A Plea for shoulder/chin rest advice

May 18, 2007 at 03:55 AM · I'm a longtime lurker and have greatly benefited from your combined knowledge and willingness to share ideas and experience. I have read all of the past threads on chin and shoulder rests and hesitate to reopen this can of worms, but...I really need some advice.

Some background: I currently have a Wolf Forte Primo shoulder rest and a chin rest that is VERY low (comes only about 2/3 of the way up the side of the tailpiece). I have the shoulder rest set at its lowest position (legs screwed all of the way in), but even so, after an hour or so of practice I develop terrible pain in my neck on the right side. I've tried playing without a shoulder rest and this does in fact eliminate the neck pain. I think I could get used to the substantially reduced stability of playing without a shoulder rest (very different from the rock solid feel of the violin with the Wolf in place), but I find myself hunching my left shoulder whenever I shift to a lower position when playing without the shoulder rest. This suggests to me that I do need some sort of shoulder rest/pad (or possibly just a taller chin rest). Although I guess it is equally possible that I just need to spend more time getting used to playing without a shoulder rest. I really don't

know.

In general, my posture is good (22+ years in the military); when sitting or standing in a relaxed position, the distance between my jaw line and collar bone is 3 3/4 inches (~9.5cm).

Any general words of wisdom...? I know that my best bet would be to go to a store and try out a large number of different combinations of chin and shoulder rests (or chinrests without shoulder rests), but as I live in Auburn Alabama the nearest stringed instrument shop is in Atlanta (2-3 hour drive).

I realize that I've asked the equivalent of wanting a doctor to diagnose a sickness over the phone, so feel free to tell me that it's just not possible. Still, I'd be grateful for any advice you might offer.

Replies (35)

May 18, 2007 at 04:13 AM · Greetings,

here are two out of the infinite possibilities.

1) Stay with the forte primo- it`s a good rest. Get a better chin rest. The Guarneri is pretty standard.

2) if you decide to play without a rest you still probablly need a taller chin rest . The Guarneri is a good chocie again. But use a piec eof sponge for support. the beauty of sponge is that you can cut it to any size you wnat and it is dirt cheap. The down side is that you will lose some sound ( not enough to worry about in my opinion- I play this way. So incidentally did Issaac Stern who recommended this set up.)

Cheers,

Buri

Incidentally, Alexander Lessons might be your biggest help in the long run.

May 18, 2007 at 05:14 AM · You don't have to drive anywhere--just order several models from Shar or SW string. Return the ones you don't want.

May 18, 2007 at 04:01 PM · Shar used to charge a restocking fee, $5 for each item returned. I would check before ordering if you plan to return many items.

Ihnsouk

May 18, 2007 at 11:26 AM · Hi,

I second Buri's advice. I personally think that it is worth spending the time and money to find a good chinrest. That seems to help the most.

Cheers!

May 18, 2007 at 05:14 PM · Although it's a far drive, it might also be a good idea to visit a shop, where you could play around with different chinrests or shoulder rests on the fly. A good shop will help you try out several different styles, and take the time to check your setup and help you get most comfortable with it. After all, everyone likes to make a new customer!

Buri makes a good point. The Wolf is a fine shoulder rest, and very easily modified to suit the curve of your shoulder and collarbone. I'd also add that it's best to try and change one part of the system at a time, i.e. to change the chinrest first and see what happens, then perhaps experiment with the shoulder rest, and so on.

May 19, 2007 at 01:53 AM ·

May 20, 2007 at 10:47 PM · Greetings,

>the violin must be held in the most comfortable way possible, yet also held such that the player's contact with the violin is as intimate and "unified" as possible. With a high chinrest, this is not possible,

Yikes, that information must come as a complete shock to Arnold Steinhart. Fortunatley he is in the Autumn of his career.....

Cheers,

Buri

May 21, 2007 at 01:55 AM · Edward, it is worth the long drive to test out as many "rests" as you can.

It is possible to achieve a very high comfort level if you find the right chinrest.

You may also find that the right shoulder rest will complement the chinrest in allowing you a little more stability - or a better angle for your own physique.

