To shoulder-rest, or not?

February 5, 2010 at 10:32 PM ·

Last year I had a very brief (read: very intimidating) conversation with my orchestra's soloist. He over heard me whining to my stand-mate about my back hurting me slightly that day, and said to me "if your back bothers you, get rid of that thing" (pointing to my shoulder rest). He walked away immediately afterwards so I didn't get to ask him why, and my instructor at the time told me not to worry about it---but I've noticed a lot of posts here regarding shoulder-rest / no-shoulder-rest too. I was wondering if someone might be willing to explain to me what exactly are the benefits either to using or not-using one? 

Replies (71)

February 5, 2010 at 11:07 PM ·


well, if you put a Christian fundamentalist and a muslim fundamentalist in a small room and gave then a week to prove beyond all doubt thta their position was correct that is roughly how the SR/nonSr issue works most of the time. ... 

It is therefore importnat to divide the issue nto what happens physically/techncially and what people claim is true on either side.....

Here are some possibilities:

1)  If your technique is defective then neither position is a solution.  

My opinion:   If you use a shoulder rest problems do tend to be covered up a bit. Without a rets you cannot get awya with anything.

2)  Without a rest the arse end of the violin is lower and the scroll is higher.  This keeps the weight of the violin on the collar bone rather than on the left hand.

3)  IAs a result of the above the bow arm is very slightly lower with no rest.

My opinion this significantly reduces wear and tear on the right shoulder over many years,  especially if you are a profesisonal.

4)  Because the violin is lower the gap between the chin rest and jaw increases so one may need an specially made chin rest or simply buy the tallest you can find.

My opinion. Finding the corretc chinrets is the central issue of violin set up.

5)  No sr the violin is held in theleft hand. However,  this is misleading. It actually rests on the left hand which rest on a floating left arm which is supportrd by a well used body structure .  In other words talking about hands in isolation from the whole body is fallacious.  SR users support the violin with the weight of the head using the rest as a fulcrum.  Some players can do both-  they sometimes lift the shoulder rest away from the collar bone so the left hand is supporting the violin.

My opinion- using the head to supprot the violin cause tension.

6)  Not using a rets involves a slightly differnet approach to technique. If one applies the same ovements as using an sr it will be difficult to shift,  technically insecure and possibly extremely uncomfrotable.

My opinion:  dont go restless unless oyu can find a teacher who plays that way or knows a lot about it.

7)  Short fat people with no necks have trouble understanding why it is more difficult for swan necks to go restless.  Not at all impossible ut a harder transition.

I could go on all day but I really am burned out on this isse ;)so I`ll just add that   If you want to get a good description of learning to put the violin up without a rest the go to Raphael Klayman`s web site.





February 5, 2010 at 11:37 PM ·

 `Well, I am a novice, so I know nothing, except....

1 I have watched, numerous times, a google/youtube video ~( of Gil Shaham playing the Sarasate Carmen Fantasy on a Strad.  He appears to me to have excellent control and intonation.  He uses a shoulder rest.  If your critic is playing at this level then maybe he has a point.  If not - then maybe a more open mind is called for.  

2 I am 6' 2" and have a long neck.  If I don't use a shoulder rest then I am inevitably supporting the violin with my left hand.  I prefer the tension release of using a shoulder rest.  

There are always two sides in any debate.  Usually they are both right.  Have the courage of your convictions perhaps?




February 6, 2010 at 12:48 AM ·

 Hey Alison,

          My teacher asked me to get a shoulder rest before but we finally decided to take it off because it put too much strain on my shoulder and back too. I find that not using a shoulder rest is much better for me because i lost all the tension. It's more relaxing although it takes some time to get used to it. 



February 6, 2010 at 12:50 AM ·

Well, I used to use one and then my teacher told me to try without because he reckoned I was gripping the violin with my chin using the rest, and that that actually builds up tension in the whole left arm and hand. He got me to bring up my left hand into a playing position with no violin, then make a sort of bridge with my right hand between my shoulder and chin. Sure enough, any pressure downwards with the chin is matched by a stiffening of the shoulder, and I could actually feel the tension in the back of my left hand.

So there I was playing in an orchestra by day with the rest, and trying to learn to do without in the evenings. My Eureka moment came in Roman Carnival - I was having trouble with it, took of the rest and all of a sudden it became easier. That was thirty years ago, and I feel much more as if the violin is part of me playing without a rest.And the problems I used to get with tension at the back of my neck went away as well.


February 6, 2010 at 12:51 AM ·

I swapped my sr for a pad many years ago, and in the last couple of days I played my pieces without this pad. I immediately noticed that good posture must be maintained, I could not allow my bad habit of leaning forward to occur otherwise I would lose the balancing violin on my collar bone. So it is the balancing act created by the good posture enabling support of the violin with minimal tensions. Now that the violin is only in contact with the collar bone directly under the chin, it is much flatter so other angles need to be changed: the position of the violin from the body, the angle of the head to the violin, for good contacts between chin-violin-collar bone. And the bowing for G. 

Continual micro-adjustments are made to the position of the violin, which consists mainly of pushing the violin-tail-pin into the neck. In low positions the left hand thumb pressure is regulated to achieve a slight grip momentarily for adjustment and then released. This tension must never be excessive, only enough to do the job required, and it must not be allowed to spread to the finger pressure. In the higher positions the ribs of the violin are very handy for this technique, but also only required when momentarily making adjustments in  appropriate places of the music.

Once the volin is played without anything touching the back of the fiddle the player can become very excited to hear the beautiful resonances, that is my motivation. It is difficult to shift position but play lots of stuff in 1st pos and absorb the beautiful sounds coming from your violin.


