Shoulder rest to improve vibrato swing.

March 21, 2009 at 04:34 AM ·

We are all kind of "over" the whole shoulder rest discussion but I have something else to consider.  I have adult beginners who I have steared away from the shoudler rest by teaching them to hold the fiddle up with their arm and keep the left hand relaxed.  Most adjust well over time but some seem to benefit with returning to the shoulder rest to improve their vibrato.  It seems to help keep their left hand more relaxed and away from the neck to get a better "vibrato swing."  My feeling is that anything that helps the musician relax more can't be all bad.  Any thoughts?

Replies (26)

March 21, 2009 at 04:48 AM ·


I've always felt the crux of the whole shoulder rest thing came down to vibrato. People who are successful without them often seem to use a wrist vibrato. But those like me who rely on an arm vibrato do better with a rest. 


March 21, 2009 at 10:43 PM ·

This was my feeling to, when I was about 35 years old and started to use a shoulder rest for the first time in 30 years of violin playing. I had just discovered "my ideal chinrest" and the right shoulder rest put thes "icing on the cake" for being able to do a vibrato (sort of like a compound pendulum) that included arm, wrist and finger motions with a well-supported violin. I still held the instrument between jaw and collar bone, but the shoulder rest stabilized it at the "shoulder connection."

Now it is almost 35 years later and stiffness in my left wrist prevents me from using a shoulder rest or much arm vibrato. So I'm almost "shoulder restless" (I'm using a No. 5 Acoustifoam [ ], which is about like a small pad under a jacket), and depending as much as possible on wrist/finger vibrato about the thumb (shelf) as a fulcrum.

You do what you can whatever way you have to - and be glad your income doesn't depend on it.


March 22, 2009 at 01:28 AM ·

I found the SR creates many pains for me in neck and shoulders, and reduces freedom of body movement.  It has no benefit for vibrato.  The only benefit is down-shifting: the SR does make this easier, as I have yet to learn the knack of shifting properly and quickly and easily wthout the SR. The right CR helps mucho, and I have found the Flesch Flat works best for me.  Overall, I prefer no SR, even though currently my down-shifting is a problem wihout the SR.  To each his own.


March 22, 2009 at 05:48 PM ·

Ron wrote:

<<...I have yet to learn the knack of shifting properly and quickly and easily wthout the SR.>>

Someone advised lifting the scroll slightly on downshifts - this seems to help. Also, as noted, the proper chinrest style and height can make a huge difference in ease of playing/shifting/vibrato w/o SR.


March 22, 2009 at 06:04 PM ·

I've been playing without a shoulder rest for years and have yet to find a good reason to use one.  I don't need a shelf to help me hold up my violin.  People's excuse for the shoulder rest is always the same "my neck is too long."  Too long?  Longer than Paganini's neck?  Longer than Heifetz?  Is it possible to have a longer neck than Ysaye?  You'd think everyone was walking around with genetically mutated necks.  One must hold the violin in order to play it.  No kind of shelving system is going to aleviate all the difficulties of playing the violin but since that's what everyone is trying to achieve with a shoulder rest why not work on creating a violin stand?  The violin can be held in place by the stand leaving both arms completely free to play without having to even touch the violin!  No more problems reaching around 7th position, just walk up to it!

March 24, 2009 at 06:02 PM ·

Bravo! You make an excellent point.  I have a long neck as well but found, over time, that holding the fiddle up, using the large Tri and bicep muscle and keeping the lower arm, wrist, hand, and fingers relaxed allow the maximum freedom.  It does take time though.  In this I-pod, cell phone, instant age we live in, seeking an "easier way" to do things does not always translate to better.  When I teach my students about the benefit of "holding up" their fiddle, I am not pragmatic about it.  Perhaps it is just as important to give the student freedom of self-discovery so they can come to the best conclusions on their own.  Of course, it's funny how those who practice more frequently seem to arrive at the "shoulder-restless" conclusion a little faster.  One does what one can.

March 24, 2009 at 06:03 PM ·

Bravo! You make an excellent point.  I have a long neck as well but found, over time, that holding the fiddle up, using the large Tri and bicep muscles and keeping the lower arm, wrist, hand, and fingers relaxed allow the maximum freedom.  It does take time though.  In this I-pod, cell phone, instant age we live in, seeking an "easier way" to do things does not always translate to better.  When I teach my students about the benefit of "holding up" their fiddle, I am not pragmatic about it.  Perhaps it is just as important to give the student freedom of self-discovery so they can come to the best conclusions on their own.  Of course, it's funny how those who practice more frequently seem to arrive at the "shoulder-restless" conclusion a little faster.  One does what one can.

