Playing without a shoulder rest

August 18, 2010 at 09:08 PM ·

There are certainly plenty of opinions about whether one should use a shoulder rest or not, but there is surprisingly little discussion about the actual issues and techniques involved in restless playing.  As a person that has been on both sides (I used a SR most my life, then gave it up about a year ago), I thought it would be useful to share my experiences in transitioning to restless playing.  I am hoping that others might benefit from my personal observations and perhaps offer additional insights.  To get the topic started, I have recorded a series of videos to illustrate some key points about restless playing.  Please feel free to comment or offer your suggestions.

Why I gave up the shoulder rest

Proper Setup

Neutral Position


Raising the scroll


Replies (76)

August 18, 2010 at 09:34 PM ·

I like the fact that you made videos.  First, let me congratulate you on developing your technique without a shoulder rest, as the clavicle and jawbone have the ability, not only to carry vibration into the ear more so than if you used a shoulder rest, but you have more maneuverability and can either enhance or worsen your technique.  Thus, I think, what you mean by restless playing, would detract from your technique, whereas, balanced playing would enhance your technique. 

I dont exactly know how to express it, because there are an infinite number of things you can do with the violin, not using a shoulder rest, but the right hand connected to the bow contacting the string and THAT contact connected to your clavicle and both connected to your left hand and arm, can literally do anything to produce sound.  The ability to achieve this three dimensionality (of sort of four basic areas that I mentioned above) allows me, at least, the ability to shift with absolute ease, and in different ways of course, depending on the music I'm playing.  Sometimes raising the shoulder becomes part of the makeup of your playing for certain passages can lowering the violin, indeed, automatic gestures you develop while crossing strings will command raising rotating and lowering the violin in subtle or not so subtle ways, again, depending on the music your playing.  I would not consider this restless, but an advantage.  The violin, of course, should not be swaying around, and your stance should be balanced from the feet up to the top of your head.  Your sensibility of balance and the three dimensionality of bowing while playing the violin with your left hand, can actually guide you into a state of relaxation of your muscles such that the tightening of a muscle to achieve something, will be so fleeting as to not cause too much tension, without causing a knot in any of your muscles.  e.g. (and I'm only speaking of myself, even if I say 'you', it's my experience for myself that I'm speaking about), when you bow, you CAN use all the different deltoids, your triceps, your biceps, your brachial muscle, your trapezius, your right upper back, your lower back etc... to one degree or another, some muscles will be used more than others, and some may not be used at all (except to keep your body from falling apart).

I don't know if I made any sense, but I would get rid of the thing you use to cushion your shoulder, unless you feel, anatomically, its essential, but for playing without a shoulder rest, the neck muscles, particularly the muscles on the back of your neck, and of course the muscle that goes accros the clavicular area, need to be developed to regulate tensions to an infinite degree so you can achieve ability in your playing.

I am thinking of making a youtube video to respond to yours, please don't expect it, but I will try, so I can better demonstrate the nonsense i'm talking about.


 edited to make a sentence more clear

August 18, 2010 at 10:08 PM ·

@Smiley, that was a very interesting video of yours "Why I stopped using a shoulder rest". It's amazing really - you and I have a very similar physique, and I play best and most comfortably with my Wolf Forte Primo. Watching your vid, where you hold the violin unsupported (without left hand) - is exactly what I'm comfortable with. I appreciate all the thousands of replies and related SR topics, but for me, your video told it all. I thank you :)


PS I already posted this in the "short neck" thread before I saw this one.


August 18, 2010 at 10:14 PM ·

Hi Michael,

Please do make a video if you can.  It would be most helpful in understanding the concepts you are describing.  I did mine with a simple digital camera.  You can also record videos with an iPhone. 

I'm not sure if we have a misunderstanding or not, but when I say "restless playing" I am referring to playing without a shoulder rest. 


August 18, 2010 at 10:42 PM ·

Very interesting Smiley!  Maybe I will sound strange if I say that I usually use an open shirt ( just a little) and put the violin right on the collar bone. Like Mutter, I like to feel the vibration of the back of the instrument. The instrument never slip on the skin. I have no marks... I like the part about the neutral position, but I keep my left arm more on the side,close to the body, and the violin rests much closer, distance is shorter,and it is even more when raise a little,like your example. But nature gave me long fingers, so I do not move my left arm to much from left to right,or vice versa, when changing strings or position...

August 18, 2010 at 11:05 PM ·

Why not calling the invention of John Cadd the Collar Bone Rest !!! this will maybe inspire a complete new generation who like me and many others  strongly believe that left shoulder has nothing to do with violin playing...

August 18, 2010 at 11:19 PM ·

<<<Smiley>>> "I'm not sure if we have a misunderstanding or not, but when I say "restless playing" I am referring to playing without a shoulder rest.  "



Now I see what you meant.


August 18, 2010 at 11:53 PM ·

I think this is rather untrue.  On the contrary, all of modern violin technique basically evolved to play the repertoire without a shoulder rest since they were only invented about 50 years ago. 

If your teacher once told you to "hold the violin up above horizontal, well to the left with the elbow drawn to the right to make a straight line with the wrist, and frame the hand with the index knuckle touching the neck and the thumb opposite the first finger/second finger"  (as I'm pretty sure all violin teachers much over the age of 60 do) they were basically telling you how to play without the shoulder rest. 


That came out poorly.  What I mean is that there's no secret or magic involved in playing without a shoulder rest and that most people actually know how to do it if they experiment with what they've already know. 

August 19, 2010 at 11:05 AM ·

I'm convinced that your invention is a good one, but I have a major phobia of having anything around my neck (even neckties make me feel uneasy, but I wear them when required).  Also the orchestra I play in would no doubt consider it a breach of uniform protocol.

August 19, 2010 at 12:30 PM ·

 kudos to smiley for his due diligence on this topic and john for his contribution to the violinistic humanity:)

one thing in smiley's first video caught my eye: the upward shrugging of the left shoulder.

smiley repeatedly mentioned and demonstrated this movement; if i am not mistaken, it could be one of the key reasons that smiley had decided to look for another setup,  that the shrug had become sort like a reflex, tightening up the shoulder region when it came into contact with the violin plus the rest.  and then smiley did something else.  he was able to, without any hand support, hold the violin in place under the jaw and elevate the violin to the horizontal plane and possibly beyond with additional motion from the shoulder (looks like a shrug or something to that effect).

i am not sure how important it was to smiley's first teacher to keep the violin horizontal AND to be able to do so without hand support.  i can imagine that it is very tempting to recruit the shoulder to help out with this rather dicey proposition--who want to fail and drop the violin onto the floor?   it is conceivable that people doing this for the first time may try harder and inadvertently trigger and develop this overactive shoulder motion.  as with anything, we are creatures of habits.  once in place, habits are tough to erase.  smiley is a golfer, a sport with frequent encounters with life or death decision makings:)  in golf, everyone develop some sort of pre-shot routine or mannerism.  similarly, i suspect, this shoulder shrug is a by- product of supporting a horizontal violin hands free.  

i will leave it to others to discuss whether there is any proven merits on a horizontal planed violin besides look mommy, i can hold it without my hand!   but i am pretty sure doing so via a shoulder shrug is not a good idea  AND doing so complicates the issue on rest vs restless playing.  in other words,  without this shrug and the subsequent discomfort, would smiley have bothered to look around for another solution?

