Non shoulder rest users

April 1, 2009 at 03:21 PM ·

Having reached a point of desperation in my search for a shoulder rest/chin rest combination that will not create neck and shoulder pain, I've begun  to consider scrapping the shoulder rest thing altogether. That said, I have some extreme reservations on the subject, and I'd like some advice or perspectives from those who do not, or at one point did not, use a shoulder rest. Some of my main concerns:

- I have extremely small hands, and I'm worried about security in the upper positions when I have to bring my thumb around the instrument to the point at which it is no longer under the neck (though still touching). How do those of you with small hands deal with this problem?

- As I understand it, non-rest users support their instrument to a degree with the left hand. How much of a stabilizing role do the head and shoulder play, and how does shifting differ from technique with a shoulder rest?

- I have very sloped shoulders that are extremely narrow from neck to shoulder joint, and narrow back to front. Has anyone with this body type experienced any problems playing without a rest? If so, what were they?

Thanks much for any info or advice.

Replies (50)

April 1, 2009 at 04:24 PM ·

I see that this subject will never - well, rest!

But seriously, my physicality is different from yours. But I've had some students with small hands and shoulders, etc. who learned to play comfortably and securely w.o. a rest. Visit my website http://rkviolin.com  Click "writings" then "fundamentals" and you'll see my approach in detail. For related recent material, take a look at the thread on the rest and vibrato.

I really don't want to get mired in this again, but will just add this. The - or at least my - approach to playing w.o. a rest does not put any special onus on the hand to support the violin. Our own natural shoulder and clavicle, as well as the chin, share responsibility - with nothing pressing or tensed. When all areas function well, the violin is not so much held as it is balanced.  It feels free, yet secure. Good luck!

April 1, 2009 at 06:31 PM ·

Helen...I'm interested so please, do go on.

I started out playing the violin with a shoulder rest.  It was never comfortable for me.  I didn't like feeling the shoulder rest 'pressing' into my shoulder and no matter how I placed it on the instrument it still always felt intrusive.  I have very straight and more broad shoulders.  After awhile I decided to try rest less playing.  I like the freedom of no shoulder rest and not 'feeling' the rest on my shoulder while playing, but I still have an issue with wanting to support the front of the lower bout.  When I hold the instrument up, if I place my right hand under the lower bout the angle of the instrument is perfect, more flat, but I can't figure out how to hold it and achieve that.  If I move it back, more towards my shoulder than it's too difficult to play as I'm not tall and my arms/fingers not long.

I also found I actually used less head pressure to hold the instrument in place when I stopped using a shoulder rest.  I think the rest was putting the instrument at a angle that was not conducive for me so I had to hold it more with my jaw to keep it stable.  I don't need additional height on the back side and most rests raise the back lower bout too high for me.

 

Raphael...after reading your instructions, I wonder if I haven't been holding the instrument too far to the left.  In doing what you describe, the instrument is in a different position, more in front of me than I am used to.   Let's hope this is the beginning of finally finding true happiness with my violin.

 

 

April 1, 2009 at 06:32 PM ·

That's right, Tess. My approach in this matter is about 90% or more directly from what I learned from Aaron Rosand. He always stresses (among many other things) the importance of holding the violin directly in front of you most of the time, more or less in line with your nose. I think that I've gone into some detail about some exceptions to this in my "fundamentals" as well. In this position, it's easier - once you get used to it - to be in control of the violin, and have the hand come over more with less strain, and have the fingers fall more naturally over the fingerboard.

April 1, 2009 at 07:40 PM ·

Kylie - I hope you have a teacher.  Someone who can watch you and help you sort out your problems going restless might be very useful.  You have received good advice, but someone who can watch you implement that advice and correct issues that arise might make a big difference.

April 1, 2009 at 10:22 PM ·

I believe, from Raphael's writings and his site, we share some similarities in training.  He's better at expressing the finer points, but I do have one thought.  Release the tension first.  Is there any clenching?  Is there any tightness?  Where?  Why?  Sometimes it can be a matter of "trying too hard" or forcing.  Of course I have no idea if that's the issue, but it's a possibility.  Not wanting to "go there" either, but I will say I've particularly enjoyed the freedom I find in my left shoulder having learned to play without a shoulder rest.  Good luck on your path towards pain-free enjoyable playing! 

April 1, 2009 at 10:16 PM ·

Thanks for all the responses.

To answer the questions posed, yes, I'm quite certain that the problem is not the specific shoulder rest/chin rest combination, but rather an issue of tension - caused by gripping the violin with either my shoulder and/or my head - and of immobility - which is why I'm considering ditching my shoulder rest. I've experimented a little with playing without a rest, and found that it freed things up a little and relieved some of the pain.

My concern is primarily to do with the technique differences between playing with or without a rest (especially shifting), and any particular problems that might be caused by my unusually small hands and shoulders.

And yes, I do have a teacher, and I have taken this concern to him and gotten some guidance, but he plays with a rest, and encourages his students to the same (although we are welcome to do whatever works for us as long as it does not interfere with our technique). So yes, I will have someone to oversee the process if I decide to make the transition.

April 1, 2009 at 10:39 PM ·

Okay, then how about playing a few exercises in Sevcik part 1 or first position pieces without a shoulder rest.  Make sure you DO NOT allow your left shoulder support the violin.  The violin rests on your clavicle, the left shoulder is dropped--it shouldn't, for the most part, be touching the bottom part of the violin (that dampens the violin anyway)--don't clench the violin between your shoulder and chin.  You will quickly see that thumb position is critical for shifting.  But, I wouldn't try shifting right away.  Just get used to having that left shoulder free.

