Thoughs on shoulder rests

August 12, 2009 at 03:26 AM ·

I've been wondering the last while about shoulder rests...do they really affect the sound of the instrument? Is it "better" to play without one? If so, does anyone have suggestions on adjusting your technique if you've learned with a shoulder rest?  I've tried it without a couple times and my violin slides down my shoulder a lot, making my left hand really tighten up to prevent the violin from falling, which is not at all helpful to improving my general technique and flexibility!  Thoughts or suggestions, anyone?

Replies (73)

August 12, 2009 at 03:39 AM ·

 This is probably a can of worms you don't want to open.  Do a search of this site for the several thousand other past discussions/blogs about shoulder rest vs. non shoulder rest users and transitioning from one to the other for all sorts of reasons.

Honestly, whatever works for you, just go with it. ;-)  If something doesn't work, experiment, and over time evolve into something better.

Good luck!  I see you're new to the community... Welcome!

August 12, 2009 at 03:41 AM ·

Please, not again! Noooooooooooooo!

August 12, 2009 at 11:43 AM ·

Listen to Tasha......  There are several discussions about the subject you raise.

August 12, 2009 at 04:36 PM ·

Sorry guys! I thought I looked for other discussions on the topic...apparently I didn't look good enough.  Thanks for your replies though! :)

August 13, 2009 at 09:14 PM ·

No apologies needed! 

Yes and yes to your first two questions.

If you would like to make the transition between using a rest and no rest more comfortable, try cosmetic sponges or foam rubber. 

August 13, 2009 at 10:28 PM ·

Oh Lord! It's Starting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

August 13, 2009 at 10:34 PM ·

If God had intended shoulder rests, Stradivari would have made them...

August 13, 2009 at 11:00 PM ·

 Basically, if you're uncomfortable because of your setup, change it, whether this involves a shoulder rest or not. Otherwise, why bother? There are so many violinists that play wonderfully both with and without.

August 14, 2009 at 12:58 AM ·

A shoulder rest will enhance the sound of some violins, and hurt the sound of others.

A good instrument adjuster can usually make a violin work well either way, so the choice is up to you, ergonomically.

August 14, 2009 at 03:29 AM ·

Hi Leanne,

There are certainly strong feelings on both sides.  In a way, I think the anti-shoulder rest people are a bit too strong with their opinions.  I did a little research and here is a partial list of violinists that DO use shoulder rests:  Hillary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham, Sarah Chang, Anne Akiko Meyers, A. Suwanai, Janine Jansen, the list goes on.  A pretty impressive list wouldn't you say?  So to say that one cannot master the violin while using a shoulder rest is nothing short of preposterous.

That said, I'm going to jump on the other side of the fence now and defend the anti-resters.  I started to become aware of a lot of tension in my own playing a while ago.  The tension was due to clenching of the violin with my chin and raising my left shoulder to lock the violin in a stable position.  As you may know, our right and left sides are symetrical, so if the left side is tense, so is the right.  So about 3 weeks ago, I ditched my shoulder rest and am attempting to learn how to play without one.

First and foremost, I visited Lynne Denig with chinrests.com who measured my neck and concluded that I needed a raised chin rest.  She supplied me with a chin rest that is raised 15mm.  Without the raised chin rest, I think it would be impossible for me to get comfortable without the SR.

Just like you, I found it very difficult at first.  Excrutiating actually for the first week, but slowly my body is starting to come around and things are feeling a little better.  Some seem to make the transition to restless playing easily, but for me, it is far from easy -- perhaps a sign of my poor technique?  I still have a lot of trouble shifting, though it is getting better, and when I try to vibrato, the entire violin shakes violently -- still trying to figure that out.  I have started relearning vibrato with quarter note vibrations at mm=80.  I spend about 10-15 minutes a day doing slow vibrato exercises, and I move the metronome up about 1 tick every other day.

Because I play chamber music (piano trio and string quartet), I have to put my rest back on when playing with my chamber groups.  If not, they would disown me. 

I will say that in 3 weeks time without the shoulder rest, I have noticed significant relaxation in my left side, and I think that is starting to feed into my sound.  I expect it could take a few months to get to a point where I do not need the shoulder rest.

Just a few things I noticed.  When shifting down from 4th to 2nd, or 3rd to 1st position, the violin will tend to slide away from you.  To prevent that, you have to clamp a bit with you chin and/or raise the scroll of the violin slightly above horizontal so gravity helps to hold the violin against your neck.  Also, when shifting into high positions (3rd to 5th, or 4th to 6th), the thumb has a tendency to get stuck around the neck.  One must get used to moving the thumb under the neck so it clears the button.   Also, with the violin resting on your collar bone, it can be a bit painful.  So a thin sponge, or a piece of chamois cloth seems to take care of it.

I am not an expert on playing without a rest, but I definitely see benefits.  In the long run, I may decide to go back to using a shoulder rest (it really is a lot more comfortable for me, and makes shifting so much easier), but learning to play without one really helps loosen up the left side.

Just my 2 cents for what it's worth. 