August 19, 2010 at 01:01 PM ·

@John Cadd

John: go on James Ehnes website, write to him personally trought his agent, introduce yourself with your invention and ask to meet with him on his next visit to England. Try it... That is how we met ten years ago. James is one of the most fascinating and kind person I ever met...

August 19, 2010 at 01:16 PM ·

is James Ehnes the man who played the Bruch concerto at the BBC proms last week?

if so it was the first time I ever saw him and I could not get over the fact of what a LONG thumb he had, it was curling UP AND OVER the fingerboard, even when he was playing on the G string!!!!

he was using a kun bravo shoulder rest, but with fingers long a mile like that you do wonder why he needs it, but of course that might be what he's used to and if he finds it comfortable then that's all that matters at the end :)

August 19, 2010 at 06:22 PM ·


It was precisely the shrug that made me seek a change.  As I mentioned in the video, it was causing a lot of pain, and I lost range of motion in my left arm (could not raise it straight up over my head). Physical therapy helped, but I still experienced pain and stiffness after playing.  When I was younger, the shrug was not a problem, but as we age, the body is less forgiving.  I am hoping to play violin for many years to come, so I feel it is important to establish a setup that is comfortable and sustainable for the long term.

Regarding the subject of holding the violin in place (e.g., horizontal) without the use of the left hand, there does not seem to be a consensus on it.  My son's teacher insists that he have this ability.  However, now that I play without a SR, I cannot do it, and yet I am able to play at the same level (arguably higher, since I have one more year of practice under my belt).  So my personal experience has led me to the conclusion that is it NOT necessary to be able to hold the violin up without the left hand, but it does require additional work (e.g., technique) from the left hand, especially the thumb.  I illustrated this point in the video on shifting.

August 19, 2010 at 09:10 PM ·

Hi Smiley,

Great posts and analysis! I've gone through much the same journey as you with my s.r. woes. I finally bought a webcam so maybe I'll post some video in the near future. Although I haven't been playing much lately, I've been experimenting with using nothing but a cloth. The last recital I did back in April, I used a 'Sostenuto' spongey pad which sits along the lower bout and over half of the chinrest bracket. I need a higher chinrest which I've just been lazy about getting, but watching your videos has given me the gumption to look for the perfect setup.

Your neutral position looks comfortable, but I did notice an alignment issue which may or may not be affecting you. If you look at your profile it looks like you hold your head slightly ahead of your body, instead of 'stacking' it over your spine. It's hard to tell on the video the source of the misalignment. I think AT would suggest that your head, thorax, pelvis, and lower legs all need to feel more forward and up, as if you were attached to a string on the crown of your head and suspended, marionette-style. Feldenkrais might suggest that you start with your pelvis. Though I've never done Tai Chi, I think the horse stance (?) teaches the proper pelvic tilt for standing (and running -- got that tip from Chi Running.) I don't quite feel the AT alignment for the thorax and pelvis, so I try to feel: head forward and up (which tucks the chin in slightly), shoulder-blades down and back (which rotates the chest slightly up), neutral pelvis, knees bent and weight on my ankles. This alignment reduces the gap between collar-bone and jaw and makes a flatter 'shelf' on which the violin can sit. It takes a while to condition the support muscles, but it might be worth while. The shoulder alignment also helps free the shoulder joint while at the same time providing counterweight for your arms, so your delts don't have to do all the work suspending your arms.

When shifting down, I find it helps to feel a punch forward motion (and a little up, depending on the alignment of your fiddle). Instead of reaching for the lower position with your hand, which causes your elbow to swing open and makes your hand follow a downward arc, feel the 'drive' from your elbow/upperarm which, like a train engine pushing from the rear, pushes your hand toward the scroll, as the contact points of your hand slide freely along the 'rail'/neck. It's the same coordination as the punching or pumping motion in the bow arm: the elbow opens in coordination with the upper arm. It might also help to think you're reaching 'up' to lower positions and releasing 'down' to higher positions.

As for shifting up, rather than swinging the thumb back, I do a 'crawl', bending it so the tip of the thumb comes under the neck at the same time the hand rotates over the strings for a good shifting position.

I used to teach the strings parallel to the ground position and while the logic of it seems unquestionable, I find it tiring as a general default position, even if it is useful to raise the scroll in certain contexts. I think the important issue is the slope of the shoulders: the height of the ball joint relative to the inside tip of the collar bone. For pure endurance the hand should be held no higher than the tip of the shoulder, so that the center of the hand is at the same level as the center of the ball joint. I find this much easier, especially playing in the lower positions (and especially when playing viola.)

It's also much more comfortable for the bow arm when the fiddle is held low (like a fiddle player), if your shoulders are sloped.

Thanks for sharing, and let me know what you think of these ideas if you get a chance to try them out.


Cool design, John! I like Smiley's name for it too. How do I order one?

I fashioned a much cruder collar pad out of velcro tape which I fastened to the clamps with ties, but yours is much cooler.

Have you tried a harness which goes over the shoulder (or both shoulders), like backpack straps? I'd also be interested in a contraption that allows you to play with the head competely off the and fiddle held low.



August 19, 2010 at 11:21 PM ·

Smiley, I responded to your video with one of my own, but it needs your permission to be posted. I hope it says something educational.

August 20, 2010 at 01:48 AM ·

Hi John,

I think Smiley is balancing some weight on the thumb (correct me if I'm wrong.)  I've long thought that the real debate is between holding the fiddle independently of the left hand and balancing the fiddle between hand and collar/head. Of course the use or removal of any kind of rest whether rigid or pliable will affect the manner of holding or balancing. But I think there are basically holders on the one hand and balancers on the other, in both SR and nonSR camps (or at least in the way they conceive of how to shift.)