Also, this might sound kind-of "Zen" or something, but maybe you'll want to release some "perfectionist" expectations of yourself while you go through the process.  Instead of focusing on all the little points of "getting it right," why not take the opportunity to be a rebel and do everything "wrong" and allow yourself to see how the violin might be played.  Like, as in, have fun and make silly vibrato and stupid sounds and make mistakes and then love the process of finding answers.  Creativity is the nectar for many ills and necessity is certainly the mother of invention.  I'd say you're probably in that place where you're most likely to find an answer--desperation! 

April 2, 2009 at 03:25 AM ·

 I think that shoulder rest vs. non shoulder rest is sort of a misleading dichotomy.

I prefer clench vs. non-clench (meaning holding the violin with the shoulder chin) or holding it with the left hand. A shoulder rest is essentially a clenching device.

Now keep in mind that there are great violinists who clench and play with a shoulder rest. In fact for any given way of holding the violin you can probably find someone who is a better violinist holding it another way.

I firmly believe that clenching has a high probability of inducing injury at some time and that it allows violinists of lesser talent to take left hand shortcuts that limit their progress as violinists. 

I suggest that anyone who has shoulder pain or feels that they have plateaued technically to consider finding a teacher who holds the violin with the left hand and (no thumb under the neck) and see what they can do to help.

April 2, 2009 at 03:30 AM ·

Re tension, it's like the old Henny Youngman "Doctor, it hurts when I do this" "Don't do that!" But really, playing with tension, with or w.o. the SR, is like trying to ride a bike with the brakes on. I also agree that there's no substitute for a live teacher. Once a prospective student who eventually worked with me for a while, asked in the initial phone conversation "do you think that if I got hold of a good book I could work things out on my own?" I said "sure - if you're another Mozart."

It's also true that focusing on any one aspect of violin technique as a hopeful cure for all violinistic ills won't work. It's like one of those extreme diets that has you eating or drinking only this or that. My rest-free approach is but one aspect of an interlocking set of aspects.

April 2, 2009 at 04:46 AM ·

Kylie, I sympathize with you.  I am also a narrow-shouldered, short-fingered person who, it turns out, plays on a slightly over-sized violin.  I also suffered with the wrong equipment for some time, and Paul Rolland pulled me back from the edge of having to give up playing because of pain brought on by the wrong equipment for me.

If I may, Mr. Rolland's approach to pulling me back from the edge was to take away the chinrest and shoulder pad and to "make me" experience probably what Baroque players experience; how to get around the instrument without much involvement of any body part.  This experience activated my left hand and made it "smart", and it deactivated my shoulder muscles and freed up my neck muscles, as well.

I have to say that I thought Mr. Rolland was crazy and nearly left school over it, but the shoulder pains went away, my vibrato and shifting got better, and I've never looked back.  He did, by the way, give me a chinrest that fit my jaw and a PlayOnAir shoulder pad, which still allowed the movements in the head, neck, and shoulders.  (I no longer use the PlayOnAir because it kept springing leaks).  And also, he had me go through a positioning process that involved rest position, tip of the left thumb in the curve of the neck, reaching up to the G string in the high positions, "gluing" my fingers on the fingerboard, and placing the instrument against the neck, and then lowering the head gently onto the chinrest (the left hand is then released to the lower positions).  This positioning process allowed me a custom position of the instrument based on the length of my left pinky and the flexibility of my left arm.  You might want to rummage around on my web site, www.chinrests.com to read more about this.

We "little" people are faced much more quickly with fitting problems because we have less to spare.  So, it's good that you are thinking about these things now.

Wishing you all the best, Lynne

April 2, 2009 at 12:16 PM ·

When I decided to try going without the SR, I read as much as I could. I discovered all the great players of old used no SR or pad by choice.  Auer's book makes some noteworthy points about the advantages of no pad (SR wasn't yet invented).  Today, Mutter uses no SR. 

You may wish to consider a centre mounted chin rest, such as the Flesch Flat or Humped.  Mutter uses such. Also, she places the violin upon her bare skin at the neck/shoulder.  I find her method very comfortable, and it solved the pain and hickey I was developing.

Where I have yet to adjust to no-SR is down shifting.  This is the only aspect I find easier with an SR than without.  But, I am yet a student, so I have much to learn, and hope someday to master the shifting with ease.

April 2, 2009 at 01:04 PM ·

Ron, you mention the violin 'hickey'.  I haven't ever had one so you got me wondering...is the hickey relative to using a shoulder rest?  Is it caused by the positioning of the instrument due to the SR?

April 2, 2009 at 06:30 PM ·

I believe that the 'hickey' is caused by the chinrest - specifically by the metal parts that many people are sensitive to. If you cover your chinrest with a cloth and hold the fiddle fairly loosely, that should prevent the problem. If your cloth is made of suede or something similar, that will provide a slip-resistant surface, allowing you to downshift with ease w.o. the SR - once you get used to it, and come to trust it.

April 3, 2009 at 09:38 PM ·

I feel like shifting technique is significantly different without a shoulder rest actually.  I remember in high school my teacher's husband heard me miss a big leap several times in a row and told me "what are you doing? Just position your hand for seventh position and plop it in place".  It didn't make sense to me then because with a shoulder rest you rotate your hand as you shirt up, but without I have to start moving an instant before the shift.  If I were going from first to seventh position, I certainly wouldn't turn my hand until it was like it would be in seventh position (that would be awful), but based on the preparatory movement it's very clear which position I'm going to (or not). 

Actually, I used to have my thumb bent in an awkward way so that it was on the side of the neck, but applying pressure up instead of against the side (it was...bent forward).  Without the shoulder rest this is unbearable so it is now in a more natural position against the side.  That means if I want to shift from below fourth position to above fourth position I need to quickly get my thumb under the neck so that for the instant between when my index knuckle touches the neck and the base of my palm touches the violin the thumb keeps the violin from falling.  Also when I shift back I have to quickly get the thumb back to the side of the neck or I'm back in a world of tension.  It also becomes more important for me to shift straight up the string because without the shoulder rest the violin will wobble unless I do that. 