February 6, 2010 at 01:01 AM ·


Funny thing with me.  I can play violin without a SR easily enough.  But on viola, I absolutely need one.

February 6, 2010 at 02:46 AM ·

I have an extra extra long swan neck am slim with apparent collar bones. I don,t use a rest since I absoluntly wanted to find something to play restless. Was sick of bowing on something too high for my bow arm.  But I worked very long to invent something I like and people look at me quite odd because about 100% of the students at the conservatory have rests. I have never seen on the net or in real people with similar physionomy as I (all levels and soloists  included) play restless.  I don't think I could play a super challenging piece as Lalo or Brahms Concerto with my setup but I'll never play them anyway so i don't lose anything to experiment.  I will look to find a better chinrest soon though.  But overall it has showed me so much things and has released so much tension that I feel ok and wouldn't want to return to a rest even though others like me (giraffe necks) all have one (hope this is not a bad sign for me?).

But what counts is the sound no matter the technique!   Good players play the two ways.  Many young soloists take the rest. Nowadays, people at their level have to progress so fast I wonder if they have time to "take time" to experiment.

Good luck!


February 6, 2010 at 03:42 AM ·

I am in the process of weening myself off a shoulder rest.  About 6 months ago, I could barely hold up a violin without a SR.  Shifting and vibrato were basically impossible.  But, I have stuck with it.  Now, after 6 months of retraining my body, I can almost play as well as I used to without the assistance of a SR. 

I became aware of a great deal of tension in my left side due to the clinching action between my chin and my left shoulder.  This tension went away the moment I removed the shoulder rest and made a conscious effort NOT to lift my left shoulder.  It also eliminated some shoulder pain I was experiencing due to the violin.  BTW, when I decided to go restless, I was fitted with a raised chin rest.  It is raised by 15mm (pretty high).  That was a critical first step in going restless.

In the beginning, I just practiced simple scales without vibrato and also etudes without the SR.  But for repertoire and chamber music, I was still relying on the SR.  As time went on, I was able to spend a greater percentage of time without a SR.  In fact, last night, I played with the Baltimore Symphony in the rusty musician event and did not use a SR. 

Vibrato is still a challenge though.  I have spent several months trying to retrain my vibrato to make it more relaxed and also make it work without a SR, but it still needs work.  I spend about 10 minutes a day with the metronome set at 60, practicing slow vibrato with different rhythms and different fingers.  It is slowly coming around.

This debate is one that will never go away.  There are strong proponents on both sides.  I am sharing my story so others may benefit from my experience.  I have read about people who forgot their shoulder rest for a rehearsal, or took it off for a few minutes and never used one again.  For them, playing without a SR was perfectly natural.  That is NOT the case with me.  It has been a long and painful process to relearn the violin without a SR.  I don't know if I will ever have the same proficiency without an SR as I did with it.  I'm hoping I will, but I think it will take a few more months.

February 6, 2010 at 07:40 PM ·

I have played for 10 years and am now a performance major in college, and I have just recently been trying to play without a shoulder rest.  I've started to have more and more trouble keeping my posture straight and my shoulders and back from getting tense and sore, so I decided to try playing rest-less to see if that would help.  It is much easier to stay relaxed without the shoulder rest, and it noticeably opens up the sound of my instrument to not have the shoulder rest clamped on.

The hardest thing I think is shifting, especially in higher positions (5th+). Right now my orchestra is playing Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, which has some fast, shift every 3 notes kind of sections, so I leave the rest on for rehearsals and all my practicing I'm doing without.

It's hard to say which is better, since it's such a personal thing, but for me right now, I think playing without the rest has the most advantages.

February 6, 2010 at 08:39 PM ·

I try to ignore folks who drop unnecessary bombshells, though I'm not entirely successful. There's TONS of shoulder rest posts here, and if you think this site has a lot, try some of the fiddle-players ones ;) Don't automatically think your rest is the cause. Maybe yes, maybe no. You COULD also have had a sore back from a chair that is too low or too high, where the seat slants back or is too hard, or because w/o meaning to, you twisted your body somewhere to accommodate long down bows or get where you could see a shared stand & the conductor. Or because you played too long & too tensely, or had already done a little injury (say, slipping on an icy walk and catching yourself), even if you didn't have particularly-noticeable pain. Sue    

February 6, 2010 at 10:51 PM ·

 There seems to be widespread agreement on two things: that tension is one of the violinist's worst enemies, and that everything is connected. Giving up the shoulder rest forced me to learn the balancing tricks that helped me to relax, but it took a while to trust that my instrument wasn't going to crash to the floor the moment I loosened up.  The great violinists who use one have obviously learned to play without tension, but for me it was a crutch that prevented me from relaxing my shoulders, arms, hands and fingers.  But that's me.  And it's entirely possible that the right teacher would have recognized that tension and helped me relax, even with the SR. My point is that I believe the use/non-use of the SR is a bit of a 'red herring', that tension is the real problem.


February 6, 2010 at 10:58 PM ·

Chin rests are just as important.  Do what's best for you! 

February 7, 2010 at 12:24 AM ·

You might want to search this site for "How to Hold a violin". My article is sort of buried here but you can find it if you search. Let me know what you think.

February 7, 2010 at 12:35 AM ·

I ditched my shoulder rest about a month ago due to irritating muscle aches between my left shoulder blade and spine; the tone became instantly better and I could feel the tension dissipate. However, the clamp bars on the chin rest dug in to my collarbone leaving painful dents, so I took the chin rest off too and was amazed at how much more comfortable it was.

So now I play with neither a shoulder rest or chin rest and seem to be making some good, pain and tension free, progress! That's not to say the transition was easy; there was a lot of experimenting and long slow hard work to get even the basics sorted out, but it seems to have been worth it for me.