Dounis stated in no uncertain terms that no shoulder rest or pad of any kind should be used. But I think he also advocated a strong hold with the shoulder (he even talks about raising the shoulder slightly!) collar, and jaw, which would leave the left hand free and in particular the thumb to 'not exist' (I think the context for this nonexistent thumb was shifting; he did talk about a vertical counterpressure between fingers and thumb if I remember correctly.) Also keep in mind that prior to the 60's (? I'm guessing), most violinists would have worn jackets or dresses with some kind of shoulder padding to serve as a built in rest -- akin to your wearable system.

I had to figure it out by trial and error, but in my experience to be able to shift freely with some weight on the hand, the thumb has to be active. The more you compensate with your shoulder/collar/jaw/head, the less the thumb has to do. Off the top of my head, Milstein comes to mind as the prime example of a balancer, although I can't quite recall whether or how he uses his thumb. Any Milstein students want to shed some light?


August 20, 2010 at 12:48 PM ·

That is a cool design. I can't wait to try it! I've seen a fancy shoulder rest that attaches to the clamps, but the rest itself extended further than yours so it would sit more toward the shoulder side of the collarbone. It probably flexed more than yours. I wish I could remember the brand -- it might have been a French company.

I'm just going by what I think I see and hear on the video, but I would still venture to guess that Smiley is more of a balancer than a holder. Even if the contact between collar and rest is static, the dynamic nature of the body ensures it's how one uses it (coordinates all it's various parts and states) that determines how closely the system resembles an ideal machine.

I would also venture to guess that the balancers rely on tactile feedback more than the holders, who rely more on change in pitch to guide their left hands.


August 20, 2010 at 02:58 PM ·

@Michael Toma

For some reason I am not able to see your video in my inbox, nor was I able to "approve" it.  You may want to post a link.


I'm not sure if I understand what you mean about balancing, but it sounds like you are referring to whether or not the left hand is required to support the instrument.  If so, then yes, if I drop my left hand, the violin will drop too.  If you have the technology, it would be great if you would post a video to clarify some of your other points.  It is so much easier to understand discussions about technique through videos. 

As far as my head being forward, yes I agree.  I never realized my head was so far forward until I viewed my own video.  I attribute it to a combination of bad posture and old age.  I must have slumped in my chair when I was younger.  Listen up kids, sit up straight, or you'll end up like me :-).  Are you saying I can correct this with AT? 


August 20, 2010 at 04:35 PM ·

 Smiley, you can ABSOLUTELY correct it with AT!

August 20, 2010 at 05:49 PM ·

Smiley, Thanks for the videos.  They give me hope that with the right chin rest I too shall stand straight some day and be able to shift without fear. 

I'd like to clarify something about my experience with John Cadd's device.  I liked it.  It is light and really does reduce the movement of the violin.   The scratch I felt was merely the end of one of the plastic ties; when I clipped it, the scratch was gone.  I did feel a bit of pull on the back of the neck that I found disagreeable; this may be because of my long thin build and a previous weakness there. (Although I have heard that saxophonists sometimes develop neck problems from their straps, which obviously support much more weight than a violin.)  Ultimately I decided to return it to John because, with the two friction pads, I had a little difficulty placing the violin with it and generally because I sensed that if I ever got the right chin rest I wouldn't need anything so elaborate.  With a fold of the anti-slip stuff you can buy to line kitchen shelves, I can already eliminate most slipping.  But I have to tilt my head more than Smiley to make good contact with my present, already very high, chin rest.

August 20, 2010 at 06:16 PM ·

I seem to be having a problem uploading my video to Smileys site/ though, it might still happen.  If it doesn't work this time, here's the link:

August 20, 2010 at 11:10 PM ·

Don, I'm sorry the vocal didn't come out loud enough.  I didn't think I'd upload that video because it was my first take and I hadn't prepared for it (I was experimenting) but I just uploaded it anyway.  I think I will make another.  And, yes, I am an advocate of no shoulder rest.  I got rid of mine over twenty or thirty years ago because I felt encumbered by it and needed more flexibility and fluidity to my movements.  I think it encourages better technique and better sound, but that is just my opinion and I don't fault anyone for using a shoulder rest if they feel the need to, I just won't advocate it.

My violin does point an inch or two to the left of the stand (in fact, my stand is black).  Of course, if I sway right, it goes further away, or I may point it a little downward or upward depending, or even tilt it significantly or keep it parallel with the ground depending.

The camera for this vid was attached to the top of my music stand.



August 21, 2010 at 03:30 AM ·


Thanks for posting the video.  In Jeewon's terms, I am a balancer, while you are a holder.  I noticed your violin stays in place, even when you drop your left hand.  You neck is relatively short, while your shoulders are fairly broad and horizontal.  In contrast, my neck is longer and my shoulders are more sloped, so if I drop my left hand, there is no way I can keep the instrument in place.  It just goes to show that different physiques can have a profound impact on how one holds the instrument and plays.

Regarding the issue of the left thumb getting stuck on the button when shifting into high positions, I think it is related to the above point.  I did not have that problem when I used a SR.  I assume it was because the thumb was more free, but now that I don't have a SR (and am a "balancer" as Jeewon puts it), the thumb must take on the role of supporting the instrument, therefore is more prone to getting stuck behind the button.

August 21, 2010 at 05:12 AM ·

Hi Smiley,

Yes, that's exactly what I meant by balancing. I hope I'm not being presumptuous or too forward in making this distinction. I don't want to perpetuate the polarization that seems to exist between SR users and non-users. But I think you've started an important discussion that could help those of us who struggle with optimizing setup. 

Carrying the head forward is quite common, I think -- I used to do it too. I don't know that it's such a bad thing in general. I only mention it because it causes a greater gap between jaw and collar. You might try simply tucking your chin in at first - just bring your chin closer to your adam's apple. If your neck is craned forward, this action will cause a strain down the back of your neck, especially if the head and neck hang from C7 (?). Hold it that way until you're aware of the strain, then simply unfold your neck, keeping the chin slightly tucked, always lifting up through the crown of your head. This action should relieve that strain you felt in the back of your neck. You might start to feel your shoulders and chest resisting this upward lift. Release the torso - you'll actually be releasing the compression you hold in your spine so that it extends, further raising your head up and forward. If you tuck your chin too much (like in a military stance) you'll again feel the strain along the back of your neck when you're fully extended, so keep it slight. The 'tucking in' motion of the chin helps to secure the fiddle without having to compress the neck. I can't quite remember where AT goes from there, but like I said, I don't know how to feel the torso, pelvis and lower legs, all moving forward and up at the same time. The shoulders down-and-back I got from a physiotherapist. I didn't really get the neutral pelvis thing until I started learning running technique. The Chi Running guy's horse stance looks something like this (I noticed there was a different stance when I googled it.)  It's been a long process reading a lot of books and searching the web, self-experimenting. I'm not sure how important all that is for most people, but it helped me be more aware.