April 4, 2009 at 12:40 AM ·

I do think that you are correct that the hand forms the position before the shift starts.

But the thumb should be dead (i.e. passive). It should follow the hand and be a counterpoise for the force from the hand against the neck. Also I think that in downshifts the fingers (not the thumb) should initiate the shift. The thumb follows: sometimes almost instantaneously but other times not at all, especially if a return to the starting position is contemplated.

April 4, 2009 at 02:15 AM ·

That is also a popular method of back shifting.  The method where the thumb leads is the one that was suggested by Flesch and Dounis in their theoretical works so when I got rid of the shoulder rest that was the method I decided to work toward. 

Watch this clip and you'll see exactly the sort of movement I'm talking about.  It's tiny and fast, but definitely there.  He also does the type of shift you describe a number of times, probably based on what works best in the awkward piece.  (I wish I had a clip of milstein, but it seems he was doomed to always be recorded at bad angles)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66Lq1nHRp24 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roAyKN6dKWM 

One thing that I never really understood is why for a back shift from sixth position or higher it's not necessary to lead with one or the other (at least, for me)  I can move the whole hand at once and not lose control over the instrument. 

April 5, 2009 at 03:35 AM ·

Shoulder rest not-user here, if it interests. Only wanting to thank  Anthony for the link of my favorite weirdo (that's Gould BTW...) playing my favorite sonata with such a phantastic violinist... And thinking about it was wrong to take the allowance of my parents, rent a Ferrari and go to South France with my (former...) favorite girlfriend instead of going to masterclasses with such a guy...  And to be on topic, there is one post of by Mr. Steiner quoting Francescatti (go direct to...) which IMHO explains the whole thing. So long live the (real) working thumb, the short / long necks and the knowledge that ,in tomorrows recording session, if something falls down and makes "boom", it's not mine...

 

April 5, 2009 at 05:01 AM ·

What? My name's not Anthony....and...What?

The violinist is Oscar Shumsky btw.  I think it must say that on the youtube page =\

April 5, 2009 at 05:06 AM ·

Sorry, Joseph...

April 8, 2009 at 03:46 AM ·

Hey Kylie, fancy meeting you here!

Good luck with it.  A former teacher has been trying to get me to go restless and I keep changing the subject... ;)

April 14, 2009 at 03:19 PM ·

I wanted to add one last thing before this discussion disappeared. One of the big concerns about going restless is the fear that one will drop the violin. In fact this fear may prompt some to use a rest.

The reality of playing restless (and clenchless) is that one drops the violin all the time...and instantly catches it as well.

You won't be comfortable playing restless (and clenchless) until you are comfortable dropping and catching the violin. If you absolutely must be in total control of the violin every instant you won't ever be restless or clenchless.

This is like riding a bicycle. A bicycle falls left to right the entire time you are riding it. When it starts to fall one way you shift your weight to right it and then it starts to fall the other way. So it is with holding the violin. Embrace dropping the violin and you'll learn to play restless and clenchless. 

April 14, 2009 at 03:36 PM ·

Terrific analogy, Corwin.  Holding and playing the violin needs to be as effortless as riding a bicycle, and we all know how hard that was in the beginning.

You can even take it one step further and play the violin, restless, while riding a unicycle as Clayton Haslop has mastered.  Perhaps he'll see this and insert his video clip.  Really fun to watch.

April 14, 2009 at 05:38 PM ·

With the violin resting on the Clavicle does one have to lean back more?

April 14, 2009 at 08:15 PM ·

Corwin, how true and I noticed it with myself but I only have a question.  When the violin slips off your thumb and you are not in high positions, it doesn't matter since it falls in the whole between your thumb and index but I had a few terrifying experiences (maybe 3 times in all) when I was playing the F and F sharp scale 3 octaves...  Since my hand is not the smallest but not the biggest either... I really droped my violin and since My thumb was in complete extension (because it is very high positions) this whole between my index and thumb wasn't there.  I don't have big broad shoulders and short neck to stabilize everything either so the violin was really going to fall on the ground. I felt it going out of under my chin and the jump was quite big since I always hold my violin scrool up.  At the last moment and with the adrenaline comming from the fear of droping my expensive friend on the floor, I lifted my left shoulder and kind of catch it with my left hand.  But this was a terribly risky moove... 

 I know that some hold the instrument restless (even some roknowned soloists that I don't want to name) with the left shoulder always very up (so up than even my mom who knows nothing about violin told it to me!!!) to clamp the instrument and avoid to take any risk but I think this is really bad and don't want to do it but my question is, do you know someone who really droped his violin on the floor?  Tell the truth please!  

Thanks,  since it only happened 3 times in a few years that I've been in love with this method, I do not consider it that risky and would never come back to a rest (I'm not even able to play with one now...) but of course, I don't like to put the life of my violin between my reflexes who are generally speaking not very good :) 

Thanks and interesting comment, Corwin!

Anne-Marie

April 14, 2009 at 11:52 PM ·

I have had a close call or two. I consider it a part of my learning experience. I have not seen anyone drop their violin.

I'll have to think about it a bit but I believe that when I feel a need for more support I bend my head into the chinrest  or that I lift the violin a little higher so that it touches my chin. I never ever lift my shoulder. It wouldn't help and you'll see that by looking at my profile picture.  

April 15, 2009 at 06:39 AM ·

Greetings,

>With the violin resting on the Clavicle does one have to lean back more?