Just for interest - I'm not a dumpy midget with no neck, I'm 5'9 and of average build.

Best of luck, and keep in mind that the right answer is the one that works for you!


February 7, 2010 at 03:04 AM ·

I think the best thing to do with or without a shoulder rest, is to be aware of what your body is doing, no matter what your set-up is.  There should be no lifting of the left shoulder.  It was when I noticed this error that the pain in my neck disappeared. 

February 7, 2010 at 03:31 AM ·


I agree with you but I find it very difficult NOT to lift the left shoulder when using a shoulder rest -- even when using extra long legs on the sr.  Maybe it is ingrained in me from years of using a sr, but the only way I have been able to overcome the lifting of the left shoulder is to remove the sr.  I'm not saying that's what others should do, but that is my personal experience.  It might even be a result of poor technique on my part.



February 7, 2010 at 05:30 PM ·

I used to have terrible pain in my upper back and neck when I used a shoulder rest.  I remember a time during juries when I would have to go to the doc's for cortizone shots, and I took muscle relaxers and ibuprofin regularly.  All that stopped once I got rid of the shoulder rest.  I guess it was too difficult trying to hold up a violin AND a shelf at the same time. 

February 7, 2010 at 06:56 PM ·

How to hold a violin:

February 7, 2010 at 07:58 PM ·


Excellent paper, thanks for sharing.  I've added it to my bookmarks for future reference.

February 7, 2010 at 08:32 PM ·


John,  if you go back over the lists over the years you wil actuall find many reactions slike mine,  except now it seems that those earlier people are even too tired to say they are too tired to dicuss the issue yet again;)

Actually I do have an open mind about rests in one sense.  I wil try any new kind and offer it to interested pupils to evaulate.  My house is full of discarded rests.  One things I have conluded is that some rests are definitely better than others.  I don`t just mean on an individual level,  I have honestly found taht certain rests are superiror in design and less likely to completely lock the shoulde rin one place which I think is the main phisiological response to having a rest touching the collar bone shoulde rrets area irrespective of how relaxe done is.

I still don`t know how one deals with the paradox of the rets sissue after all these years.  So many great players use them and yet my personal experience observing many hundreds of young students over many years is that almost all of them would have significantly less tension and playign problems without a rest ,  in many cases using a cushin instead.  I also constanly meet adult players who play bette rin tune and with a more relaxed vibrato the moent they take te rest off.    i woud venture to suggets that the aul is not the rest itslef but an effect inadvertently created by the existence of said article. To whit,  the average teacher and student find it so superficially easy to stcik a rest on and get some kind of quick improvement that the art of actually holding te violin and teahcing how the whole body balances the violin has in large part become ignored and forgotten.  But whether or not one uses a rest this is always the central issue of playing.



February 8, 2010 at 12:27 AM ·

 I agree with Brivati-Sensei's posts quite strongly except that one of the web sites his refers to says that the should should be lifted. Brivati-Sensei does not agree with that and neither do I. 

I have a short neck so I am naturally suspicious of advice that encourages changing the chin rest height but I won't speak against it without more experience. 

The effort to properly balance a violin has been a journey to a real left hand technique as opposed to what I will call a cultivated facility. Technique is a talent magnifier and some of us need all the magnification we can get.

February 8, 2010 at 02:15 AM ·

"I have a short neck so I am naturally suspicious of advice that encourages changing the chin rest height but I won't speak against it without more experience. "

Corwin as an "experienced" with long necks I can tell that to make sleep a naughty kid violinist that doesn't want to sleep at night, I wouln't tell that the sand man will pass and put sand in his eyes if he doesn't sleep but rather that an ugly old witch will give him a giraffe neck overnight if he doesn't sleep... lol  

But despite beeing as bad as a "punishment" for violin, it's cool to see far away in a crowd considering that I would be a few inch less with no neck ; )


February 8, 2010 at 02:48 AM ·

The issue of whether or not to use a shoulder rest cannot be separated from the issues involved in using a chin rest.

A few things come to mind.

  1) To prevent blocking the free movement of the muscles you can feel in your upper left chest that are involved in shifting and vibrato, if you use a shoulder rest, it would have to be placed high enough up on the back of the violin to not interfere with this movement.

  2) Secondly, it is desirable to have the violin rest on the collar bone, and the gap filled up with a chin rest with whatever additional wood or cork is needed to raise it to meet your jaw so that the gap is not filled in by a high shoulder rest that takes the violin off the collar bone and causes the height your arms have to reach up to the instrument and place the bow on the strings to be  too high possibly leading, over time, to rotator cuff injury.

  3)  The violin should not rest on the shoulder, and one should not twist the shoulder inward to create a shelf for the violin because that  either raises the height of the violin unnecessarily high or tends to immobilize the shoulder which must act as a fixed ledge or shelf of support and this can lead to injury as well. If the violin scroll is shifted too far over to the left it may be difficult to reach to the tip of the bow relatively straight with a good contact point on the string. People with long arms though need to do this to some extent otherwise their right wrists and hand and arm may feel too cramped at the frog.

  4)  One should not have to consistently keep the neck turned to the left very far to stare down the fingerboard. The head and neck need to be free to move and have a default position more nearly straight ahead from which one can turn left or right as needed. This is , after all, the comfortable position we use to talk to someone in front of us or the position from which we place food on a plate to eat at the table.  Leaning or slanting the head and neck sideways or clamping down and using head pressure to hold the violin in an attempt to relieve the left hand of support is also injurious to the nerves. If I'm not mistaken,  it is at the base of the brain that the nerves travel down to your spine and radiate out through your body. Twisting or tightening your neck  is like a hose being twisted or a kink  in the hose causing  an obstruction or blockage in the flow of water.