 

August 14, 2009 at 05:36 AM ·

 Greetings,

>To prevent that, you have to clamp a bit with you chin and/or raise the scroll of the violin slightly above horizontal so gravity helps to hold the violin against your neck.

The scroll shouldn`t be horizontal. If the violin is held at such an angle that the strings are parallel to the ground then the scroll is already slightly higher.  It is this abgle which allows the weight of the violin to rest into your body at the neck rather than causing extra stress on the left hand.

Cheers,

Buri

August 14, 2009 at 05:48 AM ·

Also, suggest you read Auer's book, available on IMSLP.com

As you see on this site, opinions are strong and valid in both camps.

I researched this as much as I could and noted the "old" generation of Heifetz, Szering, etc, played without SRs, even though SRs were available on the market. Much of the generation before this played without CRs, too. Then I read the comments of Mutter, as she went from SR to no SR, and watched her performances. So I began to wonder about me and no SR.

I started as a student with SR, on advice of teacher. But after trying all SRs and many CRs, I simply could not could not get comfortable with the SR. It created subtle but cumulative, real pains. My experience is similar to Smiley's.

I chose the centre mounted rest, as it is tall and creates the right balance point for me. (I'm a bit tall at 6ft.) Also, it rather enhances the sound of my violin.

The adjustment from SR to no SR is not easy, but I found the challenge to be more of a mental one: forcing myself to remember not to hunch, clench, tighten up, etc. My first attempt to switch was dreadful, and created mucho pain, but I did not have the right CR then.

If you decide to persist, recommend you read the advices of Buri, Nate, and Raphael. They posted a few pearls to help with shifting, vibrato, relaxing and more. A foam pad under your shirt/blouse can help with the transition. Without the foam, your violin s/b off your shoulder, and should sound better to your audience.

Now, after a year, I could not return to a SR. Everything now is easier than before. For me, the last remaining challenge in playing with no SR is how to get a really nice smooth rich vibrato. But then, I never had this with the SR anyway. Unfortunately, where I am, nobody in the whole country plays without a SR or pad, so I have no resources to help me.

Anyone care to send me a short video to explain vibrato with no SR?

good luck!

 

August 14, 2009 at 09:33 AM ·

I won't take a stand on shoulder rests, but will share what I've observed. 

When I stopped using a shoulder rest, all pain and popping that I had been experiencing in my (left) shoulder stopped.  Instead I developed pain in my neck due to a flaw in my manner of holding the instrument.  If I'm careful to avoid the mistake I was making there is no pain in my neck or elsewhere and as a side effect my TMJ has improved (TMJ runs in my mother's side of the family, so I doubt violin was the cause of it).  On the bad side I noticed the same problems as you, especially tension in my thumb and index finger and great difficulty shifting and with my vibrato.  I won't say getting rid of it was like relearning the violin, because that's just not true, but I spent some time doing wohlfhardt and other basic exercises to get rid of the tension. 

I would say that the amount of tension I have in my hand now is about the same as I had with the shoulder rest a year ago with the advantage of the health of my shoulder and jaw.  I've observed now that I can do vibrato in passage work which was not possible before because I HAD to learn to vibrato without adjusting my hand position or pulling away from the neck because that would make me drop the violin.  On the other hand in slow passages I have to concentrate a lot to slow my vibrato down because it's become basically an unconcious motion.  Also I can suddenly do staccato much faster, though I'm not sure if they're connected in any way. 

Shifting is still not quite as good as it used to be, but within a position my hands feel more agile and large streches are actually easier than before.  The main problem now is shifting between third and fifth position.   

If you ever have a vacation and think playing restless might be good for you, I would say that's the time to try it.  There is definitely a period of time when your playing will suffer by some amount or you will find playing more tiring instead of less. 

August 14, 2009 at 11:27 AM ·

It kills my neck NOT using a rest.  I'm thinking of trying a foam pad underneith my shirt like Stern did (Nate suggested).

August 15, 2009 at 08:37 AM ·

If you can figure out how to hold it without one, and your physique permits it, then more power to you. I stopped using it because I lost mine one day and had to play a whole day of rehearsals then a concert without it. I wasn't going to hurt myself, so I eventually figured out how to make it happen. I sounded better, and I liked it so much I didn't ever go back.

For the record though, almost all my private students use one...it seems the kids are all taller with longer necks these days. :) In my experimentation with higher chinrests, foam pads of various heights, cushions, etc etc etc it was just simpler to find a shoulder rest that worked for them that they could use to hold the instrument without excessive tension, such that we could get the posture work done and get on to playing!

August 15, 2009 at 09:05 AM ·

 There is nothing worst then having a new student start with you, who has bin playing for a few years, play with a kun style shoulder rest that’s not adjusted correctly with a side mounted chin rest. One look at their posture, their left shoulder is up, their back is arched back with their hips out, the violin is dropped and their unable to support it, their wrist collapses to the left when there playing on the E string and so on etc….  The posture and playing ability problems that the SR/chinrest are causing are never ending. I feel that the Kun style SR/ side mounted chin rest, which may be the most popular, is probably only good for about 10% of the violin population. The problem isn’t with shoulder rest, the problem is that teachers don’t know how to adjust them or use them properly.

