Learning to play without a shoulder rest.

July 31, 2007 at 04:42 AM ·

Replies (95)

July 31, 2007 at 01:32 PM · You want to make this change because??? Too many people still cling to a notion that it is somehow "better" to play w/o a rest. Not better, just different. This could easily be a major alteration to your technique that affects your tone, intonation, bow use and phyiscal comfort. Youa re just starting a college program, where I would presume they have expectations that you are not what amounts to a beginner in your sense and understanding of who to play. Sue

July 31, 2007 at 03:03 PM · I'm a terrible player and I don't use one. My principal reason is that it is annoying to have to have that extra device.

My son plays really well and uses a rest (and no chinrest).

Joshua Bell uses a rest.

Milstein didn't.


July 31, 2007 at 03:52 PM · You should wait until you start with David Perry and discuss the issue with him. This is not a trivial decision because of the possible effect on your technique. He can look at your technique and help you decide if this makes sense. If you do decide to make the change, he can guide you so that the chageover is as smooth as possible and you do not pick up bad habits.

July 31, 2007 at 04:28 PM ·

July 31, 2007 at 05:33 PM · Hello,

What everyone else advised plus,


This has the actual steps and the following thread

has alot of details: Downshifting with a shoulder rest.

There is no way given the new chapter in your life I'd arbitrarily make this change. If anything, I'd read the above about how to basically do it, realize the adjustment to especially non-beginners, and approach it like learning a brand new instrument.

I am a relatively short muscle bound person, and pretty much benefited immeasurably from the transition--this may or may not be true for you. But even as pretty much a beginner, I'm having to add one tiny element at a time. It's not as bad as starting over because of awesome sound and flexibility improvements for me particularly, but I'm walking very very slowly.

I'll grab the actual other post reference for you in a minute, so please read the list I started at about things to keep in mind--as well as any other Alexander type notions you can come up with (please share).

Here's the discussion--the list is at post 95.


July 31, 2007 at 06:56 PM · Hi Clayton. My daughter will also be a freshman at UW this fall, in piano performance. She plans to be an orchestral conductor. She illustrated an article I wrote on how to hold the violin. You can read it on this site under the section "About the violin" on the home page.

The real question is how can you, as an individual, be most comfortable holding and playing the violin. You must address these issues with your teacher. I, personally, believe that in most cases rigid rests are too restrictive and that no rest or padding of any kind is too little. I think that for most people some padding that also increases friction so that the violin doesn't slip is best.

I think that you are doing the right thing by carefully researching this question so that you can be prepared to intelligently deal with it in the fall with your new teacher. Enjoy Madison.

July 31, 2007 at 07:29 PM · http://www.artsalive.ca/en/mus/musicresources/webcasts.html

Mr. Zukerman talks about his shoulder rest-less set up and why he doesn't like shoulder rests like the Kun. The clip is under November 20, 2002, Q and A session, part 1.

August 1, 2007 at 05:52 AM · One cannot get the kind of sound Mr. Zukerman gets with a rest. I'd seriously take his advice about playing without a shoulder rest. None of the great violinists of the past used shoulder rests.

I would suggest for those who are serious about switching to do it gradually. You do not need a teacher to tell you how to play without a rest. You need to find what makes YOU comfortable. A few pointers I would suggest: avoid lifting the shoulder, try balancing the violin on your collarbone, and keep the instrument at a flat angle. If you are ready to make that switch, I would suggest to begin this transition by using a sponge or foam rubber under the instrument, then gradually maybe downgrade to as little as possible under the instrument.

Some shoulder rest users might be scoffing at me at this point after suggesting the sponge as a better alternative. Hear me out! The reason I think a sponge is better than a shoulder rest is because you will have greater range of movement and motion from string to string. You will not be playing at a tiltled angle which most rests make you do.

August 1, 2007 at 06:18 AM · One consideration not mentioned above is the sound of the violin. So . . . a couple of weeks ago I removed my shoulder rest (for the first time), a Viva La Musica (German), to do a shifting exercise in Fischer ("Basics," #206, p. 147, Thumb preparation for shifting). This exercise calls for playing arpeggios on one string without a shoulder rest.

Lo and behold, the timbre of my violin changed markedly - becoming more complex and richer. Anyone else notice this? I assume that the tight fit of the shoulder rest was selectively dampening the instrument's vibrations.

I put the shoulder rest back on (that's how I've been playing for many decades), but am now mulling over whether and how to go about divesting myself of it. My teacher suggests a chunk of foam under the shirt atop the shoulder; she'd like me to lose the shoulder rest in any case. So I am reading this thread with some interest, and look forward to more comments.

August 1, 2007 at 09:53 AM · Hi, there is a halfway stage, the Huber pad,which I use, is thin and wedge shaped and you can put the violin in the case with it on which is very handy. The instructions tell how to fit it with the supplied elastic band.

JTL supply it and you can get info from google.

I've no financial interst in it!

August 1, 2007 at 01:57 PM · "Lo and behold, the timbre of my violin changed markedly - becoming more complex and richer. Anyone else notice this? I assume that the tight fit of the shoulder rest was selectively dampening the instrument's vibrations."

Eric I think you really hit the nail right on the head. It is really not a cosmetic issue (although I do think it looks a lot better to play without a rest), the violin sounds better without a shoulder rest! Your instrument will produce more overtones without the rest. Anything that compresses the ribs like a kun inevitably dampens sound. I remember reading an article about Stradivarius violins, in it the article mentioned not only do his great instruments vibrate up towards the f-holes but also out towards the ribs. I think this must be true with most good instruments.

August 1, 2007 at 02:51 PM · Yo Nate! When Bell, Shaham and Hahn get rid of their rests with the comment that their instruments sound better without, I will consider ditching my foam pad. 'Nuf said about this topic.

August 1, 2007 at 02:56 PM · Switch to a baroque violin program as you take off the shoulder rest. That way, no one will criticize you due to the fact you will no longer be able to vibrate anymore!

August 1, 2007 at 03:55 PM · Tom, I do not think those aforementioned players have the kind of reconizable tones and carrying power of Zukerman, Rosand, Perlman, or Heifetz (players that do not use rests). Have you heard Bell in concert or Midori? Have you heard Zukerman? There's no comparison. Scott - are you suggesting that everyone that does not use a rest does not vibrate? The whole point of this discussion (correct me if I'm wrong) is to discuss ways to play without a shoulder rest.

August 1, 2007 at 04:18 PM · I have never used a rest, and I have been playing for quite a long time. This whole thing about a rest comes down to this little gap between your collar bone and the violin. In most people this is really a little gap, which could be remedied with either a folded handkerchief or a small pad under your (jacket or blouse), unless you happen to have a very long neck, then the gap gets larger. The first thing you have to think about is where to place the violin so that it is secure enough to be able to play on. Most of the guidelines for holding the violin, say that you balance it on the collarbone, held with a counterbalance of your jaw (or chin). What you have to realize is that your (left)collarbone extends from the center of your chest to the end of your shoulder, so it really is a longer bone than you may have realized. Also, most people who try not to use a shoulder rest, place the violin on the center of the collarbone at about where the endpin is on the violin (this is hard to put in writing), and hold it by grabbing the chinrest with either their chin or jaw. The problem is that your neck gets in the way, and there is very little surface to hold the violin securely. If you place the violin to the left of the neck, on the part of the collarbone closer to the shoulder, and rest the bottom left side of the violin on the collarbone, (giving you much more surface to secure the violin), you will only need to turn your head slightly left and allow your jaw to rest on the chinrest to secure it. You should find the position very comfortable and have no added tension in holding the violin. If there still is a slight "gap", a folded handkerchief or small pad will remedy that. without distorting the "free feel of holding the violin". The problem I find with most shoulder rests, is that it puts the violin on a wrong angle for playing. You should feel like your playing on top of the violin not against it. Also this hold allows the violin to pivot so that your bow stays on the same plane whether your playing on the g string or the e string.