5) With the head and neck gently falling from the base of the brain, not from the bony part of your neck where your back begins, and the collarbone support from below, supplemented when necessary with a sponge, pad, or something small enough to give a little stability but not a frozen, fixed position, and the third support from the left hand, with the violin neck resting between thumb and 3rd crease down from nail of the index ( pointing) finger ( what  some call the Magic "X" spot) you have a tripod of support to assist in the "holding" of the violin.

6)  The idea is to balance the instrument so that you can, at will, change the angle in terms of flattening or tipping the violin more to the E string or to the G string, raising or lowering the instrument,  and also being able to move the scroll to the left or right as needed. An example would be in shifting high on the E string where a leftward push of the scroll makes it easier for the hand to negotiate the "climb" up and over the top of the instrument. If you have a shoulder rest that fixes your position, you would either have to bend or arch your hips and back to change these positions or ignore the fixed tendency of the shoulder rest and manipulate the change in the violin with your left hand.

I believe this is why many feel that the shoulder rest does not have to be an absolute necessity. It does take learning how to use the left hand a bit differently and being able to find the balance between these three points of support and adjust them depending on the string, position, bowing, and other issues. The key thing is to do no harm to your nerves and to be flexible and pliable. Though you appear to be holding two solid objects whose shape does not really change, it is your body that is playing the instrument and you are capable of changing and molding your movements to stay flexible and avoid injury and pain.


And finally a question- perhaps this should be another topic- do any of you have an opinion about whether it makes more sense in slow to moderate speed bows to allow your weight to shift in your legs/feet from left to right  going down bow frog to tip and right to left going up bow tip to frog or whether one should do the opposite?  It stands to reason that one can feel more natural arm weight at the tip if one shifts the weight to the right foot  and leg and feel less overtly heavy and cramped weight if one shifts weight to the left leg and foot at the frog. This can also have an effect on the way things feel in your chin/jaw and shoulder and may be a necessary factor to evaluate in terms of comfort with the chin rest and any sponge, rest, or pad used from below.

February 8, 2010 at 08:17 AM ·

 In response to Ronald Mutchnik's last question about shifting weight during slow bows: I find that a little sway to the right just to start the down bow frees up my shoulders, arms and hands quite nicely.  It's an Aikido principle (Buri?) to "move from the center", a bit like when a baseball player pivots his hips before the bat starts coming around, in a sort of "unwinding", or the way you use your legs and back muscles more than your arms to knead bread dough.

 I could be wrong, but I'm assuming that Yehudi Menuhin is trying to get this idea across in some of his books.  It's subtle, maybe even not at all apparent to the casual observer.  The movement may all take place "inside the body", or maybe even just inside the mind, but it has helped me balance the violin, and better understand all the advice on this site that there are innumerable tiny movements and adjustments going on all the time.

February 8, 2010 at 01:21 PM ·

Hi,John, Sorry, should have spelled it out. The person posting has been stewing for some time over a passing comment by someone who intruded on her conversation with her stand partner. "Get rid of that thing" was a verbal bombshell, IMO. It really wasn't his/her business to say anything. I may be reading into it, but I thought the writer heard that as judgmental. Reading posts here & elsewhere for some years, there seem to be about as many folks playing with rests and not at ease physically or mentally as the reverse. Those who feel fine as they are can play around with various rests & going w/o if they want. Those who have discomfort or pain certainly should investigate. I think part of the continuing debate is a desire for a fast fix to problems like being out of tune, or not being able to shift or vibrato the way one thinks it should work or sound. Sometimes changing gear does make a noticeable difference, but at the end of the day, it's working that helps more. 

February 8, 2010 at 01:51 PM ·

Thanks everyone for shedding a little light on that for me. So much great information here :)

February 8, 2010 at 03:45 PM ·

Hello everyone. I am new to and was quite interested in your posts because I start filming my new DVD this week, " Ergonomic Set-up for Violin/Viola: How to determine the best playing position and chin- & shoulder-rest based on body-type."

If you have specific questions and problems that you would like me to address on the DVD, I still have time to add material. I posted on Facebook and a few of the responses pointed my attention to useful add-ons.

It was already useful to read your posts. In general, I'd like to add that it doesn't matter what a famous person, colleague, or friend uses or doesn't use. It's really about what works for you to create an agile, pain-free, well-supported experience while playing. If you want to be more helpful in your posts to your fellow bloggers, you might consider including a description of your body-type, the name of the shoulder rest, and how you adjusted it and placed it on your instrument, as well as the chin-rest you coupled it with. The generalities in many of these posts could be misleading to your fellow players.

Please post or email any suggestions, queries, topics you'd like to see covered on the DVD. I'll keep checking back here as I film.

best wishes, Julie Lyonn Lieberman

February 8, 2010 at 05:32 PM ·

I am six one plus a few inches, my neck is... kind of medium short/long and guessing my length from jaw to collarbone is 3 to 4 inches?  I'll get back to you on exact measurements.  I use a Kun collaspsible with the "shoulder end" pretty low and the other end pretty high.  My chinrest is a little unusual- it's a Flesch, with a hump, but I've put it off to the side.  It's a great combination!  But, I have been in the market for a new chinrest because I'm pretty sure the hump in the rest irritates my violin hickey. 