This one size fit all idea is insane!!!

I have students that don’t use a shoulder rest, and students that use a kun style rest, but the majority of students I have are set up with a properly adjusted Wolfe secondo SR, and a center chin rest. The goal isn’t what the best shoulder rest is, but what SR/chinrest set up achieves excellent posture and ease of play to prevent injuries

August 15, 2009 at 03:59 PM ·

Charles, do you have suggestions for resources that will explain how to tell if the SR/CR combination is working properly for the student? Having never really been faced with the issue myself until now, I don't have a whole lot of knowledge in the area but would like to know a few more things before I get seriously into the teaching thing.

August 15, 2009 at 04:02 PM ·

If I put my chin more on the tail piece, and the neck almost parellel with my shoulder, it feels allot better.

August 15, 2009 at 04:37 PM ·

Ok, sorry guys, I have to vent my frustrations a little here :) With your advice and that of a prof I know, I've been venturing into the land of rest-lessness.  However, there's something I still haven't managed to understand - many people comment about how using a shoulder rest causes people to lift their left shoulder, and their left hand to be tight.  I find, though, that my shoulder lifts MORE WITHOUT the SR than with it! and my hand is looser when I'm using the SR because I don't feel the need to hold it with my hand, I know it's already steady between my chin and shoulder.

Does this and the fact that I feel my neck more without the SR mean maybe a SR is better for me? or does it mean I'm doing something wrong? :S

August 15, 2009 at 07:08 PM ·

Leanne-  It's the same with me.  I can play without, but my question is the same as you.  Is it right for me or am I doing something wrong?  To get it to work with out a rest, I have to clench the violin with more force using my neck.  All that I can think of doing is to view youtube clips and look at myself in a mirror and try to imitate what I see.

August 15, 2009 at 09:20 PM ·

> I find, though, that my shoulder lifts MORE WITHOUT the SR than with it!

Hi Leanne,

I am no expert, but I believe that statement in itself is indicative of a problem.  According to what I've been told (and read), the violin should NOT rest on your left shoulder.  The fact that you are lifting your shoulder more would seem to indicate that you are trying to support the violin with your shoulder.  When playing restless, one must rely on the left hand to support the violin, not the chin and shoulder.  There should be an air gap between your left shoulder and the bottom of the violin.  And you should be able to play with your chin completely off the chin rest.  When shifting down however, it is necessary to clamp slightly with the chin to keep the violin from slipping away.

It is not an easy transition to make.  At least it certainly has not been for me.  I have been trying to play restless for about a month now, and yesterday, my teacher told me to forget about it.  Put the shoulder rest back on and be done with it.  I guess he got tired of seeing me struggle.  But actually, I really am starting to feel more comfortable playing without a rest and I think it has benefited me.  I think in the long run, I will probably continue to use a shoulder rest.  Certainly, I have to for my chamber ensembles at least for now.  But I will probably continue to devote some of my practice time to playing without a rest to keep the left side more relaxed.

 

August 15, 2009 at 10:49 PM ·

Good points.  And there are outstanding violinists who do use rests.

August 16, 2009 at 03:25 AM ·

Obviously, as noted above, many outstanding violinists use an SR. But many did not. I think a good distinction can be observed in the videos of Hahn and Heifetz.

For no SR, looking at Heifetz, I see he placed his violin quite high upon his collar bone. His chin rests upon the tail piece, and likely extends past it. As I view the placement, the violin seems to be balanced naturally at a point where it will not fall downwards if held lightly by the L hand in 1st position.

For SR, looking at Hahn, I see she places her violin much lower, with much of it positioned on her chest. The tailpiece is much lower than her chin. Without the SR, the violin would drop to the floor, if held lightly by the L hand in 1st position.

I am certainly not qualified to say which is right or wrong. But the videos did give me a clue to switch from SR to no SR. With SR, I too placed the violin lower towards my chest. This simply did not work for no SR, as the balance was simply too low. For no SR, I need the balance to be higher, as per Heifetz. When I found the right balance point, the violin quickly became easier to play.

Smiley is correct: you should have air space twixt shoulder and violin. Your sound sound will suffer if you have no space, and your shoulder and neck will ache. I place the violin on the bare skin of my collar bone, the way Mutter does.

Only 2 things have required time for me to relearn: down shifting and vibrato. 1/ The shifting requires a very conscious effort not to hunch the shoulder and clench the chin. It is done by raising the arm and shoulder momentarily. Steady Practise of basic shifting exercises really helps here. 2/ Vibrato is the one thing I have never mastered, with or without an SR. I am now turning my attention to this.

overall, the key challenge to no SR is a mental one: you must constantly remind yourself to relax and have good posture. after a while, the whole thing becomes second nature.

 

August 16, 2009 at 07:07 AM ·

I would also check out the website violinistinbalance.com which shows clear photos and solutions to how people of varying heights, shoulder slopes, arm lengths, etc. managed to gain greater comfort and support playing the violin and viola.