Playing without a shoulder rest is nice - i did that for the first 30 years that I played, ut then I find my ideal chinrest design and found improvements in my playing by adding the right shoulder rest. As I aged during the following 35+ years, i found that my shoulder rest needs changed (fortunately so too did the shoulder rests available), but the chinrest that worked best when i was in my 30s still is best in my 70s.

Don't let people (of unknown age and physical condition) deter you from finding the most comfortable equipment for you playing.

Let me add - that the choice of shoulderrest - and even chinrest may be different for you on different violins. There are various, small dimensional differences that may make this so.

May 21, 2007 at 02:02 AM ·

May 21, 2007 at 09:46 AM · I'm thinking of taking up knitting. I'll do violin on the side.

May 21, 2007 at 02:20 PM · I must thank all of you for your advice. I am a scientist (University professor in Forestry) and tend to do a lot of reading/research/listening before I make most decisions. I've actually been releived that the opinions expressed have not been in total agreement...I usually find that the ultimate answer is often somewhere hidden within the data cloud of observations.

I have decided to place an order with Shar for about $250 worth of chin rests (also a PSR and maestro shoulder rest). I'll try them out and chose one or two to keep.

Buri, thanks for pointing me toward the Alexander Technique (I may try a healthy dose of prunes as well). Although there do not appear to be any AT teachers within 150 miles of Auburn, I have been doing quite a bit of reading and hope that will help to further reduce tension in my neck and upper back. Maybe in combination with the right set-up, I'll eventually be pain free.

I'll report back in a couple of weeks and let you know how things are going.

Cheers,

Ed

May 21, 2007 at 03:36 PM · 2 things before you order those chinrests from Shar, 1) a local shop should have a good selection of chinrests for you to try out without any expense on your side; 2) many teachers are starting to change to low shoulder rest/high chinrest so that your neck is still high, but your arm (and the violin) are lower, easing some strain on the arm but still keeping a grip on the instrument. If you have already placed your order with Shar, hopefully you have some low shoulder rests in the group and (again) your local shop should have a selection of high chinrests (probably 30 to 33mm in height).

May 21, 2007 at 03:42 PM · Actually, I've not yet placed the order and may not until I get back into town on June 8. My current shoulder rest, Wolf Forte Primo is set at about an inch. The two shoulder rests I'm planning to order are lower than that (I still think it is a real possibility that if I find the proper chin rest I may lose the shoulder rest all together). With regard to the chin rests, I've got a huge variety on my wish list that range from slightly higher than my current one to almost three times the height.

I would still prefer to head off to a shop; in the near term (next six weeks) I'll be in or pass through Atlanta, GA; Birmingham, AL; Huntsville, AL; and Chattanooga, TN. Are there any violin shops in any of these cities that someone would recommend for trying out chin and shoulder rests?

Thanks,

Ed

May 21, 2007 at 08:06 PM · Personally, I dont use a shoulder rest and was taught that one should hold the violin either between the collar bone and chin or else with the left hand whichever is more appropriate. But look to the greats: Zukerman plays without a shoulder rest but Shlomo Mintz plays with one. It would be great to come close to either one of them so I guess its just what you are most comfotable with.

May 21, 2007 at 08:38 PM · While your in Atlanta you can go to

Williams-Gengaki Violins. Its a great store i think

Your Welcome,

The Violist Blake

May 21, 2007 at 09:40 PM · It's been a while since I've been to see Reggie at Williams Gengakki violins, but I believe they are more of a violin dealer than an accessory shop. You can check their website first and give them a call.

http://www.williamsgengakkiviolin.com/index.html

May 21, 2007 at 10:44 PM · Greetings,

Edward, glad you are interested in AT. The problem as always is finding a teacher at all , let alone a good one.

Unfortunately, AT is not somehting that can be self taught from books. The reaosn is that an AT teacher will stufy for between three and five years for thousands of hours a) being worked on themsleves and b) learnign how t use the hands as a medium for allowing your body to remember how to work at its most efficient.

However, reading is certainly helpful and interesting. I think the book that comes clossest to helping you work on yourself in practicl ways is by Jeremy Chance . Its calle dsomethign like `The principals of Alexander Technique.` If you check out Amazon.com you can`t miss it. An inexpesnive tome by one of the worlds leading authorities on AT.