February 9, 2010 at 02:03 AM ·

Hi,Julie, This is Susan from facebook. I couldn't resist the invite. True confessions time ;) I'm fine with a bunch of shoulder & chinrests. In no particular order, Kuns, Everest, Viva (plastic), Zaret sponges, one of the Wolf rests, Play-on-Air, Resonans. I don't like Comford, "Perfect" sponge, or that over-the-shoulder one. The ones that I can't make work for me put the violin at the wrong angle. I like Wittner side-mount chinrests, but am OK with almost anything that crosses the tailpiece and doesn't get up under the jawbone. No center mounts, and usually not Strad or Guarnerius. I don't mind playing rest-less in 1st position, & shifting up & vibrato is fine. I've never taken a lesson w/someone who plays advanced classical stuff w/o a rest. When I see someone with my body type, may very well do so for info. I don't find rigid shoulder rests prevent me from moving my shoulder, head, neck, etc., which often is what folks comment on. My default set-up lately is Everest & Wittner, but not exclusively. 

February 9, 2010 at 02:27 AM ·

I am a little shorter than Michael maybe 1"1/4", and the distance between my chin and collar bone is about 4". I don't use an SR  and I recently stopped using the shoulder pad.  My chin rests are standard with high ridges, but I prefer the one I have with a large cup and is centre mounted and I will soon purchase more of these for my other violins. I do not think that I require a custom made raised chin rest. I need to wear thick clothing or a cloth for comfortable support on the collar bone. I do remember having a violin hickey when I did use the SR, but that was before I allowed my beard to grow. Or did the hickey disappear because my posture improved from not using an SR. 

February 9, 2010 at 02:29 AM ·


there is an interesting aspect to using the shoulder rest which I think is incredibly importnat and rarely raised in this ever green debate.  It involves two differnet aspects.  FirstI have found it to be quite common that someone begins to feel uncomfortable with a rest after an initial feeling of relief.  This phenomenon is a question of homeostasis I think.That is,  after exoperiencing immediate relief from a source of tension by asmall change the tension then reasserts itslef in the new position because the body dislikes any form of change even if beneficial;)  This process also works in reverse with taking a rets off in many cases.   As a reaction to this diminishing relief the user then begins to heighten the rest .  This automatically creates more insecurity and tension in many cases.  The respone is then to heighten the rest.   Basically this approach is disatrous.  If one is experiencing discomfort or the need to experiment with a rest it is often the case thta doing the opposite is helpful:  make it as small and unobtrusive as possible.  This gives the body a chnace to adjust rather than embarcing something much taller than it needs to be.



February 9, 2010 at 04:05 AM ·

The measurement from the top of my chin rests to the back of my violins is between 2"1/2" and 2"3/4.".  And with the thick clothing, or the cloth which I often use on hot days, because of thin garments or none at all, it also soaks up moisture. That would leave about 1" for my head to drop down, from the atlas bone, allowing the ' backwards pull of the chin on the chin rest", as Yehudi describes on page 53. With a raised CR I think I would lose this 'backwards pull' because the jaw line would be too flat to rest over the ridge of the chin rest.  

February 9, 2010 at 07:38 AM ·

I've been using a shoulder rest for 40 years. The latest is a bon musica, which I have bent to comfortably fit the shape of my body and which helps to position my instrument to keep my shoulder and neck muscles relaxed. I'm 6'3" and have a long neck. I find a rest gives me freedom to move my left arm anywhere I want. I have never had neck, or shoulder pain, even after four hours of continuous performance, although I do suffer from back pain due to a piano moving injury.

On my Yamaha silent violin I am forced to use the supplied custom Kun rest which I find uncomfortable because of a lack of adjustable positioning. I am considering having my own custom design made to solve this problem.

February 9, 2010 at 01:12 PM ·

Here is a video of Isaac Stern.  Watch what he does at 0:11 when tuning.  No hands and the violin remains horizontal.

Even though the "non-resters" like to look to the great masters when arguing their case (since most of them did not use SR's), this seems to be an argument for the other side.  That is, Isaac Stern did not use a SR because he didn't need one.  The violin stays up even without a SR.  Note that he admitted to using a piece of foam on his shoulder under his jacket.  You can even see him adjusting it in the video around 0:35.

I've met several "non-resters" and they are able to hold up the instrument without the use of the left hand.  Some lift the left shoulder a bit, some do not.  Personally, my physiology makes it impossible to hold up the instrument unless I raise my left shoulder significantly.  There's no denying that people are built differently, and I think that is why some people need a SR and some are better off without. 


February 9, 2010 at 03:50 PM ·

Raphael Klayman plays with no SR as you can see in :

However, he clearly uses a wrist vibrato which makes sense to me. In fact, I have noticed that many (if not all) of the non SR violinists use a much more wrist vibrato than an arm vibrato. Is this a coincidence ?  I think not ... holding and/or resting the violin on the left hand, as no SR is used, makes wrist vibrato a natural consequence, I believe.  Any ideas on this ?

February 10, 2010 at 01:41 AM ·


>I am puzzled why this hands-free feature has become so iconic.The Holy Grail that we must all aspire to.Not even Twinkle Twinkle is possible without a left hand.   

Good point John.  I certainly can`t do it.  Neither could Menuhin and he states in his book on the violin thta it is an essentially meaningless goal.  he even includes a photo of himself being `unable` to do it.....



February 10, 2010 at 07:44 AM ·

>I am puzzled why this hands-free feature has become so iconic<


Oh, are you refering to the diagram on page 53..?

I am sorry, I forgot to mention the title of lesson III.......'Preparatory Excersises-Left Hand'. 


<<<"He's the only person I've seen who can do that".!>>>


Well I was just tightening my bow or touching up the fine tuners, or was I just scratching my shnose. I believe some poeple think that's how I hold the violin all the time, well no, left hand mostly. And a little bit of  'chin 'n' collar bone' when shifting down but just resting the head most of the time. 