March 24, 2009 at 06:58 PM ·

I agree with you Jim and Marina.  Good points. Ysaye was a very large man as you pointed out Marina.  He had to be well over 6'5" and had a long neck.  He did not use a shoulder rest.  My teacher Erick Friedman was about that height as well, he was built like an NFL player!  And he did not use a shoulder rest.  Has the human physique changed so drastically in the past 70 years so that shoulder rests must be used?  I really don't think so.

 I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding in violin pedagogy that has been propelled by teachers who do not really understand the history of the violin.  The violin wasn't designed to be fitted with a Kun shoulder rest or a Mach One shoulder rest.  Unfortunately in advertising  shoulder rest companies lie and tell you that they are an aid to a player, increasing the ring of the instrument, and making violin playing easier etc.   Unfortunately there is no FDA for the violin world, and you have these 'aids' sold by some of these string company distributors  like the two pieces of metal that you put on your bridge and fingerboard supposed to make you bow straight.

I remember Mr. Friedman at a masterclass talking about this very issue on how the shoulder rest inhibits the vibrato because the elbow is thrown out of position and the "rubber band effect"  as he called it of the arm is lost when the elbow is not under the violin.  If the elbow stays under the instrument you get more power and variety with the vibrato.  

March 27, 2009 at 12:24 AM ·

Before I say anything I just want to say that excellent players are in the two schools (rest vs not)!  Nate what you said is true!  I just want to add a little detail, from what I saw (Stern, Oistrakh, Ferras and others) many of the people in Fridman's times and before did often use some kind of sponges, pads, towels etc while applying the restless method (lifting the violin with left hand etc...)     I saw many of these great masters with hidden sponges under coats, sewed pad, pad attach to the back of the violin, folded towels etc...  It is possible to do a kind of restless method while steel having minimum support (I say minimum because like these soloists knew, the danger is too muff the sound if you put too much of these things behind!  But a very small device, what ever it is, can do miracles and give you the same beautiful sound and pleasure as playing restless!  People were ingenious back then too to find solutions. I believe some played with nothing while other applied the restless method with some sort of homemade minimal support! 

Interesting topic!


March 27, 2009 at 11:36 AM ·

I'd half promised myself that I wouldn't post any more on a SR thread. I felt that I'd said enough in favor of playing rest-less in other threads. Anyone is invited to my website  to read details of my approach. (Click "writings" then "fundamentals".)

But just 3 points for now:

1. Nate - almost word for word, Aaron Rosand has said the same as Erick Friedman re the rest, arm position and vibrato!

2. The only great violinist I can think of who uses an arm vibrato is Elmar Oliveira. He does not use a rest - maybe just a cosmetic sponge.

3. There's one thing I really don't understand. Like almost everybody, I use a chinrest. If someone came to me and said "Well, it's all very well that you don't use a SR, but I can teach you to do wthout the chinrest as well, in a way that, with practice, will be make you feel comfortable and secure, and will do no harm to the fiddle", I'd say "I'm somewhat skeptical, but show me what you got. Who knows?" Yet, with rare exceptions, when I've offered the same to colleagues re the SR, I'd get a strange reaction - one of almost blind panic. It's like "I can't. I won't. Don't even think of suggesting it again." You'd think that we were both astronauts or deep-sea divers, and I cheerfully offered to cut off their air supply! Why??

March 27, 2009 at 07:30 PM ·

In regard to sponges and various cloth arrangements:  I've seen these as well and I am not sure what kind of aid they provide since I don't need any for bulk.  In order to play restless I must always take into account my clothing.  I cannot wear turtlenecks or any shirts that obstruct my collarbone.  My violin must have skin contact with me, which is the reason why Anne-Sophie Mutter always always performs in a strapless gown... always.  For a man I can see how that would be difficult (since most men don't wear strapless dresses when they perform Ha) and some sort of cloth would be necessary to create enough friction so that the violin doesn't slip off the shoulder.

