 5th and 7th blind (as you'd find 1st and 3rd) should be done fairly early on as well. But I take your meaning about simple vs. reading quartets. I think you need that time in the studio becoming more and more aware to be able to sense what's going on in the heat of the moment. So it's a cyclical, back and forth process.

Edited: November 28, 2017, 12:18 AM · Took a look and your setup does look pretty good for what it is--a static hold. It'd be more helpful to see some action :) shifting, vibrato, interaction with the bow, etc. But from what I can tell, your left shoulder might be pushed a bit forward. I think shoulder 'deviation' from neutral is more problematic when you have a rigid shoulder rest which doesn't 'give' to the shoulders motions--though for me it was a problem with red sponges too. Also, in the short time you start shooting to when you look at your phone your torso and hips seem to rotate/twist a bit. Rotational (mis)alignment can contribute to stuckness and possible pain.

While standing I've discovered a slightly pigeon toed stance (boxer's stance,) especially the left toe (left hip internal rotation) pointing inside the angle of the violin, helps prevent the hips from drifting right. While sitting, I've found it useful to raise and lower the shoulder blades onto the back of the chair to be more aware of shoulders twisting; keep the left shoulder blade almost pushing into the back of the chair to keep it from pushing forward and up into the fiddle.

I think one of the biggest discoveries for me was spinal coordination. After I had had some success aligning my neck and balancing my head (forward and up in AT language) I still felt tightness and some pain in between my shoulder blades. After some time I discovered exercises for mobilizing the thoracic spine, and I realized I held my thorax flexed all the time, which antagonized the forward/up motion of the head (also any motion in the hips,) which caused tension in the mid back. Add rotation, or side bending, to focus that tension to one side.

Feeling proper coordination in the spine has helped: when pelvis tilts forward (anterior tilt) it pushes the spine up, which extends the thoracic spine, which pushes up and extends the neck, which, if you feel it push up through the top of your head, balances the head forward and up; when pelvis tilts backward (posterior tilt) it pulls the spine down, flexes the thoracic spine, pulls the neck down and throws the head backward and down ('C' curve.) Anterior tilt is typically seen as a negative position as it's thought to compress the lumbar spine, but that only happens when you leave the thorax compressed. So common wisdom proposes a 'neutral' stance, which, while good as a ready stance for sport, isn't the most released position for the spine. Instead of the proposed, neutral 'S' curve of the spine, Esther Gokhale suggests a 'J' curve is the most relaxed, stacked, stable position for the spine:

Thoracic Spine Mobility:

Another Mobility Video for Thoracic Spine:

Once you have good spinal coordination from hips to lumbar to thorax to neck to head, no position is so bad as long as it's reversible, and you can return to a stretched 'J' spine. You'll also have better mobility in the shoulders.

November 28, 2017, 12:27 PM · Katie, I spent hours in front of a full-length mirror working on my setup before I could play well restless. I still practice in front of a full length mirror every day, although I've gotten to the point now I only look when I'm trying to work on something new or improve something, especially with the right hand.

Erik, regarding Hillary Hahn vs Oistrakh: I think she plays well, but I don't think she plays better. I don't see anyone nowadays that really plays technically more proficiently than Szeryng, Oistrakh, young Perlman or Zukerman, but there are some that play equally well in some respects like Hahn or Gil Shaham, for example. In the past there were clear technical improvements that the greatest players made over the previous generations, but other than getting good at a younger age I'm not seeing any novel technique since the SR was widely adopted that requires a SR to execute well or even better than those older players who played restless. In comparison I don't think you can play the late romantic repertoire as well if you were playing without a CR as with a CR. The same can't really be said regarding the SR.

But, as I said, that's not to say it's not a good solution for some people. I think it's probably an over-prescribed solution, though. Of course, I could be wrong and the SR makes the romantic and modern repertoire accessible to the "masses", hare to prove either way...

November 28, 2017, 1:16 PM · Jason, I don't mean that Hahn plays better than Oistrakh. I'm saying that part of the reason she's able to play AS well as him (or close) is because she doesn't use his setup. If she did, then she would be uncomfortable, and would struggle to play easily.

It's a common statistics mistake to only take into account all of the people that HAVE succeeded without a rest, but it's much harder to take into account how many people found the instrument overly strenuous and thus never made it very far, or chose to play a different instrument. Typical confirmation bias. In addition, it would seem that most soloists and orchestra players nowadays use some form of shoulder rest, and I think that speaks to its effectiveness, in concordance with the overall higher number of good players that now exist. Don't get me wrong: I think that every player who has the physical traits that would allow them to play restless SHOULD play restless. What I'm arguing is that MOST people don't have those traits.