February 10, 2010 at 03:59 PM ·

 Just to confuse matters even more, I've had great results with the Happinex violin sling:

I use it in combination with a Bon-Musica shoulder rest that has been extended on the hook side to go right over the shoulder. I don't put mine under the tailpiece, rather I put it around the chinrest so it's very easy to take the violin on and off. Really great for long gigs seeing as my back has some problems. It works for me.

February 10, 2010 at 05:26 PM ·

 I looked at the happinex link. Paganini must be doing flip flops in his grave. 

Apart from any ergonomic benefits from holding up the violin with the left hand is the technical benefit of learning how to play correctly with the left hand playing its role in the balancing process, including keeping the violin from slipping 

(IMO) Using the left hand for support is a catalyst for developing a real technique. We ought not to shy away from it. Slings may solve an ergonomic or "security" issue but at what cost?

February 10, 2010 at 05:40 PM ·

>Good point John.  I certainly can`t do it.  Neither could Menuhin and he states in his book on the violin thta it is an essentially meaningless goal.  he even includes a photo of himself being `unable` to do it.....<


This is an interesting point and one that I think warrants some discussion.  Should you, or should you not be able to hold the violin in position without the use of the left hand.  SR users can all do it.  Some non-SR users can do it, but some can't.  It certainly requires different technique if you are unable to hold up the violin.  I can attest to that as I have spent the past 6 months adapting my technique to playing without an SR.

But, this issue is of particular concern to me because my 8 year old is taking violin lessons and at his lesson, his teacher wants him to hold his violin in position without using his left hand.  Right now, he has a 1/2 inch sponge filling the gap between his violin and shoulder and his teacher believes in using an SR, which I have been trying to avoid.  Any comments on this?


February 10, 2010 at 07:03 PM ·

Paganini also did not use a chin rest.  Anything is possible.  Why not look at this wonderful long necked baroque violinist that uses neither:

February 10, 2010 at 08:43 PM ·


He plays very nicely, but it is nearly all in 1st position with no vibrato.  The whole difficulty with playing without a SR has to do with shifting and vibrating. 

February 10, 2010 at 09:12 PM ·

Smiley, how funny that without reading your post I wanted to say the same thing: Very very nice playing but here is what I think of such a posture (not about him since I don't judge him):

A classical violinist could never do this as his official posture... (Have you ever seen some???). I have noticed about no vibrato and certainly not a long slow mvt...  I would be curious to see if such a violinist could do Brahms second mvt or Schindler's list (in the pop).  Not at all to bash him down, he playes SO well but I'm still curious of it it would be possible. 


While it's not good to clamp the violin with the head, the head still must have a contact most of the time... A little 2 sec stretch or flexibility is ok but not as a general rule. In folk music, the head doesn't always touch but then again, less vibrato, less position changes etc. 


As a long necked myself (at least as long as this guy...), I can tell that the position he has (violin overly to the left to avoid slip) is about the worst thing one cannot do to the bow arm shoulder who has to bow too "high" because it's too far and looses lots of power (also sound power!)and strengh in the process...  + lying, bending his head down for stability sometimes in the way he did made me feel pain just to look...

This guy is find with this and BRAVO to him to have succeded and all my admiration but it really looks too odd for classical needs. (Kind of painful too) It's his right to do what's comfortable for him but for many reasons he just can't be a "standard" for every long necked classical violinist...  (I'm pretty sure Marina's idea was not to say this anyway) 

Have a nice day everyone,




February 10, 2010 at 09:26 PM ·

My rest-less challenges have boiled down to the role of the left thumb, and exactly where on the thumb I should balance the neck, understanding that will change as I move around the fingerboard.  I've been waffling between light contact and no contact with the base of the index finger.  The "no contact" approach feels better, although it has taken a lot of practice and a certain amount of faith to make it happen and stay relaxed.  But I've worried because so many teachers and books seem to recommend light contact.

Then, I was encouraged by the video of Oistrakh's Clair de Lune, which folks here have pointed to as a very nice display of vibrato.  I am fascinated by his left thumb, whenever it is visible. At the very end, the last half second (visible to me only with the picture expanded to the full screen), when he's finished, he very casually lets the neck slide off his thumb tip.  That picture, to me, is worth a thousand words.  Here's the link:

February 10, 2010 at 10:18 PM ·

Hi folks. These have been such interesting posts. I really appreciate the dialogue. There are a few comments and issues that have come up from your contributions that I will definitely add to the DVD. Thank you SO much. Tomorrow is the big day!! best wishes, Julie

February 11, 2010 at 04:43 AM ·

I wonder if anyone might be able to shed some light on a shoulder rest related question. I was checking out the Kun collapsible today briefly. I was on my lunch break and didn't have time to look properly. It seems like a fantastically comfortable rest, but one thing I couldn't figure out is if you could make the feet on it swivel more than the tiny little jiggle they do by themselves. I need a pretty steep angle on my shoulder rest to get it to contact my body properly, so if it doesn't swivel/tilt all that much then it won't be all that useful.

Anyway, my question is this: has anyone been able to get the feet on the Kun to swivel more, or is it just that restrictive by design? 

February 11, 2010 at 04:53 AM ·

Much good advice here. Let me add some statistics to the debate: when we polled V.commers several years ago about whether or not they actually used a shoulder rest, 78 percent said YES they use one. Here's the link.

February 11, 2010 at 04:59 AM ·

P.S. I use a shoulder rest; I'm comfortable and have avoided injury for some 32 years, so I'm not about to go changing something that works! All but one of my students use a rest , though they use different kinds of rests, set at different heights and at various angles. We have also gone through various chin rests to optimize set-up. No one solution works for everyone!

February 11, 2010 at 01:53 PM ·

Anything is possible, that's my point.  I don't have a problem with shifting nor vibrato and I don't use a shoulder rest.  The violinist in the video does shift by the way.  Vibrato is not stylistically appropriate of the music but he can do it I assure you.