Cheers,

Buri

May 24, 2007 at 12:22 PM · Edward - kindly take a look at my website, where I discuss the shoulder rest issue, and how to play without a big, rigid attachment. http://rkviolin.com Click on "writings", then "fundamentals of holding the violin".

May 24, 2007 at 07:32 PM · This is about the 4th time I wrote this today to different folks, but here goes.:) Going to a shop isn't necessarily the best way. They don't all keep a collection, and sometimes what feels OK for a few minutes feels nasty in an hour or two. Try to find a teacher who thinks this is important and will spend time watching you, and who has a collection of chinrests & shoulder rests for you to try (and borrow.) Sue

May 24, 2007 at 11:02 PM · No shops in Hunstville or Birmingham or Chattanooga that I would recommend. Farher north there are a couple in Nashville and 2 in the Knoxville area I would suggest, but for the Atlanta area, check with Reggie Williams (Williams-Gengakki), Bill McClain (Atlanta Violins), or Ron Sachs (Ronald Sachs Violins). All 3 are full service shops, Reggie's in Buckhead, Ron's in Lawrenceville, and Bill's in Roswell.

May 25, 2007 at 09:49 AM · Hi,

I think that people need to try chinrests in different conditions, different clothes and on stage. It takes time. You will probably buy many and it can be an expensive process until you find something that more or less fits.

Cheers!

May 25, 2007 at 02:28 PM · Trying a lot, indeed. I did that and found one center-mounted type works well for me after tried about 8 different ones. You don’t have to spend fortune on the process if you can get a one-month a return and exchange agreement with your local music store and that’s what I did.

June 20, 2007 at 03:01 AM · Read what I posted on the carpal tunnel syndrome discussion. Turns out I don't have that. I discovered what was wrong by reading the posts about chin rests!!

Cathy Gray

June 21, 2007 at 06:13 AM · You live in Auburn? I live in Tuscaloosa (Roll tide!!) and I've been having the same problems as you, with my set-up. I'm just planning on going to a shop in Atlanta soon (maybe Williams-Gengakki) and hoping that they have the patience to let me try different combinations of chinrests and shoulder rest until I find the best fit.

:( I wish we had a good violin shop in Birmingham....

June 23, 2007 at 01:21 AM · Edward,

I was very interested in your original post where you said you had a very low chin rest. I have a very short neck and I am looking for an extremely low chin rest. My neck is short enough that I could probably use a shoulder rest without a chin rest to hold the violin. However, I would like an extremely low chin rest for the extra security it would add. Any suggestions for a very low chin rest?

June 23, 2007 at 02:27 AM · These rests are expensive, but they're great. [insert Tony the Tiger jokes here] :-0

http://www.soundpost.co.uk/alexander%20cr.html

Anyway, I use the Low Flesch, and I love it.

The Bergonzi also looks pretty low. Good luck!

June 23, 2007 at 04:37 AM · First, I'd like to suggest refraining from playing the MOMENT you feel pain...and don't play again until it appears to be healed.

Do you have a hickey? You might be allergic to the varnish on your jaw rest. I found out I was allergic to the varnish on my violin and after placing a jaw rest on it, the hickey went away. You might consider swapping jaw rests with a friend for a month or two, just to see what sort of difference it makes.

June 25, 2007 at 10:10 PM · I think I've found the solution that works for me. I ended up ordering 8 chinrests from Southwest Strings and must say that I was amazed at the variety and the difference among the models. I found the Morawetz model to be far and away the most comfortable (for me), but will continue testing for another week or so before sending the rest back.

Buri, I looked into Jeremy Chance's book on AT and the best price I was able to find was $75. Will continue looking but in the meanwhile I've been reading other books on the AT. I've found that simply focusing awarness on tension and consciously relaxing has helped tremendously.

Raphael, your website has been a Godsend! I'm not sure whether it is a function of my physical build (large broad shoulders), but using your approach to holding my violin, not only is the instrument perfectly stable without a shoulder rest, but my shifting seems more free/easy and I find that I no longer have to stretch to place my fourth finger (probably a function of maintaining my left elbow further under the violin). I tried a Kaufman style chinrest, but it did not feel as comfortable as the Morawetz.