August 1, 2007 at 06:46 PM · Nate - I have heard most of those people in concert (not Heifetz or Rosand). I do not recall a terribly noticeable difference, although since I heard most of them play in different sorts of halls, I am not sure that that factor alone did not skew my perceptions.

I must say that my issue with the rest/no rest discussion is informed in part by the audience on this site. You are a professional; many of us are not. Those of us who are not struggle with our bad habits and problems. For the most part, the better tone we might achieve without a rest (assuming you are correct that the tone would improve and it may not for most of us simply because our violins are not that good) will not compensate for the problems we already have or that may be created by jettisoning the rest. Accordingly, it is important for you to bear in mind when you make your pitch that for the non-professionals (and even some aspiring professionals) you may well be causing more harm than good if, taking your advice, they toss out the rest and then have real difficulties with their technique.

August 1, 2007 at 07:00 PM · I just today made my pad stay on my instrument with rubber bands and it works really well. I play shirtless in front of a mirror a lot for posture's sake and found it awkward to keep adjusting the washcloth.

I see the rest(less) issue simply a personal one based on one's physical makeup, though I also find improved resonance, projection and evenness in sound without one as well. But, could that be because of my stocky makeup? I don't know.

What I do know, is that doing away with it improved my tuck, my vibrato, and made it further possible to focus on other posture issues (wrist, shape of hand over strings) somehow easier. Even these to some extent however could just indicate that I'm ready to mature in those ways...

My friend reminds me however, that even a chin-rest was a later addition to the instrument--she actually remembers when they became fashionable. And like some other's experience, just getting the shoulder rest placed consistently wasn't exactly a good experience either.

I'm thankful though that I'm experimenting with these things now rather than later though. I've only been playing about 2.5 years. I would be interested in knowing the thinking that went in to the creation of shoulder rests. We haven't had that input in these discussions yet, and it would probably be pretty enlightening to anyone who wishes to do away with the rest.

I close with this thought: if ditching the rest, be especially careful with posture, form and general practice; giving posture, balance and hold a magnified role for a long time. There's a reason shoulder rests became common. So for me, I'm simply studying the best ways in playing without one until I can better understand the 'real' reasoning that went into the shoulder rest.

August 1, 2007 at 08:31 PM · I think if people paid half as much attention to their actual technique as they do to this shoulder rest issue, they'd actually start sounding good. All of these miraculous things people do without a shoulder rest are quite possible to do WITH one.

August 1, 2007 at 08:44 PM · Oh, Laurie, I couldn't say it better myself if I tried. And I have.

I KNEW there was a reason I love you!

August 1, 2007 at 08:42 PM · Albert,

It is not a very good idea to play shirtless, since when you play and start to perspire, the sweat will be very bad for the ebony of the chinrest as well as the varnish of the violin. Unfotunately, I learned this the hard way when I was much younger and had to pay a lot of money to restore the varnish I stripped off of the back of my violin. This was a very good fiddle and I sure that the varnish restoration although very good (most of us would never notice the difference) has made the value of this instrument decress some. (I still have the violin among others that I own, it has a great sound, and I wouldn't part with it since it also has sentimental value as well)

August 2, 2007 at 01:17 AM · Let me tell you, two years ago I threw away the shoulder rest, and now I am twice the violinist I used to be.

I'm 6 feet tall, and so it makes a lot of sense for me to use a shoulder rest. I used one that was propped pretty high, and I was comfortable on the violin and things were working out ok. Afterward I changed teachers to someone who graduated from Julliard after spending 8 years there with Galamian as a teacher. So, here is why he made me throw away my shoulder rest (and get a much higher chinrest).

The philosophy behind a higher chinrest rather than a shoulder rest actually has a lot more to do with tone and right hand. When you play with a shoulder rest, what you are doing is you are raising the violin to your chin and playing it there. While this seems like an obvious solution to a person with a long neck, it's really impractical. See, when you raise the violin up say an inch (or two in my case), what happens is you have to compensate when you bow by raising your right shoulder to play on the same height as the violin. Now, to make a forte, you have to dig in with your right index finger, to get "weight". But what's really happening is you're just using your little muscles, the little index finger muscle in your forearm. Now, when you play with your violin on the collarbone (where it should be, not the shoulder, not anywhere else, just collarbone), the string height makes it so that when you put your bow down, your shoulder is not raised at all. This allows you to play and bow with WEIGHT. Imagine instead of using a small wimpy muscle to play, using the entire mass of your arm to make a powerful sound. And I have to say, after having a shoulder rest for 5 years, and changing to this new method, I can't understand how I ever played with a shoulder rest. Your tone honestly is significantly more powerful when you take away the shoulder rest and lengthen the chinrest. Also, it corrects a surprising amount of things in your right arm. Bowing a full bow (not 95% of the bow, but using all 28 inches (yes I had to measure)) including the metal tip of the frog to the ivory tip on the ... tip, becomes very natural. It's also much easier to bow a straight bow. So yeah, it's really good stuff.

Now here are the things to be careful for. It's very important that all the area between the collarbone and your chin is filled up almost perfectly. If it's not, then your playing will hurt. It will be incredibly difficult to shift down or vibrato. Also it's probably important to find a teacher who doesn't use a shoulder rest, so that they can give you tips when you are not playing without a shoulder rest correctly.

It sounds kinda far fetched, and the shoulder rest market is pretty huge, however, there are some pretty heavy advocates of it. I know Heifetz wouldn't let his students play with shoulder rests, and neither would Nathan Milstein. I'd assume, if my teacher wasn't allowed to, that Galamian didn't recommend using a shoulder rest either. Judging from pictures (so I'm not sure!) It looks like Oistrakh, Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern didn't use shoulder rests either. Still, there are fine vioilnists who do use a shoulder rest, like Joshua Bell and Vengerov. However, from personal experience, not using a shoulder rest makes you sound so much better and so much more like a soloist.

August 2, 2007 at 01:23 AM · Some tips I've found useful:

I use a center chinrest, and it's about an inch and a half high. It suits me very well, and helps to make up for the distance. There's also a small groove in it for my chin to grip, which helps stability. I put the violin on my collarbone, where the metal clip is. It hurts a lot at the beginning, but then you get a callous and it becomes totally worth it.

I keep the violin completely flat. Not like Oistrakh, where it tilts about 30 degrees, but like, as flat as I can, and when I reach great passages on the E string, I actually arch my back backwards a little so I can get more gravity to help me on pulling music out of the E string. It sounds absolutely fantastic. You can only really pull this off if you don't use a shoulder rest.

When you bow, with a shoulder rest, you're probably more used to pressing with your index finger to get weight. Instead, try dropping your entire arm to get a huge powerful sound. It'll sound harsh at the beginning, but after some practice, you'll play with the power that you know would fill Carnegie Hall.

Oh, and definitely find a great teacher. Truth is, if you find a great teacher, no matter how he/she tells you to play, you'll sound great. But if you try this no shoulder rest thing I think it'll develop your sound a lot.

August 2, 2007 at 02:46 AM · "In the grand tradition of violin playing, great players never used shoulder rests. The violin has to become part of you -- your body. You had to learn what the violin felt like, and the body acted as a sounding board." - Aaron Rosand

August 2, 2007 at 03:11 AM · Maybe you can't get a Zukerman sound with a shoulder rest. Unfortunately, the same is true for those who play without a shoulder rest.

August 2, 2007 at 04:12 AM · Wow thanks everyone for the great comments and stories. I'm glad everyone has so much to say about this topic. My teacher, David Perry, does play with a shoulder rest so it is quite possible he won't even want me to make the change. I've just been doing a little experimenting, so who knows what I'll be doing ten years from now. Anyways, I've been finding it hard to be able to hold the violin up with no shoulder rest without squeezing my shoulder up for support. But that video of Zukerman shows him doing it with no problem, no shoulder activity. It feels like my left hand is playing a huge role in keeping the violin level. I suppose some one-on-one instruction is really what needs to happen. I bet, if I ever end up switching, I will also have to do a lot of chin rest shopping. Thanks again to everyone.

August 2, 2007 at 04:49 AM · Emil, Laurie--every once in awhile you will meet someone so freed by ditching the rest, especially after injuries, that it really is like playing for the first time--that was my experience. For the average persons though, you may be right...

I agree about the technique part, and though mine was coming along, am very very excited about what lyes ahead. I feel as if for whatever reasons, my freedom from the rest makes me an exception. I know that sounds bad, but I'm too tired to explain....

And Emil, I loved Laurie first--well, after Robert, and Buri, and, and, Laurie, you do get around don't ya. ;).

August 2, 2007 at 04:48 AM · Joel I treat my fiddle better'n my fishin reels.

It's just a college type instrument... I'm gonna wear her out!.

August 2, 2007 at 04:41 PM · One thought I'll leave on here before I do become redundant, to me, without good positioning, there is no technique. The whole essence of playing well stems from good positioning. So much of great violin playing is paying proper attention to positioning and fundamentals. If Rosand, Heifetz, and Zukerman all have talked about very similar issues in regard to the shoulder rest, I think it would be wise to be open minded and at least hear them out!

One other thing, I'm not quite sure about the purpose of the hands free exercise. To me this exercise serves no purpose other than forcing the shoulder to be lifted. Playing withouth the rest should neccesitate instead in my opinion a balancing act between the left hand and collarbone.

August 2, 2007 at 08:00 AM · Laurie and Emil, I agree with both of you and I think those of us have recent positive experience of playing without sr may just be overwhelmed by the change and some sober reminder is very helpful. Frankly, I find some of the pro-restless arguments are over zealous, even the positive experience playing without sr maybe valid.

To me, not relying on sr doesn’t mean I'm giving up sr entirely. It means now I can turn a sr into a diagnostic tool for discovering and solving underlining issues. I pretty much playing without rest for over 6 months and have very good results. I have no problem with shift or vibrato (I don’t think playing restless should have these issues at all if we understand vibrato and shift properly). But from time to time, I will try to play with sr to see if it works better for a particular issue or sound. If it sounds better or worse playing with a sr, it doesn’t follow that I should or shouldn’t use the sr; it only tells me that I have a puzzle to solve: why the difference and how to deal with the underlining problem if there is one? By doing this type of comparison, I discovered a whole bunch of things. For instance, I could play with more ease on the G string with sr, due to the fact that I am 5’2” with limbs are relatively short. With the sr, the violin is slightly tilted to the right so the distance between the G string and my left hand is shortened. I further discovered that I can play equally well without sr by slightly adjusting the violin and my left elbow when I play on the G string, especially on higher positions. The subtle adjustment gave me further insight into how dynamic the relationship between my body and the violin is. It makes me feel that the violin is really part of me. Without keep trying the sr, I probably wouldn’t have realized this much.

Clayton, it’s very thoughtful of you to point out that making a big change such as ditching a sr will cause more tension initially. You are also prudent to make sure your teacher will help you through the change should you decide to go for it. It’ll make a huge difference when you have an experienced external observer to make sure you are doing it safely. When you look for chinrest, try to see what the return policy is. I've tried at least 6 or 7 before I decided on one that works.

August 2, 2007 at 05:51 AM · One thought I'll leave courtesy of one of my teachers, Steven Staryk:

"If it doesn't feel comfortable, it won't sound comfortable."

It doesn't matter how the old guys did it. It doesn't matter how it looks. It doesn't really matter if it dampens the sound a slight amount. All that counts is that you sound great. I personally have tried without and hated every second of it. If someone else can play without it, that's great too.

August 2, 2007 at 06:00 AM · Hey Scott,

That is definitely good advice. And I see that you studied with Alan Bodman in Akron! Wow that's really cool. He was my teacher at Meadowmount last summer. I actually wish I would have auditioned for his studio this past year, but I just had too many other places to audition. He is a really great teacher.

August 2, 2007 at 10:38 AM · Am I correct when I say players like Milstein and Kogan seemed to hold their violin down on the collarbone and off the shoulder, whereas, players such as Perlman and Heifetz held it more on the collarbone-shoulder area? It would then be correct to say Milstein and Kogan used more left hand support. I've seen videos where Perlman used no shoulder rest (and maybe no chin rest in one of them) and he takes his left hand completely of the violin and it just sticks like glue! I remember reading in Menuhin's book Life Class that when the left hand is removed, the violin should fall down, thus he is emphasizing most of the support by use of the left hand.

August 2, 2007 at 01:29 PM · I agree with Albert's point. Much as I, too, love Laurie and agree with her point to an extent, I am not sure it is totally responsive. Nate's point is that you cannot do the same thing with a shoulder rest as without because, all other things being equal, your violin doesn't sound as good. However, for most people, Laurie is correct that you can do just as well as with as without simply because all things are not equal for most of us.

August 2, 2007 at 04:38 PM · I've said it before, and I'll say it again: a shoulder rest does not dampen sound as much as flesh on the back plate does. Flesh is non-resonant, makes more comprehensive and intrusive contact with the RESONATING back plate, and cannot fail to make such contact - regardless of the degree of support from the left hand - at least periodically, as the hand moves on the fingerboard. The shoulder rest does restrict vibration, but of a much smaller surface area (where the feet touch the EDGES of the plate PAST the ribs and where the plate resonates little, if at all) and are less sound-dampening than flesh.

This is as far as sound goes. As far as mobility goes, there is no question that it is possible to get around the instrument splendidly without a shoulder rest. THIS is what Heifetz et al prove. They do NOT prove superiority of the rest as their "unique" sound does not stem from the rest but from the playing style of their day.

But just because it is possible to do something well au naturel does not mean that doing that same something with a prosthetic is not easier. To wit: the double amputee who has been barred from foot races because his prosthetics launch him further on any given stride than his non-amputated competitors. I, for one, am not willing to undergo amputation for the sake of winning foot races. But when the opportunity exists to do the same (play with a rest) without undergoing major surgery, I take the opportunity. The result is that I don't have to worry my head about balancing the instrument on my thumb or anywhere else, nor about doing any of the other COMPENSATING things so often discussed in these threads. I can just play the fiddle.

Finally, as to immobility with a rest vs. mobility without. My fiddle can move up and down (head weight being shifted), back and forth parallel to the ground (left arm motion), and see-saw on my shoulder (head-shoulder shift) to present, should I so wish, the string being played upon to the bow. The reason my shoulder rest does not immobilize the violin is that I use it to rest the violin on my SHOULDER. NOT to pin it to my chest, straining my neck, lifting my shoulder and doing all those myriad destructive things that are, again, so often cited in these threads. Those limiting, destructive, tension-inducing acts are MISTAKES, the result of using the prosthetic INCORRECTLY. You might as well ask why the above-mentioned double amputee does not use his highly-effective prosthetics to, say, go into basket-weaving. They're effective as leg and not hand substitutes, and if one uses them incorrectly one shouldn't be surprised that they will not have positive results.