Annie-Marie to be honest when I watch people play with shoulder rests it looks extremely painful to me.  It looks like a very strange shelf and if you look at people from their left side it looks like it's pushing their shoulder down unnaturally.  That's just my own opinion of shoulder rests, I much prefer that the violin is part of my body rather than an installation.  I think each person has to find his/her comfort level.   Those who use a shoulder rest fall back on the logic of long necks and proportion and stability and range of motion etc.  We who do not use a shoulder rest are an example of how it is possible inspite of all those factors, for we come in all shapes, sizes, and lengths. 

February 11, 2010 at 01:54 PM ·

 I second Laurie's latter post like 5429857 %

February 11, 2010 at 03:30 PM ·

Heather, re Kun folding rests, you can't make them swivel more than they do. Look at the spot where the foot's screw enters the disc, and you will see there is a narrow channel that prevents much motion. You can get the Kun original model to swivel more. You carefully slide the disc out of the foot, unscrew it, and reverse it. The disc has a little tongue that prevents much swiveling when attached the proscribed way. You may or may not find that the rest then falls off your violin too easily, though. If otherwise you like the Kun folder, you could try using rubber bands or velcro rings to add a bit of sponge where you want a different shape. You might also try an Everest or a (plastic) Viva. I used Kun folders for a long time, and happily moved on to these others over a year ago. Sue

February 11, 2010 at 04:20 PM ·

Regarding playing without a chin rest, the principal realization involved for many of us is that little to no support from the head is necessary 80% of the time.

Now, I only play repertoire up to early Beethoven without a chinrest; I don't claim to have a shot at, say CR-free Paganini caprices, despite Paganini's own example. I also admit that I find the more virtuosic end of late 18th century repertoire, e.g. Haydn quartet first violin parts, extremely challenging in period setup, and have on more than one occasion elected to revert to modern setup simply because I am more technically reliable that way.

So I'm curious to hear more from the players here who have experience doing repertoire of all periods with no chin rest. How do you cope with large shifts in sequence? How much time does your chin spend on the violin, and how much above it?

February 11, 2010 at 04:47 PM ·

I'm pretty new to no CR and although it is difficult I'm finding it to be a smooth transition.  I'm learning as I go and I play mostly chin-on for virtuosic passages and chin-off for ensemble playing or first position passages.  I have seen a lot of people play without chin rest for as late as beethoven, it's becoming very popular it seems.  All in all though when I go back to my modern violin I relish having a chin rest, what a great invention.

February 11, 2010 at 06:40 PM ·

As far as repertoire that is possible without chin and shoulder rest, I can add my experiences:

I am currently playing Vivaldi Concerto for Two Violins in A minor, Paganini Sonata XII, Vivaldi Four Seasons (Summer Mvt 1&3, Winter Mvt 1&3, and some other bits) Bach Sonata 3 1016, and I'm working on Paganini Cantabile, Bruch and Mendelssohn Concerto's and some others now and then.

I have had no more problems learning these without chin and shoulder rests than I did when I used to use both. In fact (once I learned how to play a 'naked' violin properly) my progress is quicker than before and my technique has taken leaps and bounds!

I use the fixed thumb position which avoids the need for 'trombone' type shifting and keeps the violin nice and secure on my collar-bone/neck.


February 11, 2010 at 07:05 PM ·

 Graham, it sounds like your fixed thumb position idea is similar to what Ricci discusses in his book. Is it possible that someone with a broad width hand and long fingers can reach and pivot more easily and therefore traditional shifting is not necessary? How does this affect vibrato though? It has been a classic principle that the wrist be kept straight so that the frame of the hand can accommodate all the notes in a given position and keep intonation more stable. By constantly reaching back and forth, the wrist changes and one would think it would be necessary to do adapt differently for vibrato. Also, though Ricci wrote this book about pivoting and explained how the invention of the chin rest caused succeeding generations to abandon or forget the lost art of pivoting , in practice he did use a chin rest and did shift and not just pivot.

    In addition, one can observe in the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall videos, several of the violinists, including one of the concertmasters, lifting their chins and jaws off the chin rest and playing with vibrato, and shifting,  but, they had the shoulder rest on the violin as a support from below to stabilize the instrument as they  let go from the neck and head.

February 11, 2010 at 09:21 PM ·

Hello Ronald

I did in fact use Ricci's book (Ricci on Glissando) to help develop my left hand position, and adapted it to suit my anatomy. My technique is to pivot the wrist on the ribs of the violin and let the thumb do what it wants, which is generally hovering around 3rd position.

My reason for trying a more unorthodox approach was due to back and neck discomfort which no amount of adapted or different shoulder rests/cloths/sponges would fix. So I learned to play without a shoulder rest but found the chin rest got in the way, and the clamp bars dug in to my collar bone.

After I removed both, and learned to play as I should have originally (i.e. not holding the instrument with my chin) the pain quickly dissipated.

I think hand size does play a part; my thumb to 4th finger span is a little over 9", and from 1st to 4th finger is just under 7", so not massive by any means, but I think anyone who has a smaller than average size hand might struggle.

I see what you mean regarding the hand frame. I have had to learn where the individual notes are on the fingerboard as opposed to where they are within the hand frame in 'x' position. I felt totally lost at first with my intonation all over the place, but now I feel like I have more control and a better understanding than before. I do find it necessary to use glissando quite a bit, and re-learning pieces I've been playing for years with new fingerings is pretty frustrating!

Vibrato was a little tricky to get the hang of. I used to use arm vibrato with the rests attached, but now it's a cross between wrist/hand/finger -  i.e. I pivot the hand around the wrist.

