Printer-friendly version weekend vote: Do you use a shoulder rest?

The Weekend Vote

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Published: September 27, 2013 at 5:39 PM [UTC]

People have strong feelings on the subject of shoulder rests, and they always have.

I just had a conversation with a violinist who told me that, back in the day, you just weren't considered a legit soloist if you used a shoulder rest!

But most modern-day soloists and orchestra players do use them. Granted, the shoulder rest has come a long way from the velvet-covered rock (seemed like a rock to me, when I found it in my grandmother's violin case) that attached to the button of the fiddle with a leather strap.

Still, there are good arguments for going without a shoulder rest, and I was reminded of these in a master class with Dylana Jenson a week ago: one can really connect with the violin, and if you adjust your technique properly, you can be a bit more moveable and avoid torquing your body in certain ways.

I use a shoulder rest, though, and I'm perfectly happy with it. That said, I think that, with or without a shoulder rest, one needs to find a balance between supporting the violin with the collarbone, chin and hand, and this article illustrates that well. And the reason for finding that balance, and for all of this, is to avoid injury!

How do you play, with or without a shoulder rest?

From Tom Bop
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 5:43 PM
Although the poll might be interesting, I fail to see why anybody cares what anyone else does regarding a shoulder rest. Everyone can't have the same setup!
From Gene Wie
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 5:48 PM
It's useful because there are many people out there whose very limited training causes them to erroneously assume that "all violinists must use a shoulder rest," or the opposite, "only bad violinists play with a shoulder rest."

As always, it depends on the unique physical make-up of each player...

From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 5:51 PM
You have to do what is best for you. But I'm still curious about the numbers!
From elise stanley
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 6:27 PM
I do both - I'm happy with or without, its just a different way of playing. I use one now because a previous teacher insisted.. and to be honest its a bit easier if a bit less 'intimate'.
From Steve Reizes
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 6:48 PM
I learned with a pad, restarted with a rest (Kun), learned how to not have a rest and now use a rest (Comford)... An important factor either way is to pay attention to your comfort and what allows the best sound.
From Zachary Ewald
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 6:53 PM
I actually use a loosely rolled (and slightly flattened) piece of chamois leather. It gives me the height i need and prevents the violin from slipping around. But the best part about it is that i can still use more pressure to slightly mute the vibrations for a piano passage, or i can release and let my violin sing out for forte passages. it's the best system i've come up with, but of course, that's just me ;)
From Tom Holzman
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 7:05 PM
If I recall correctly, there was a thread some years ago asking the same question, and the result was about 50-50. Interesting that this may have changed.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 8:09 PM
Hi Tom, here is the last vote we had, asking whether people used a rest or not. The results were not so close! 78 percent used a rest and 22 percent did not. I'm also interested in whether it will be different this time!

A more recent vote, asking if people were willing to consider going rest-less, was closer. (46 percent willing to consider, 54 percent not). But what you experiment with, and what you do on a daily basis are two different things.

From Bob Small
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 8:22 PM
I find myself taking my violin from the case and playing, sometimes quite comfortably, without my shoulder rest. If I get too much slide, I'll stop and put it on. I don't think I can quantify this, but I do believe I actually feel the string vibration better without the rest.
From Tom Holzman
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 8:33 PM
Laurie - thanks for posting the links. My recollection is that there was a thread that simply asked the question but did not have a vote component, sometime between the 2007 vote and the one going on now. Maybe I am misremembering (not unheard of at my age).
From Randy Walton
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 11:22 PM
I started with a Kun rest 10 or 12 years ago; switched after a few years to a Wolf Forte Primo and never looked back. I could never get the Kun quite comfortable; the Wolf has 'fit like a glove' from the very first moment of use. I can't see myself ever going 'restless'.
From Jim Hastings
Posted on September 27, 2013 at 11:58 PM
As said before, I use a rest, which puts me in the majority.

To recap my response in the master class blog: It seems that a lot of teachers these days are starting kids on shoulder rests from the very first lessons. This strikes me as all wrong. I played restless all the way to 18 1/2 y/o before I tried a few SRs, got the comparison, and decided that I preferred playing with SR to going without. First determine individual need and the player's own comfort and preference. Get the comparison. With a new learner of whatever age group, if I were a teacher, I'd start with as few props as needed and go from there.

Regarding the feeling of connecting with the instrument -- a greater feeling of intimacy: I can't play with a jacket and the SR at the same time -- neck too short, and I just don't like the feel. I was 19-20 when I decided to ditch the jacket and tie and keep the SR. Love the increased feeling of freedom, connection, and security. For me, the jacket was the albatross, not the SR.

From Mark Roberts
Posted on September 28, 2013 at 12:29 AM
I cannot play without a shoulder rest but it would best to be able to play both with and without. Tie causes problems, I cannot play with one on, causes difficulties in orchestral concerts.
From Manuel Tabora
Posted on September 28, 2013 at 2:56 AM
I've been playing without a rest for about two years now. This wasn't something that my teacher asked me to try or anything like that, I just decided on my own that I wanted to try it.
A lot of people talk about how students with longer necks need a shoulder rest. However, my experience has been that plenty of teachers simply teach all their students with a shoulder rest, regardless of their physique. So I think teachers choose this way not because it is best suited to the individual student, but because it is the only way they know. As a teacher, I don't want my students to suffer because of what I don't know. So I wanted to experience this old school way of doing things. It took a long time. But I think I've finally realized that I don't have to fight gravity at all. In fact, the feeling of everything "falling", the viola, the bow, my arms and shoulders (though not slouching), is what keeps everything together for me.
From Gene Wie
Posted on September 28, 2013 at 6:08 AM
It would be interesting to differentiate this poll further.