Royce, that`s an interesting question irrespective of whether yu are using a rest or not.

I have often heard (good)teachers talk about this slight backward lean.  I think one can see very clearly in the DVDs of Kogan.

However,  just to be a cuss,  I would like to suggest that this is actually something f a misundertsanding of what is actually happening.  At least according to Alexander Technique the fundamental facotr governing maximum efifcieny of body use is the relationship between the head neck and back.    I once asked an AT teacher (one of the best around) if he had ever seen a memeber of the general public do this well and he smiled sadly and said `no.`  

Now,  what I am actually talking about is more often than not a slight dropping back of the head which automatically compresses the spine and puts \it out of its natural shape.   I have done the follwoing experiment a thousan times (maybe ;)) in lessons with studnets. I ask them to keep their head up because they look contracted and ill at ease when they play.  What do they do?  The actually drop the head backwards and down which further compresses the spine.  The action of head up is associated with a movement in which the eyes or forehead go up t the detriment of everything else.  If you do this experiemnt with someone try putting your hand really lighly on the back of their head. You will feel a -massive= drop= most of the time.   I hesitate to speculate that we associtae up of the head with this action because we over use the forntal part of the brain at the expense of everything else...

Wha happens in AT is you learn to release the tensionin the neck so the head goes forwrad and up.   As this releases the spinethe rib cage decompresses and widens (as does the back) and this creates the very clear effect of a slight leaning back as the spine reclaims its two natural curves,   although is actually simply good use of the body.  I suect that trying to emulate the natural good use of plaers like Heifetz,  Straker,  Rubenstein ,  Casals et al is not actually that helpful.  Without knowing how Kogan got to where he is one is in danger of misuing the body more through well intentioned copying.

Cheers,

Buri

April 15, 2009 at 04:24 PM ·

Kylie,

Chinrests (and more recently developed shoulder rests) are only intended to make vioins easier to play.  Many people retain the chinrest that came on their violin all their lives and attempt to compensate by adding a shoulder rest.

SO - first of all you should be sure you have a comfortable chinrest that allows you to support the violin between your jaw and your collarbone. THEN - don't cound on that but just allow your head to rest on the violin, don't clench it.  Your shoulder and your left hand should also provide support.

NOW - some people don't have proper shoulders for helping support the violin - and these people seek out shoulder rest to serve as an extension of their natural shoulders. Bearing this in mind, the ideal shoulder rest would be as many past male violin virtuosos (like Stern) used them - a pad under the jacket.

I have found that the ACOUSTIFOAM shoulder rests (look on Google.com) may act like an improved shoulder. They do not lock you in the way most conventional shouder rests do and they allow you to change the angle of the instrument to allow one to play as thoungh there were no shoulder rest, but that sense of "extra shoulder" is there to add security at times. I have recently had to stop using shoulder rests because of arthritis at the abse of my left thumb, but find I get a bit of added security and comfort with an ACOUSTIFOAM.

I actually have no respect for teachers who dogmatically insist on either no shoulder rest, or essential shoulder rest.  I had teachers of the short-necked variety who insisted on no shoulder rest (and never examined my chinrests). I had been playing for 30 before I discovered my ideal chinrest and the added benefit (for me at the time) of the right shoulder rest. Each player/student is different and needs to be guided to the best use of the best tools to enhance their skills. I have even found there are differences between violins (in my collection) that warrent different (ideal for me) chinrests and different shoulder rests and shoulder-rest positioning.

There is just no single, simple answer.

Andy

April 18, 2009 at 09:51 PM ·

I just wrote a blog about my non shoulder rest adventures I'm in right now.  I'm using a red sponge (thick, circular kind, from Shar) attached to my violin with a rubber band on the spot where it lands in the gap above my shoulder, rather than next to my neck (where I originally thought it was supposed to be) and it's working out great!  I have a left shoulder that tends to dislocate, so this discovery is helping my shoulder feel more secure.  + my violin sounds better!  Incredible, really.  I've been an avid shoulder rest user the entire time I've played violin, so this is quite unusual for me.  Mostly my students all enjoy shoulder rests, but I may have to recommend they give this a try...

April 19, 2009 at 07:36 AM ·

Very interesting, I always compair it to the use of goggles by swimmers.They are forever trying to get comfortable with it till you tell them throw them out and close your eyes till you get to the turn,have a quick look and try to do without them. I now teach violin and found the same thing ,lots of time get wasted to try and find the right place or even rest. I tell my pupils(mostly adults)Try your shoulderrests at home and only use them in the lessons once you feel comfortable with them.The result: Not a single shoulderrest amongst 18 adults.They have all found the perfect place to hold their violins and not a single one fidgits with a rest.

April 19, 2009 at 12:42 PM ·

Tasha - one of my great former teachers is Glenn Dicterow, great soloist, and concertmaster of the NY Philharmonic. Whenever I can, I still attend his master classes as an auditor for further learning and inspiration, the most recent one being just several days ago. Though he doesn't use a rest, he never insisted on his students doing w.o. one until very recently. I noticed that they all played with the same cosmetic sponge that you mention. He didn't bring up the subject until the last student. He complimented him for how much better his sound was restless, and how much better he projected.

After the class I had a talk with him and told him that one of my other great teachers, Aaron Rosand, with whom I studied several years later, taught me to play restless, and GD was glad to hear it. But he also really liked and approved of my own innovation that I showed him - a suede skin about the size of a hankerchief, with a pocket sewn in the middle, where you can insert a thin pad, just for the collarbone. The suede provides a slip resistance to allow you to shift easily w.o. any pressure from the chin, etc, and is very comfortable.

For the rest, please visit my website http://rkviolin.com  Click on "writings" then "basics"

And with that, I think I've posted quite enough on this subject for a while!