I don't think this technique would work for everyone, and I certainly don't think it superior to using shoulder and chin rests. But it works for me and has made my playing much more enjoyable.


February 12, 2010 at 12:33 AM ·

I'm learning to play restless...but I feel I'm missing something in my playing.

February 12, 2010 at 01:57 AM ·

Sue, thank you for that re: Kun. That's what I thought at first glance but wasn't entirely sure. If I can't find anything I like well enough I may just pick up the Kun and bring out my toolbox. :D

February 12, 2010 at 02:39 AM ·

Marina I agree with you just that I found that this guy's posture was  very very unusual even amongsts the NR users.  I never saw an old master with no chin on the violin for as long. They might stretch their neck a few sec but not for the whole piece...   Also a violin as much on the left of the collar bone??? His chin was quite lower than the tailpiece if I remember well. But find for him if it works. Just not a "modal" or "reference" since it would be dangerous to get seriously injured... (BTW rests can cause injuries too. I left mind because it gave me tendonidus so I understand this!)

Have a nice day,


February 12, 2010 at 12:59 PM ·

Anne-Marie, maybe you're not familiar with this style of playing.  It's called historical performance, early music, or  baroque performance.  If you look at many of the greatest baroque performers (Andrew Manze, Monica Huggett, Fabio Biondi etc) you'll see that they all have varying degrees of chin-off techniques.  The great masters you are referring to would never have adapted this sort of technique because historical performance practice wasn't really developed back then.

February 12, 2010 at 07:34 PM ·

I am happy to see that this thread has lacked the heat that this discusion hs had in the past.

When I began using a shoulder rest in my third year of learning / playing (that's another thread Royce) I have, to this day, felt comfortable playing with it untill I can no-longer tollerate it and then take it off.  And regularly lengthen and shorten the sucker.  I can't live without it yet can't live with it!

February 13, 2010 at 04:38 AM ·

Thanks for the info Marina!!!  I didn't know this. The few baroque style musicians I saw had a "classical" posture.  But I'm didn't see very much.  So you are surely very right!

Have a nice day,


February 13, 2010 at 01:56 PM ·

I stopped using the shoulder rest about a year ago.  Since then the popping in my left shoulder stopped and my left shoulder is more flexible than before (I used to be able to touch  hands behind my back with my right arm going over the shoulder but not with my left, now I can do it both ways easily).  In retrospect, this sounds like tendinitis was developing in my shoulder and the shoulder rest was one of the factors involved.   My neck pain during practicing is now gone.  My left hand is about the same as before in terms of tension (still working on that...).  The good thing on that end is that I can't force things anymore so I feel that my technique is improving on a more fundamental level, albeit more slowly. 

Of course, this is just my personal experience after a relatively short time.  I'm just a student so I still play around with shoulder rests occasionally and might switch back at some point, though I somehow doubt it. 

February 13, 2010 at 02:27 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 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 13, 2010 at 11:04 PM ·

 Hold on, I changed my set-up!  It's a Guarneri and a Kun!

February 16, 2010 at 12:51 AM ·

The Viva is the best shoulder rest of that style because the feet are molded and never wear down to metal "scrapers." It also has the most options for adjustment.

By the way, when you find the right combo for your body-type, you don't have to reinvent your technique. You should feel comfy and well supported and more agile.

February 18, 2010 at 12:22 PM ·

Well, it's been a whole two weeks since I went bareback, no SR or pad, nothing between the shoulder and fiddle, just my  chinrest. Feels great, dont know why I waited so long?

I tried it without the CR, just slips out. I know it can been done, so I'll have a fiddle to practise that.

February 19, 2010 at 12:43 AM ·

I ended up buying the Kun collapsible rest and taking a pen knife (exacto knife) to it so the feet swiveled more. There's enough friction there where I can tilt the feet and it will stay in place. The rest conforms much better to my body and the instrument feels a lot freer as compared to when I was using the Bon Musica rest. The over-the-shoulder design of the Bon Musica is great, and the instrument was very stable, but it restricted my shoulder movement too much and caused me pain. I'm awaiting an SAS chin rest (24mm) and am hoping this will help with my posture and comfort issues.

February 19, 2010 at 06:18 AM · After years of trying many, many chinrests and shoulder rests/sponges/pads (and a year without any shoulder rest at all), I have found one combination that doesn't give me any aches or pains: simple guarneri chinrest and a kun bravo shoulder rest.

February 19, 2010 at 07:55 PM ·

Just like guitar its important to not get too hung up about things like that. Alot of great violinists do and dont use shoulder rests. I feel like a shoulder rest makes me reach up too high with both hands and its easier to push the strings with the fingers and balance the bow without it. But Hilary Hahn has been one of my favorite violinists for alot of years and she uses a shoulder rest. And her tone/technique sounds great. I love the feel of just wood on my shoulder and Ive changed my fingerings so my thumb never leaves the neck just like Perlman and Menuhin. Fast guitar players get hung up alot ( sometimes too much ) on - should you ancor right hand fingers on the guitar or not. Ive seen fast pickers do both alot.

February 21, 2010 at 04:42 AM ·

Re: the bow arm and shoulder positions from using a shoulder rest vs. no rest, watch Youtube:

NR:  Heifetz, Milstein, Francescatti, Stern (used a pad under his coat), Rosand, Oistrakh, Repin (uses a very thin pad)

Rest:  Chang, Midori, Bell, Shaham and many other younger players

After playing with a rest for a long time, I switched years ago.  It was a big adjustment that took a few months with some sore muscles in the shoulder and chest.  That's long gone and I would never, never go back.

It's more comfortable for me. No more scratches on the violin, and I never have a rest coming loose at inopportune moments.  : - )

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine