Fixing my set-up. Or not.
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.)
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.
Just discovered this website: http://www.violinistinbalance.nl/index.html
I second Erik on the fact that pain is never good.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Alexander Lessons could help as well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The choice of going restless or not depends largely on physique (except Baroque performance).
Every body is different.
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.
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"
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).
Also/again, I think about the bike industry for analogies.
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:
The violin industry is probably 1/100th of the size of the bike industry. If that. Actually probably way less.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.....
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.
I've been pleased with the Acoustagrip
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.
Hey Katie, you might be interested in these articles:
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.
You could make the same argument about pre-chinrest violins, Jason, regarding the violin being perfected before the shoulder rest.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!)
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...
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.
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.
Yes, as Jeewon said. Basically, you need to make sure your setup works as a "least common denominator" for all of your playing needs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Erik, you make good points, specially regarding confirmation bias.