April 19, 2009 at 01:25 PM ·

Mr. Klayman,

Thanks for your response.  I would be very curious to see your invention.  I think I need to do something similar, and if you're willing to share, that would be most helpful to set e on the right path.  I've referred to your site when I first saw your response.  Very helpful information, but unfortunately, I need a visual to completely understand what you're saying.

Thanks again,

Tasha

April 19, 2009 at 02:02 PM ·

Hi Raphael,
 
Are you suggesting that improvement in tone is a result of going restless?  I would disagree with that connection.  I was at a masterclass where Aaron Rosand suggested this as well.  He made the student who had very long upper arms and relatively narrow shoulders play restless with the violin pointing almost directly to the front.  There was an immediate improvement in tone and he exclaimed it was a direct result of the position of the fiddle and removal of the rest.  You could almost hear gasps of amazement and wonder in the crowd.  The fact is that this improvement can be achieved by anyone, with or without a rest, fiddle pointing to the front or to the side, by feeling vertical counterpressure between fiddle and bow, between left hand and right, 'playing the fiddle under the bow', by how the 'rubber meets the road' so to speak, or in this case how the 'road meets the rubber'. Of course this happens when one is forced to point the violin to the front and hold the violin up and against the bow, but it can also be learnt within the context of existing violin positions.  
 
One should be cautious in holding the elbow toward the midline of the body (as a general position) and make sure not to allow the shoulder to roll forward, to be pulled forward, as this position can potentially damage the labrum within the shoulder joint.  Those with relatively short upper arms (relative to the instrument or to the width of the shoulders) should take extra care.
 
Cheers,
JK
 

April 19, 2009 at 10:46 PM ·

OMG - this, more than any subject here feels like a pit of quicksand from which there is no escape! As it is, I'm planning to take a break soon from posting on any thread. So it's fine if you agree or disagree. Either way, after this, it's time for me to go for a while.

Jeewon - I'm having the same problem with your post as Tasha had with mine. It's hard to visualize a lot of what your saying. But yes, I certainly am saying that a better and freer tone is likely to result from not using a big rigid shoulder rest of the kind that presses the sides of the violin. That said, to the extent that I follow you, I will agree that a number of other factors affect tone production, for good or ill. And clearly, it's not only I who am saying it, but many great players, including Dicterow, and as you witnessed for yourself, Rosand. I might add such names as Heifetz, Primrose, Nadien, Libove, Perlman (though he doesn't make his students switch) and a host of other great names. But as I've said elswhere, I don't think that it's the only way to play well. Why didn't  you bring up your objections to Rosand, himself, after the master class? The worst he would have done is bite your head off -lol!

Tasha - I agree with you that one picture is worth 1,000 words. One of these days I really should add some photos to my "fundamentals". Barring that for now, I'll try to describe my 'invention' in more detail.

1. I got hold of a suede skin. That's not so easy even in New York City - does sound sound chauvinistic? I no longer remember exactly where the store was - somwhere in Manhattan, in the '30's. Try the internet. The skins are of irregular size, but the last one I got was very approximately a square yard. It's also not cheap. I think that skin cost me about $60. But it yielded several of my covers.

2. Then I went to a dress maker that my Mom recommended! This material is very tough to cut! I asked her to make from that one skin about 4 of my 'hot-pockets' as follows: size, about 12'X15". The 15' length section was divided into 3 equal sections of about 5' each. The middle section got an extra flap of skin sewn over it, forming a pocket area into which you can slip in a thin piece of padding, the amount of which you can vary, depending on what you're wearing. The pocket is left open on either side of the width.

3. You use it as you would a hankerchief. The longer part folds over the chinrest and under the violin. It then works out that the middle pocket flap will cover your collar bone. Since all the parts are equal, you can turn it over and swich around over the course of a gig, should you perspire. I even find it very helpful when resting the violin on my lap during say a long tacet, to put it on my lap and under the violin, making it much harder for the violin to slip. In case you need to adjust a stand light, it even makes a good pot holder! I find that this material is very long lasting - in itself, and also in its non-slip effectiveness. If it starts to get a little too smooth, scratching it shoud revive its gripping qualities.

Here's a much cheaper solution that I used to use: get a square yard of thin foam, about 1/8" thick, and cut to a similar size. Then cut a smaller piece to go under a shirt and over the collar bone. Even Rosand uses some under padding - more than I do, actually. This is leagues away from the 'scaffolding' type of rest. I found the foam to be like bow hair. When new, it needed some breaking-in to get more adhesive, and eventually it just wore smooth. But it's cheap - but also not that easy to find. And there's nothing like skin on skin - it's quite comfortable.

Well - I think that was 1,000 words. Here's one more thing I'd be willing to do if it's still hard to visualize. E-mail me privately with your address, and I'll send you a simple line drawing.

And now - I'm outta here!

 

 

April 19, 2009 at 05:35 PM ·

Tasha,

I've been using a thing called a "shoulder pet," that I first heard about on v.com awhile back.  It's a rectangular suede sac filled with quinoa which drapes over the shoulder and serves as both padding and slip prevention for restless players.  I've been using mine for several months now and it has done the trick for me, protecting my collarbone and giving me just the slight extra lift I need (I wear mine backward to minimize the padding effect and snuggle it close to the neck to prevent hickeys as well).  There is minimal dampening of sound vs going naked, but naked doesn't work for my bony collarbone and causes discomfort.  A beanbag of cereal grain may not seem like the obvious choice, but the sound is less dampened than with many other pads I've tried.     Google "shoulder pet by Suzanne" to see pix and further explanation.  I have no connection to the maker/seller,  just a happy user.   As they say, your mileage may vary.

