The Shoulder Rest: A short, subtle and discrete commentary

March 22, 2018, 4:08 PM · Recently I was watching a video of that spectacular, quintessential showman and violinist Andre Rieu. Crowned with flowing mane and bedecked in sartorial splendor he raised his violin to play. That glorious imagery of the grand romantic-era violinist was suddenly, irrevocably shattered as the camera caught a glimpse of that hideous and grotesque appliance attached to the bottom of his violin!

Imagine, if you will, watching a great, famous conductor mount the podium and, as he raises his arms for the down beat, you observe he is holding his baton wearing a ski glove! Or, you are watching the Tour de France and, as a world-famous cyclist speeds by, you observe his bicycle is fitted with training wheels!

Only in this age of gimmicks, gadgets, short cuts and quick fixes does the shoulder rest even exist. None, none of the truly great violinists ever used the thing. None. (And Paganini didn’t even have a chin rest.) Today a number of fine violinists, including Pearlman and Zuckerman, still play that way. Watch Anne-Sophie Mutter play magnificently sans rest. And, on YouTube watch Dylana Jenson as a child, as a teen and as a young woman play superbly, likewise without the violin stilts.

And, lest you remain yet unconvinced, I invite you to watch any video of that great giraffe-necked Hungarian violinist Josef Szigeti and observe how exquisitely and effortlessly he played without recourse to some god-awful clunky appendage clamped to the bottom of his fiddle! I rest my case.


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Replies

March 23, 2018 at 02:47 PM · From what I've read on v.com, most players use shoulder rests -- and that goes for many of today's in-demand soloists like Hahn and Bell, for starters. I doubt any one of us would try to tell these artists to lay off their "violin stilts."

I played restless from elementary school till 18-19 y/o. Then I tried a few SRs for comparison, found one I liked, and stayed with it. I can play with or without it, but I prefer to play with it, because I don't like the feel of a bareback fiddle. FWIW, I have a fairly short neck.

Jenson mentioned in a blog a few years back --

http://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/22455/

-- that she had solved pupils' pain issues by removing their shoulder rests. I've long suspected that players who successfully ditch their SRs might well have been better off not using them in the first place. Some players genuinely prefer playing without them -- and, in fact, play better without them. This is why I oppose starting a child with the SR. Better first to see if the kid actually needs one and does better with it than without.

Keep in mind, too, that some players of yesteryear -- and maybe today -- used padding inside their left jacket shoulders. Isaac Stern comes to mind.

Bottom line, whether you play with or without a shoulder rest: Is your playing something that draws others in and keeps them coming back to hear you again?

March 25, 2018 at 05:55 PM · I think the shoulder rest is more of an aid than a crutch. It is not mandatory to use one. Many people really benefit from using one, however. I think a young child starting violin would do well with a sponge or pad, as shoulder rest models for small violins are terrible. In addition, many young kids complain about the hardness of many shoulder rest models. On the other hand, some people, as Jim said above, are better off without a shoulder rest. Personally, I use one, though have briefly played without one out of laziness.

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