Shoulder rest

June 14, 2007 at 04:07 PM · I have been playing for almost 15 years now and have recently been going through options for a comfortable shoulder rest. After trying out a few different types, I have switched to using a cloth. Elk hide to be exact, living in Alaska, this was easy to acquire. It perfect, soft and yet grips the violin.

I have noticed many changes since the switch, which has been very recent. The biggest difference is that my violin is more clear and resonates more beautifully. It is like I swapped it out for a better one. Also my posture has gotten better, and it has become more comfortable to hold.

On the flip side though, my whole left hand is getting some minor retraining with shifting. Playing without a shoulder rest is more of a balancing act between the hand and shoulder as I play, thus making the shifting different.

With the shoulder rest, my left arm is essentially free and I can move around the board with greater ease.

I am going to give the elk hide a few months of trial before making my decision on what I want to stick with.

Which do you use and why? Lets hear your thoughts.

Replies (26)

June 14, 2007 at 04:18 PM · Well, many of the former greats played without chin rests and shoulder rests. I think most recent players use a chin rest only (eg Stern, Perlman, etc) but then I note such people have rather short necks. The violin was designed and played by Italians, who were at the time considerably shorter than Vikings. Stradivari did not design any type of rest: likely he saw no need. So, I have concluded (rather simplistically), the violin may have never been intended for tall people. After reading the interviews of former greats, I have tried various combinations. It is true: the player has a much more intimate connection to the violin if no rest of any sort is used. The greats preferred to have the violin mobile on their shoulder, and not fixed in place by a s/rest. But, having a long neck, I found this rest-less approach caused me a painful neck very quickly. So, back to fidgeting with rests. The chin rest does serve to protect the violin: which is proven by the wear patterns on old violins. I have my own theory about rest and body, and hope to verify this empirically. IF anything conclusive develops, I’ll post.

June 14, 2007 at 05:51 PM · Michael - there are lots of past threads where this issue has been debated. You should consult them. This has been a contentious topic, and there is really no "right" answer except what works for you. What works for me and why (or for anyone else on this forum) is irrelevant to your needs.

June 14, 2007 at 05:53 PM · Boy have you opened a can O' worms. Yes, you're right, many fiddles will sound better without a shoulder rest (I know mine does). The problem is, can you play as well? Only you can answer that. I took mine off for a year but had to go back to it. It was so painful to play I hated the idea of picking up the violin. As a teacher of mine once said, "if it doesn't feel comfortable, it won't sound comfortable." I've seen many violinists who stopped using shoulder rests, but I think it really affects the ability to vibrate in certain positions. I found it difficult to get the vibrato speed I wanted. Many people point out that some of the greats didn't use a shoulder rest, but bear in mind some points about that:

1. many of those greats did use something under their shirt or jacket--I've heard that Galamian and others had pads sewn into their clothing. 2. If no one invented or manufactured shoulder rests, then naturally, no one used them and 3. There could have been a Darwinian selection at work before shoulder rests were widespread: those who couldn't play well with the violin as it was simply didn't continue. Perhaps the shoulder rest has allowed many people (like me) who otherwise couldn't to play.

There are times I wish I could just throw the darn thing away, like when I'm at a shop trying instruments. But I simply can't play my best without it.

June 14, 2007 at 06:23 PM · Whenever someone raises the topic, the first few posts are about how contentious the topic is. I don't know; in my experience, the discussions have been polite. They've just been sort of pointless. And I'm guilty, as a staunch pro-rest defender, in that my replies are alway long and thorough. So, in an attempt to make an impact, I'm going to make this reply irresponsibly short and glib.

Thus: It's not the shoulder rest. It's you. If you are uncomfortable with a rest, you are using it incorrectly and misplacing the instrument. If you can't play without a rest but feel you aren't comfortable WITH one, the first place to look is at your manner of usage, in order to see whether these two antitheses (i.e. can't without, uncomfortable with) can be made into a synthesis. Namely, COMFORTABLE WITH.

Rationale 1: sound improvement without rest.