March 28, 2009 at 02:35 AM ·


I play bad with the SR then with no SR I still play bad  :-(

I concur with Andrew, I believe there is vibrato technique for which a SR can bring out some benefit. 

I had once asked my teacher for playing technique with-out the SR, but he couldn't teach me this because he learned his vibrato based on the use of a SR. Therefore he does need a SR for drawing out fully his vibrato. (He is graduated as soloist from Tchaikovsky conservatory, master degree, and it seems to me that many recent violinists from this conservatory do use SR, like my teacher).

Then I continue to play with a SR because I'd spend hard time for converting to his (mainly arm) vibrato and I don't want to change again.  Of course, I wish I could play with no SR, but this is a "nice to have' ability for me, not a must. I still have many technical problems to be improved at first.

On the other hand, since I've read several SR discussions on, I have now developped a bad habit of verifying if a great performer uses a SR or not. What's a shame on me: I should pay attention only to their music and their expression instead.

But I'm curious to know what "excuse"  famous violinists (such as Maxim Vengerov, Viktoria Mullova, Midori ...  and more recently via : Hilary Hahn, James  Ehnes, Anne Akiko Meyers, Janine Jensen ...) would give us for the fact that they use a SR ? - Especially Midori because she does not have a long neck, not at all.

my 2 cents. 

March 28, 2009 at 12:09 PM ·

It's not that they need an excuse. This is what they got into early on, and this is what they stayed with. If Hilary Hahn, James Ehnnes, etc, would feel that they do their best playing whilst jumping up and down and spitting chicklets, it would be hard to argue with their success. H***, Aaron Rosand "claims" that the secret of his beautiful tone is from smoking cigars! Perhaps it would be germain to repeat a little of what I've said in the past on this subject:

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

But, seriously, there does seem to be some almost religeous ferver with this topic. Let's get into some details... why use more than one needs? If one could play comfortably and securely w.o. adding the weight, the pressure on the instrument's ribs and varnish wear, and for me, the less than aesthetic appearence, then why not do away with it? The question 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  experimented with an old Kun I had in a drawer. (I'd 'confiscated' it from a willing student!) It's no illusuion about the sound. Also, someone listened to me at a distance and noted the same thing. 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?)

Well, I think I've said enough here and elsehere for now on this topic. 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 across 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.

In conclusion - rest, shmest. As long as you have your health!


March 28, 2009 at 06:11 AM ·

"The violin wasn't designed to be fitted with a Kun shoulder rest or a Mach One shoulder rest."

Well, actually the violin wasn't "designed" for a lot of things originally. 500 years ago (and earlier as it evolved), the violin had no chinrest (thank Herr Spohr for that). It wasn't designed to be played in the high positions we use today. It wasn't designed to be used with high-tension synthetic and metal strings. In fact, for much of its existence, it wasn't even held up fully under the chin.

I'll simply repeat what I always say for the shoulder rest debate: As Steve Staryk always told me,

"if it doesn't feel comfortable, it's not going to sound comfortable." (He did use one, and I challenge anyone to fault his playing). It always seems to me that the anti-SR crowd are so much more dogmatic about the whole thing. 

March 28, 2009 at 11:23 AM ·

After reading all these interesting discussions about the use of SR's, and after watching great violinists using SR's and also many other great ones who don't, I must conclude that learning to play the violin with a high degree of excellency is not necessarily the result of having learned to play with or without the use of a SR. This is what common sense and the most elementary logic indicate. 



March 28, 2009 at 02:48 PM ·

i think juan summarizes well.

i have come to believe that sr vs non-sr are essentially like 2 different schools of fish:).  the yin and yan.   there are  a few that can go with either camp, but essentially, for many different reasons, be it early exposure to sr or non-sr, body mechanics, health concerns, comfort concerns, mentality, teacher's insistence, etc,  the 2 separate entities are there to stay.  since we really do not understand others that well, in all those aspects, some can be influenced, some not.   some may benefit from a switch, some not.     it is a mixture of good luck, good intention and a good dose of unknowns.    i can imagine 2 maternal twins one preferring sr the other not.

not sure if people still remember emil talked about this a while back during one of these discussions.  if i remember correctly, he talked about issac stern suggested that he tried to play sr-less.  emil did and later told stern that he was not ?comfortable, so the topic was dropped.