Best,

ab

April 19, 2009 at 08:35 PM ·

Thanks, Mr. Klayman, for your response.  That does help to clarify things.  I'll just have to experiment... even more.  I feel with that quite thorough explanation that I don't need to bother you for a drawing, but thank you very much for the offer.

I'll look into shoulder pets.  Thanks!

April 19, 2009 at 08:38 PM ·

Greetings,

this also has the advantage that if you are lost on a  desert island you can cook a quick and delicious meal. First roast the quinoa in a pan until a nutty odour come s off (check its not your socks).  Then add to boiling water with a choppe d onion for good luck.   Simmer for twenty five minutes.  Voila!
Cheers,

Buri 

April 19, 2009 at 08:45 PM ·

Buri, you left out the secret ingredient... =P

Btw, what do you use, shoulder rest wise?

April 19, 2009 at 08:45 PM ·

Ah, that's what it was!  I forgot to toast mine last time.  Toasting definitely adds another dimension to the flavor.

April 19, 2009 at 09:40 PM ·

Toasting does more than add flavor - it enhances overtones as well.  One wonders if toasting prunes would have a similar effect.

April 19, 2009 at 10:05 PM ·

Greetings,

Tasha, you really ant to get me strate don shoulde rrests?!!!!!

Don`t use nayhting except a cmaois leather to provide traction.   However,  although I cna play in a tee shirt or similar the violin is actually too flat for me so I suppose yoiu could say I need a tine bit of padding to turn the violin a little.  I do not have a short nec by the way.  I suppose I am about average.

When I wa sa kid it was assumed thta one needed a rest and this same assumption was standard at the RCM although Rodney Friend and his stude ts were using the Gewa pad and Hugh Bean was restless,  although he had no neck at all!     Throug incorrect playing in general (no real teachers excpet in the capital) I wa sin some discomfort that turend into full fledged agony over long reherasals.  I was not smart enough to latch onto te freedom I felt when the rest fell off and one had to continue;)

Much later I began using a sponge a la Issac Stern and tht seemed okay but in the end I wa sad always am only at ease with nothing there.    I try new rets as they come out.  The new Diamond is excellent i think.  The Kun are an abomination in my experience. (Sue me!)  On the whole I think rest thta try and be ergomic cause more trouble than simple rests like the Wolf Forte Primo which semes like a good option for long rests.  Another rest I could use to a degree is the old Menuhin .

The tets for me is always cn I whizz up and down the g stirng with ease.   Otehrwise,  I have found that cocnerns about shifting and the like are unfounded.  Sometimes they fle slower or more difficult ut the actuall thing that is happening is no less facile than with a rest.

I have never had any trouble stareting a stduent of any kind of physique without a rest.  With young kids a litlte sponge or something helps but they seem to reject this over time.

Cheers,

Buri

April 19, 2009 at 11:03 PM ·

Oh, sorry, Buri.  Maybe I should stick to prunes. =P

Still, I think it's fascinating to find out what you do. =D  Want to spill any other details of your playing? LOL.  Or teaching, or anything else that comes to mind?

April 19, 2009 at 11:18 PM ·

Greetings,

well,  I spilled my breakfast coffee downme this morning.

In shifting I have found a useful concept is that of `creaitng space with the shoulder.`   That is sicne for eevry action there is an opposing action,  the movement of the forarm awys from the nose actually involve sthe movent of the upper towards it and vice versa.  Now in order to make these micro movemnts one has to create the `space.` So just prior to an upward shidt the left shoudler actually drops back so that the upper arm can move forward and vice versa. Haven`t explained this well but ther eis a good description in Menuhin`s book on the violin.   He attributes virtually all bad shifts to this fundamentla issue.

Also I woudl say the more you practice shifting big intervals in single and double stops on one or tw strings the faster you will master balanicng the violin without a rest.  The one stirng scales form Galaian are also excellent.  Perosnally I use the exercises from `No time to Pracitce`   quite a lot at the moment.

Cheers,

Buri

April 20, 2009 at 01:46 AM ·

Raphael,

I'll try to be clearer.  The main factor which affects the quality of tone is how the bow is pulled against the string.  What results is a difference in kind.  The master can pick up any instrument (even a small-sized instrument) and still sound like a master.  Someone incapable of pulling a good tone on their own fiddle will pull the same poor quality of tone on the best Strad or del Gesu.

The difference between using a rigid shoulder rest which clamps the ribs and 'riding bareback', or a chin rest mounted to the side and mounted in the middle, or different string brands, or a fiddle before and after a soundpost adjustment, even the difference between using a mediocre and great fiddle, these are all differences in degree.  In other words, it would be difficult to tell the difference without a back to back comparison.  

The 'better and freer tone' is a result of the quality of tone production which happens between the bow and the string, not whether one uses a rigid, clamping shoulder rest or not.  That many great artists claim something does not make it any more accurate.  I'm not as interested in what people claim, no matter how great their profile, as in how they actually do or produce what they claim.

I did not approach Mr. Rosand because I had no desire to argue with him, nor did I think I could influence his opinion.  I was more concerned with the student who was clearly uncomfortable and too easily influenced by the stature of the master. I was more concerned with convincing the student that nothing need be changed in the student's setup or position to maintain the quality of sound that had just been produced by holding the fiddle to the front, and more importantly, up and against the bow.  I have not analyzed in detail why this 'up and against' action improves tone quality immediately, but I suspect it has to do with the regulation of pressure between hair and string, and the contrary motion of hair across string, coordinated by both arms/hands working (sensing) together rather than the right working alone.  

I am not advocating for or against the use of a shoulder rest, just objecting to your or anyone else’s claim that getting rid of a rigid shoulder rest causes an improvement in quality of tone.