I'll try to post some video as soon as possible to share some ideas about my most recent setup and current experimentation (having a little technical difficulty right now.) It's ironic that, having learned to balance my instrument over the past 10 years or so, I'm reverting to a hold resembling what Michael is advocating. The instrument sits on my collar and doesn't touch my shoulder, but I'm leaving my left arm hanging to the side of my ribs as a default position which of course makes the fiddle slope down. For all those years I believed in the ideal of holding the strings parallel to the ground, but I've finally admitted to myself that for me that posture is the exception rather than the rule. I thought I got the notion watching James Ehnes on his Homage DVD, but have since come to realize that it's quite a common way to play; I'd seen it all my life, but just chose to edit it out of my concept of violin posture (probably because of all that album art - woe, the power of marketing.)

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August 21, 2010 at 11:18 PM ·

Jeewon, I like your tucking in the chin advice to Smiley.  Perhaps that will help eliminate the left thumb getting stuck at the neck.  Smiley, I wish I could see you physically to better grip (no pun intended) an understanding about your anatomy to think up possible solutions.  I strongly feel that you could figure out...long neck and all...a simplified movement that would eliminate your problem.  I say 'simplified' because the more simplified a movement to get somewhere, the more efficient and less stressful it will be. I've done all sorts of crazy things to get my body to recognize how to do something that was in my brain, like bouncing up the fingerboard from first to highest position and back down again, while feeling continuous and unbroken contact (like bouncing on a tightrope) with the finger(s), until the hand just figures out how to do the 'right' thing.  I'm certain, long neck and all, that you can find a complete solution that will only make you happier.


August 22, 2010 at 12:51 AM ·

 I'm old enough to remember the gradual uptake of shoulder rests by violinists in the post-WW2 years. Specifically, when I was a cellist in my school orchestra in the 1950s I became aware of more and more shoulder rests being used as the decade progressed; the general impression being that this device was the new "sliced bread" and the automatic "answer" to all technical problems - utter nonsense of course.  So, as a cellist, I paid no more attention to it until I took up the violin a few years ago to play folk music.  Naturally, I followed the crowd and used a shoulder rest and was surprised to find how uncomfortable and awkward the thing was.  I experimented with three of four types for a while and then stopped using them after 6 months. I haven't looked back since.  Now I'm the only violinist in my chamber orchestra who doesn't use a SR, and one of the very few folk fiddlers in my area who doesn't use one.

I wonder why this mostly unnecessary scaffolding has come into general use, especially since the middle of the 20th century.  I suggest that someone thought of it, seeming like a good idea at the time, followed by a patent or two, and then the marketing chaps took over.  Once that got under way with all the associated advertising half-truths and worse there would have been no stopping it.  Occasionally, even world-ranking soloists would be seen using the new-fangled device, and my suspicion is that they would have been inveigled into it by contractual obligations. 


August 22, 2010 at 01:53 AM ·

  ...because not every single person is the same, and each player has unique and individual physical demands?

It's clear from our experience as teachers that the extreme positions entirely for or entirely against shoulder rests are not based on very sound reasoning. Our challenge is to find a solution that works for that specific student, not try to force them into a common physical mold.

We have fractional sized instruments because we don't expect all kids to play a full size from day one. Why should this logic of fitting the instrument to the student not apply when it comes to things like considering their neck length and/or shoulder slope?

For the record, I've played without shoulder rests on both violin and viola for over a decade now. I certainly do not expect everyone else to conform to what I consider ideal for my physique.

August 22, 2010 at 03:03 AM ·

Agreed Gene.  Rather than rehashing the shoulder rest (or not) debate, I was hoping to shed some light on the technical differences between using (or not using) shoulder rests.  If you look at Perlman or Oistrakh, they are heavy set and have very short necks, and therefore have no problem holding the instrument in place without a shoulder rest.  They may not even have enough space between their shoulders and the violin to fit a shoulder rest, so I would expect that neither would have felt comfortable playing with a shoulder rest.

I believe the wide prevalence of SR's is due to the fact that for most people, it is considerably easier to play WITH one.  Most people have necks that are longer than Perlman or Oistrakh and it helps to have something to stabilize the instrument.  This is certainly the case for me.  I have always used one and never thought to question it.  But as old age has set in, and the tension has caught up with me, I have decided to seek a more comfortable setup. 

Tension was my nemesis, but I have met SR users who seem to play relatively tension free.  My son's teacher for example, uses a SR and seems quite relaxed.  She does lift her left shoulder a bit, but she doesn't seem to complain about it.  However, if she is playing in pain, I'm not sure if she would publicize it to the world, so I can't say with certainty that the SR is a good long term setup for her.

Recently, Brian Lewis taught a masterclass and he plays with a SR, and has his head turned quite a bit to the left.  He also seems to have a fair bit of tension in his left side.  Don't get me wrong, he is an amazing violinist, but he does seem to play with quite a bit of tension.  I guess I would make the same statement about Joshua Bell.  At any rate, Mr Lewis seemed resolved to the "fact" that all violinists eventually suffer from neck and shoulder issues.  He did not say whether he personally was suffering from neck and shoulder issues, but I got the impression that he was.  I know that violin is not particularly ergonomic, but perhaps there are things we can do to make it more so. 

I'm a computer geek and sit in front of a computer multiple hours a day.  Some computer geeks get carpal tunnel syndrome from all the typing, but I have done quite a bit to make my workspace ergonomic and I am hoping that I do NOT get it.  I think violin is somewhat similar, except that there is the musical element to contend with.  If someone has developed a technique that requires a great deal of tension to achieve a particular sound, it is not so easy to change.  I can offer first hand experience to support that claim.  I started re-working my vibrato about 4 months ago, and am still far away from the final product.  Even though my technique with SR was bad (e.g., lots of tension), it was built on years of practice, and therefore was not easy to change.  Perhaps because change is so difficult, that is why many people stick with what they are doing and never pursue a more relaxed and sustainable setup. happens to be nearby, but if they were not, I'm not sure how I would have gotten fitted with a raised chin rest.  They had many sizes and shapes for me to try and were able to raise each one to the perfect height for me. I wonder if most top soloists have gone through that process.  It just seems that the area of violin ergonomics is so important, and yet almost completely overlooked.  People who are playing in pain seek help, but for the rest of us, we just play until we experience the symptoms, then we do something about it.  Wouldn't it be better if more teachers were more versed on violin ergonomics and tried to sort out the problems BEFORE they happen?