andrew victor, in a post earlier on this thread, discussed another aspect of this issue, the evolution of a player's need with time.  due to a health reason (stiff wrist), he tried to play without a sr and has now come to terms with some form of support, but sr no more.  would andrew have bothered to experiment had he not developed a stiff wrist?  

 people often talk about the "freedom"  of playing sr-less (if not better sound, and i am not brave enough this morning to go there:).  some sr people who have tried to play sr-less have found the "freedom" means "instability".   it is too mobile.  to some the freedom is controllable and liberating and to others it is too unstable for their techniques.   if you don't play better, you play worse.

i am not convinced that EVERYONE can change their techniques to pursue sr-less playing, to arrive at their best playing state.  i think it comes easier to some and very difficult to others.  and the examples cited for either camp speak to that.

to me, those who find playing sr-less difficult and to change their tech around it not worth the pursuit is understandable and acceptable.


March 28, 2009 at 09:27 PM ·

"The violin wasn't designed to be fitted with a Kun shoulder rest or a Mach One shoulder rest"

I agree with scott on this one! The violin wasn't designed for many things...   For one thing, it wasn't designed for small hands...  wasn't designed for long necks... wasn,t designed for too narrow shoulders. In short, I think it was a bunch of rich aristocratic short necked men who designed the instrument!!!  lol just joking but really, we can try to adapt the violin to ourselves but it will always remain that the good violinists have the luck to be able to adapt themselves to the instrument by whatever they use to achieve it!


By the way, you don't need to have an excuse to play with a rest? What is this odd sentence! 

The quetion of the day: do you think a SR married with a non SR will last very long together? I doubt it... 

If anyone here is in love with someone of the opposite school, please tell us how it is possible!!! lol   Poor children of them if they play violin... lol


March 28, 2009 at 11:22 PM ·

lol = lots of love


I'm happily in love with someone of the opposite school -sorry- sex I mean, since then noticed definitely improved vibrato swing.


March 29, 2009 at 04:28 AM ·

I have to question the validity of playing with a flat violin compared to a tilt. It seems to me that more work, over work I would think, is involved in reaching over for the left hand and for the right arm than if the instrument generally has a tilted position.Though I realize most choose to angle the violin so that the reach to the G string is made easier, my observations of David Oistrakh, among others, lead me to believe that it is not necessary to flatten the violin very much at all to play on the E string and gain resonance but that lifting the instrument up to create resistance between violin and bow is a more crucial element in the production of a rich resonant tone with minimum physical effort. Lifting the violin also clearly makes ascending shifts feel like they are going downhill. As long as one's chin rest is positioned on the instrument to meet the natural position of the head and neck in a straight line above the spine, and the violin is resting on the collarbone,  and one can reach to the end of the bow reasonably straight, then lifting the angled violin and pulling it towards the relaxed bow arm should not cause the bow to travel in a crooked path towards the tip. I believe it is desirable to shorten distances rather than make the reach longer and put strain on the arms to lift higher and over.  It  is especially necessary to shorten distances for people of average or less than average length arms. Also in creating less reach, it seems arm swing could be less and greater ease in vibrating, with arm, hand or combination would be  a result of this. Again Oistrakh is a model for not seeming to need to swing way under the violin. He comes around only somewhat when playing in the highest positions. Nothing looks extreme.  As for the shoulder rest  being  necessary, advantageous, or of  no consequence when trying to improve arm swing, I concur with Juan.

March 29, 2009 at 04:46 AM ·

Thank's Raphael for your enlightning post, also thank's to all other members giving valuable comments next to my post.

I started my violin lesson with the SR and always stayed with it. Because  most of violins I've owned sound quite similar, with or with out SR, so why I should bother about it ?

Then I have an other  violin having its back plate vibrates a lot, such that any SR putting on affects its sound, clearly.  (BTW, this violin is more power, but not necessary better than others violins that I own).

I've tried many SR types on this violin, at various mounting positions, and the best one is indeed the Mach One, as suggested by many members. I did try to play with out the SR for few months on this violin, but do not feel very comfortable, so I go back with the SR, and use the Mach One, especially for this violin.

I believe it is nicer if one could play with-out the SR, at least there is an item less to put in the violin case :-)

Will try again to play with no SR. 

March 29, 2009 at 04:48 AM ·

this message is deleted because of double post. Di-Luan.