Cathy, I am glad you were able to figure out the cause of your injury. It was primarily to prevent such an occurence that I went in search of a proper set-up. Given the wide variation in height, angle, depth of cup among the chin rests I ordered, I can see how the wrong one could lead to an injury.

Amanda, I was in Tuscaloosa just this past week (War Eagle!). I too wish there were a good violin shop in Birmingham or in T-town for that matter. I travel to both regularly because most of my wifes relatives live in one or the other.

Arthur, for a low rest, you might consider the Mulko from SW Strings. I don't know exactly what was on my violin; it was the original (I think) chinrest--my violin is a 1909 Eureka made for Lyon and Healy. My luthier believes it was French made.

Rob, thanks for the advice. The pain seemed to be simple muscle spasm, a serious crick in the neck. Fortunately, the new set-up and conscious relaxation seems to have completely eliminated it. I've never had a violin hickey, but that may be a function of my amature status--I typically practice only an hour to an hour and a half a day.

Anyway, I really cannot begin to thank-you all for all of your help and concern. This is a great site primarily because those of you who have so much experience are willing to share it with the rest of us.

Cheers,

Ed

June 25, 2007 at 10:38 PM · Greetings,

I think maybe there are now two books around by Jeremy Chance- or perhaps my continuous mention of it has created a demand that outsripped the publisher in a relatively eclectic field?

Its only a slim paperback. For whta its worth, the information is worth more than 75 dol;lars which is pretty close to the cost of one set of strings anyway.;)

Cheers,

Buri

June 26, 2007 at 07:18 PM · Chance actually does have two books out on the Alexander technique. The hardcover is available pretty cheap, however, the paperback with a list price of $11.95 is out of print and the cheapest of the 5 copies available on Amazon is $75. It may very well be worth the cost...maybe I will splurge if I can't find a copy through inter-library loan. Another benifit of being a rank amature...I can get two sets of Vision strings for that same $75 :-)

Cheers,

Ed

June 26, 2007 at 11:34 PM · On abebooks.com one of the Jeremy Chance books on Alexander Technique is available with several copies available from different sellers starting at $1.00 plus S&H. That is ISBN 007110359.

Also on abebooks ISBN 0722537050 at $74.95 and up.

June 27, 2007 at 01:33 PM · For the Y'all Crowd here looking for violin shops:

Try John Casebere, out on 280. (205) 995-9236. Many of my students rent/buy from him, and last I was there, he had several different chinrest models and shoulder rests. Not as much as Shar, but maybe a start.

If you are going to Hotlanta, try Huthmaker's in Duluth. (770) 476-9443. I was there a few years ago (to check out Dimitri Musafia's Traveling Italian Fiddle Juncket), and it is a nice shop with a helpful staff.

June 27, 2007 at 09:24 PM · Thanks Anne,

I'll certainly have to stop by Casebere's as I drive right by it at least once a month to visit my wife's family in Hoover. Huthmaker's is a bit off the beaten path for me, but you're the second to recommend it within a week...turns out that my teacher just had a new bridge cut by them and she is quite pleased with their work and customer service.

Cheers,

Ed

June 27, 2007 at 11:21 PM · Edward, If you go to John's, call first. He likes to take his family out this time of year for fun summer stuff, so it is good to make an appointment! No use suffering traffic and misery on Highway 280 unless you have to. John is really a nice guy, and likes to chat! My students and their families have had very honest dealings with him.

January 8, 2008 at 01:40 PM · Edward,

Pain is a symptom of a problem. In the case of musicians, pain often results from repetitious motion or from locking the body in a static position. In your case, based on the fact that eliminating the shoulder rest got rid of the pain, I suspect the neck pain comes from an set up that is too tall for your neck.

By instrument set up, I mean measuring the combined height of the instrument, chinrest and shoulder rest and comparing it to the height of your neck. If the set up height is within 10mm (or less) of your neck height, you're asking for trouble.

Also, please keep in mind that if you are trying to support the instrument entirely with your jaw and shoulder, you're going to compound the neck pain problem. This is because with too tall a set up, neck muscles have to come into play instead of relying primarily on the weight of your head to bear down on the chinrest.

Best regards,

Gary

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