August 2, 2007 at 04:52 PM · "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: a shoulder rest does not dampen sound as much as flesh on the back plate does. Flesh is non-resonant, makes more comprehensive and intrusive contact with the RESONATING back plate, and cannot fail to make such contact - regardless of the degree of support from the left hand - at least periodically, as the hand moves on the fingerboard. The shoulder rest does restrict vibration, but of a much smaller surface area (where the feet touch the EDGES of the plate PAST the ribs and where the plate resonates little, if at all) and are less sound-dampening than flesh."

Can you really prove Emil that flesh dampens more than the actual shoulder rest? That's a rather blanket statement, you have to take into account the different shoulder rests out there and the different physiques. The whole concept of playing without the shoulder rest is to rest the violin on the collarbone rather than the shoulder or the fleshy areas of the trapezius which the shoulder rest forces one to do. Of course there is a wrong way to hold the violin without the rest as well. Auer wrote about this very issue in his book, I found it quite interesting.

August 2, 2007 at 04:59 PM · Well said Emil. I do find however, that the shoulder rest will continue to evolve towards more and more au natural models with clear goals and instructions in setting them up--this I think is part of what I experienced--not knowing even what I should be looking for in setting one up properly. I went through three.

And the scenario where one's reach is better--I just cannot emphasize enough what it feels like to have a comfortable relaxed fully loaded tuck after months and months of struggling. I have these football player biceps and delts that with the height a rest gives even in the lowest settings is like trying to get a pair of tight jeans on after Christmas in getting a good tuck. Every time I tried to get over to 'G', or have decent f3 vibrato on 'D' even required a conscious motion; whereas, now I just grab them with a well shaped hand, that is becoming even more stable with wrist work I can now focus on..

Many many months ago several of us went through this angst of trying to understand my reach and tuck and came up with some pretty good ideas, but it was almost comical when I finally got it without the rest (of course you are correct about a new set of challenges as well), but I find it worth it readjusting and balancing. Also, I actually find this delicate balancing act not a burden so much, as a potential to integrate and flow with the instrument if done with care and attention.

Finally, I would actually just use one if it were feasible for me. I too, just want to play fiddle.

August 2, 2007 at 07:20 PM · I don't understand. I play without a rest and have no flesh touching the back plate of my violin. The back of my violin just touches my collarbone and then is supported by my jaw and left hand. This works so well because the collarbone is, well, a bone. A bone that stays in one spot is going to provide much more stability than the shoulder which is moving all over the place and will have to make all sorts of adjustments if used to support the violin. By just using the collarbone, my left shoulder is completely free and this is the only way I can play tension-free. Also, My violin resonates so much better without the rest whether it be a kun or some sort of pad. I'm not sure where this "fleshy" area is that would mute the instrument for restless players. I also have a longer than average neck but manage fine with no rest and a standard chin rest. Finding the right shape and style of chin rest, however, was crucial. It's easily as important as height.

August 3, 2007 at 05:08 AM · I just ate an enormous dinner and so desperately want to sleep. Still a couple of quick points can be made before I topple over.

Nate: yes I can prove that flesh dampens. Play an open string then use your un-needed left hand and place it on the back plate. Hear the immediate reduction in sound? QED.

Albert: I have not seen a neck too long to play without a shoulder rest nor a neck too short to play with one. The reason is that I use a shoulder rest as a friction-rich surface, allowing one to hold the violin in the shoulder-jaw area without it slipping forward, to the right, and off the shoulder completely. Something it definitely does when there is contact between the back and ANY sort of material - leather, skin, foam pad, zebra pelt or Martian Hornswaggler. The fiddle's back is polished and smooth and therefore slippery. If you couldn't find a shoulder rest that was short enough, I'd venture to guess you were putting the shoulder rest on top of your shoulder, LIFTING the shoulder, PUSHING DOWN the head and then finding the resulting space between the shoulder and the left jaw to be too narrow. I'd have used a Kun on its lowest setting and ensured that there was no unnecessary faux-compensatory shoulder lift and head push. But, short of the student I once had who was a Little Person, I have never encountered a neck too short for a low-setting rest. Ever.

Finally, to those who, correctly, point out that the violin doesn't rest on the shoulder but is supported by the left hand...

(deep breath)

1) This means that the left hand is doing work (supporting the instrument) it would NOT have to do if one supported the instrument elsewhere, such as the shoulder-jaw.

2) The collarbone, being a bone, is ill suited to having a sharp wooden edge (the ribs) pressed into it. It hurts. And therefore either needs padding or repositioning of the instrument. Padding means either a foam pad - which brings us back to material contacting the back of the instrument - or a shoulder rest. Repositioning means putting the violin where the Authorities say one shouldnt', and where one again runs into the problems born of NOT placing the fiddle's sharp ribs on the exposed collarbone.

3) It means that the left hand, when shifting (and, therefore, NOT supporting the instrument for just a fraction of a moment) releases the instrument to rest on the shoulder, right? At that instant, the sound has been dampened (see point 1 addressed to Nate). Figure that one shifts dozens or hundreds of times per minute and you get a sound that is continually dampened-and-freed. Something that, from my own description of it, induces seasickness.

I wish I could say that I admire the ardour and proselytizing zeal of the anti-resters. But I don't. I've yet to read a description of the pros and cons from your side that indicates logical thought and analysis having been applied to the issue. Instead, you hear unsubstantiated claims (rests dampen more than flesh!), counterintuitive and illogical hypotheses (shoulder rests FILL IN space between shoulder and jaw and therefore make neophytes RAISE the shoulder. HUH???) or just reflexive genuflection in the direction of past titans (everything Heifetz did was right.) By that logic, eating spinach will make you play better while practicing less will make you play more securely and EVERYONE MUST use a St. Petersburg grip a la Heifetz et al.


August 3, 2007 at 06:28 AM · Emil,

Once again I agree with your points. I think what I am experiencing is like spatially finding myself and my instrument.

I worked too hard in the beginning, and now certain little things are seemingly catching up. What playing restless means/meant to me, is finding that light balanced posture, that today allowed me to find a better setup for my rest earlier--along with using the mirror consistently and focusing intently on posture rather than just thinking about it leisurely in the heat of my too long practice sessions--hours and hours and hours.

I think what I am saying is that 'I'm inclined towards the rest, but it was playing without one that helped me get there'? And I included all the things Raphael and others have shown me in supporting the instrument, keeping my head level as possible and so forth. And you pegged my placement of the instrument 'exactly' How'd you do that?

Anyway, I anticipate continued success with the posture festival I've been on for months now, as I'm hearing it daily now in my tonal quality. Even consistency is progress for me--and that's where I'm at.

I'm looking forward to moving on and getting back to the program I've designed for myself over the next couple months as these light awesome abilities become ingrained.

So irregardless if I use a rest or not, I have conquered both scenarios including down shifting without one.

Though not as intently as at least one other person I know of, these little things for me were complicated by a lot of injuries. Now, I have them by the nose as well.

I couldn't even begin to list all the little things happening in my overall program, so won't. From learning to really snap those detached notes, to effectively applying the sounding point in volume and richness, this posture thing though major, is just a temporary complication. I will win this! ;)... Thanks for the reminding image about not raising my head to place the instrument..... Somebody else pointed that out to me in person as well.

al 'off to play like Emil and watch Nicoli turn somersaults in his grave as I play Witch's Dance' justice --it's actually becoming dynamic if not complex.

August 3, 2007 at 03:20 PM · Thank you Emil. I wonder if there is not a certain amount of status-seeking in this debate. My sense is that some of the rest-less proponents are at least intimating that you can't be a truly great violinist if you play with a rest.