March 29, 2009 at 05:06 PM ·

Ronald - the question of flatness vs tilt, like so many things, is a relative one. There are degrees of tilt, and I don't think that anyone can play 100% flat. That said, I do believe in a relatively flat-er  postion, for greater eveness of string availabilty, bow contact with strings, and the greater projection that this tends to yield. My models in this regard include Heifetz and Rosand. As I type this I'm listening to a video of Oistrakh in recital, and stealing occasional peeks at it. He does indeed angle his vln. more than H. and R. - but not as much as some others do. He does, however keep his elbow fiarly well under the violin, even in low positions and on upper strings -something that Hilary Hahn also manages to do, even wirh her larger SR. I've seen some resters with their elbow so out (pointing to the left) that it looks like they're going to take fight! And this brings us back to the original question, for I feel that such an elbow-out position really does indeed inhibit vibrato freedom. 

As with the whole SR question, you can't argue too much with success. Auer used to say "play it with your nose - as long as you make it sound alright." We can respect the fact that more than one approach can work, while still hoding to our convictions. For a fuller discussion of my approach anyone is invited to my website to read my "fundamentals of holding the violin and bow'. Click on "writings" and you'll see it.

PS Di-Luan Le - you're very welcome!

March 29, 2009 at 02:18 PM ·

I'm definitivly with Ronald for my personal tilt violin position but know that amazing violinists are found amonst flats violins and strong tilters!  In fact, when I sarted to play violin, like 99%, I had a rest and hated the g string!!! I remembered trying to put towels under the rest to create more angle but nothing to do... it was impossible.  I had to do all kind of awkward positions to reach it and had the impression to play for the celling more than for the audience...   But as a beginner, I assumed everything was ok and didn't argue even if I found it painful and not practicle.   When I change teachers, I also played with a rest but relearned everything since 0.  This time, with my new understanding, I had succed to avoid pain but stell wasn't happy with this d_ _ _ flat angle.  I then had the idea because of this wonderful site to try to play restless and at first it was better but terrible because the violin was even flatter...   After many attempts to create more angle I finally found the solution: the tiny home made cushion behind my violin has allowed me to create the maximum angle.  Much more than with any rest that elevated the violin everywhere!  Then, I learned about the existence of Oistrakh and Menuhin who were the strongest violin tilters I had ever seen. I even saw that Oistrakh too had a kind of home made thing behind his violin for, I believe the same purpose.  It allows to keep the head streigh instend of bending the neck or common mistake, raise the left shoulder to create angle...  The whole sound of my violin wakes up with the good angle.  I can do more sound while not forcing at all.  I benefit much more from the gravity with a tilted violin and it kind of compensate for my light arm who is just not heavy ennough to do a nice sound if the violin is as flat as a pancake.  I also am able to do a better sound on the E even with this angle. But I'm not saying I'm perfect just that it made a huge difference for my own playing. 

But this is personal and good violinists are found on the two sides ex Heifetz vs Oistrakh...

who is right? No one, it depens on each person!  The most important is that it works for you...


March 29, 2009 at 04:46 PM ·

What is a vibrato "swing" anyway?  This word conjures up unfortunate images of amateur violinists violently rattling the violin in their effort to create vibrato.  Too many players judge vibrato on the way it looks rather than the way it sounds.  I've seen violent arm vibratos that don't produce an adequate vibrating sound, and I've seen delicate finger vibratos that can fill a concert hall.  An example can be seen in singers - I compare arm vibrato to singers who move their entire jaw up and down.  A great singer will make the vibrations in their vocal chords.

Oh hi Jim, just realized you're from Va Beach too.  I got my start with Ms. Mullins down there. 

March 29, 2009 at 05:10 PM ·

"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing" - attributed to a Mr. Do Wa Do Wa  ;-)

March 29, 2009 at 10:23 PM ·

This has been my experience also Anne-Marie, that the tilt helped my playing and produced a better sound. I do agree that the elbow needs to be under the violin- I am primarliy concerned with extremes beyond that- not having to swing around with the elbow too much to the right- from what I can observe, it seems most excellent players avoid too much of a swing to the right by using their hand to turn ( like turning a doorknob) to help the fingers face over the strings so the arm doesn't do all the work. This shared responsibility seems to be easier on the arm and does not require any radial or ulnar deviation in the left hand  (though I have noted that students  who are double-jointed tend to have that deviation occur seemingly naturally and this takes time to adjust).

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