Cheers,

JK

 

 

April 20, 2009 at 02:03 AM ·

JK...  I totally look forward to understanding more completely what you're saying about pushing against the bow and contrary motion being the true reason for an improved tone that has nothing to do with the type of shoulder rest. 

I would just like to rephrase that when I got rid of a shoulder rest, and managed to find a way to make the comfortable, I was able to play my best; and my tone is improved.  As you say, it is in degrees, but noticeable.  How is this not a contributor (my removing a shoulder rest) to improved tone?

Not that I am taking sides in this mini shoulder rest squabble, I am just very curious as to how this all works.  Thanks for any insight in the future!

April 20, 2009 at 04:07 AM ·

Greetings,

one thing which is no mentioned too often is what I see as a delayed reaction effect.  What I mena bvy this is the body may have a kind of holding pattern of misuse (tension) and the act of either shedding the rets or conversely putting one on can give an immediate sens eof relieve which may well have the effetc of sounding better. But because of homeostasis the player soon slips back into the old holding pattern and is back to square one.

Cheers,

Buri

April 20, 2009 at 08:46 PM ·

Hi Tasha,

Don't mean to squabble with you ;) , but my disagreement with those who claim a causal connection between removing a rigid shoulder rest and an improvement in quality of tone is a little more than a trivial matter.

Causality implies a necessary (inevitable) relationship between the cause and the effect.  It is being claimed that an improvement in sound (the effect) is the direct consequence of removing a rigid shoulder rest (the cause).  I am arguing that the removal of the shoulder rest merely coincides, for those who claim it, with an improved tone.

I think you have experienced a difference in kind rather than degree.  I make this categorization while acknowledging that how we experience and judge quality of sound is subjective.  Broadly speaking, however, I think we can agree that there is a distinction between a good sound and a not-as-good sound quite independent of those characteristics which we can attribute to the instrument itself: the quality of the instrument, type of strings used, adjustment/setup, etc. I am arguing that the clamping effect of a rigid shoulder rest belongs with this list of characteristics of the instrument.  In other words, no matter how you tweak your fiddle, no matter whose fiddle you pickup, you will still notice the same improvement in your tone production. This is what I mean by change in quality of tone.

Invariably the 'restless' camp will argue that removing the shoulder rest will result in freedom of the left shoulder and freedom of rotation for the violin; the 'users' will counter by saying that the shoulder rest doesn't necessarily restrict the shoulder or the rotation of the violin; and of course both are correct.  I have, however, witnessed some who play without a shoulder rest and clamp the fiddle between shoulder and jaw.  So I would modify the statement to, 'removing the shoulder rest can lead to freedom of the shoulder.'  Although the 'resters' will claim it is equally possible to free the shoulder while using a shoulder rest.  For many, freeing the left shoulder requires a steep learning curve for both users and nonusers alike, but is an important factor in becoming more comfortable with the instrument and becoming free with the bow arm.

You said when you got rid of the shoulder rest and managed to become comfortable, your tone improved.  I think the key to the improvement is in the changes you made to become comfortable.  Could you have found a way to be comfortable while retaining the shoulder rest? Well I think the answer depends on who you ask.  Are there reputable players with (broadly speaking) a good sound in both camps?  Obviously, the answer is yes.  So what is it that these players in opposite camps have in common?

You're probably already aware of the variables which contribute to a good tone: sound point, bow speed, and pressure (although some dislike that word, I'm referring to the pressure the string feels from the hair of the bow, not the kind the bow feels from the fingers which detracts from good tone as such pressing seems to dampen the vibration of the stick; what we feel within the bow arm most call a sense of 'weight', although it serves to add pressure of the hair to the string; certain tightness in the fingers of the right hand also seems to dampen the vibration of the strings themselves). 

The other two variables being equal, the quality of the pressure seems to be immediately improved by lifting the violin up into the bow without changing anything in the bow arm/hand. This makes sense because it improves the contact between hair and bow without adding any tension to the right arm or hand.  Many who play with a poor tone tend to 'skate' across the string without enough traction (or adhesive friction between hair and string which usually involves poor application of weight from the arm; skating may also be caused by poor tracking, an uncoordinated motion between joints of the arm, i.e. pulling a 'crooked' bow; some may complain that many artists play without a straight bow, but the difference is that the masters maintain a consistent sound point, though the bow may look like it's going out of line, when they want to produce an even tone which requires proper traction; they never change sound point suddenly unless they mean to change the sound suddenly.) Those with a compressed or tight sound also find an improvement because all of a sudden the violin is no longer firm ground beneath their bow hand/fingers.  The springiness of the violin beneath the bow regulates the compression of the hand/fingers against the stick, allowing the sound to 'breathe', creating a more open sound.

I'm not suggesting that lifting the violin under the bow is necessary to create a good sound, only that it makes the two hands work together, perhaps for the first time, and often creates an immediate improvement in quality of tone.  Good traction can also be maintained by keeping the fingers (especially base knuckles) and/or the wrist flexible and springy, by creating cushion, which will also relieve a compressed sound.  Those who need to 'deepen' their sound may benefit from visualizing their bow, or even their whole bow arm, playing below the level of the violin. To encourage release of arm weight I've often held a student's violin near hip level as they bowed on it, gradually raising it toward playing position, all the while getting the student to keep releasing the bow arm onto the rising violin. Applying released weight in this way results in a very different sound from applying pressure from above.  