How many people play using:
1. Large shoulder rest (Bon Musica, Comford Cradle)
2. Medium shoulder rest (Kun, Wolf)
3. Small shoulder rest in the form of a sponge/pad
4. Thin cotton cloth or chamois
5. Nothing at all

From Nicky Paxton
Posted on September 28, 2013 at 12:29 PM
I'll set the ball rolling by saying that I use a medium shoulder rest. I tried playing without a SR recently and found it wasn't for me.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on September 28, 2013 at 1:22 PM
I tried for years to play without a shoulder rest. It was impossible. I could only play in one position, could not vibrate etc. I was raising my shoulder and it hurt so I never tried it for long.

I couldn't do it until I found a teacher who insisted on it and had himself done it. I had to learn many things about left hand technique before no-SR became comfortable. It was months before I could play in a community orchestra without it and nearly two years before I could say I preferred it. Thankfully I had time.

Today I would never consider going back.

From elise stanley
Posted on September 28, 2013 at 2:05 PM
What Jim raised is important - what do you have under your rest? I hate anything that may introduce slipping - I really like to wear nothing under the SR.

Hmmm. I'm just talking about my shoulder OK...

From George Mitrou
Posted on September 29, 2013 at 10:33 AM
I'm 100% happy with my Bonmusica...
From George Mitrou
Posted on September 29, 2013 at 10:33 AM
I'm 100% happy with my Bonmusica...
From Cara Williams
Posted on September 29, 2013 at 9:39 AM
I really find shoulder rests a pain and uncomfortable. I love playing without one BUT I can only do it when my shoulder is bare so my skin 'grips' the violin... I can't play rest-less whatsoever if I have any clothes covering my shoulder. Have tried grippy cloths and the suchlike... So am using a Kun rest at the moment.

I don't think either is better, if you need one you do, if you don't you don't, whatever is comfortable for the individual... quite sad that there are actually people who think one or the other is 'superior'

From Simon Lapointe
Posted on September 29, 2013 at 2:10 PM
I played with various shoulder rests for 30 years. I started developing neck and right shoulder pain. I changed my setup completely just over a year ago, went from using a Kun to using absolutely nothing. I had some help, and it took a lot of work and patience and time to adjust to the new setup. I'm completely pain-free now and very happy. I do NOT think that my way is good for everybody. Each player needs to find what works best for them, and also be open-minded to change when things don't work. As I said, I'm happy with how things are now, but I'm not closing the door on other options if I ever fell the need for it.
From marjory lange
Posted on September 29, 2013 at 2:28 PM
@ Cara, the web site "Violinist in Balance" talks about the stickiness issue: in making various kinds of trial sr, they used the kind of 'cloth' put under dishes in drawers (plastic/rubber drawer liners)--it's like a thin, sticky rubber screen. That does work.
From Tommy Atkinson
Posted on September 29, 2013 at 2:56 PM
I've tried a lot of different options under the violin: a myriad of shoulder rests, those little red sponges, bigger sponges, memory foam, a small cloth, and nothing at all.

Finally, during grad school, I settled on the Kun Bravo and haven't looked back. I play with absolutely no pain now (I had lots of shoulder problems and pain during undergrad when I was trying to find my best fit).

I always liked the idea of playing without a rest, but it just never worked for me. I also was under the impression that playing without a rest would suddenly fix all my technique problems. Now, I just pop my rest on the violin and practice out my deficiencies.

From M.L. Scott
Posted on September 29, 2013 at 5:28 PM
I use a homemade shoulder pad made from rubbery shelf/drawer liner. It's about 3"x5"x.75" when not in use, but it's soft and squishy so it's thinner when in use.

I am not opposed to commercial shoulder rests - they just don't work for me. My shoulders are fairly narrow with not much slope, and the shoulder rests I've tried make my violin point skyward. I've tried a few different commercial pads, but none of them was quite the right size or shape, so I made my own.

From Noriko Okamoto
Posted on September 29, 2013 at 7:21 PM
What Gene said!
From Tom Holzman
Posted on September 30, 2013 at 12:54 AM
I have a Menuhin style rest I got from Shar relatively inexpensively. I am quite pleased. Unlike my previous Kun rests, it has the advantage of not falling off every time I look cross-wise at it.
From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on September 30, 2013 at 12:36 PM
I think I used every shoulder rest made by mankind. I'd do well for about 4 months or so, and then it would get uncomfortable. I found myself buying lower and lower rests, and I finally went to a sponge, then to nothing.

I love the intimate feel of the unfettered viola. That being said. Playing without a rest forces you to play "zen" - with complete attention to detail regarding support and comfort and not clamping the chin or raising the shoulder.

---Ann Marie

From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on September 30, 2013 at 4:33 PM
Oh no, not the shoulder rest debate again! Aaaaagh!

Ahem. Anyway, I've always played violin with a Kun shoulder rest. When I took up viola, I decided to try going without. This was partly because the viola is thicker than a violin, but mainly because my friend's viola, which I first tried, had a Wolf shoulder rest cranked up so high I couldn't get it under my chin (although, to be fair, he's 6'8" tall).

I played viola in a local orchestra for about six months without a shoulder rest. It was workable, but shifting was tricky, and on fast passages I was scrambling to keep the instrument under control as it slid around on my slippery tuxedo jacket. This was entertaining for the audience, but not much fun for me.

I finally broke down and went to a shop that laid out a good selection of shoulder rests. I tried them all - Wolf, Bonmusica, Everest, etc. - but finally settled back into a good old Kun. Going restless was an interesting experiment, but I'm happy to be back in the fold.

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