 Some important things to keep in mind - whether you use a shoulder rest, shoulder pad, sponge, or nothing at all, attempting to support the violin only at the chin rest end will create strain and tension on the  head,neck, jaw muscles. All the nerves of your body pass from your  brain in your head through your neck and down your spine. By using the collarbone and your hand at the other end you are relieving your neck of the responsibility for pressing down to hold the violin in place. The violin feels as if it weighs less by having support at both ends. With the scroll higher than the chin rest the weight of the instrument will  fall towards your center rather than towards your outer appendages. The chin rest is there to fill in the gap between collarbone and jaw and to protect the instrument from direct contact with your skin. When the neck moves up or down it should be from the base of the brain and not from the bottom vertebrae in your neck. The natural lengthened curve your neck has should be preserved. no clamping or holding the violin in place from the neck should happen.

 Though there are many book on the subject,  I'd like to recommend  "How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live" about the Alexander Technique written with great clarity and wisdom by Missy Vineyard. You may find the information helpful not just  for violin playing but  for all activities.

 

August 16, 2009 at 12:52 PM ·

And there are violinists (fiddlers) who play with butt end of the violin dug into the meat of their arm!  Nowhere near their chins.

August 16, 2009 at 04:12 PM ·

Smiley, I know you you feel. Leanne and Royce - stick with it. My past - with and without.

I was very badly brought up - my teacher when I was at school had me play with a rest and grip the violin with my chin "to keep the left hand free" (it doesn't!). Also, I was taught to keep all the fingers independant, so they must have been flying in all directions like a demented spider trying to dance. Somehow, I got a job in an orchestra and luckily took lessons with Peter Mountain (later Head of Strings at the Royal Scottish Academy). He persuaded me to throw away the rest and support the violin with my left hand and, as he put it, to walk around the violin instead of jumping around. Also, to learn keeping my fingers down to keep a hand position. So there I was, having to play the "old" way during the day and try and learn to play differently in the evenings. I eventually changed over doing Roman Carnival - I was having a bit of trouble with it, so took off the rest and it suddenly all dropped in to place. And I haven't looked back since.

I know it sounds daft, but if you grip the violin with your shoulder, and a rest encourages that, you actually build up tension in the whole arm and especially the back of the hand. Holding the violin with the left hand actually keeps everything free, and I don't get any tension problems. So, as Smiley said, you shouldn't bring the shoulder up to contact. Try looking up Leopold Auer's book "Violin playing as I teach it" on Google books - and look up some of the great players on youtube - Oistrakh, Heifetz, Milstein, Perlman, Zukerman, Kogan - try http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNrOKzcDDJ4 and beat that for left hand freedom!

August 16, 2009 at 05:21 PM ·

I believe that both can be beneficial. 

I use a shoulder rest, but, I think that whatever you feel comfortable w/ you should use.

I also know people who switch back and forth.

Some also like to use them for long periods of playing, such as orchestra or concerts.

good luck, and God Bless

Lydia

August 16, 2009 at 09:34 PM ·

I'm not a musician.  I'm an engineer (yes, engineer) that plays the violin for pleasure.  I'll give you an engineering answer.  Violins developed in the 17th century, or perhaps a little earlier.  People back then, Europeans, were much smaller in frame.  Look at the internal doors of castles in Europe.  Most of us have to duck our heads.  Our diets have become much healthier and we've grown.  The dimensions of the violin have not.  It's as simple as that.  So, if I were a European in the 1700's, I'd probably not want a chin rest.  The dimension between my collar bone and chin would be much different than it is now.  Fortunately, I followed my mother's instructions -  drink milk and eat vegatables.  Along with a few McDonald hamburgers, I'm an average size male for today - about 6 ft.  Most females are a little shorter.  Don't ask me why.  I'm an engineer.  So I must compensate for my healthier diet (leave the hamburgers out on this one). 

In short, use a chinrest if you need one.  And don't be ashamed if you do.  It's our frame development.  There's nothing more to it than that.  If you can pinch that little thing between your collar bone and chin, then you don't need one.  If you can't then buy one.

August 17, 2009 at 01:06 AM ·

A question for those who play without a shoulder rest: Would any of you describe yourselves as having a long neck? 

In my own observation, the violinists who play without a rest either seem to have very short necks or else raise their left shoulders the way Leanne described.

Comparing pictures of Heifetz and Hahn, it looks like Heifetz has a shorter neck, although it is a bit hard to tell with his shirt collar buttoned up.

I have a long neck. I've tried playing without a rest, but so far haven't figured it out. I'm not sure if it's because I'm going about it the wrong way or if my body just isn't suited to playing without  a shoulder rest. 

August 17, 2009 at 01:46 AM ·

Amy,

I haven't figured it out either, but if you have a long neck (like me), you need a raised chin rest, otherwise I think you are right.  It is impossible to play without a shoulder rest.  Even with the raised chin rest, it's still pretty tough.

 

August 17, 2009 at 03:09 AM ·

Smiley, I have tried a raised chinrest and it helped. I think the one I have still isn't quite the best shape for me, though. The cup is pretty flat, but one teacher I worked with suggested trying a cup with a deeper angle, so that I could use my chin for leverage instead of pressure. So far I haven't seen anything with both the height and the angle, so it may mean having one made.

My current setup felt pretty good for awhile, but my left shoulder recently started hurting on and off. It may be time to start looking again. *sigh*

August 17, 2009 at 03:40 AM ·

Amy,

I also had some issues with my left shoulder about a year ago, but went to physical therapy and I visit the gym regularly and work out with light dumbells and my shoulder issues are a thing of the past. 

I agree that playing restless comes more naturally to some than others.  Quite a few people have said that they removed their shoulder rest and right away, everything was better.  That is absolutely NOT the case with me.  One month after removing my SR, I still struggle with shifting, and vibrato is virtually non-existent.  I still have to put on my SR if I want to sound decent.  I'm not sure if that is a reflection of my personal physiology, or poor technique.  In either case, playing without a SR is sufficiently different that the transition requires some pretty significant changes in the way I play. 

Thanks for posting.  It's good to know that I'm not alone.

 

August 17, 2009 at 08:38 AM ·

I use SR, and have been very comfortable with that. I find I'm more relaxing playing with SR, I don't raise my shoulder, though I used to hold the violin much too low and fixed it along the learning journey.

In terms of sound, I actually set my shoulder rest very loose (there's even a gap of 2~3mm on onde side of the clamp) so it only rely on the rubber to grip the violin, which is more than enough since I play very relaxed. Because the SR is very loose, there's no impact on the sound whatsoever, I did tried to play with and without SR, there's very little difference. In fact, I sound better with the SR even just playing simple song without the need of shifting or vibrato as a reference.

I can see what's the big problem a lot of students are having, they normally make the SR much too tall because they hold the violin too low. Very often I try to play my student's violin I find the SR usually too high that I nearly not able to put my chin on. And because the SR is clamped very tight so there's no alarm when the student is clamping the violin too tight with their chin/shoulder.

August 17, 2009 at 04:02 PM ·

Dear Leanne:

The "Not again!" comments you've received from other players seems to indicate that the shoulder rest versus no shoulder rest debate will never be resolved. I happen to agree with them, but not for the usual reasons. The shoulder rest vs. no shoulder rest issue reminds of "red herrings," or false clues, in a mystery novel. Fixating on this issue diverts one's attention from the real issue that causes problems related to comfort, technique, and sound.

From my research over the past five years with my colleague, Lynne Denig, it strikes me that most players will achieve a breakthrough if they focus on the manner in which they support the instrument. Basically, you have a choice of supporting the instrument using no hands, clenching the instrument between the jaw and the shoulder; or supporting the instrument using your collarbone, the weight of your head, and some support from your left hand.

The first approach requires a lot of muscle power, and Lynne and I  have found that most players using employing this type of support have posture issues that cause pain and that affect their technique and sound. The second approach takes a while to learn, but most players find it to be more balanced, generally eliminating pain and improving vibrato and shifting. Interestingly, players  using the balanced approach find that a correctly fitted chinrest (correct height, contour and position on the instrument) makes a hard shoulder rest (Kun, etc.) unnecessary.

August 17, 2009 at 05:13 PM ·

You can always tell when a guy uses a shoulder rest walks in to a Hardware Store... all the Stud Finders go off and point at him!  ;^)

August 19, 2009 at 07:31 PM ·

Royce,

I do not get it. what is that suppose to mean?

Lydia

August 19, 2009 at 09:52 PM ·

This is a recurring can of worms that keeps popping up on the violinist.com website!

The way I see it, the benefits of a shoulder rest far outweigh the minute amount of sound that's lost from the violin. If the shoulder rest is making you lose that much sound, you should get a different model (there are plenty!).

I would only recommend playing without a shoulder rest if you have a short neck and if you're of a more...ahem...robust build. Playing without a shoulder rest for most of us is nearly impossible with the "conventional" techniques. Otherwise, you need to find a way for your thumb to provide a counterpressure to the fingers in the higher positions. This is usually accomplished by the shoulder rest, itself.

The way I see it, if it ain't broke, don't fix it! I've played with a shoulder rest all my life. The few times I questioned whether or not my technical problems were due to its usage, I realized that I was making an excuse for some other problem that was looming in the background!

Good luck!

Daniel

August 19, 2009 at 11:50 PM ·

Ummm The guy who uses the shoulder rest is a Stud???  ;^)

I know, I know... BAD JOKE!!!!!!!!! Booooooo! }:^(

August 20, 2009 at 07:18 PM ·

Better to quit cold turkey or wean youself off?

 

 

August 20, 2009 at 08:16 PM ·

Plus, for guys especially, how would you prevent violin from slipping when wearing a tux with no SR? is it all in the left hand support?

August 20, 2009 at 08:42 PM ·

Most of the work done in holding up a violin is not in holding up the violin.

It is in holding up the left arm

By comparison with the weight of the left arm, the violin's weight is negligible.

The only way I can see a shoulder rest as helping, is by using the weight of the head as counterbalance for the arm, NOT the fiddle,  using the shoulder rest as a fulcrum, and the fiddle as a beam to hang the arm from.

That can't be right.

Just see how long you can hold yr arm up without the instrument. Tht will show you what you are really doing when you hold up a violin.

Buri - what does the Alexander approach say about this?

gc

August 20, 2009 at 11:00 PM ·

 Greetings,

Graham ,  as you know,  AT tends not to address specific issues.  In the end the best AT always returns to its fundamental premise:  Primary Control.   That is the most perfect use of the body through the relationship between head   neck and back.  This has been almost totally lost in modern society, one of the great tradegies of our time.

So if a player wnet to an AT teacher with a reasonable comittment  they would be working (especially in the most traditional styles) with unlearning misuse through things like standing and sitting.  The significance of this I think is is in the reintegration of te whole body.   Once this happens one becomes aware that it is not actually the left had or arm holding up the violin,  but the whole thing just floating on an integrated structure that is supported less y te legs and more by the head being free so that the spine is springing up into the air. At this point the violin is weightless.    I would add that it is useful to remeber that the arm is not coonected or counterbalanced by the head/neck. In fact,   asa throw back to when we crawled around on all fours the arm is a unit that runs throuhg the shoulder and down te back where it stops at the kidney on the opposite side.  Thus full use of a relaxed arm involves the whole back. Discussionof the hand and `arm` as a discrete unit tends to build up mental constructs that hinder the player developing an integrated use of the body.

The highest level of AT involves not changing a habit or superimposing a new one on the old.   Rather one has to address things at te lvel of intention.   That is why chairwork is not just an exercise to get things right.  Whta is actually happening is that theteacher is substituing completely new directives (and therefore intents) to meet the same end.  In other words bend the knees achieves the same objective as `sit down` but without the total misuse of the body in order to achive that end that the population has leant.  And yep,  I mean everybody. I watch people all the time and have never seen anyone sit down inrecent years without misusing the body.  There is always a use of the waist which is a tad unfortunate since we don`t actually have one-  the existenxe of this myth was created in large part by the fashion and sex industries I suspect.....

The AT teachers who are actually musicians I have been to have suggested that the shoulder rest was a wrong turning and that the real area of significance (as per the Dennigs approach) is the chin rest.  In anycase,  I belive it is very difficult to make meaningful chnages without the body ecieving the correct data throuhg the proprioceptors in the neck. That is why I recommend AT before one becomes aware of or victim of tension and injury problems.

Cheers

Buri

August 20, 2009 at 11:28 PM ·

Thank you for that.

I will spend a little time digesting....

gc

August 21, 2009 at 12:55 AM ·

I don't know if Buri will agree on this recommendation  but one book about the Alexander Technique I found particularly helpful because of its use of people in real situations to demonstrate the way we can help ourselves in understanding the proper use of the body is Missy Vineyard's, How you Stand, How You Move, How You Live.

August 21, 2009 at 02:05 AM ·

 Greetings,

thanks for the recommendation.  AT is so mainstream now there is a real flood of books on the market.  The classic ten years ago was DiAlcantra but there may be a whole new set of classics just waiting to be read;)

Cheers,

Buri

Graham- prunes always aid digestion....

August 21, 2009 at 02:15 AM ·

I used to play with a small pad, but now do use a rest.  I find that I am more relaxed with one.  I fought using one for a long time (it was so easy just to pop my fiddle out of the case and be ready) but I am happier now.  I think whatever works best is fine.  It's all indivudual.  Erica

August 21, 2009 at 11:51 AM ·

Can AT books be bought through Barns&Noble?

August 21, 2009 at 07:24 PM ·

Ok, so because of this topic I've been experimenting with and w/o a SR.  Just a quick question:

Do you think using a kun shoulder rest on its lowest setting on the violin is somewhat of an intermediate between SR and no SR? W/o the left hand with this set up, the violin does not stay up by itself and requires the left hand to do much of the support, but on the other side there is no a rigid object keeping the violin at a certain angle.

 

 

August 21, 2009 at 07:28 PM ·

Why not use a shoulder rest?

August 21, 2009 at 07:54 PM ·

Fayth- I like playing with both but I just can't make up my mind. :)

August 22, 2009 at 01:21 AM ·

Yes,  Royce. Alexander Technique books are definitely available at Barnes and Noble. The one I recommended you can find online at reduced price in used condition if you go to the Barnes and Noble website. The one Buri mentioned is also available there.

August 22, 2009 at 02:40 AM ·

Thanks a million!

August 22, 2009 at 01:47 PM ·

 Gary Frisch aid it well earlier in this thread but there is a false dichotomy set up when we say SR vs. non-SR. The question is really (1) support with left hand versus (2) support with shoulder/chin.

Once someone learns to support with the left hand the need for a shoulder rest goes away along with all the risk of injury, tonal loss etc. But if a players insists on supporting with the shoulder (and no SR) then they may actually increase the risk of injury and tonal impairment.  

So the SR advocates focus on the risk of no SR with option (2) while the those who truly understand how the left hand can be used are arguing for option (1) . Then the arguing really gets confusing. 

August 23, 2009 at 01:16 PM ·

On the advice of my doctor, I have not read the above posts. I've posted copiously enough on this topic in a few other threads. I'll only say this:

Shoulder rest? Shoulder rest? SHOULDER REST! Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch - and I pummled him, and I choked him, and I tore him limb from limb......

OK - lest you think I'm totally insane (whereas I will only admit to being slightly insane) I was adopting - quite aptly , I think - a really old comedy routine to this subject. The 5th respondent to guess correctly where it's taken from wins a shard from a shredded shoulder rest!

August 23, 2009 at 05:05 AM ·

Aaron Rosand is, if I remember correctly, famous for flinging them against a wall....so that would be my guess. 

August 23, 2009 at 07:37 AM ·

Hi Leanne,

Have you seen the section on V.com about "how to properly hold a violin"? It is worth a look, both for the text and for the drawings. It is in the Instruments section of V.com.

Hope this helps,

Bart

August 23, 2009 at 01:17 PM ·

No, it wasn't Rosand. Though come to think of it, he did pummel and choke me a couple of times. Just kidding! Seriously, he did teach me how to play restless. But I was referring to a real comedy routine. It's just 2 other words that set these people off.

August 23, 2009 at 08:08 PM ·

 Use a shoulder rest for comfort but learn to play without one.

See Primrose's book and also watch this;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCe0EawpNrs

August 23, 2009 at 09:26 PM ·

Niagra Falls! NIAGRA FALLS!

hahaheheh!

Gotta be well aged to remember that!

;-)C

August 23, 2009 at 11:23 PM ·

Carol wins!!! (And dates both of us - lol!) "Niagra Falls" was a famous Abbot & Costello routine. Actually, their "Sasquana Hat Company" routine incited similar violence!

August 23, 2009 at 11:26 PM ·

The Three Stooges did Niagra Falls also.  love it!

August 24, 2009 at 12:26 AM ·

I use a sponge myself, but on this issue I do sometimes think of that old saying about rice.  How could a billion Chinese people be wrong?  The vast majority of modern players do use Kun type rests.

In the major symphonies (and one can see this in videos), I would say over 80% of the upper strings use rests.  Having spent some time in a symphony which works a lot, I can understand this.  I went in restless, and due to the sheer volume of work, put a Kun on so that I at least had the option of letting it hold up the viola when fatigue set in.  Normally, I consider the left hand doing most of the holding.

The interesting thing I noticed was that many of the players could play virtually as well without a Kun (with nothing) when they were trying new violins or violas.  That kind of amazed me, and confirmed in me that there is an ideal way of holding and operating the violin, no matter whether one chooses to use a rest or not,

 

David

August 24, 2009 at 03:46 AM ·

<I use a sponge myself, but on this issue I do sometimes think of that old saying about rice.  How could a billion Chinese people be wrong?  The vast majority of modern players do use Kun type rests.>

It's an interesting saying, but one that could be countered by taking a look at what the medical people write about the neck and shoulder problems of violinists and violists.  Could it be that all the neck and shoulder problems start with hard shoulder pad use?

Key to playing rest-less is being sure that not only the shape of the chinrest, but also the height of the chinrest fit the player.  And a good-fitting chinrest is only part of the equation, the remainder being instrument positioning and posture.

One recent viola client said that when she got a good-fitting chinrest that the viola felt lighter.  My guess is that the chinrest allowed the instrument to settle closer to her spine, the center of the body's support, rather than being supported out along her left collarbone.

Lynne Denig, www.chinrests.com

August 24, 2009 at 07:06 AM ·

   I do believe that posture is the key to everything you do on the violin. If you can stand, sit,  and walk well there is the potential for moving well on the violin and with other movements we make in our daily lives. 

    As a result of reading more on the Alexander Technique I have to wonder about  the necessity of turning the neck and flattening the table of the violin to help one's ability to play the violin with little or no pain compared with tilting the violin more the way one sees Oistrakh doing it and with no consistent "turned to the left" neck position.  Mr. Gerle used to advise against turning the head to stare at the left hand for any appreciable length of time and Mimi Zweig  at a workshop of hers I attended last year spoke of using our peripheral vision rather than turning the neck and head. 

 With that in mind, I showed  Stephen Redrobe's  tape  "Violin Secrets" to some colleagues and while they were intrigued by his discussion of finger impulse vibrato and the unique individual sound the great masters of the past had,  they were quite concerned about the turn he made with his neck to get the violin to rest on more of the collar bone. His voice changed noticably for the worse as he did so in attempting to show  the stability of  his hold of the violin in this position. Some might say it is incriminating evidence that that much head and neck turning is not a good thing to do to one's body  as a default position  as part of holding/supporting the violin.

       I do agree whole-heartedly that most of the problem is in a well-fitting chin rest and though I did go through some trials with a custom built-up chin rest placed to the left, I ultimately settled for a centered Berber/Ohrenform style chin rest which has also worked well with the majority of my students- its main benefit being that it has enough space to cover the jaw to the left and the chin to the right and has a gentle enough outer curve so that those with strong jaw lines and tight skin can feel comfortable.

   As for where else one supports the violin or holds it, it would seem logical that with the neck falling from the base of the skull such that the chin and jaw can rest on the chin rest and the violin resting on the collarbone, the hand forms the third area of support to alleviate excessive holding in the neck. The violin is really not placed on the shoulder because the shoulder goes beyond where the collarbone leaves off at the acromion which I believe is considered part of the shoulder blade.

    Perhaps then the real issue about the "shoulder rest" is not so much that it must be used to hold the violin but that it fills in a gap that may exist between the collarbone and the back of the violin, and that it, in effect, extends the surface area of the collarbone without requiring the need to line up the head neck and violin with a leftward turn and in that way provides support.

    Some people  do not mind this gap and manage to avoid raising their shoulder to fill it. They may simply use a sponge or other material to just keep the violin from slipping and do not consider it to have any supporting function.

     What practically everyone I've talked to or met does agree on is that the raising of the shoulder and/ or pushing the arm inward to the front  center of the chest are harmful movements in general - not just for violin playing.

    So what we are left with is a way to miminimize the responsibility for supporting the instrument in the "fragile" head/neck region but take advantage of the support offered by the hand and  a sponge/ shoulder pad or  shoulder rest. In fact, there are times when it  should be possible and even desirable to be able to lift one's head or neck off the chin rest and not need that support at all. There are exercises Joseph Silverstein and Yair Kless showed us in masterclasses to raise and lift the chin while shifting up and down so that one could feel the hand as an active helper.

  Of course, as others have said, isolating a particular body part risks not taking into account the functioning of the organic whole and so learning more about one's body mechanics and how things move or perhaps are meant to move is crucial to solving any difficulty, large or small, on the violin.

    One final point. Some might question that the tone on the E-string would be adversely affected by having a tilt to the violin too much towards the E-string as  opposed to a flatter tilt which seemingly would provide a better angle for arm weight to fall on to the violin, but actually, I found that with active resistance on the part of the violin being pushed towards the bow and a tilt (akin to pouring a pitcher of water) in the bow arm towards the strings (pronation) a richer sound could be achieved for the E string and all the strings in general compared with applying weight from above to a flatter-tabled violin. I may be mistaken, but this is what I believe I see Oistrakh doing and few would argue that the beautiful resonance of his tone was second to none.

August 24, 2009 at 03:06 PM ·

I bagan without a rest, then in J.R. High was given a sponge, then in High School put on a rest.  I've been practicing with out a rest and do love the nostalgia, of playing before such things were available.

August 28, 2009 at 09:27 PM ·

Some topics have almost an eternal life - I personally don't mind this - even if there is some repetition. My teacher Tibor Varga (youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Z-mJOAsW2A) didn't use a shoulder rest and demanded from us students the same (early Seventies). However, he had such a short neck - there was just enough room for the violin, not for a shoulder rest. Over the years I have seen so many professionals with RSI (repetitive strain injuries), and I have seen so many cures thanks to a special method we call 'magic posture' (http://magicposture.com) that my opinion is quite simple: be nice to your body.

February 13, 2010 at 02:28 PM ·

I am looking for photographs of fiddlers/violinists/violists' solutions to the chin-rest/shoulder-rest set-up. Original solutions or typical ones. Please send the photo by email to julielyonn@mac.com with your name and the name of the chin-rest and shoulder-rest you use (or if no SR or CR).

Photo must be taken... by person standing slightly to your right from a stool or chair height vantage point, so that we can see your shoulder and chin-rest with the instrument resting on your shoulder, but with your head lifted up slightly so that you don't cover the chin-rest.Then a 2nd photo with your chin/jaw in place that shows your left hand as well.

Deadline: February 25th, 2010

You will qualify for 20% off list price when the DVD comes out.

thanks, Julie Lyonn Lieberman

February 23, 2010 at 02:35 AM ·

 If you play with a shoulder rest, is it ever really possible for the instrument on the collarbone????? 

February 23, 2010 at 03:44 AM ·

Greetings,

actually yes, if the rest is slightly further down the instrument and unobtrusive.

Cheers,

Buri

February 23, 2010 at 12:09 PM ·

 It seems that when I do try to have it on my collar bone, it seems like it's too low.... so back to the drawing board for me. 

March 13, 2013 at 08:52 AM · I'll stop now...

Cheers Carlo

March 13, 2013 at 09:11 AM · Naughty, naughty Carlo...

March 19, 2013 at 03:53 PM · if you have a long neck, you definitely need one. But on the other hand if you do not have a long neck but a rather shorter neck, you may/may not need a shoulder rest. it all depends.

playing a violin, many people do trial and error during the first 2 years, after which they should be fine.

Try using customized shoulder rest if normal ones do not fit you. You may get eveREST, its fashionable.

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