Less barriers to entry = more good players. Insisting on restless playing - or that rests are an over-used crutch - is a barrier to entry. The act of saying that "REAL ____ use ____" is called "gatekeeping" in colloquial terms. We should avoid gatekeeping at all costs, because it's stupid.

Are you really of the opinion that the overall technique hasn't changed since the popularization of the shoulder rest? I feel that we're living in two different realities if that's the case. The technique is VERY different, since a shoulder rest frees up our left thumb from having to support the neck 100% of the time, and from having to squeeze heavily with our necks to prevent the violin from pulling away from us on downshifts. A classic example of the "new technique" is Maxim Vengerov. Seriously, please observe his technique and tell me it's not vastly different from the "old masters" who played restless. I guarantee you can't find a player before 1970 that played with the same technique as Vengerov does.

You're correct that the best players nowadays aren't better than the best players 50 years ago. What you're NOT taking into account is how many MORE very good players we have now. Back then, there were only a few "masters." Now, there are a crapton of extremely good players. And I don't believe this is just due to starting at a younger age. I think that it's that there's less anatomical barrier-to-entry.

Edited: November 28, 2017, 2:12 PM · Katie B., I wonder where you are in the Bay Area? I ask because I play restless and I've developed a pad that I make myself, similar to commercial products like "Chin Cozy," but I think significantly improved for restless players. It really is the key to making restless playing so comfortable for me, along with an appropriate chinrest. I'm not looking to make or sell these things for anyone, but I'd be happy to show it to you and suggest a way you might get one. Do you have a sewing machine? I'm on the S.F. Peninsula. Contact me if you're interested.

Note: I'd post a picture of my pad here if it wasn't so awkward to do it on violinist.com. It's so easy to do on that other violin website. I can't understand why v.com can't be similarly accommodating.

November 28, 2017, 9:12 PM · "I don't believe this is just due to starting at a younger age. I think that it's that there's less anatomical barrier-to-entry."

Thanks Erik, I was afraid that it would be hard to identify why there is marked improvement in quality considering the numerous factors which have changed over time and recently, but narrowing it down to the use of shoulder rests certainly simplifies it.

November 28, 2017, 9:38 PM · J Ray: More shoulder rest options and more chinrest options open up an entirely new group of people to the possibility of playing violin who would have previously been anatomically inadequate for the demands of playing restless.

With that said, I think there are also many other factors at play which explain the increased number of good violinists nowadays. I don't mean to imply that shoulder rests are the only reason.

November 29, 2017, 12:01 AM · I've gone through a lot of different chinrests, shoulder-rests, restless playing, and set-up positions over the years. As I grew up, the relative size of instrument-to-arm-length changed, and my overall proportions and body shape changed. I had to accommodate (non-violin-related) injuries. Different things have worked at different times.

There was a time in my life when restless playing was comfortable. It's not any longer, as my body shape and proportions have changed. I don't particularly think that I was better off or worse off with or without a shoulder-rest at any time; I just changed when my teacher thought that I was starting to look uncomfortable.

November 30, 2017, 1:40 PM · Erik, you make good points, specially regarding confirmation bias.

However, do you mean the technique that Vengerov USED to play with? ;) He isn't the same player he was pre-injury for sure.

This video of Vengerov sticks in my mind:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bI-5HC9akW4

Even though his interpretation is too fast for my taste it is technically very impressive.

However, I'll go out on a limb and say I can't recall ever seeing a video of Heifetz or Szerying playing and looking as tense and uncomfortable as Vengerov does in this video. And they didn't have a career changing injury like he did. And it's clear to me that Vengerov could play restless if he wanted based on how relaxed he looks at the start, with no chin pressure on the violin, and I'd wager he could have probably play that piece almost as fast restless too (after acclimation, of course).

So, it's not statistical, but I think there are benefits to playing restless over time that might outweigh the marginal gains someone might get in tempo by playing with a rest.

Now, for those that can't play at all without a rest or play at a high level, that's another story as you rightly said, but I still contend that what Vengerov did isn't a technical breakthrough but simply just some extra flash to already existing technique. And he paid a price for it in the long run.

If you have a video of some technique you think is novel, please post something and a time stamp, as I'd love to better see what you're thinking of.


Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music

Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition

Pirastro Strings

International Violin Competition of Indianapolis

Yamaha V3 Series Violin

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Metzler Violin Shop

Gliga Violins

Corilon Violins

Meadowmount School of Music

Find The Song You Want To Play Next: StringClub

Anderson Musical Instrument Insurance

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Violin Lab

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop

Subscribe