I think modern medicine is similar in a way.  Doctors seem to know so little about preventative medicine.  I haven't met a doctor yet that knows as much as I do about nutrition.  I also haven't met a doctor that is as healthy as I am.  But they sure know how to cure you AFTER you get all the nasty ailments from your unhealthy lifestyle.  Maybe they want it that way?  Let you get fat and sick, then they make money curing you.  Sorry for being so cynical, but I find it frustrating reading all the strong feelings for (or against) shoulder rests, but so little actual science to support why.



August 22, 2010 at 03:51 AM ·

smiley,  so we know using rest prompts your shoulder to shrug up which causes tension and discomfort.  by the way, just to be clear on the definition, by shrugging, i mean the motion of lifting the shoulder toward the ear, which actually is not a per se shoulder function, but from the contraction of trapezius.    trapezius is not part of shoulder range of motion.

playing restless does not cause tension and discomfort?  i ask this because i feel this point has not been clearly addressed by you.  in other words, if playing with rest elicits this shrugging reflex,  what exactly about restless playing block this reflex?  what if you play with rest but has no concern whether the violin is horizontal or not? if you master the balancing of the violin through thumb or what have you,  will your shrugging reflex be gone?    my understanding is that when you play restless, you need to move the violin "up and down" via true shoulder motions, but restless playing does not stop anyone from recruiting trapezius on top of shoulder motion because it is anatomically possible. 

so are we talking about that if we use shoulder motion only, the tension is more natural and acceptable, but if we also use trapezius in addition, then there will be discomfort due to prolonged tension?  we walk around the whole day with swinging arms with no discomfort from the range of motion of the shoulder in the swing arm motion but no one can tolerate shrugging and holding the shrug for long.   is that the point here?

there is mention of people playing in "tension".  in the other thread, there was mention of bell, here, some other well known players.

in my opinion, there are 2 situations where there is no tension.  actually, only one.

when the person is dead and no electrical activity is present inside the muscle cells anymore.

or,  when the person is "completely" relaxed.  but, even then, there is baseline electrical activity.  thus baseline tension.

so, when any violin player is playing, there has to be some level of tension.  regardless how easy or comfortable the violin hold, shoulder muscles will fire impulses regardless.  more tension, more firing.  less tension, less firing.  always some level of firing.

thus, i am a bit confused when others describe players playing in tension with a negative connotation.

are we talking about excessive tension, much more than we would like to see in ourselves?

well, how good are we in determining how much tension other exhibit just by looking at them from a distance, without inquiring them, or palpating the areas of interest? 

or, is it possible that  2  players on the stage play with similar violin hold, but one feels discomfort and the other does not and we cannot tell who is who? 

also, is that possible there are 2 broad groups out there, those playing with rests who also shrug:

1.  those who shrug but do not know how to relax the shrug. so, discomfort.

2.  those who shrug at times and know how to relax the shrug.  in other words, tension, relaxation, tension, relaxation, and so on.  no discomfort that is out of ordinary.


August 22, 2010 at 05:32 PM ·

playing restless does not cause tension and discomfort?  i ask this because i feel this point has not been clearly addressed by you.  in other words, if playing with rest elicits this shrugging reflex,  what exactly about restless playing block this reflex?


Good question and you are correct, I did not address this in my videos; perhaps because I have chosen (for now) to play without a shoulder rest, but did not want to come across as an anti-rester.  But to answer your question, yes, when playing without a shoulder rest, the shrugging reflex goes away because shrugging does no good; it just causes discomfort and tension, but does not help with playing the violin.  When a shoulder rest is present, shrugging lifts the instrument, and locks it into a stable position. 

In my SR days, I was relying on this locked position to shift and vibrate, and developed a technique that depended on it.  The technique that I developed allowed me to play at at decent level (i.e., I played Mendelssohn, Lalo, etc), with a shoulder rest, but it was a flawed technique in my opinion.  Ultimately, it was the excessive tension in my left side that led me to this conclusion. 

One thing I do not know is whether I could have used a SR and still had good technique without the shrugging and tension.  So far, none of my teachers has been able to adequately answer this question.  If I could figure out a way to use a SR without the undue tension in the left side, I would, but the shrugging reflex is so natural and deeply ingrained, that I am not able to do it --- yet. 


August 22, 2010 at 05:59 PM ·

 I think 'shrugging' is  A LOT MORE COMMON WITH a shoulder rest....

with a shoulder rest many people 'rely' on the rest to hold the violin 'completely', so when the playing calls for a change in the tilt/angling of the violin the shoulder will do it automatically as this will change the tilt/angle of the violin...

when you play without an SR you can shrug your shoulder all you like but this is 'unlikely' to give any result or enough of a result as the violin for many will touch that area or not touch it enough, your left hand is the one which 'controls' the violin so you move it with your left hand not your shoulder...

I think that is why shrugging of the shoulder and/or tension of it is much more common with an SR....

August 22, 2010 at 06:32 PM ·

 Shrugging is common if your setup doesn't work.

August 22, 2010 at 09:05 PM ·

if one uses a rest and plays without any shrug and without any discomfort, in what ways does a switch to playing without a rest improve playing?  sorry to be obtuse perhaps, but i just don't get it.

personally, i use a rest and i find it very comfortable.  it sits nicely on my shoulder/chest region. it never occurs to me to shrug up to keep the violin from slipping off.  in fact, there is no need for this clamping action.  the violin is balanced nicely from the lever actions of the chin area and the chest area. an elegant physics principle is in action, with downward vector at the scroll, upward vector at the chest/shoulder and downward vector at the chin.  as a bonus, the left hand is available to help out at times.  no one has to instruct me on that; it is intuitive.   but then again, i rarely practice or play.  i help my kid to tune her violin once in a while. i never had the pressure of playing hours after hours to meet a deadline.  i never practiced in stress to be someone that i am not.   i practiced so that i could play along with my kid until she became too much for me to handle.  so i basically quit.  no gain, but no pain.

my kid also uses a rest.  i have never seen her shrugging up.  in fact, from day one, as much as we tell her to keep the violin horizontal (since that seems to be the universal truth that everyone preaches), she has never been a champion in that regard.  she tends to point the scroll downward.  she never complains of any pain from violin playing, except fingertip pain one time.  again, she does not practice much and has no pressure to meet certain quota.  she is happy where she is and has no dream to perform on stage.  tough to shatter a dream if it is not there in the first place.

so is this rest problem the result of excessive practice or practice under a lot of pressure?  it seems that a lot of people--highly intelligent people i assume-shrug.  why?

i just don't understand! (shrug)