August 3, 2007 at 02:24 PM · I've never understood why there is such passion either for or against. I use one, it's easier for me to hold the instrument. I wish I didn't, because I don't like having to put the bloody thing on every time I get the inclination to play my violin. I don't give a pinch of puppy poop whether someone uses one or not. Artists of all levels of skill use rests and there are those that don't.

It seems to me there are so many other things to be passionate about. Why it gets to this level of debate over some scaffolding on the back of an instrument, I'll never know.

August 3, 2007 at 06:00 PM · Why shoulder rests, or the lack of them, inspire such passionate debate...this is one of the mysteries of the cosmos, the Internet and the V.com universe. But it seems that few topics, aside from politics and religion, get V.commies more riled up....

My advice: do what is comfortable and helpful for YOU. Don't succumb to fear or peer pressure, but if your set-up is truly holding you back, then certainly explore all options. The solutions are are different as people's bodies are different; the same shoe does NOT fit every foot.

August 3, 2007 at 07:16 PM · Laurie wrote:

"Why shoulder rests, or the lack of them, inspire such passionate debate...this is one of the mysteries of the cosmos, the Internet and the V.com universe."

That's easy, Laurie. It's what we do with our religious feelings in such a postmodern world! Political correctness hasn't yet reached the great shoulder rest debate.

For the record, I'm on the fence...

August 3, 2007 at 11:55 PM · John/Laurie - I stand by my impression which I think explains the passion. There is at least an implication in some of the discussions on rests on this site that real violinists do not use them and that violinists, great or not, who do not use a rest are somehow by definition superior compared to peers who do use a rest because their tone is superior. I could well be incorrect but this is what I feel coming out of these discussions.

August 4, 2007 at 12:11 AM · maybe we could strike a compromise! how about we only use a shoulder rest half the time. like Monday, Wednesday, Friday we can use a rest, and Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday we can't. then on Sundays we just don't play at all (unless we have a church gig or a matinee to play, in which case we just alternate weeks with/without rests).

or better yet, let's play with half a rest! i'll get the bansaw and cut mine in half. should i cut horizontally or vertically, though? maybe diagonally!!

August 4, 2007 at 12:57 AM · Tom, I have exactly the same impression. If rests had been around when Hefetz and Milstein were kids, chances are they'd have used them. They'd have had no reason not to. The generation on their heels didn't use them for a combination of reasons. The current generation uses them because they're widely available, and the players who didn't use them are more removed in time. And they have a lot of peer support, meaning almost every young soloist worldwide uses a rest. I think the main opposition comes from people who idolize old style or fashion, and from the internet secret knowledge phenomenon which goes anybody who's smart as me doesn't use one. Square in the face of reality.

August 4, 2007 at 04:12 AM · I just have to say something. The issue is not whether to use a rest or not. Some people are perfectly comfortable with no rest, most need some sort of pad and/or friction, some people are most comfortable with a rigid rest. The real issue is how one holds the violin and uses the left hand and adjusts a little, or a lot, depending on one's physique.

The discussion of rest v. no rest is like choosing to drink absolutely no wine or two bottles a night. What about most of us who fall comfortably in the middle and are just trying to understand the principles of holding and playing the violin?

I think I'll just go and have my second glass of red wine for the night.

August 4, 2007 at 05:18 AM · "If rests had been around when Hefetz and Milstein were kids, chances are they'd have used them. They'd have had no reason not to."

That is highly doubtful Jim. They had a teacher named Leopold Auer who abhored the shoulder rest. Also since both were highly sensitive to how an instrument should sound and how the hands should be positioned a certain way to create their sounds, it is doubtful in my opinion they would choose to use a rest. The violinist Benno Rabinoff (an Auer pupil) was quoted in an interview from The Way They Play Volume 2 (by Samuel Applebaum) saying, "I agree wholeheartedly with Leopold Auer on this subject (shoulder rests). The professor often told us that playing with a pad muted the tone of the instrument. I feel that if a player can do without a shoulder rest and get a reasonably good grip on the instrument, without affecting the freedom of his left hand, he should certainly try to do so. He will be much better off if it works for him."

Emil your knuckles against the back comparison to flesh does not make much sense to me. Personally I play with hardly any of my shoulder or flesh touching the back plate of the instrument in the first place. I hold the violin on the collarbone and it barely touches the back plate. Furthermore I think the question that really needs to be asked is how much sound a shoulder rest absorbs. All rests have direct contact with the ribs. Lots of sound can be absorbed that way as well as the rest being directly under the instrument.

August 4, 2007 at 05:22 AM · Nate, I agree with your comment about the hands free exercise. In fact, if someone really feels they need their posture to be able to support the violin without the left hand, then I feel that the shoulder rest is probably the better alternative than clenching it between the head and shoulder which will produce a lot of tension problems. However, if the left hand plays an integral role in holding up the violin, than not using a shoulder rest would be better option. Without a shoulder rest locking the instrument in place, the left arm can have the freedom to move left, right, up, down, without having to move the left shoulder as well.

August 4, 2007 at 06:19 AM · Nate, the flesh against the back plate wasn't offered as an exercise but as the proof you requested. Namely: "how can you prove that flesh dampens the sound?" As for your collarbone rebuttal, I refer you again to the three-point counter-rebuttal that I wrote (in anticipation of your rebuttal) about the INEVITABLE contact during shifts, the fact that compensatory measures like foam pads make WIDESPREAD contact with the resonating back plate, and that non-SR playing forcing an extra task on the left hand (viz. holding up the instrument). As a freebie, I'll throw in the fourth point which is that the SR feet make only negligible contact, in contrast to the foam pads and such, with a NON-resonant portion of the instrument.

August 4, 2007 at 01:23 PM · Using these arguments, we'd all be playing baroque.

August 4, 2007 at 03:06 PM · Nate, ok, then if Auer hadn't been their teacher they'd have had no reason not to use one, at least not a modern one.

I don't know what kind of shoulder rest was around for Auer to oppose though. Probably something in contact with the back, and that was probably (a guess) why he opposed it. At any rate, he wasn't talking about today's engineered ones.

As for the thing not being in contact with vibrating parts of the instrument, it is. There isn't any part that doesn't vibrate and a rest should add some inertia and affect the whole thing. As as thought experiment (extreme for purposes of illustration), imagine a chinrest made of lead. It would affect the sound.

But - we're talking about a minor, minor, contributor to the sound. To illustrate - a beginner without a rest will not sound better than an experienced player with one :) In addition, in practical terms, the issue includes things like how long it takes to learn a piece and how reliable it is. Lots of things to include in the question. But considering sound alone, the rest's effect would be swamped by standing three feet to the left or right, and totally swamped by what the player does with the bow, perhaps something enabled by the rest. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it :)

September 20, 2007 at 01:37 PM · OK, allow the viola player to say something for a moment... it is after all more to hold up :)

I have never used a shoulder rest, but there was a time when I used my shoulder and chin as a vice to 'hold' the viola. After many hours of a rehearsal, my back would often not be in great shape.

Holding the instument how Milstein (and Primrose) did allows for real freedom of your left shoulder and leaves much more of my back out of the act. After rehearsals, my back feels fine these days.

An added benefit is it also allows you to sit in a variety of positions, not tying you down to where your left shoulder happens to be located (which for anyone who uses it knows, is too far to the left to be comfortable used as the lower part of a clamp.)

In the really tough stuff, certain parts of Paganini Caprices for example, I still may revert to using the shoulder, because it does make _certain_ kinds of shifts easier. But, only briefly, because it really makes everything else harder. The vast majority of shifts can be achieved without using the shoulder by raising the scroll higher, bringing the balance point closer to you. That and a little pressure from the head (onto the collarbone) at the time of shifting works for almost all shifts.