Another way to improve traction and density of sound is to play with the head (jaw) completely off of the fiddle while balancing it on the collar bone and between thumb and side of first finger of the left hand.  At all parts of the bow rock the violin back and forth (allow it to rotate or be pushed from side to side) without allowing the bow to move across the string.  The string should bend sideways under the pressure it feels from the bow.  Regulate the rocking motion with the left hand.  Gradually, use more and more bow, allowing the bow to push and pull the string.  You can turn this into a martele or staccato exercise.  However it's used it helps the bow arm to learn how little effort it takes to move the string near the frog and regulate how much it needs to compensate with leverage as it bows toward the tip - how to generate an even sound throughout the bow.  Releasing the head and shoulder also allows for rotation of the fiddle. By lifting the head to create 'slack' between jaw and chinrest, or shoulder and back of fiddle (or shoulder rest) the violin can be temporarily held at a certain angle with the left hand.  The same can be done by pivoting the jaw toward the chin or toward the ear on the chinrest (also by turning the head toward the midline of the body or toward the left shoulder.) Of course rotation is limited with a rigid shoulder rest, but it's still there. Another way to change the angle of the violin is to adjust the position of the whole upper body relative to the bow.

Releasing the left shoulder to neutral will immediately release tension across the upper back. Those with relatively short upper arms (whether to their instrument or the breadth of their shoulders) will feel an immediate release in their right shoulder while bowing, especially near the frog.  Releasing the left shoulder will also release the left arm itself, and hence the fiddle, so that contrary motion can be restored between fiddle (the string) and the bow (the hair).  If you play racquet sports you'll know what I mean by counter motion.  If you swing your right arm away from the midline of your body, you'll feel the left wanting to swing away as well.  Swing one arm toward the midline and the other will want to swing in also.  You can spot a tennis player with no upper body rotation from a mile away by observing countermotion between their arms.  

It's not quite as symmetrical in violin playing as the bow and arm should move against the diagonal plane created by the right edge of each string which intersects the body somewhere between the midline and right side of the neck. If the left shoulder (and in turn, the left arm and violin) is held rigidly, the right arm, and all types of bowing, will be restricted as well. Often, locked knees will contribute to rigidity between left and right sides while playing. Try a ridiculous (or fun, depending on your point of view) exercise in which you move the whole left side of the body, from the feet and knees up to the left arm and violin, up and against the bow - kind of like ‘violin aerobicise’. Obviously countermotion necessary for playing need hardly be noticeable (although you can't help but notice it in some players ;) , but it is internal release and coordination such as countermotion that can dramatically free bowing and in turn tone quality.

Some don't hold much tension in the left side and instead compensate by not moving the bow arm at sufficiently fast speeds, and avoid follow through motions in the bow arm (vigorous motion on one side of the body must either be dampened by tensing the other side or, preferably, balanced with countermotion). This results in an unremarkable sound (variety in bow motion translates directly into variety in sound.) Moving the violin (and hence the string) in countermotion against the bow (the hair) increases the relative speed of the bow, without changing anything in the motion of the bow itself. Also, in soft passages, moving the violin gently toward or away from the bow can help with nerves, as the bow can be held steady (as long as it’s not held rigidly.)

As you can see, the various strategies I mention can be learnt quite apart from what kind of shoulder rest is used. They cause real improvement in sound whereas removing a rigid shoulder rest may (or may not, especially in the long run) coincide with improvement in sound. The focus turns to how one uses the equipment and more importantly how one uses the body in interaction with the equipment, rather than on the equipment itself. I'm not underplaying the importance of the equipment (or removal of equipment) as it can help make things more comfortable and effect minor changes in sound, changes which remain more important for 'biofeedback' than they are for projecting in a concert hall or cutting through thick textures of an orchestra (or even a piano). From my experience removing the shoulder rest results in an immediate, and usually temporary, relief of tension in the left shoulder; adding a shoulder rest results in an immediate, and again usually temporary gain in freedom of the left hand. The rest, as you've experienced, is adaptation and learning.  As Buri suggests, the body is likely to return to what it's always done – its habits, so to fundamentally change something is to learn new habits. That's not to say that it doesn't sometimes help to make a drastic change to kick start a new cycle of discovery and learning; but sometimes it's neither necessary nor worthwhile for one to make such a drastic change. Gradual and steady change is often longer-lasting and always less painful, both physically and mentally.

Bottom line: when it comes to sound quality all that really matters is 'where the rubber meets the road' and vice versa, the quality of pressure (and release) between the string and hair in combination with bow speed and sound point.  The tightest violinist will sound amazing if these variables are properly controlled, although the question remains whether proper control is possible with certain types of tension.  When it comes to wellness and longevity... well that's a different thread all together.

Best wishes on your non shoulder rest adventure,

JK

April 20, 2009 at 05:56 PM ·

Wow, thanks for all that info.  Now I think I get it.

--goes to ponder--

Best wishes to you,

Tasha

April 20, 2009 at 08:49 PM ·

Your welcome Tasha.  

JK

April 22, 2009 at 04:46 AM ·

Hi Tasha,

Here's a good demonstration of contrary motion:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJvGpIf7ugc&feature=related 

by Todd Ehle

In the video, sometimes his body is not exactly coordinated with (against) the bow.  Also note that any turning of the instrument must be matched by the bow arm to keep a right angle between bow and string.  Such swinging of the fiddle can be avoided if you feel the left side as everything to the left of the plane of the strings which moves against the right side, i.e. if you feel a modified side lunge through the legs to move the 'left side' (left of the strings) against the right.  Eventually the motion becomes quite small, generated in the upper body between violin side and bow side, and weight transfer is felt through the legs passively rather than generated by them.

JK

April 22, 2009 at 05:38 AM ·

JK

Due to my professor's experience with one of his teachers (can't think of his name right now) I do understand that form of contrary motion quite well.  I had pictured a literal up and down of violin/bow, which made no sense to me.

I <3 ProfessorV on youtube, too, btw.

Thanks for thinking of me!

Tasha

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