August 22, 2010 at 09:08 PM ·

John: <<<Compared to that the shoulder rest seemed like  a good idea.  Heifetz disapproved of them and when I looked up the Heifetz Society site I was surprised to see so many photos of pupils with ----Shoulder Rests.    In fact I tried to get in touch with them to ask some questions but so far I have not succeeded.  There must be a few members on this forum , surely.>>>>

I've noticed that myself.  I do have a funny story.  I told it before in another post so apologies if anyone doesn't find it funny.  This goes back to my first (and greatest) Violin teacher.  She studied for awhile with Yehudi Menhuin, yet she used a shoulder pad.  She didn't use a shoulder rest, just a piece of foam rubber she'd attach to the Violin, and insisted I use it.  After awhile I couldn't stand it anylonger and started practicing without it and using it when I had lessons lest I upset her.  One day I accidentally forgot to put it on my Violin and she said "WHAT IS THIS????"  I told her this is the way I've been practicing and this is how I'd like to hold the Violin.  She proceded to grab the scroll and pull on it and move it back and forth while I struggled to not let her yank the Violin from my grip.  I was quite a scene, but after her tirade, she gave in to my desire to play without one.  I never understood why a student of Menhuin would use a shoulder pad? I never asked her. 

To address another issue mentioned above, I will say that I constantly revamp my technique to get rid of tension in different areas.  I've had five surgeries to my hands for reasons other than playing the Violin so, in a way, that gave me the advantage of 'relearning' things multiple times, which proved to only improve my sound.  It's no mean task to get rid of tensions that shouldn't be there and allow the tensions that should be there (which in my mind and way, are never fixed for any significant amount of time to cause a problem with unessecary tension.  Tension in playing, of course, is necessary otherwise we'd be a bowl of jello in the floor, however, there are good and bad things about tension and how to manage it.  The most comfortable...seriously,,,the most comfortable and relaxed playing of a difficult passage is, in my mind, essential for good least for me.  Everyone's different so I can only speak of myself.  But I recall watching an interview of Pinkas Zukerman who said that if you watched Heifetz play, it was as if his violin and bow would just blow away if a gust of wind came in.  Or, at least something like that.  And the me, is that he exquisitely utilized the multiple points of tension necessary to play that the whole 'device' of his playing was one of relaxation,,,If this makes any sense)

August 22, 2010 at 11:03 PM ·

A high shoulder (shrugging)is caused from using a shoulder rest that is adjusted to low for the  gap between the chest/shoulder and chin .The kun type shoulder rest isn't designed for people with larger necks, the legs don't come up high enough.The Wolfe designs are better for fiddlers with higher necks and shoulders that slope. With a proper SR set up the shoulder will be leveled with the collar bone.When shifting above 7th position the higher SR will make this motion harder to do. A high chin rest is better for shifting  then a high shoulder rest .


August 22, 2010 at 11:36 PM ·

 Charles I think you are right, that is what I have experienced anyway, high shoulder rest= I found it hard to go higher than 6th/7th position just like you said! especially on G and D string, I switched to a high chin rest and that helped!


August 23, 2010 at 01:06 AM ·

Does anyone know the name of this type of chin rest? I've been seeing it around, it's an over the tailpiece model kind of like a Guarneri / Flesch hybrid. Clamps on the block, not on the side.  Looks pretty comfy:

August 23, 2010 at 05:28 AM ·

 Boris, the photo does not show where it clamps and it looks like it would clamp just by the left of the tailpiece....I don't know what chin rest that is, some are custom made....but its shape is very similar to a SAS chin-rest

August 23, 2010 at 10:28 AM ·

it is becoming clearer to me now it is not the use of the rest that leads to the shrug, not even poor fitting of the rest that leads to the shrug.  in fact, a case of extremely poor fitting, at least for many who do not use a higher chin rest, of the current generation or the older, is actually when it is restless. otherwise, there is no need to learn to balance the violin on top of playing it.  in most cases,  the use of the rest is, in fact, better fitting, so to speak.  it fills the gap better.  the violin is  better balanced on its own.  but, the story does not have to end with a happy ending, does it? :)

what causes the shrug is the intention to keep the violin horizontal without hand support, or minimal support, to suck the violin into the neck,  as i said in my first post.  the merit of horizontal playing is yet to be clearly established or defined, other than perhaps some aesthetic or postural concerns or ideals.   however, once the horizontal intention is in place, there is no stopping of excess. more shrug, more squeeze is the natural progression.  chronically, some folks just simply cannot stand it and the stress of violin playing manifests itself through the shrug.  a good thing turns bad.  i would venture further by suggesting that it is worth exploring whether emotional, cognitive, psychological difficulties associated with violin playing may manifest themselves through the shrug.  it becomes the grand central station for stress.  but, life is fair.  for those who do not play violin, they clench the jaw.  (i try not bring up those who shrug and clench)

everyone types in front of the computer, good ergo or not, but only some develop carpal tunnel syndrome from it.  some people using the rest are ok, others not.  it is an individual thing but the underlying current connecting those affected adversely is, imo, as proposed.  for smiley at least, he stated that when playing restless, his mind and body do not incorporate the shrug in the vilolin hold any more.  that is great, almost incredible in the sense that the solution to the problem seems to come from an external source (being restless), but not internally (to self control the shrug).  in the end, whatever works.   but guess what?  just by chance, some playing restless or switching to restless playing will shrug or continue to shrug.  just by chance, some will employ the shrug one way or another until the issue is explored and resolved, until a compromise is reached, where a decision is made on the use of the shrug, how much, how little... 

i am not certain if the current generation is hopeful or hopeless.   but here is my shout: 



August 23, 2010 at 02:54 PM ·

 Jo, I actually found it on a picture of a Storioni on Cozio.  It clamps over the center. I shot an email to Mr. Gartzman, who is selling it, but got no reply.

and the back

August 23, 2010 at 05:41 PM ·


I think the problem may be a bit more complex than you describe.  I don't know exactly when I started clenching.  I believe it was a gradual process that occurred over months or maybe years.  It was a long time ago, so it's hard to say.  I do not recall a great deal of clenching in the earlier years, but as I got to more advanced repertoire, in particular, the Mendelssohn VC, I think the clenching was quite pronounced. 

Here's my theory on where I went wrong.  As I started playing more difficult pieces, the vibrato and fast passages were facilitated by some downward pressure on the fingerboard.  What I mean is, I must have discovered that in some passages, it was easier to play them (or achieve the sound I was after) if I relied on the violin to be in a locked horizontal position.  That meant that the thumb did little to support the instrument and the downward pressure on the fingerboard required a compensating force on either the shoulder rest or chin rest or both.  Not paying much attention to this, and not having a teacher that could identify the clenching as a problem, it evolved into more and more clenching over the years.  Basically, I developed technique that relied on a locked and stable instrument.