Reply: sound dampened more by meat (shoulder) contacting wood (back plate) and dampening its vibrations.

Rationale 2: violin immobilized with rest.

Reply: Not when used correctly.

Rationale 3: left hand hold violin off shoulder therefore no dampening occurs

Reply: Doesn't it make more sense that shifting, speed, accuracy et al would be improved if the left hand didn't have to hold on to the instrument but were free to move in a straight line to its target?

Rationale 4: greats played without

Reply: They also historically played without other necessities which historical fact you're not about to replicate. (Lack of indoor plumbing responsible for Paganini's abilities?) Moreover, the greats whose performances we have on recordings - like Joachim, Sarasate, etc. - have tech flaws which are not forgivable today. Their standards, in short, fall short of the TECH standards of today.

Disclaimer: I did say "TECH standards", not any other kind. And I doubt that such unhygienic conditions as the lack of indoor plumbing (or lack of shoulder/chin rests) can be used to explain musical originality. More logical to suppose the originality came from other, more intrinsically related, elements such as geographical isolation. Meanwhile, lack of chinrests and shoulder rests CAN logically, common-sensically be shown to have had an impact on technique.

June 14, 2007 at 07:19 PM · Amen to what Emil said! When Shaham, Hahn and Bell decide to throw away their rests, I will reconsider the arguments.

June 14, 2007 at 07:47 PM · Chinrest!!

The first step toward selecting and fitting the proper shoulder rest (or not) is to acquire and properly position the optimal chinrest for the specific player (and violin). There are many factors that make millimeter differences important to one's playing.

June 15, 2007 at 12:29 AM · Since you ask, here is what I do re shoulder rests: I started wih a Menuhin rest (is that what they are/were called?). I lasted with that about half an hour and then tried the violin without, which I found to my liking. I eventually sought out a teacher who didn't play with a rest in Brisbane, Qld, which was enormously difficult. She was the only one I could find. She taught at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. I spent the next decade or so happily learning without a rest. I then got a new teacher who wanted me to use a Wolf rest, but I ended up screwing that rest into a small ball and throwing it at the wall during a practice session. So I continued without, and have never gone back to using a shoulder rest.

June 15, 2007 at 12:51 PM · Michael - bravo re your hide idea. I do something very similar with suede. For my complete approach to playing comfortably and securely w.o. a big shoulder rest attachment visit my website - click on "writings", then on "fundamentals of holding the violin". It is closely based on Aaron Rosand's approach, from whom I learned it, along with an innovation or two of my own - such as the suede.

Emil - unfortunately this topic does often lead to heated debate, especially here, at Why this should be so more than say, different types of vibrato or bow holds, I'll speculate at the end. I just came off a rather heated debate on another thread. Oddly enough it was with another person who like myself, also advocated not using a rest. But his approach was so peculiar, and his credentials so professionally lacking, that I didn't feel it right for him to use a blog to tell a violin playing community like this one how to hold the fiddle. You, on the other hand, are obviously a highly accomplished professional (and a fellow Mannes grad to boot!) and when I take issue with you about a couple of things, it will be as one professional to a respected fellow professional.

Yes, I'm a strong advocate of NOT using a big, rigid, attached rest. That doesn't mean that I think that rest-ers are stupid, evil, or poor players. I've no doubt but that Hilary Hahn could kick my *** with one arm tied behind her back! Some of my best friends are restish. (groan) If I had children, I might even consider allowing them to date res-ters. But they'd have to promise to raise my grandchildren rest-free. ;-) (I'll be here all week; tell your friends.)

But, seriously, there does seem to be some almost religeous ferver with this topic. Let's get into some details... why use more than one needs? If one could play comfortably and securely w.o. adding the weight, the pressure on the instrument's ribs and varnish wear, and for me, the less than aesthetic appearence, then why not do away with it? The question is can one feel really comfortable and secure rest-less? I really feel that with the right technique for doing so, the answer is "yes" for a preponderance of violinists - and for even more violists, due to that instrument's higher ribs. What other advantages are there? There is a more intimate and organic connection with the instrument; it actually aids in shifting, vibrato and the bow's contact with the instrument, once you get the hang of it; the violin has more free leverage - you feel almost like it's floating. It's really a liberating feeling, once you get it. It's like the difference between riding a bike with or w.o. training wheels. Most attached rigid rests - the kind Heifetz used to call "scaffolding" - tend to set the violin too far to the left, and too much at an angle. It's more advantageous for an even approach to the strings with both hands to have the violin flatter - more paralell to the floor and ceiling. And yes, a stronger and freer tone does result. I just experimented with an old Kun I had in a drawer. (I'd 'confiscated; it from a willing student!) It's no illusuion about the sound. If anything, our bodies may serve as resonators, whereas the rest's weight and pressure on the ribs seems to have a slightly muting effect. I'm sure the chinrest does, too. So why add to it? That reminds me of the technology argument. Yes, there was a time when even chinrests were not known. But it doesn't necessarily follow that every innovation is an improvemet. (How many people with really fine violins would like to trade them in for a nice new carbon fiber one?) Why cite the example of Joachim, recording when he was past his prime? What about the examples of such stellar non attached rest using players as Heifetz, Rosand, Nadien, Rabin, Perlman, Zuckerman, Francescatti, Ricci, Mutter etc., etc. etc.? How were/are their standards? These people were/are all quite aware of shoulder rests, but chose not to use them.

Well, I think I've said enough here and elsehere for now on this topic. There will be rejoinders pro and con, as there should be, but I think I'll focus on other topics. Just some speculation to close on why this tends to be a more heated topic than many others that might be, but don't seem to catch fire this way...For one thing, the use or lack thereof is more obvious. It can be seen accross the room or stage. I think that some non-resters tend to feel a bit smug or superior, which they shouldn't, and may give some resters an inferiority complex, which they also shoudn't feel. On the other hand, some resters look at non-resters just a tad like aliens, so ingrained and prevelant has been the rest's use for a number of decades.

Someone started a thread about some sort of violin reality show. Perhaps we can aslo start a thread about a violin soap opera called - you may have guessed it - "The Strung and the Rest-less"!

One final thought, before I take a break here (-less typing, more practicing and performing!-) I'm reminded with a topic like this of a saying attributed to Nietzsche: "The courage of one's concictions - a very common misconception. What one really needs courage for is an ASSAULT on one's convictions!"

June 15, 2007 at 05:03 AM · I am only a beginner, so take what I have to say from that perspective, but I find that the violin feels so much more free and natural upon my shoulder without a rest. I don't know how else to say it, I guess I just prefer the violin without a shoulder rest, and it is a strong preference at that. I have struggled with this decision for the last couple of months, but I have firmly landed on the no rest side of the decision, and I feel very good about my decision.

Before I dropped the rest for good, every time I have felt indecision and gone back to the shoudler rest, it just felt akward. Sure the violin just sits there with a shoulder rest (I could easily make the evening's dinner or tend the garden with the violin on my shoudler if I had a shoulder rest), but that is one of the things I do not like about the shoulder rest. The violin feels SO much more natural on my shoulder without a rest. Perhaps it is simoply my build. I have a rather large frame, broad shoulders and a muscular build. My build is a FAR cry from that or Bell, and of course from that of Hahn. Maybe this is why the rest never felt right. I was given a Kan (or Kuhn?) rest to use, and try as I might I could never seem to take to the rest. To each their own, for sure, and what works for one is not neccessarily the answer for another. But, as for this budding violinist, the rest seems to be the wrong fork in the road.

June 15, 2007 at 05:32 AM · I very happily use a shoulder rest and play with ease. If you can play comfortably without, then that's great. If not, don't feel bad about using one because, I'm with Emil on this. I don't think it makes a lick of difference on any issue other than physical comfort.

If you clench, you clench. If you have no give and take between your jaw and your left hand, you have no give and take between your jaw and your left hand. If you don't feel vibrations, you don't feel vibrations. If you are playing in tune, you'll feel plenty of vibrations, even through the SCROLL.

As the founder of this website, I have to disagree with one of your points, Emil. This topic, on certain occasions, has darn near caused WWIII on this website!!!!!!

By the way, I thought Corwin Slack wrote an excellent blog on how to adjust to NOT using one, if you decide that is the best solution for you. (And one might note, his blog drew 37 comments. Contentious subject indeed!)

And also, I must quote University of Minnesota violin professor Mark Bjork on the issue of advising any player on their set-up:

"When it comes to shoes, size 9 1/2 is the best. I've tried on all kinds of shoes, and 9 is too small, it cramps the toes. I'd say 10 is too big. I make ALL my students get size 9 1/2 shoes. They just fit best!"

June 15, 2007 at 06:34 AM · I'm of thin build, or rather average I suppose, not with broad shoulders (sigh). If I turn my head to the left slightly, the distance between the left side of my jaw and my left 'collar bone' is about the height of the violin body. I can pop a violin in that space easy as can be, and support the neck in my left hand. It is very comfortable for me. I worked this out for myself, but have lately benefited from new advice from Raphael Klayman, and also from Stephen Redrobe (in his DVD). My left shoulder is generally not very far from the back of the violin, and can be brought into play if need be. I find that I can use all different sorts of approaches to benefit me at different points in the music. By angling the violin downwards slightly I can bring it into direct contact with my shoulder without having to move the shoulder. Most of the time the violin is horizontal and there is a slight gap between my shoulder and the violin. Sometimes, as Raphael discusses in his website, my shoulder comes 'across' and is in contact with the back of the fiddle.

I have tried to play with a shoulder rest a few times in my life, without success. At times I envy rest users. Mostly, though, I don't. Let's all be thankful for what we've got.

June 15, 2007 at 08:01 AM · Have I met you, Michael? If not, we should. I love making contact with other members, and you happen to be conveniently located.

First of all, that elk hide sounds really comfortable. I play completely naked of any type of cloth, pad, or rest. That's mostly the way I prefer it, except when wearing a top that consists of slippery fabric. The extra grip you get with the elk hide helps a lot, I imagine.

I teach all my students to play restless, but mainly for the reason that since this is how I play, I relate better to the student when they are set up the same way I am. At the same time, since I know that people are all built differently, I try my best to find what works best for the individual. I have no problem with letting a student use padding if it helps them find a comfortable setup.

Since you seem to be in the position to make your own decision about this issue, I think you should feel confident in whatever you decide to do. There are many people on both sides that play well. The end goal is that you play well.

June 15, 2007 at 01:04 PM · Hi,

My take: whatever works for you. Everyone is different. Either way, it should be as natural and comfortable as possible for you. Anything else, is the problem.


June 15, 2007 at 03:21 PM · I have just finished an article with some illustrations about holding the violin that I think will be posted on in a bit. I think that the real issue is how to hold and support the violin in general. Chin rests and shoulder rests are important and must fit correctly but all too often teachers concentrate on the shoulder rest when they should be adjusting the way the student supports the instrument. Once the general support of the violin is correct then it is a lot easier to decide between chin rests and to decide whether to use a pad or a rigid rest and how thick they should be.

I agree with just about everything everyone has said supporting both sides of the argument but I think we are just missing the point. Raphael has great information, as does Emil.

June 15, 2007 at 03:32 PM · I am curious to know... for the people who are rest-less, what are your body heights?

I'm 6'1".

June 15, 2007 at 04:15 PM · I'm 6 feet. Long-necked (my best friend in high school called me "storkneck" and bony chested and bony shouldered. I hold the violin more with the collarbone, not the shoulder and use raising and lowering the scroll to aid in shifting. I grew up playing with a rest for 25+ years, switched to restless for the last 15 and love it. Long necks don't preclude the restless approach but by all means use what works - some of my favorite players use rests.

