Down shifts without a shoulder rest

July 21, 2007 at 04:10 AM · This shifting down without a shoulder rest isn't so easy. How do those of you not using one describe the motions involved?

Replies (100)

July 21, 2007 at 04:30 AM · Are you using the commonplace left hand hold described by Fischer among others, in which the neck touches the base joint of the first finger?

If so, as long as the instrument is prevented from 'pulling out' from under your chin, you should be able to slide back and forth securely. Even many baroque players who don't use a chinrest shift this way.

As a modern player the very least you should experience with your hold is that the violin is 'hinged' at your chin/collarbone so that you can freely slide up and down the neck and your left hand is only holding the instrument up, not 'pulling' it in. (Yes many say that the left hand shouldn't even have to hold the instrument up...)

There are other 'schools' of shifting, which tend to leave the thumb behind to whatever degree or even do some 'crawling' with the thumb back and forth.

If your left hand hold is of the 'thumb and fingertips only' school, I have no idea what the answer might be. :-)

July 21, 2007 at 06:45 AM · mmm, jeez, you sort of lost me a little there--but that isn't too hard to do ;)... Thanks for your help. See below:

Anyway, your comment about having the instrument hinged I'm certain will be part of my solution. When I have been successful with down shift, it has been a delicately balanced relationship between the hinge you mentioned (a very delicate flexible feeling in the fold of the neck)--and lightness of hand. When this is in place, I don't even have to raise the neck as some have been said to do(actually somebody notable--but I just got of work and my brain is...).

And I will pay closer attention as this conversation evolves to exactly what my f1/neck relationship is. Off the cuff, I think it's a little lower--like just below the 1st joint, but with a distinct c-space in place. I have always been at least been able to stay consistent with that aspect--the c/space in the thumb:f1 fold.

It isn't even the added volume and resonance when I bring it off my shoulder-table for that purpose that I love about playing without a shoulder rest-- it's that I can actually manipulate the thing, get my tuck nice, and now even adjust it very lightly to get better intonation on G--though it wasn't terrible before.

So I'm certain that my practice tomorrow will involve recreating the hinge I experienced before and just sliding. It's also making me be 'very' serious about the lift/shift of the lift/shift/drop sequence of standard shifting--probably a good thing.

Looking at the big picture in reverse, the lightness of the hinge you mentioned is actually a pretty good trainer for overall lightness, in my mind.

July 21, 2007 at 07:52 AM · When I teach my beginning students to shift, I have them practice feeling the balance of the violin on the collarbone and left hand, and then I get them comfortable with sliding their left hand up and down the neck of the violin. Just up to fourth position or so. If I can get them to use this same motion when actually shifting, they discover that when done properly, they are simply changing the balance point. If you aren't squeezing, you should be able to slide back and forth without pulling the violin away from your body.

I don't know if that helps you any.

July 21, 2007 at 08:50 AM · One other thing you can try, not already mentioned, is to lift the scroll of the violin upwards prior to and during the downward shift.

July 21, 2007 at 10:44 AM · Varga students use a chin rest with a steeper edge than normal chinrest give which helps stop the violin/viola from popping out as you shift. I think GEWA still make a Varga model chinrest. The Guaneri chinrest is similar.

The thumb also has an important role. It supports the violin in what can be best described as a left hand position which looks like you are hitching a lift! In other words the thumb supports the violin from underneath the neck of the violin. The thumb does not point upwards but more to the side. I hope this has been put clearly!

July 21, 2007 at 01:24 PM · Some good advice in previous comments.

Part of the downward shift is like riding a bicycle. When you ride a bicycle you are constantly changing your balance towards the brink of falling over on one side to the brink of falling over on the other side.

When you shift with no shoulder rest you are constantly dropping and catching the violin. When you start to understand that in your head you quit fighting it and you work with it instead of against it. It becomes like riding a bike. No one but a rank beginner thinks they are about to fall over when they ride a bike. It takes a bit longer on the violin but you'll come to see downshifts very seemlessly and you won't feel like you're dropping the violin.

I do think that the advice above that the fingers lead the thumb in downward shifts is quite good. Don't leave the thumb fixed in the upper position but do follow the hand down.

At some point there is something to be said for leaving the thumb high in a downshift but don't rely on that.

July 21, 2007 at 04:29 PM · Thanks everyone--I just woke up, and read these before my coffee. I can say that Emily, that's exactly what I'm doing today for my practice with this.

And Neil, I've messed with raising the scroll a little, and have a feeling that in fast things in the future, I'll have to master this--it's the anticipation(I'm a football player doing ballet here it feels) of the raising that so far is getting me.

Martin, I have a Guaneri I may put back on to see the effect.

Corwin, I've been on a many month posture and balance festival---your comment speaks to many areas I've been working on.

Thank you all very much.

Last night, I padded the shoulder with a washcloth, which had what seemed nice results(I had previously decided to use no padding). But I lost a little resonance/volume (not enough to worry about and the notes still rang nicely), so that's sort of where I'm at.

So,,off to coffee and sliding hands--I'll keep in mind the thumb and scroll. Thanks you all very much.


p.s. I watched Heifetz intently playing Cap.24 last night, worth a repeat I think.

July 21, 2007 at 06:33 PM · Emily, Martin, Corwin: Yes--thank you...

The real application level: a little Vivaldi Mandolin concerti I put on violin awhile back--how sweeeeet..... Working nicely so far.

I was 'so' discouraged by this, having worked like two people getting my tuck, shaped left hand and vibrato across all strings using complete relaxation.

July 22, 2007 at 12:05 AM · Hi there,

Just a few other small points:

-As Andres mentioned, there are a few kinds of shifting schools. The popular method now is what Galamian called the principle of double contact; simply that the left hand (almost) always touches the violin at two points to stabilise it: from about the first to third position, the side of the index finger and thumb help support the violin along with your collarbone; from fourth position onward, the hand comes in contact with the upper bout of the violin and the thumb still supports the violin as it does in lower positions: still a 'double contact'.

Another method is that of a low thumb position in which the uppermost part of the thumb supports the violin and the index finger does not touch the neck of the violin at all. This is especially nice for quick shifting into high positions in fast, virtuoso work, but some left-hand techniques, particularly vibrato, are then less stable (watch Menuhin's left hand for example). Of course, whichever shifting method you use is perfectly fine so long as it is comfortable and efficient.

-Sevcik shifting exercises are very useful for finding what naturally works best for you, and the systematically cover essentially every possible shift from any one position to another.

-One very useful exercise that has been mentioned countless times by many people is supporting the violin against a wall and practising shifting, as it's not possible to use as much left-hand finger pressure without a shoulder rest than it is with.



July 22, 2007 at 12:55 AM · While teaching a lesson last week I came up with really simple concept of downshifting "au natural" without a shoulder rest. Simply allow the instrument to let its weight go to the left. That takes the weight off the first finger (if there is a lot of contact there), and kind of transfers it to the left shoulder. I find that this works particularly well on the lower strings. The amount of actual weight re-distribution is slight, but it is enough for me to feel quite free. I also use a center chin rest and hold the instrument off to the left anyway.

July 22, 2007 at 06:28 AM · Thanks Adam, Elaine. I won't be able to work on this much until tomorrow--just got off work-very late.

Adam, I think I understand your various schools. And basically before I ditched the shoulder rest, shifting was actually one of my stronger points because of guitar and banjo.

Nonetheless, your review of the two points I'll think about tomorrow.

Elaine, I find your advice about shifting weight left (wrong words--image understood), interesting and think I do something nearly like this vibrating on G, and when shifting upward there as well.

Thank you both very much. I'll work with these tomorrow; and, over the next few days with everything in the conversation up to this point as I have some time off with exception to canning.

Finally, when I responded earlier I noted that some of the other ideas were working: Emily, et. al.... And given that shifting was never an issue until I whalah'd up on down shifting, I think I'll have this conquered on my level withing a few days--and greatly relieved that this is so.... Greatly.

The greatly means, I was worried about messing up the lightness I've been working on so diligently a lot. And today before work, I was doing very well I think, and feeling a little more confident and playing more confidently with the hinge mentioned in an earlier response; and, starting to introduce lightness in the process with my chin and etc....

Anyway, Elaine, Adam, everyone thank you again. I'll get back when I've digested and worked with some of this more.

July 22, 2007 at 08:17 AM · PS The scroll absolutely needs to be even with your nose; otherwise, it will probably feel like it's sliding off your collarbone.

You're probably already aware of this, though, and I think someone else mentioned this, too.

Hope it's going well, Albert!

July 22, 2007 at 01:05 PM · Hi. There are a number of aspects to consider. I'll focus on the following:

1. As with pretty much any other technique on the violin, it is of paramount importance to RELAX. Whatever minimal pressure - or as I prefer to say, weight - is used when not shifting should be further lessend during shifts, whether ascending or descending. I've sometimes told students to imagine that they had dipped their hand into a bag of buttered popcorn. There should be a somewhat similar, lubricated feel when shifting.

2. Depending on the shift, and where I'm going to or coming from, in ascending my hand tends to lead the thumb slightly, though they pretty much move as a unit. In descending, my thumb sometimes leads slightly, acting as a "scout". It makes sense to me that if one part is going to lead, it should be whichever is closer to the destination of the shift - hence the hand or fingers in ascending, and thumb in descending. But again it is slight, and depends on the context. The thumb should always be very resilliant, and be able to act quickly, and easily. The most important thing is, again, relaxation, and flexibility.

3. In my approach to holding the violin (see my website - Click on "writings", then "fundamentals") I prefer that the NON shoulder-rested violin be more or less half on the shoulder and half on the collar bone. I also advocate that the chin be relaxed as well, and not exert unnnecessary pressure even when down-shifting. To aid all this I strongly recommend using some suede or other material under the violin, that will a provide a non-slip grip. Once you get used to this and trust it, you will find that you will feel secure with down-shifting, without worrying about the violin coming away from you!

July 22, 2007 at 05:02 PM · Emily I think it is. The level scroll was part of posture festival over the past few weeks anyway, and helped me dip the instrument left for awesome volume etc on G string.

Raphael Thanks. I will remember the lessening chin pressure particularly, as well as the leading thumb or following thumb (within perspective). I was sort of going there with the chin along with Elaine's mention of very slightly tilting left successfully after I answered last night (actually early early this morning). I've not found acceptable leather that doesn't sweat my shoulder yet, but have begun using a washcloth folded as my shoulder pad.

And Raphael! Your website( is what got me into this restless mess! ;). And you may still have my budlite as I'm still excelling because of it. Finally this increased lightness when shifting is telling, and I anticipate conquering it.....

Thanks again everyone--off to coffee and practice.

July 22, 2007 at 06:53 PM · Hey Albert, sorry to digress, but how did you get the bold highlights on

July 22, 2007 at 07:01 PM · Simple html... href doesn't work directly though because of the way the discussion section is designed, whereas, it does in blogs.

Now back to topic.

After delaying because I couldn't get woke up, I finally started getting everyone's suggestions in place a little bit ago, making myself play Wohlfahrt 1 and 2 as a single exercise sequentially, slowly, with resonance--just to get some fluidity going. Then, I was all over the fingerboard up through 5th using both Raphael's, Emily's, and Elaine's comments directly and everyone else's indirectly.

And now that the little Vivaldi theme came back to my mind(the mind's the first thing to go) I was jamming on yesterday, I'm going to go put it in a couple octaves.

July 22, 2007 at 07:37 PM · Okay, I get it. Thanks Albert!

July 22, 2007 at 07:41 PM · No problem...

It turns out to be arpeggios instead of Vivaldi--though I'm glad to have the little theme active again--it's beautiful.

July 23, 2007 at 01:06 AM · Raphael, your advice on who leads the shift during ascending and depending is most helpful to me at this point, as shift is one thing I’m working on a lot lately. Thanks, Albert, for start this thread.

I’ve recently learned a trick on ascending from high positions to the 3rd position by focusing on change of the whole shape of the hand , and it has proven to work really well for me. That is, the hand shape varies at the 3rd position and the higher positions and descending is often harder than ascending. Instead of focusing only the 1st finger and the thumb, if one makes a slight bent of the wrist and rotate the hand a bit during descending, it’ll provide a much more secure descending shift to the 3rd position. I don’t know if you familiar with this shifting technique and would like to hear what you guys think.

July 22, 2007 at 08:12 PM · So you too play without a shoulder rest Yixi?

July 22, 2007 at 08:34 PM · Yup. Been almost 6 months now.

July 22, 2007 at 10:46 PM · I once asked someone this and they told me two things:

Lean downward on a down shift (doesn't work for me, but good luck to you)

Use the shoulder to help hold the violin body up on downshifts. This way, your shoulder is an active participant in the music making as well. no pun intended.

July 22, 2007 at 10:47 PM · If using the shoulder means lifting it (even for an instant) then I would say don't use the shoulder.

My preference is no shoulder rest or pad but I would suggest a thick pad before I would suggest lifting the shoulder.

July 22, 2007 at 11:00 PM · I went with a pad--or washcloth folded.... Now it's six months+ retraining my overall body, in that getting it, is not consistently doing it...

Just keeping the shoulder forward to keep the table, is enough to focus on--ok I'll quit whining... The improvement tone and vibrato wise is just too much to ignore.

July 23, 2007 at 02:12 AM · Excellent discussion at hand. Adam made some wonderful points about double contact.

One of the reasons why third position is so easy and the most reliable position to play in of all is because the correct point of contact is for the hand to feel the rib.

All the greats did this watch Szeryng, Heifetz, Milstein etc. If your hand is away from the rib in 3rd position chances are you aren't playing in tune. If you look at a lot of Heifetz or Kreisler editions you'll see how many long down shifts go back to 3rd position as opposed to 4th or 2nd which are less reliable because there is this landmark (rib) to come back to.

Shoulder rests in some ways have ruined shifting principles. It is possible to make jerky motions with the rest because the shoulder is holding up the instrument as opposed to the balancing act which goes on between collarbone and left hand when there is no rest. The key to a good shift is to go as slow as you can without being late.

July 22, 2007 at 11:39 PM · That makes sense Nate. Also though I can see them doing that because it's less steps back, or distance.

Living in the mountains (This is a crazy example), first I do not use steps when I can get around them, and often take smaller steps when carrying things up to one of the gardens to save wear and tear on my knees such as they are. It takes a little longer, but I'm not tired when I get up there, and my knees have been spared.

July 23, 2007 at 12:06 AM · I know there are those who disagree but I don't understand the "keep the shoulder forward to keep the table" comment. This, to me, is the same as lifting the shoulder with the same consequences--debilitating injury.

There is no reason the shouler cannot be totally relaxed.

July 23, 2007 at 12:27 AM · Corwin,

I agree with you completely in that the shoulder must not be lifted upwards. But I have heard concerns that moving the shoulder forward is merely onanistic when it comes to injury prevention, and I don't agree. The shoulder-forward position actually serves the same purpose as lifting the shoulder: it decreases the distance between the shoulder and the chin, but it does not tense the neck or upper back muscles.

In any case, as Leopold Auer once remarked, "Violin playing is a perishable art".



July 23, 2007 at 02:51 AM · I've found a piece of real leather chamois of the type found sometimes in car care departments to be very helpful to a 'restless' hold.

Oh and about where the neck contacts the hand below the index finger--an old teacher of mine turned on the lightbulb for me about a restless hold when she showed me that she could hold the violin neck up with her thumb and fingers waving free--the neck was balanced on the base joint of her index finger.

Not to say one can or ought to always arrange it so, but knowing the feeling is very useful.

July 23, 2007 at 06:50 PM · I feel no tension with the shoulder a little forward--I just can't remember to do so, like when learning new music, or recalling old music and focusing on that. So I don't know Corwin. But I'm working on that.

Raphael Klayman's site ( discusses the lightness of the instrument on the left hand and shoulder as Andres described here... (In the fundamentals sections)

July 23, 2007 at 07:07 PM · I've lifted my shoulder slightly for 4 years now without injury. I wouldn't suggest it to my students, but it works for me.

July 23, 2007 at 07:09 PM · Some people do it forever with no injury. Some people do it for a year and are hurt badly.

My guess is that it will take ten years off of the average person's playing life.

July 24, 2007 at 12:26 AM · Albert, instead of a shoulder rest I've been using a rectangular piece of chamois inserted into a velvet bag purchased at a wine shop, the sort of bag you might use to present a wine bottle as a gift. The bag, when flat, is also rectangular. I insert the chamois, fold the bag in half and lay it over the shoulder/collar bone so that it and extends an inch or so up onto my neck. I find this extremely comfortable with very little loss of sound. Sometimes I stuff it under my shirt unless the shirt is made of a slippery material. My bag is red velvet, but I'm looking for a black one. Tres chic.

July 24, 2007 at 02:32 AM · Thanks Anthony--I just use a washcloth under my shirt--the theory is it will keep my playing clean ;). I am going to get some chamois when it's convenient... Later. al

July 24, 2007 at 03:14 AM · Tony: moved my cloth up as you described--how cool--thanks.

July 24, 2007 at 02:25 PM · Everyone, and Adam, Nate and Raphael in particular, thank you for describing in such detail what I am doing when I'm shifting. I'm ashamed to admit I hadn't mulled this one over enough. When I was finally freed from my shoulder rest captivity, I was already a proficient shifter and it was easy for me to experiment around with my thumb and fingers until it started working for me. I didn't think about what I was doing. I just thought about the sound I was making and tried to make it sound nice and my fingers/thumb/arms/chin/collarbone did the rest.

I'm curious about your hand Albert--what does it look like? Big, small, large palm, long fingers? Spade shaped, square fingertips or round? In my experience with students, their hand shapes have a great deal to do with contact/movement issues.

Playing the violin (and, in this case, downward shifting) is all about constant movement and adjusting. That's my measly knowledge.

July 24, 2007 at 06:17 AM · hmm, being a little bashful, I never give much thought to things like that Kimberlee to be honest. I'm a compact little strong man with big feet and smallish hands I think--Or at least bar chords on guitar convinced me they are small.

With that said though, I'm thankful for Raphael and everyone here also. I feel really good things happening, and even started getting back to my program this evening (learning Becker's Gavotte) in Suzuki 3 while maintaining really good posture.

But,,,, this posture festival diversion has been probably all that; and, if tonight was a clue, I'm very anxious to get these things as my instinctive standard. I know it will take some time, but I was doing very well learning tonight (even if at largo) tone wise and with good posture....

My list of things I thought about tonight as I practiced successfully was:

1. straight wrist (had to remedial this a couple weeks ago.)

2. light chin (the chin rest is not a pillow).

3. light hold of instrument in every way...

4. light quiet right wrist except at the tip's suplination.

5. more bow speed makes for cool drama, but just use enough to get the juice out of the note.(I know what this means).

6. keep your tuck, while staying relaxed.

7. don't meander posture wise--you can lighten up down the road. (I know what this means too).

8. make yourself play in the middle half(I am not Russian).

9. keep general good posture even if it means playing in spurts awhile--it all works together.

10.Continue finding your most efficient shape for southpaw, and use the exercises from another thread in doing so.

11.Keep your table formed and relaxed.

12. Send Raphael a Budlite....

Festival means festival as you can probably see. But it was ditching the rest for me too Kimberlee that made a huge leap in intonation for me, including tuck and vibrato as well. And it really hasn't ended in that Tony's remark about placing the pad further , if not completely, got me securing the instrument even more effectively just tonight.

So I'm not BS'ing when I say 'good things'. Anyway, I do not know the shape of my hand? hmm...

Almost forgot--and watching Hilary Hahn live in action really drove everything home.


I'm almost ready to start playing parallel to the bridge :-}

July 24, 2007 at 02:31 PM · Oh, don't play parallel to the bridge--who taught you that cockamamie garbage? Certainly not Milstein :)! (Said a bit tongue in cheek--but only a bit). And, sorry. I didn't mean to make you feel bashful. We're all working to make this look natural, but when we get there, we all look different doing it. Technique should support one's nature. So, I was trying to get a better picture of your nature before making a good technical suggestion.

July 24, 2007 at 04:36 PM · Yeah, yeah I hear ya--I think you knew I'd go around asking people to describe my hand. And of course for double blind it would be strangers. :-D!

July 24, 2007 at 08:38 PM · quote:

"Oh, don't play parallel to the bridge--

who taught you that cockamamie gar-bage?

Certainly not Milstein, Said a bit tongue in cheek-but only a bit.

And, sorry. I didn't mean to make you feel bashful.

We're all working to make this look natural,

but when we get there, we all look different doing it. "


Kimberlee, this belongs in the "limmericks" thread!

July 24, 2007 at 11:58 PM · OMG!!! Maybe I was born in Ireland without knowing it. Either that, or YOU were born in Ireland, Alan. Props for being so observant.

July 25, 2007 at 01:33 AM · It's all Sanders' fault. (g)

July 25, 2007 at 02:41 AM · Agree ;)...

July 25, 2007 at 02:46 AM · Actually, now that I think about it, it would be kind-of good, as a study I mean, Albert, if you would go around asking strangers what your hand looks like while reciting the excellent limmericks you've learned on none other than! Get it on tape and post it on the concerts. Good stuff. That would actually be pretty entertaining. Rave reviews I'm sure.

July 25, 2007 at 03:39 AM · I am only a beginner a few months into the violin, and I ditched my shoulder rest about a month or so ago. I did this mainly because it felt so much more free to be playing the violin sans shoulder rest.

However, I have as of late been experimenting with playing in various positions, shifts and what may be required of one hoping to accomplish a downshift without the aid of a shoulder rest (shifts and other positions are not in my lesson plan as of yet, but I am a curious one so I play around). To say that a downshift would be easier with a shoulder rest is a no-brainer, but on the flip side I have been happy to find that it can be done without a shoulder rest, and not with great difficulty provided exact timing and the proper hold. Of course, one could just cheat and raise the shoulder when downshifting (that would be considered cheating, wouldn't it?). But, I do not think it is neccessary. At least this is what I have learned with my build. I would suppose that for some with a different build the process may be more difficult (or easier, perhaps).

Regardless, from what little I know I would say that timing on the downshift without the aid of a shoulder rest is very important, that is the timing of the coordinated movements. That, and the positioning the left hand so as to not grip the neck of the violin (always a no-no, it seems). In my case this means the laying of the thumb more underneath the neck.

But, for those in the know, does the above make any sense and, I have to ask this, is life without the shoulder rest worth the added effort? Yes, I know all of the greats that play and have played without one (as well as many of the greats that now play with one), but it seems to have gravitated to the point of having become dogma. I now play without a shoudler rest, and I do love the way the violin feels when a shoulder rest is absent, but I have not forgotten the stability the shoulder rest brought to the equation. Heck, I used to kid my teacher that I could prepare and consume an evening's dinner with the violin on my shoulder given a shoulder rest, and without undue effort, I might add. And Albert, I do not doubt I could get some gardending done as well with a shoulder rest-wearing-violin perched in place. When I used to use a shoulder rest, the violin just sat there ready and willing (were I able). Don't get me wrong, I love life without my shoulder rest, but still I sometimes wonder...

July 25, 2007 at 03:40 AM · Okay...okay, I let a moment of doubt get the better of me, and I apologize to the 'shoulder rest-less gods'! At any rate, if someone is able to answer the questions I asked above, please do. I am always an eager little learner when it comes to all things violin. Thanks to all!

July 25, 2007 at 03:49 AM · Chris It's a personal choice... That's all.

July 25, 2007 at 04:10 AM · Emily said:

"Actually, now that I think about it, it would be kind-of good, as a study I mean,"

Please! No dares--you don't know me ;).

July 25, 2007 at 04:19 AM · Albert, that's really all there is to it? I have always had (or been given) the impression that one needs to learn to play without a shoulder rest in order to really learn the violin as it was meant to be played (whatever that means). However, it appears to me that most who learn with a shoulder could care less whether or not another plays with or without one. But, some who learn with a shoulder rest seem to get to the point where they realize that in order to mature they must shed their shoulder rest, that somehow the hideous contraption stands in the way of true mastery. And others learn to live without a shoulder rest from the get go.

All I can say is that I would appreciate a rock solid, concrete explanation for why one should learn the violin without a shoulder rest. Some do seem dogmatic about it, and surely there must be a reason beyond personal pride and prejudice, or can I be wrong??? Please someone, anyone, enlighten me!

July 25, 2007 at 04:43 AM · Here...

You'll find a list of reasons--beyond that keyword: dogma....

July 25, 2007 at 05:08 AM · Now, with a little more time on my hands:

Though there are very good reasons for playing with a shoulder rest from what I read, there are also several hundred years of playing without one. That in my mind, is a critical mass of precedence to choose my own way.

Likewise, the same evolving principles related to playing without tension, apply equally if not more to playing without a shoulder rest: Alexander technique, basic relaxed approaches....

So like the history of vibrato which took quite some time to be accepted as it is used today,there were many small steps that brought it to where it is today. Likewise again, one may choose several departure points along the way within which to apply vibrato standards that are beyond the standard violin course most receive today.

The only concrete answer I can give you, is choose wisely, practice carefully without one, and don't look back. Part of the reason to be careful is retraining the muscles disengaged by a shoulder rest to be strong and fluid requires some time.

Another reason is that balance is complicated--as per this discussion about down shifting--by not using a shoulder rest. So it's not a matter of sifting the dogma related to should rest(less) choices, as much as doing whatever you choose correctly and carefully.

I wouldn't be surprised if down the road with advances in kinesiology, as well as notions such as Alexander, if it doesn't become more desirable to play without a shoulder rest as the standard again. We simply don't know.

Be all that said, it would serve anyone well I think, to understand the literature on why to use a shoulder rest equally well. When I have worked with understanding this, simply adjusting the things became mind boggling.

Hope this answers your question.

July 25, 2007 at 05:59 AM · There you go again, mixing me up with my twin sister kimberlee... ;)

July 25, 2007 at 06:59 AM · Dang! Well,, you're both good lookin.

July 25, 2007 at 07:38 AM · use a shoulder rest, probably your neck is too long

July 25, 2007 at 12:30 PM · May I re-post part of smething I said on another thread?

From Raphael Klayman

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 5:51 AM (MST)

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.

- 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.

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 religious 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 appearance, then why not do away with it? The question then 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 illusion 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.

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.

One final thought, before I take a break here. 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!


July 25, 2007 at 12:25 PM · Raphael,

The write-up on your web site is excellent. Thank you for taking the time to record this information. I've only a minute as I've got to leave for my day job in a short while (gee, I feel kind of like Superman stepping out for his stint at The Daily Planet...LOL...but I digress). Anyway, I guess I have known instinctively that rest-less playing was the way to go, and that adopting the use of my Kun rest was in some way cheating myself out of an opportunity to become more. But, as with many aspects of learning the violin, now and then one has to stop and take a moment to consider the choices made along the way.

Thanks again,


July 25, 2007 at 03:36 PM · Thanks!

July 25, 2007 at 04:03 PM · It would be a good diversion for this conversation to discuss strengthening the neck and shoulders to accommodate restless playing. While lightness is the thesis I'm sure ;), it still seems a really good idea to dissect the differences in overall muscles used, at least from a restless perspective.


July 26, 2007 at 02:54 AM · Thanks for mixing me up with that cool Alaskan twin sister of mine, Albert. She rocks.

Raphael, you put this issue very diplomatically, and I like the points you raise.

Why do I like playing without a shoulder rest? FREE LEFT SHOULDER. I need my shoulder and I don't want to imprison it under a rest. Playing with a shoulder rest feels like being a bird with a broken wing. I want both of my wings extended and powerful with energy pulsing strong all the way through to the tips of my fingers.

Playing without a rest requires a great deal of flexibility (transferrance of weight, thumb positions, chin and collarbone usage), coordination and balance. For me, it was a good choice, but I agree with Raphael, using a rest does not make you evil or inferior.

July 26, 2007 at 02:27 AM · Inferior?...maybe, considering that playing without a rest seems to pose greater challenges, in return offering greater possibilities to those who dare give it a go. Sure, some very accomplished rest-induced players exist, but what could they have become had they turned from the dark side? Oops, did I just say "dark side"? Sorry, I never intended to imply such a paradigm by suggesting those who use a shoulder rest are evil ambassadors of the violin!

Inferior??? maybe. Evil??? if so, not likely due to the use of a shoulder rest ;)

July 26, 2007 at 02:50 AM · Of course, in the above I'm poking some fun at rest-induced players of the violin. Yes, Kimberlee, for me as well playing without a shoulder rest appears to be the right choice, and for reasons I cannot fully explain. In my gut, instinctively I suppose, I know it is the path I should take.

Here's another, more poetic, reflection (if I may indulge in a bit of plagiarism, and some literary butchery in the process)...a road diverged in the wood, and I took the one less traveled... We all come to that fork in the road, one path leading to a life with the shoulder rest, and another to a life without. It seems that nowadays, we who opt for a life without are taking the road less traveled. When I go into a violin shop, to shop around for the violin I hope to one day purchase (and I found her a couple of weeks ago, but she is way out of my league), whomever is working the floor will almost out of habit reach for a shoulder rest to fit prior to my test drive. When I mention that I play without a rest, it is always a surprise and every once in a while I even get the impression of being considered some sort of oddity, a remnant from a former age.

And so we rest-less players of the violin have become. We're a dying breed, but on the rebound, I believe. You know what they say, you can't keep a good thing down!

July 26, 2007 at 04:45 AM · Kimberlee En Portugesa: eh pah! or yeah cool, my pleasure, no problem, or my favorite phrase: 'I hear ya. Yes, she does...

I hate to talk about it too much because it sounds like I'm proselytizing, but GoD!, it's made such a difference getting rid of the thing. Of course my story was one of tiny little baby steps because I started out in terrible pain from an accident from day 1. I was trying to put scroll against the wall to get over to G, while at the same time f2, f3 and f4 were literally throbbing with pain.

Then when I got that under relative control I was literally bombarded with overuse issues up the inside of S-paw. So, my case is unique, and should be taken in perspective.

But, just the resonance, the manipulation of G, this girl really sings for me now!. The vibrato! But again, I truly was a zen moment waiting to happen I think. No, I'm sure....

So Chris, it's really not a road less traveled, it's just a road I think. And go easy on the rest using people because besides being the majority, there are actually very good reasons for using them in many cases. Indeed, not using one, creates a somewhat obscures set of issues that would suggest research to make sure it's being done correctly. Muscles, lightness.....

I'm hoping Raphael and whomever doesn't use one will be part of this other set of issues conversation to help us newbies not get hurt.

I just got home from work and picked up my violin, put on my pad, and immediately, she started singing--that's remarkable to me.... Remarkable.

July 26, 2007 at 12:12 PM · Albert - re strengthening the neck and shoulders...I must say, I've never thought about this in that way. If your doing it right, you should feel almost like the fiddle is floating. Whatever strength or stamina is needed should come from gradually increased practice.

This is not to say that I don't get aches and pains. Even with proper use there are still issues of overuse for a busy professional who may sometimes have two opera rehearsals in one day, as well as do lots of driving and shlepping. But the basic act of playing the violin should feel easy. We shouldn't feel like were muscling through anything. Eric Freidman said that standing close to Heifetz when the latter would demonstrate a passage at a lesson, H. was so utterly relaxed that F. got the subjective impression that if he breathed too hard he could blow the fiddle and bow right out of H.'s hands!

BTW, I don't know if Buri is restless or rested - but with his knowledge of Alexander Technique, I'll bet he'd have some good insights.

July 26, 2007 at 02:01 PM · From my experience that is the beauty of rest-less playing, a feeling very much as if the violin floates upon the shoulder on one end and upon the hand at the other, like a tiny vessel buoyed on supple waves. This feeling is the reason I turned from the rest. The rest is akin to a vessel tied in port, and a lack of to a vessel free ro roam the open seas.

July 26, 2007 at 02:52 PM · I've stoppeed using a shoulder rest because with my short fat fingers and short arm I wanted less to have to reach around. Now I can look at Pag 14 and make the stretches.

July 26, 2007 at 03:47 PM · Raphael, that is a complete image thanks. It wasn't so much a lightness thing--I think it's in emphasizing that lightness, and ensuring those who play rest'less, realize how important it it to get there?....--especially true I think, to people who ditch the rest. There's several other adult beginners finding their way that read these, and....

Just wanted to cover all bases for the benefit of others who might not be able to walk and chew bubble gum--I speak from experience.

July 26, 2007 at 04:49 PM · I like that floating image, Raphael. When I'm on par, playing the violin feels like flying.

Albert--Legal! How did you know? Fala Portuguese tambem? Nao falo bem, mas eu tento--que importante tentar todas as dias nao e?

July 26, 2007 at 06:58 PM · Albert, as a guy (I'm assuming there aren't any girls named Albert), you do have the option of playing with your shirt off. That should help create a grip between your shoulder and fiddle.

July 26, 2007 at 07:10 PM · It has been recommended to me that the rubber material used to line shelves can be cut to size to help you grip with the smallest amount of intrusion.

July 26, 2007 at 07:20 PM · The rubber stuff can hurt varnish depending on where it's made and how fresh it is.

Chamois works very well.

July 26, 2007 at 08:51 PM · Suede works very well for me. Is chamois the same as or similar to suede?

BTW, thanks, Kimberlee!

July 26, 2007 at 09:23 PM · Chamois is similar but the 'roughness' is powdery-fine and it is extremely soft. (Especially after umpteen rinsings to get whatever dressings it had out.)

July 26, 2007 at 09:35 PM · I use chamois, as it's a softer and ligher skin than suede. I use it to wrap around the chinrest and fold the rest to the back. I also use an elastic band so the chamois stays absolutely in place.

July 26, 2007 at 09:59 PM · I went to my local NAPA to find some chamois, and did, but I also bought a very nice and very soft microfiber cloth. I dropped just shy of $14 in the purchase of these two items, but I reasoned that if I did not use either with my violin, I could always find other uses for the chamois and cloth. And, as it turns out I am going to continue to play without either as this feels best and most secure, however I was surprised to find that the microfiber cloth actually felt and seemed to work better than the chamois. But, as mentioned, in the end I abandoned both in favor of none.

July 27, 2007 at 04:47 AM · Right now I'm just using a washcloth under my shirt and protecting my neck until I get some chamois. I only a couple days or so ago, let it protect my neck --previously I was just using it to fill the shoulder space--working great.....

Rob I do sometimes take the shirt of, but more to watch what muscles I'm using, finding what parallel means to me, and going for overall posture fixes... I can see the shoulder table for example...

July 27, 2007 at 01:02 AM · Raphael's write-up on violin posture and left hand position is very, very good. Raphael, thanks again for taking the time to put this together. I hope other violinists fortunate enough to come across this information on the web will appreciate the insights offered.

Tonight, prior to practicing, I went through Raphael's write-up in rote fashion and was pleased to find that I am already doing all that Raphael has suggested. My teacher told me early on that I have good form and posture, and paid me the compliment of telling me that I seem to have an instinctive feel for the instrument, for knowing what to do with a violin in my hands. Maybe it is something genetic, I don't know. My great-grandmother played as a first chair violinist in the New York Philharmonic early in the last Century. Tragically, she died while still quite young, but even today she is revered for who she was as a person, and for her talent. I'd like to think that some of her ability was passed on to me. To what extent this is true I will of course never know, but what I feel in my heart for music and the violin is very real, very strong and enough to carry me on in the absence of that which I do lack. Playing the violin is a strikingly passionate endeavor and I feel for those who will never know the degree to which this elegant little wooden box allows one to express the most deeply felt groanings of the heart. This instrument and the messages it is able to convey while in capable hands is nothing short of miraculous. But I guess you all already know this to be true.

July 27, 2007 at 03:19 AM · Glad to be of help!

July 27, 2007 at 05:34 AM · No not legal Kimberlee... Caring... Again, 'I speak from experience'....

Eu falo algum, mais em el passado.

This is going very well, but we're going to make Raphael's head grow! :-) I repeat his/those steps forming the table several times a day Chris, and took a step on my own since I use a centered chin rest in finding a light fit before the instrument hits the shoulder in the correct range of placement.

I was talking to my friend earlier tonight, who is an encyclopedia of experience and knowledge. She studied even before chin-rests were fashionable; and, shared the following with me(paraphrased):

"Allow your tuck to center more under the instrument on down-shifts instead of reaching for the moon with your elbow, gently, subtly, easily, unnoticeably." And things about the thumb leading following already discussed.

I only tried this once so far tonight, and will see where it takes me.

I had a very positive night keeping the table, adjusting for G, and not getting jumpy. I applied Wohlfahrt 3 variations because I also needed to work on my my detached notes in a phrase sorely. The point being, I was able to clean these up, and play with nice resonance and projection.

I noted to someone else recently to play every note focused. I think I just started following my own advice...

I'm going to continue tomorrow as tonight I think, but also work on 8note slurs to get my newly relaxed, refined bow hold(which incidentally was also responsible for cleaning up my detached notes--a recoil issue) to adjust to string crossings better. I worked a little on this tonight--a little.

July 27, 2007 at 03:58 PM · I thought "legal" meant "cool or neato" in Portuguese--that's what I was taught anyway. Where did you pick it up?

July 27, 2007 at 04:59 PM · e possivel.. Azores/U.MD

July 27, 2007 at 08:30 PM · Well, at this point I can barely get my head through the door way - and I have all you nice people to thank for my sorry state!

But seriously, for getting a bit more of that floating feeling, you might try this simple excersise. Hold the violin in the normal way. Now move it a bit from side to side. Now, a bit up and down. Finally, move it in small circles, clockwise, and counter-clockwise. It should feel very free and comfortable to do this. It would be disruptive to do this during most normal playing, but when you are actually practicing, every once and a while stop, and try these movements. You should feel comfortable doing so on a second's notice. If it feels like you're really shifting gears, then your probably gripping too much.

July 27, 2007 at 08:19 PM · Well, at this point I can barely get my head through the door way - and I have all you nice people to thank for my sorry state!

But seriously, for getting a bit more of that floating feeling, you might try this simple excersise. Hold the violin in the normal way. Now move it a bit from side to side. Now, a bit up and down. Finally, move it in small circles, clockwise, and counter-clockwise. It should feel very free and comfortable to do this. It would be disruptive to do this during most normal playing, but when you are actually practicing, every once and a while stop, and try these movements. You should feel comfortable doing so on a second's notice. If it feels like you're really shifting gears, then you're probably gripping too much.

July 28, 2007 at 12:51 AM · Yeah, Raphael--those are great ideas. Anything to keep you moving, adjusting etc.. I heard you study kung fu? I would think there are similarities with movement between these two arts. Making adjustments depending on the situation--right?

Another exercise that helps with that floating feeling--play while looking up at the ceiling (head totally disengaged from the instrument)--it isolates the hand/collarbone/bow relationship and helps you establish balance before adding the chin into the equation. Also, it naturally lifts your sternum upwards which helps posture and keeps the body in an open position.

Caution--don't play I&RC like this . . . and it's not the best exercise to practice when shifting, which is why I didn't mention it earlier. Since we're off topic anyway, I figured I'd mention it. Start with Twinkle or Go Tell Aunt Rhody.

July 28, 2007 at 12:41 AM · Well, I studied Kung-Fu off and on for several years a long time ago. I never got past an intermediate level, but it's still in my blood in some ways. I begin my violin practice with some simple stretching excersises that we used to do. Some other aspects, as well.

July 28, 2007 at 02:26 AM · Raphael, the freedom you mention is one of the things that caused me to question for a moment if I was a bit too loose and might benefit from the use of a shoulder rest. This occured while working out the Gavotte at the close of Suzuki Book 1. Well, the Gavotte went quite well actually and only took a bit more than a week to master, so I've managed to stifle my little insecurity and move on. I was also messing around with downshifting, etc. at the time I was learning the Gavotte, so this only added to my wondering whether I should reconsider a shoulder rest. Again, with a bit more attention and by focusing on the little things, the downshift as well does not seem as though it will be too great a thing to overcome when shifts are added to my lesson plan. I have to tell you, I cannot wait until other positions are added to my lesson plan. That and vibrato...also double stops. I mess around with these a bit now, but my family life only allows at best a half an hour of quality practice a day (that is during the weeks my job does not send me out of town), so I try to stick to my lesson plan, which also includes theory. What I would'nt give to have the time I would have had for this while still in my youth! I try not to think about it, though, as it can become a bit depressing.

July 28, 2007 at 05:28 PM · go out and buy a shoulder rest: it is very cheap!

July 28, 2007 at 06:02 PM · Chris, you should try using one and not, or maybe Antonello will buy for you.

July 28, 2007 at 08:37 PM · I already have a Kun! It has been relegated to the status of a curious novelty, and this is where I believe it will remain. Remember, all 'progress' is not progress and sometimes you have to go down the wrong path a ways before you realize it is the wrong path and time to turn back.

July 28, 2007 at 11:09 PM · I'm pretty sure you should buy a shoulder rest because If I had not been sure for sure I wouldn'thave told you to by a shoulder rest for sure.

July 29, 2007 at 12:29 AM · Antonello--

Are you sure?

July 29, 2007 at 12:39 AM · I must be missing something here, will somebody who has been around a while longer please clue me in?

July 29, 2007 at 01:42 AM · Kimberlee, last time I checked, I think Antonello was sure for sure. I'm not so sure, but I think Antonello is in the discount shoulder rest business. :)

July 29, 2007 at 06:48 AM · I'm just not sure about anything anymore! Dang!

July 31, 2007 at 04:50 PM · Al, and other rest-less folks - keep the faith! I'm very busy now, and I do want to contribute a few more cents to another thread. But I hope to be back soon with another excersise. Meanwhile, anyone want to help out Clayton?

July 31, 2007 at 05:11 PM · I was just kidding with ^above Raphael. Your instructions and direction are clear and appreciated. I have thought about a list for restless people--I do checklists:

1. Never just arbitrarily pick up your instrument--always be about placement.

2. Always focus on lightness of chin.

3. Always focus on supporting instrument lightly, parallel or 'slightly above' and with relaxed tuck--if there's tension in the tricep something is wrong.

4. If you feel tension, stop.

5. Always keep neck 99.99 percent straight even when jawline is on chinrest.

6. Practice shifting in both directions in half and whole steps before jumping to larger spans.

7. If new to no shoulder rest playing, use a mirror 90% of the time if not a hundred.

8. Go slowly, be patient..... Go slowly, be patient.

9. Raphael's promised other exercise. See his site ( in the fundamentals section for steps in basic placement and exercises to find said placement..

August 6, 2007 at 12:43 AM · Why do You play with out S-R?


August 6, 2007 at 01:40 AM · Oh - Al et al, I almost forgot that other excersise. It's very simple, but helpful. In the program, "The Art of Violin", Menhuin praised Oistrakh for his wonderful freedom in moving his head while he played. That's just it. First when just holding - balancing - the violin, then when actually playing, gently move your head back and forth. It's one more step towards that free, floating feeling.

BTW, who needs equilibrium? Everybody!

August 6, 2007 at 02:22 AM · Who needs equilibrium? I thought it was a joke when I first read the comment. If using a shoulder rest is to compensate off-balanced playing, that got to be one of the worst arguments for using it.

August 6, 2007 at 03:05 AM · Thanks for the pointer Raphael--I'm sure you've mastered this well.... I'll have to work on it. It also seems true for playing with a rest you think?

August 6, 2007 at 03:09 AM · I close this thread, with me not Putin.

Raphael's got me playing like I'm standing on cushion.

The thing floats around,

like a wind that left the ground,

singing better'n ever with new footin!.

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