However, I completely agree with your point and John's point about varying body types.  The length of the neck and shape and width of the shoulders can make a huge difference.  In Michael's video, he holds the violin in playing position with relatively little shrug.  Because I have a longer neck, and droopier shoulders, I would have to do an extreme shrug to do that, and even then the violin still would not stay in place. 

 [edit] To further illustrate my point about relying on a locked and stable violin, try playing while the scroll of the violin is propped against the wall (use a sponge between the scroll and the wall to prevent damage).  Now, try vibrating.  You will be able to generate a wide and free vibrato.  But at the same time, you are relying on the wall to keep the violin horizontal.  This is essentially what I was doing, except rather than a wall, I was relying on the dreaded "shrug" and clenching to keep the violin in place.

August 23, 2010 at 06:09 PM ·

Smiley what you are saying makes perfect sense to me, I can see how you ended up in the 'vicious cycle' of shrugging/clenching......good to see you have found a solution for it :) 

August 24, 2010 at 01:16 AM ·

"Not paying much attention to this, and not having a teacher that could identify the clenching as a problem, it evolved into more and more clenching over the years."

smiley, that is unfortunate and with your experience hopefully others can explore their own issues, either current ones to tackle with or ones to prevent.  the timeline is also interesting, that as you took on more technical pieces, things got worse.  i will make sure my kid pays attention to this potential trend. 

your mention of the vibrato is also interesting.  it seems that if the vibrato is technically immature or incorrect,  other parts are recruited as compensation.

have you developed a different type of vibrato with the new set-up?

August 24, 2010 at 01:52 AM ·

have you developed a different type of vibrato with the new set-up?

Absolutely.  My previous vibrato would not work at all without a shoulder rest.  The violin would shake so violently, that I would not be able to draw a steady bow.  I think I have a pretty good handle on shifting and most other issues, but vibrato still eludes me.  I have been working with my teacher, but still have not found the ideal solution, but I think I am getting close.

The issue really has to do with the thumb and the best placement to achieve a relaxed and wide vibrato, while at the same time, being able to support the instrument.  These two goals are contradictory in a way.  To achieve a wide vibrato, having the thumb under the neck allows more freedom of motion in the wrist and fingers.  But in order to support the instrument, the most stable position is to have the thumb on the side of the neck (rather than under it). This allows the neck to sit nicely (and securely ) in the space between the thumb and base of the index finger.

One of my former teachers actually taught me to play with my thumb under the neck, but later, another teacher taught me to keep the thumb on the side of the neck.  I don't think there is a clear consensus on this point.  In fact, I am coming to the conclusion that the thumb position must change constantly, depending on the piece and the vibrato needed.  Perhaps some of the teachers out there might care to chime in?

November 28, 2010 at 03:31 PM ·

Hi John,

Indeed, your neck collar has made it possible for me to play without a shoulder rest, and completely tension free.  However, I now struggle with a different problem.  Earlier this year, I started playing 2-3 hours a day without breaks, and the fingertips on my left hand started hurting.  The pain is most pronounced in the index finger, but also affects the 2nd and 3rd fingers. 

I took 2 months off and got accupuncture, and am now back to playing 1 hour per day.  I don't know if the fingertip issue was caused by ditching the SR, or simply overuse.  When playing without an SR, the mechanics of the left hand change, so it seems possible more fingertip pressure is required to accommodate the thumb movements in supporting the instrument with the left hand.

November 28, 2010 at 07:58 PM ·

Sounds like VERY bad left hand technique!

You should be able to play 6 hours a day for 6 or 7 days a week without problems.

Otherwise how could you hold a job down in a band?

November 28, 2010 at 08:28 PM ·

You may not have changed your finger pressure at all to acquire a new injury.  As we age, we lose some of the thickness in the padding on our fingertips.  I struggle with over-pressing, and it has nothing to do with my lack of shoulder rest, because I pressed even more before I ditched it.  If I begin to notice any sensitivity (for me, in the 3rd finger, because I often substitute it for 4th finger for better tone in my vibrato), I spend time practicing passages with no finger pressure at all.  It helps. 

How often do you haveto get your fingerboard planed?

November 29, 2010 at 08:09 PM ·

I believe that playing without a shoulder rest is much harder than playing with out one. I have been playing for about 5 years now, and I am way over the level a 5 year experienced violionist should be. I have just started using a shoulder rest about a year and a half ago. Before i started using my shoulder rest, it was way harder for me to change shifts, also it was harder for me to keep my violin in the correct position. Since then, I have been using my shoulder rest for every performance and practice.

November 29, 2010 at 11:05 PM ·


I have to agree with you -- definitely easier to play with a SR.  Actually I put on a SR this morning for about 30 minutes (first time in about a year) and it was definitely easier.  But, I also started getting tension in my left shoulder so I removed it.


Perhaps some specific advice about what I can do to improve my technique might be helpful.  But a blanket statement that my technique is terrible is not particularly enlightening nor encouraging.

November 30, 2010 at 02:26 AM ·

@ al ku "... the merit of horizontal playing is yet to be clearly established or defined, other than perhaps some aesthetic or postural concerns or ideals."

I can think offhand of at least two reasons for playing horizontal (i.e. the strings parallel to the floor) – 
1) the bow is far less likely to go wandering down towards the fingerboard (which can be death to the tone in some circumstances), and it is easier both to bow parallel to the bridge and to play closer to the bridge for the higher positions; bowing control is therefore that much easier;
2) the back of the violin emits about as much volume of tone as the front, so if you play with the violin dropped below the horizontal more of the tone is going to be directed towards your torso and absorbed rather than away from you towards the listener, as it should be;
3) the horizontal violin position makes it easier to reach the highest positions (although that may be personal to me);
4) the horizontal violin position helps with an upright posture, which is not merely just aesthetic, it is more efficient –  back, shoulder and neck problems should be rendered minimal or non-existent; breathing is also better, which helps with relaxation and tone production.  However, it is worth noting that an aesthetic posture is attractive to an audience, it gives them confidence in you, and it in turn gives you confidence.

I started using the shoulder rest when I started playing the violin – well, everyone else used one, so it was obviously the right thing to do, wasn't it?  After about 6 months I realized I wasn't comfortable with it so I took it off as an experiment.  Two days later I could see no reason to put it back on, and it's been like that for the last nearly 10 years, both for folk music and latterly for classical orchestral playing.  Playing sans SR means I can move the violin to exactly where I want it as the music requires (the violin is not restricted to a single spatial position), and reaching the highest positions is easier.




