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Mendy Smith

Restless Experiment - Episode 3

May 14, 2012 at 3:05 AM

After a few months of practicing a few minutes each day without a shoulder rest, I gave the 2nd movement of Telemann a try without one.

First, the up-side of playing without a SR. The sound of the viola is noticeably purer of tone without a SR. The position of the instrument to my body feels more natural without the extra hardware and I do tend to relax more than with a SR. It took quite some time to find the balance point, but once found, it was never lost.

The downside is that shifting down is a bear. I'm amazed that I can do so without the instrument hitting the floor even with a small 1/2 step down-shift. The challenges without a SR, on viola at least, are extensions (even the most minor to reach a fingered 'A') and vibrato. The smallest bit of tension make these basic techniques nearly impossible. But then, that is why I'm doing this.

So, all that being said, here is my first attempt at Telemann sans SR.

... and no, I'm not giving up on my SR just yet.

From Dottie Case
Posted on May 14, 2012 at 4:14 AM
I love this piece. My graduating senior violist played the first 2 movements in our concert this year with the's one of those pieces where the orchestra has as much fun as the soloist. :)

From Mendy Smith
Posted on May 14, 2012 at 5:18 AM
I'm revisiting this after (mumble mumble) years. I still love it. It is refreshing to go back a few decades and dust off old pieces. There is always something to learn from them.
From Kelley Johnson
Posted on May 14, 2012 at 5:46 AM
Hi there! I found it useful to use your elbow as a counterbalance with no shoulder pad. That means when shifting down the elbow is in closed position (close to the body) and when shifting up the elbow is in open position (away from the body). This reduces strain, friction, and pull. Also be sure you have a lip on your chin rest to give you more security. If you need a new chin rest for that, there are many resources including Frisch and Denig custom chin rests, which I use.
From Asher Wade
Posted on May 14, 2012 at 8:30 AM
I spent many hours watching David Oistrakh [on film] before I "got it"; he leans his head onto the chin-rest usually 'only' when he's in 1st or 2nd position, then lifts his head {'signature move'} when slidding up in 3rd, 4th & 5th position, bec. the left-hand is 'naturally' there holding the violin anyway.
From Asher Wade
Posted on May 14, 2012 at 8:31 AM
Also noticed something in your playing my viola/violin teacher would "always" tell me [actually, reach over & 'do']: "lift the scroll up level with the chin-rest". Enjoy-the-freedom!
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 14, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Nice job with this! I love this concerto, too. Along with some of the "easier" Bach suite movements, it was one of the first things I played on the viola when I was learning to play that instrument.

I have the same problems as you do with shifting without a SR, even on the violin. My ability to do vibrato also essentially disappears without a SR. I understand why you are trying to be able to play without it, but I hope I never have to.

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on May 14, 2012 at 1:05 PM
Mendy - I play restless and down-shift (let alone up-shift) with almost zero pressure from my head and chin. The secret? Use a piece of suede or similar material under the instrument. It is very slip-resistant. Once you come to trust that it works (-it may take just a little time-), you will feel a lot more secure and comforatble.

During long tacets on orchestra gigs (eg someone giving a speech or a soloist playing a cadenza), when I want to rest the violin on my lap, I put the suede under the violin there too, and it really helps keep the violin from slipping off my lap. I also use it as I would a hankie, so it is also a chinrest cover. It's even good for adjusting a hot stand light - a chinrest cover and a pot holder!

Restless in Brooklyn

From Tom Holzman
Posted on May 14, 2012 at 8:40 PM
Mendy - you might find the switch easier with some lessons. If I were doing it, I would want someone to watch me closely to ensure that I was not falling into bad habits during the process and getting the most out of the transition.
From Mendy Smith
Posted on May 15, 2012 at 1:55 AM
Raphael, thanks! I was wondering if a piece of chamois would help.

Karen, my vibrato sans SR is coming slowly. It took finding the right balance first (no teeter-totters left to right) before the vibrato started coming back.

Tom, this is all highly supervised by my teacher and a regular part of my lessons to play without tension.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on May 15, 2012 at 3:21 PM
Mendy - glad to hear it. Good luck!
From Paul Deck
Posted on May 15, 2012 at 3:29 PM
I learned without an SR (sans restino?) as a kid, but when I took up the violin again a couple of years ago I decided to try an SR and liked it initially. But now I wonder if it's just too much because my neck is not very long and I am using just about the flattest chinrest I can, plus I've got my Kun dialed all the way down and still I've got the problem that my head tilts slightly toward the right. So I'm actually considering going back to a center chin rest and ditching the SR, so I'm interested in how this progresses for you. I'll bet the challenges are more severe on the viola because the instrument is heavier and you've got more potential strain in your left hand too for all the reasons you mentioned.
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on May 16, 2012 at 2:09 AM
Here we go again with the endless SR discussion, when here, I just wanted to mention my suede device.

But on the subject of the viola, I feel a need to say that even a greater preponderance of players, with the right technique and motivation, should be able to go restless, simply on account of the viola's higher ribs filling in more space. And with the viola being heavier, why add more weight to it? The LH on both instruments should feel less strained restless, when it has a chance to come over the fingerboard more readily, come up it in shifting more directly, etc.

See my website for a more detailed discussion Go to "writings", then "Fundamentals".

From Mendy Smith
Posted on May 16, 2012 at 4:03 AM
Paul, the center mount chin-rest does help. When I first started experimenting without a SR, my viola teeter-tottered left to right, especially when I changed strings. It took quite some time to find my balance spot on the collar bone, and now it doesn't teeter-totter nearly as much.

The next challenge was vibrato, which added alot of wobbliness. Once I got my left hand balanced and relaxed, that started to become less of an issue.

Shifting up is relatively easy, but down-shifting is still problematic. My left hand tends to pull the viola away from me and I'm clenching with my chin to keep it in place - not what I want. I think that the suede and again, a more relaxed left hand will get me there.

I'm not ready to ditch my SR, but practicing a little every day without one to learn how to play totally relaxed.

From Smiley Hsu
Posted on May 16, 2012 at 4:16 AM
Hi Mendy,

It appears to me that you need a slightly higher chin rest. When you place your chin on the rest, there is a fair bit of forward tilt in your head. You want a little tilt, but not very much. Perhaps if you had your chin rest raised about 5 mm or so, you might find it grippier, and therefore easier to downshift. It might be worth a try. When playing without SR, the chin rest plays a much more critical role in keeping the violin in place, so it is important to get the best fitting chin rest possible. At least, that has been my experience.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on May 16, 2012 at 5:41 AM
Smiley, good thought! It is barely clearing the tailpiece as it is, so SR or no SR it is a good idea.

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