Not having played with a shoulder rest, I can't really comment, but I would think that you would still be locking your head and shoulder into one position.

Scott Slapin


September 20, 2007 at 06:06 PM · My teachers were all short-necked men of central European heritage. I was taught with no shoulder rest and continued to play that way for the enxt 30 years.

Then two things happened; first I found my ideal chinrest, and then a couple of years later I tried adding shoulder rest. I played with that chinrest for the next (almost) 40 years, and with a variety of shoulder rests.

I find that different shoulder rests are apporpriate for one violin vs. another and different shoulder rests, perhaps, as one ages and becomes less flexible

The CHINREST is more important than the shoulder rest.I think the key to playing without a shouler rest - or some shoulder support is hafing a chinrest that is perfect for you.

The different shoulder rests that are sold are diffferent enough from each other that it can make a big difference for different players - or even for the same player on different violins.

As far as changing the instrument's sound is concerned, the chinrest can make a lot more difference than the sounder rest, since the chinrest sits at an important location and affects the mass distribution of the vibrating instrument.

Although there are certainly good reeasons for playing without a shoulder rest, I think the reasons of my own teachers were prejudice and ignorance of the varient of body types among different players:

Different jaw shape,

different collarbone width

different shoulder slope

different arm length

diifferent hand/finger, etc.

These are only a few of the differences between violinists that are related to this question.

September 20, 2007 at 03:32 PM · Just a few other points for consideration. At the outset, I wish to mention that I have played both with and without a shoulder rest but ultimately opted to keep using the shoulder rest because I found myself less likely to press with the neck and had a more stable and cushioned table below the violin to balance the instrument and also because, in two blind tests with staff from a local violin shop and with colleagues in a larger concert hall space, there was unanimous agreement that my particular instrument sounded better with the shoulder rest.

It is true that for those with long necks, building up the chinrest helps keep the violin closer to the shoulder (instead of raising the height of the violin) and allows the arms to be at a lower height but it is really the rhomboid and latissimus dorsi muscles that help support the ability to lift the arms and allow them to sway or swing left and right, therefore eliminating the need to lift the shoulder at all. As long as the gap between the chin/jaw and the collarbone/upper chest is filled in without being rigid, so that there is flexibility in the head/neck movements and the tilt of the violin (to make it advantageous for E string playing as well as G string playing- take a good look at David Oistrakh's violin placement related to this shift in E string & G string angles- he is a prime example of someone who had a beautiful robust resonant sound in all registers) the violin "hold" will feel secure and stable and there will be no need to grip with the neck muscles or the shoulder or the left hand. The dynamic balance of both left and right arms swinging supported by the muscles connected to the shoulder blade will also help the arms feel suspended and not feel like a dead weight dragging both themselves and the violin downward. This helps avoid fatigue and also optimizes the angles at which the fingers strike the strings and at which the bow traverses each string without getting into extreme positions of bow arm height.

It is so important to continually set this right for the student (since it will change as the student grows) because a dynamic balance in holding the violin makes everything else easier from shifting to vibrato to string crossings, etc.

I also believe that such experimentation with chinrests, shoulder rests, sponges, or not using any of the above should be a carefully guided and observed process and best not done alone but preferably with an experienced teacher who understands anatomy and knows how to get a student to feel comfortable and tension-free.

Gerald Fischbach mentioned that it was his feeling that many of the Auer pupils had short gaps between their collarbone and jaw and therefore did not really need much support to hold the violin. Curiously, an old film of Elman playing Dvorak's Humoresque shows him with a high supspended right arm applying the idea that the shoulder blade muscles are helping to keep the arm in this higher position without tension and fatigue but with a lowered violin position when negotiating shifts and doublestops in the higher positions. With Milstein we see the violin held with scroll slightly lower than at the chin rest end but when playing high on the E string he raises the scroll end above the chin rest. Heifetz tends to keep the scroll end of the violin up more in general but still applies the suspended feeling of support from the shoulder blade muscles with the right arm. Mark Kaplan made specific mention in a master class of having the violin held to the left to give the violin a very stable position that made traveling up and down the positions in the left hand feel more like a sideways movement, left and right, and also giving the bow arm more freedom to move from the shoulder blade muscles on the right side of the body.

Whatever you end up doing, just make sure you are not holding any position rigidly or feel locked in to a particular stance. It is all a dymamic balance. Also, experience with Alexander Technique, yoga, and Feldenkrais will definitely help develop your sensitivity and powers of observation in judging when tension is creeping in and how to break free of it whether you are using a shoulder rest or not.

September 24, 2007 at 02:00 PM · oh, and one more thing, probably the most important. Using no shoulder rest and holding the instrument up (i.e. not touching the shoulder) as much as you can, lets my instrument sound its best.

Nothing made my viola sound more muted and muffled than one of those shoulder rests that attaches on both sides. The difference was quite obvious to everyone there when I tried it. Could the rest be stopping the whole back plate from vibrating, since it's holding it on both sides? I can't explain it, but it sounded much worse than when my shoulder was just touching (which I do for occasional shifts.)

I'm sure different instruments will react differently, but for mine there is no doubt. It simply shouldn't be played with a shoulder rest.


September 24, 2007 at 04:01 PM · I have used a shoulder rest at different times. Currently I've stopped using it because I discovered that the rest was just that much more to reach around. Paganini 14 was a royal pain until I got rid of my rest--now it's just a pain but I can reach the notes--unison e's on d and g and unison b's on d and a. I then started using a sponge under my shirt and gradually I have been able to get rid of it with no diminution in my ability to downshift cleanly--I prepare my shifts now automatically and it seems natural. Most of the reason I gave up the rest though had to do with Milstein's dictum--the job of the left hand is to hold the violin. It has freed me to play more easily.

September 24, 2007 at 08:17 PM · If you drop the shoulder rest, as I have, here are a few pointers.

1. Don't lift the shoulder at all. It should be as relaxed as it can be. There is no shoulder movement in lieu of going restless.

2. The left hand (as Milstein says) holds the violin. Ricci says that holding the violin with the left hand cultivates responsibility.

3. Recognize right away that many fabulous players use a shoulder rest but many fabulous players don't. The number of players better than you who use a shoulder rest is not a logical justification for using one (and vice versa I will concede). The justification is in the technique itself.

Today the violin holding debate is usually framed as rest or no rest; however, once upon a time it was framed as left hand vs. held at the neck/shoulder/chin. I think that it is a better idea to think of hand vs. neck than rest vs. no rest.

September 27, 2007 at 09:43 PM · More great insight on rest-less playing! Thanks to those who have taken the time to respond to this post. I went rest-less a few months ago and for me it was the right decision. I just found it more natural and easier when coupled to my build. Also, the violin is not so static, which I very definitely prefer.

September 27, 2007 at 11:23 PM · Corwin,

Milstein and Ricci may have said not to raise the shoulder, but take a look at Menuhin--he certainly does. In fact, most people I've seen without a rest do raise their shoulder to hold the instrument.

September 27, 2007 at 11:32 PM · One of the best violinists that I ever saw lifted his shoulder - looked so crooked when he played, but it sounded amazing.

I play with without a rest or padding (maybe a very tiny bit of cloth to take care of perspiration). I don’t clench down on the violin with my chin, or push up with my shoulder; it just sits on my collarbone.

The only accessory on my violin is a super low-profile chinrest, which is solely for preventing the violin from tipping around while balanced on my collarbone. If I were to do the popular “Look mom, no hands!” test, I would fail miserably. Is being able to hold your violin without your hands all that wonderful?

The drawbacks… my left hand slowly pulls the violin toward my throat. The result of the pressure is only evident after playing – like something it caught in my throat.

September 28, 2007 at 01:55 AM · Lots of players lift their shoulder. Check out Aaron Rosand on Youtube. I think that Heifetz also lifted his shoulder. Menuhin ultimately played with a shoulder rest.

As good as these players are (and they are truly phenomenal) I don't think that lifting the shoulder is a good idea.

October 9, 2007 at 01:24 PM · Wolfgang Schneiderhan had one of the most beautiful violin sounds and perfect techniques ever. Also, If you all have had a chance to enjoy Alexander Markov's DVD where he plays the 24 Paganini Caprices in one shot in Italy, you will probably agree that his technique is terrific ! Well, here you have two great violinists belonging to two different generations . . . Both masters make use of a shoulder rest; therefore, I believe it is difficult to make a generalization about this whole issue of the shoulder rest.

October 9, 2007 at 02:31 PM · It seems to me that w/o SR, it is necessary to lift your shoulder in order to shift up beyond, or back down from, say 8th position. This is when your right thumb moves onto the ribs of the instrument and away from the neck. The trick then is to bring the shoulder back down after one transitions from about 8th position.

Otherwise, I see that it should be possible to not use one's shoulder, at all.

October 9, 2007 at 02:52 PM · Can I assume that everyone who doesn't use a shoulder rest doesn't support the weight of the instrument with their head?

I was always confused as to how to vibrate while supporting the weight of the instrument with your hand. I tried, but could not get it to work. This was even harder in low positions.

October 9, 2007 at 03:27 PM · Andrew,

One way (menuhin's way) is to "support" the violin with the side of your chin. There should be no actual pressure.

As for your vibrato (?) difficulty, try positioning your thumb slightly more towards the scroll. If this doesn't affect other aspects of your technique, it should help with your SR-less vibrato. (but try this with your teacher, to make sure it DOESN'T affect other areas)


To the OP- One fairly important consideration is, when you remove that boat anchor (SR) try to audition as many chinrests as possible. Try different shapes, heights, angles, positions. What worked with the SR may not be ideal without it.

October 9, 2007 at 03:34 PM · Eric wrote, ""Lo and behold, the timbre of my violin changed markedly - becoming more complex and richer. Anyone else notice this? I assume that the tight fit of the shoulder rest was selectively dampening the instrument's vibrations."

I must strongly dissagree. It is more liely that, without the SR, the way that the violin physically couples to your head has changed. Thus, the vibrations being transmitted to your jawbone are different.

I did very careful experiments last year wherein I recorded several violins, with and without various brands of SR. I did hear differences when actually playing, so I was hoping to find the best sounding, or least damaging SR. What I found instead was that even my expert audio engineer's ear could not hear any significant differences. At all.

October 9, 2007 at 04:16 PM · I have not been able to hear any difference either since jettisoning the SR two months ago. I got rid of it because I could not find one that was comfortable, not for the tone, but I have heard no real difference.

October 9, 2007 at 04:21 PM · Terry, Many SR-less players lift their shoulder but a few do not. (see Milstein on YouTube). I don't think that the circumstance you described should cause you to lift your shoulder.

Unlss your hand is really small there isn't any reason to move the thumb off the neck. Its easy to say but in my SR days I did loose contact with the neck but it was because I had an improper concept of how the left hand worked in high positions. Watch Milstein. I don't think that the thumb ever leaves the neck.

October 9, 2007 at 04:36 PM · Clayton, When I first played without a rest I found that I was raising my shoulder and could not get the violin to hover like I had seen others do. For me the key word was Rest. The back of the violin has a curve that matches the contour of the collar bone very nicely. Keep the violin level without your chin on it and try to align the contour of your collar bone to the curve of the violin. It will feel more natural when you to find a sweet spot. This allows more surface contact with the instrument and will help keep it from moving arround when playing. Then just think of your chin rest as a pillow and gently "rest" your head on it. Most of the time just the weight of your head will keep the violin in place. If you find some movement during more dynamic playing some added muscle pressure in your neck will keep the violin in place and will continue the give the left hand more freedom. The idea is that you want to lower your chin onto the violin and not use your shoulder to raise the violin to your chin.

October 9, 2007 at 10:45 PM · Wouldn't a sponge, or whatever, dampen the sound and act as a sort of mute?

October 10, 2007 at 03:10 AM · Corwin: Thanks for the tip regarding shifting! I've been playing around with it and it does indeed seem possible to shift as far as I want without leaving the neck with a higher left hand. I'm going to have to do a lot more experimenting with it, but it seems to work! :)

The Milstein videos are, of course, always amazing. I will certainly be studying those some more too...


October 10, 2007 at 03:42 AM · you need to examine the reasons why you are switching. It is going to be very uncomfortable for you and it may even change your entire hand frame and posture. You need to decide if it is worth all the effort to change. in the end, will you be a better violinist because of it? how will it improve you? WILL it improve you?

because there is a chance that it well set you back, so be very cautious.

October 10, 2007 at 02:23 PM · Terry: It wasn't clear if a high left hand was the problem you were correcting or the solution you were adopting.

I suggest that a high left hand causes one to leave the neck and a low left hand allows one to stay in contact. The base joints (knuckles) should be flat and the next joint up should be bent

October 10, 2007 at 02:23 PM · Terry: It wasn't clear if a high left hand was the problem you were correcting or the solution you were adopting.

I suggest that a high left hand causes one to leave the neck and a low left hand allows one to stay in contact. The base joints (knuckles) should be flat and the next joint up should be bent

October 11, 2007 at 03:20 AM · Corwin: Well, I guess it's all relative. One does need to raise one's left hand in order to get around the bout somewhat, but perhaps not too much that it's a problem. It's something that I think I need to experiment with, at least whenever my 18 month old daughter lets me!

I still haven't decided whether to go SR-less or to stay with the SR. But I do want to figure out how to play without one before I really decide. And there's quite a few things I still need to try before my final verdict is out.

There do appear to be benefits to learning the range of possibilities between holding more with the hand and more with the neck. Either way one needs to develop a balance so that motion is efficient and one's means of holding it aren't fighting one another and creating tension.

Since Fisher's Basics advocates going SR-less to better learn the shifting process, it seems that it has value. And I do find that after playing without a rest, my SR playing improves.

October 11, 2007 at 04:52 AM · You know what really amuses me? How many of these threads there are, asking for help in playing without a shoulder rest. Invariably, there are a million posts offering sometimes completely, diametrically opposed suggestions for how to make something so difficult a bit easier. Meanwhile, I've not been as aware of threads pleading for help playing WITH a rest. Presumably because that's fairly straightforward - though I hasten to add that there are a million wrong ways to play with a shoulder rest. Indeed, I've probably seen at least two hundred of them...

And still the anti-SR lobby takes it as an article of fervent faith that going restless will somehow, magically, improve things. Even if it means relearning such basics as how to hold the violin, shift, vibrate, play fast, breathe and stand upright. And they do this even to the point of questioning the abilities of those who use rests, though I've noticed no corresponding need on the part of the Restful to set their Restless brethren on the path of the Enlightened.

Could it just possibly be that the difficulties aren't necessary and that the logic which dictates PROPER usage of a rest avoids all of the acoustic and physical pitfalls predicted by those playing without?

October 11, 2007 at 05:07 AM · I agree that going restless is no magic pill--but I actually AM more comfortable playing without one (I have one of those little red sponges for a bit of padding and anti-slip grip.) For me, with my body and the length of my arms, the violin sits at a more natural angle without a shoulder-rest and I feel I have more control over the instrument. Bottom line is it's a completely individual matter best explored for oneself, rather than simply following the trend one way or the other.

October 11, 2007 at 05:24 AM · I try just about everything to get just a little lighter, a little more balanced, a little more efficient. It's working--but JEEZZUSS!.

Tonight was breathing and nice arched long bowing both accented and not, that bubbled up to my progress some. Oh yeah, and I got the idea to mark the music where I need to really tuck for a while.

October 11, 2007 at 02:15 PM · Emil, Its natural for people to cheer on people who are attempting something difficult. Riding a bicycle doesn't excite the interest that riding a unicycle does.

Its not even an argument that shoulder rest users like Maxim Vengerov, Hilary Hahn and many others play phenomenally better than many SR-less players. If I thought that playing with a shoulder rest would make me play like Hilary Hahn I would have one on this afternoon. But having played with a shoulder rest for many years and never been able to touch the sole of her shoes in my violin playing I don't think that returning to a SR rest is going to make that happen.

What it did for me was FORCE me to readdress my entire left hand technique and rebuild everything (except my ability to read notes and associate the note with a place on the fingerboard) in a way that allowed for technical and musical growth.

It didn't cause me to get much closer to the playing level of a Hilary Hahn et. al. but it did get me over a wall and has allowed me a path for future progress.

Could I return to a shoulder rest? Yes but I don't see why I would. It doesn't seem like it would facilitate anything. I have lost my dependence on it.

Can I recommend this to everyone? That is hard. I am an amateur with no daily commitments, no musical livelihood i.e. nothing to lose. It took me two years to get back to where I was before I dropped the rest. I think a truly talented player could do it in three to six months but that could be an eternity for someone who depends on the violin for their livelihood.

(Folks, Please don't overdraw the bicycle/unicycle analogy. Its just an analogy around the response it gets from others.)

October 11, 2007 at 06:48 PM · Emil is correct. The issue is really how to support the violin. You can do it correctly or incorrectly with or without a rest. It is perfectly obvious that anyone can hold the violin correctly and comfortably without a rest. It is just as easy to play in first position. When you start adding vibrato and shifting, particularly shifts over the transition between 3rd or 4th position and 5th or 6th some antifriction device is helpful and a sponge or rest can also provide very helpful temporary support. It really depends a lot on the individual's physique.

May 18, 2011 at 04:09 PM ·

Old thread at the top? You should keep a long thread about shoulder rests at the top but no one can reply to it.

May 19, 2011 at 12:31 AM ·

 A terrible idea. Especially if you have a long neck and/or have played with one since you began playing the violin. I went to a teacher at Indiana University who would not let any of her students use one. While I learned some very fabulous things from her that I keep with me today, I also have chronic back pain from the whole ordeal.

May 19, 2011 at 09:21 AM ·

Since my teacher took my chin rest away and told me to play like Heifetz, my neck vertebrae shrunk by two centimeter, my chin has grown by one centimeter and I have to wear gum guards because my grinding teeth made me nauseous. I have terrific control of the violin but worst of all I now play like Heifetz and I wanted to play like David Garrett. 

June 9, 2011 at 10:37 AM ·

I truly hope that this zombie myth about long necked violinists not being able to play restless would go far, far away and die a horrible death. It is really tiresome to see it pop its ugly head and in EVERY single thread about rest/no rest someone is bound  to bring this old-horse argument with neck length. There is no correlation between your neck length and your ability to ditch the rest. Everything can be fixed with a high enough chinrest and a little pad under it.

Here is a wonderful post which has already dealt with the problem of learning to play without a shoulder rest.



PS: This thread need to be graveyarded.



June 9, 2011 at 11:13 AM ·

Yes, it's nonsense to use ladders to pick apples. You just put some boxes on top of each other, and if that's not enough, you put on platform shoes.

June 9, 2011 at 11:46 AM ·

 Tobias you have the bragging rites for the most original counter to those who refuse to be comfortable.

June 9, 2011 at 12:10 PM ·

I was only arguing that long necked violinists can play with out a shoulder rest just fine, as Smiley Hsu demonstrates in the link I posted. I wasn't trying to convince anybody to play either way, I was just pointing out that the long neck argument lacks substance and been proven vacuous by innumerable posts, yet it continues to endlessly come back from the dead despite it's many decapitations and stakes through the heart by means of sound argument.

EDIT: As for your apple parable, it is a vivid illustration of your understanding of violin mechanics. The purpose of the shoulder rest is to relieve the left hand from the task of holding the violin, nothing more, nothing less. At the same time however, most shoulder rest models prevent the violin from touching the collar bone by means of lifting it up to the jaw. Most commentators are not aware that the issue of space is not between the jaw and the shoulder, but between the collarbone and the shoulder. It is THAT space which needs support from the shoulder rest. That is why you need the boxes in stead of the ladder.

Unfortunately, the majority seems oblivious to the importance of violin-collar bone contact; it allows the most natural act of gripping the instrument between the jaw and collarbone (as it happens when playing restless) in stead of grabbing it between the jaw and shoulder. A better shoulder rest would be one that allows such a contact to happen between the violin and collarbone while still relieving the left hand from sustaining the weight of the instrument.


June 9, 2011 at 03:37 PM ·

"Yes, it's nonsense to use ladders to pick apples. You just put some boxes on top of each other, and if that's not enough, you put on platform shoes."

If you consider that most shoulder rests are not in-line with the chin and collarbone, it seems that using a shoulder rest to accommodate for neck length is more akin to using a teeter-totter to pick apples, and that's just silly.

However, I do not see a problem with putting boxes under the teeter-totter to make a ramp.


June 9, 2011 at 03:43 PM ·

For all of you ladder-using blokes playing "comfortably", check this out:


PS: Good one, Mr. Fang

June 10, 2011 at 08:04 AM ·

Well, observing that this topic is a fossil dating back to July 31, 2007 AD at 04:42 AM, flashbacks are inevitable. We are doing thread paleontology here. Or necromancy for that matter.

Dear John, the violin weighs at about 450 g or a pound. It may not be much, but without proper left hand thumb technique (shifting), playing restless while sustaining the violin's weight can be potentially harmful. Just like playing with a badly adjusted shoulder rest and chinrest can be equally dangerous.

A high chinrest may take up half a tree, but it saves you the neck pains. On the other hand, you are right about the weight and cumbersomeness of the contraption. Indeed, chinrest manufacturers should start concentrating on models made out of strong, durable yet lightweight materials covered in safe, non-allergenic... stuff.

A high chinrest and a lower shoulder rest are always better than vice-versa. One of the reasons I advocate this (high chinrest and a low shoulder rest or pad allowing collarbone contact with the violin) is that the right arm has a much easier job working at a lower elevation.

Also, although I play restless myself, I am not a restless fundamentalist. I am well aware of the meanders of playing either way. Check out this topic I started:


June 10, 2011 at 03:53 PM ·

If the violin rests on the collar bone (and the chin isn't touching the chin rest) then the weight of the instrument will be supported more or less equally* by the collar bone and the left hand.  If the chin contacts the chin rest then proportionally less weight of the instrument will be taken by the left hand, and in extremis the only weight supported by the left arm and the shoulder muscles will be its own weight including that of the hand.

* I say "more or less equally" because I don't know the weight distribution of a violin along its length.  I imagine it will vary from instrument to instrument for design reasons and different weights of components such as the tailpiece and its associated micrometer tuners (if any).

June 10, 2011 at 04:04 PM ·

I've been told that when Sir Neville Marriner took over the ASMF 53 years ago, one of his first acts was to banish the use of shoulder rests (which were new-fangled contraptions back in 1958). 

June 10, 2011 at 10:21 PM ·

 No No NoThanksHello

The party's over, the piper must be played.

June 10, 2011 at 10:22 PM ·

 Some one switched off the lights and took my shoulder-rest away !!!!  @#$%&

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