June 15, 2007 at 04:26 PM · i suspect laurie pays good dollars so that every week a lucky v.comer gets to ask about the sr. when is my turn?:)

i bet emil had a great time penning that delightfully clear post, possibly his 97th on the subject, shaking his head in disbelief that some will never get it. why is something so simple so complicated? what is worse, watching a reality show or this?:)

the correct sr use means the sr rests on the collar bone as well, like in the restless case. anything else is good material for a reality show.

June 15, 2007 at 04:54 PM · Ray, what do you do with your chin? What kind of contact do you have to your chinrest? How do you create that contact?

As a fellow long-neck, I'm curious...

June 15, 2007 at 11:19 PM · I'm 5' 10".

June 15, 2007 at 11:15 PM · I am tall and lanky at 6ft. I am practicly skin and bones which is why I stayed sr for so long. I was always under the impression sr-less people had great neck muscles being able to hold up the violin without using their hand, which is why when I have previously tried no sr, my shoulder was in pain. Now, I am holding it up with my hand, a still foriegn idea, and it has become a more intament part of me.

This past week I have been practicing without my sr and have become more comfortable without it. So far, it appears as if this switch is gonna stay for a while.

Last night I had my first chance to try it out in front of a group of people. My friend wanted to hit up a pub on the way back into Anchorage so we hit up some random bar in Eagle River. They had an open-mic night going on, which consisted of people jammin together playing Bob Dylan and Jimmy Buffet songs.

After a couple of rum & cokes I had the violin out, and was up onstage for close to 2 hours with everyone. I had a blast, they had a great time, and was even asked to come back next week. Not that bad of an old timer bar. My friend and I were the youngest there by about 10 years :)

For the time that I played, the violin felt comfortable and the time flew by, but that might of been the free drinks...

Just some more FB to a topic I started.

June 16, 2007 at 02:09 AM · I find it hard to play without a shoulder rest because I start to get to the the point where my palm is touching the neck. I also get horrible head/neck pains, yet I'm pretty short (hope that doesn't mean I'm holding it incorrectly either way). But I respect those who play without them, it does seem more natural.

June 16, 2007 at 02:08 AM · well, after reading this thread thru, I decided to try no SR for 2 days. I had to place a foamie on my shoulder, and switch chin rest to a Dresden. This was the only way I could stabilise the violin enough to hold it.

yup, the connection to the violin is more intimate. maybe my fingering is better, and too maybe vibrato. sound though has less volume, contrary to what others may say. BUT, the muscles in the back of my neck are very sore and stiff! truly painful. like an old whiplash injury I had. what is the secret to preventing this pain and spasm? I can't continue this way, so it's back to SR until I figure out how to avoid the pain.

June 16, 2007 at 02:38 AM · though lighter without--even nice, can't walk and chew bubble gum, so the stability with wins.

June 16, 2007 at 11:29 AM · Hi,

Ron, if you are one of those who can do it, the answer lies in having the violin sitting on the ledge so to speak and only have the neck/chin help slightly during downward shifts (or so my old teacher tells me and he plays without an SR).


June 16, 2007 at 01:50 PM · Without the rest, the violin simply slips down my chest to the floor. No way to keep it firm without applying chin pressure, which tenses the rear neck muscles. If I tighten my left hand grip, I can't shift or use fingers properly. The pain is now so bad, I am forced to wear a cervical collar, and sleep in a special position. The malady should pass with time: but no playing for the next 2 weeks at least. Obviously, I should have stopped long before the pain occurred, but the signs came suddenly. I stopped when I knew, but obviously too late. I thought I would post this to let people know care must be taken.

June 16, 2007 at 03:18 PM · Ron, one of the most important functions of a rest or pad is to provide friction so the violin doesn't slip of the shoulder and so that it doesn't tend to rotate around to the front so easily when the left hand base knuckle shifts up to higher positons and momentarily can't counter the rotation.

I think everyone needs some sort of anti-friction unless you are playing on bare skin.

Also, when the violin is positioned and supported properly it will almost stay on your shoulder without any chin pressure at all. Some people are built so that the violin stays up easily, and others are more sloped but I have never seen anyone who couldn't almost completely support the violin with proper positioning.

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