November 30, 2010 at 02:44 AM ·


I would concur that the merits of playing with the violin horizontal are established.  In fact,  I like the violin slighly higher.   I can`t for the life of me remeber who said it but I have a memorable quote in my head  from a greta player about how `Auer recognized the need to hold the violin higher,  thereby creating freedom for the left hand.`  (Or something like that.)

The bow slippage with a low violin is a serious problem and it really does take extra effort to keep the bow in place which puts exra tension in the bow hand.   I would alos add a more significant reason even than this, though.  When the violin i shelp up the weight of the instrument falls into the bodyand the violin feels like it is floating. With a lower scroll the weight of the violin falls down through the scroll. In this case if one is not using ba rest ther eis terrible stress placed on theleft hand and arm.  If one is using a rest incorrectly then this feeling of the violin slipping away from you is generally compensated for by increasing the eight of the rest which results in more slippage in an every increasing circle of tension.   This is one of the most widespread problems in violin playing thta I know of.   A lot of problems ith shoulder rest use are often best got rid of by doing the exact opposite:  lowering it.



November 30, 2010 at 04:49 AM ·

Sensei Buri, nice to have you back.  There is something I don't understand about your post.  On the one hand, you recommend keeping the scroll higher, but at the same time, you also suggest using a lower shoulder rest.  Seems like these are conflicting goals.  When I use my old Kun SR, I need to lift my left shoulder, otherwise, the scroll is too low, so I figured I would need a higher SR (if I were to use one) in order to get the scroll up higher without resorting to the dreaded shoulder shrug. 

@Pierre, Thanks for taking the time to respond.  Answers below:

1. I do try to bring the elbow around to the right to facilitate the left hand, but it is entirely possible that I need to bring it around more.  I will try to post a video to give you a better look.

2. Although I do not have a custom chin rest, I did try out quite a few styles and heights.  I visited with Lynne Denig with and they specialize in fitting chin rests to players.  I think my chin rest is good, but not ideal.  It is fairly comfortable, but I do not feel as if I am able to hold the violin securely with my chin.  Not sure if that is a problem or not.

3. Yes, I try to apply as little pressure as possible, but it is entirely possible that I am pressing too hard.  My teacher showed me an exercise where you start with light bow, and light fingers, then gradually increase bow pressure while keeping the left fingers light.  This exercise serves to decouple the right and left hands and I practice it for a few minutes each day.

4. Yes, I do that when my fingertips are too sensitive.  It helps, but it is not possible to play that way all the time.

To answer your other question, I generally practice sitting.  In the Honey Suckle Rose video, I was using a shoulder rest.  It is possible that I had the violin lower than usual because I am not used to playing with cables attached to my fiddle.  But you are right.  In general, I probably need to raise the scroll a bit.


November 30, 2010 at 05:16 AM ·


I just checked out your web site and your videos are terrific.  In watching, I noticed that you are blessed with a short neck and broad shoulders.  With your physique, it would be virtually impossible to find a shoulder rest that would fit in the non-existent gap between the bottom of the violin and your shoulder.  When you drop your left hand, the violin stays in place with little or no shoulder shrug.  I am not able to do that since my neck is much longer than yours, and my shoulders are droopier.  I am not complaining.  Hillary Hahn also has a long neck and droopy shoulders, and it doesn't seem to hinder her -- just pointing out a very important difference between our physiques.

November 30, 2010 at 06:32 AM ·


Hi Smiley. As always with violin playing,  a picture is wortha thousand words, especially spelt like mine.    I actually don`t find a contradiction in `On the one hand, you recommend keeping the scroll higher, but at the same time, you also suggest using a lower shoulder rest.`  .  One can lower or raise both the scroll end and the arse-end.   If the violin is horizontal then by lowering the shoulder rest the arse-end is autmatically lower than the scroll.  I am actualy unhappy with the term `horizontal violin.`  If the back of the violin is held paralel to the floor then the strings actually slope downwards which I am veyr opposed to.   In order for the strings to be parallel with the floor one =has- to have the scroll higher than the arse-end   .  This can be achieved by owering the shoulder rest.   

John`s invention is both thought provoking and helpful.   (Just tacked that on at the end because he is so generous with his time and efforts in the cause of violin playing.)



November 30, 2010 at 11:41 AM ·

Just thought I'd share my experience with the SR and the scroll 'higher than the arse' as Buri puts it ;)

I used to have my SR set up pretty high to achieve this, then after a lot of experimentation I found out a much better solution:

I now have a much higher chin rest (I am temporarily using a SAS 35mm whilst waiting for my custom made Teka 35mm from Lynne from as the SAS is too narrow for my prominent chin) and my SR (a Kun bravo) is now LOWER (as Buri recommends) as a result.

The higher chin rest has helped the violin to now be firmly against my collarbone, the violin is more stable, my tone has improved, my vibrato has improved, I don't lift my shoulder anymore, I don't 'come down' to the violin with my head/neck as much anymore (I still do a little out of habit as I did for the past 3 years and 10 months and now have to undo the habit, am working on it with Alexander Technique, have been taking lessons for 6 months now).


@Smiley: just wondering why your chinrest is 'ok/comfortable' and not 'perfect', a custom made one I'd hope it was 'perfect' (ideally anyway?) do you think you have to go for a 're-fit'?

November 30, 2010 at 04:04 PM ·

Smiley, about that thing of holding the scrool higher...

As someone with also a long neck and narrow unsupportive bony shoulders (who would wish to also be blessed with tiny neck and broader shoulders!), I think that it's an effort for us to hold the scrool higher.  It's more difficult than for a short necked person.  Much more... but it worths it.

Everytime I see a long neck player on videos or live at the music faculty, I notice a very high rest and the scrool pointing downwards.  (also notice this very much in highly skilled symphony orchestras... I also blame the too low music stands for that)   Perhaps holding the scrool higher is an extra muscular effort and many probably finds that too exhausting...  But they shouldn't because it helps so much for the playing and shifting. 

I think the problem with long neck people to hold the scrool high is that since our neck is so long, our shoulder muscles have to work really hard to lift the left arm/hand high ennough so that the scrool can become slightly lifted (towards the ceeling, not towards the floor).  

I imagine that someone with a shorter neck like Itzhak Perlman (and the others alike) who would lift their left hand/harm as much as what would be required for a long neck person to have the scrool held high would have their left arm/hand lifted maybe higher than the height of their head!!!   Not to mention that someone with sloppy shoulders have to lift the left arm/hand even higher than someone with straight shoulers.  Long neck+ sloppy shoulders put together = a very high gap.

See how a long neck has to work harder than a short neck person to hold the scrool high.   (we would need longer arms to go with our long neck but it's not usually the case!) 

Though I think we, long necks, benefit to build up that extra muscular endurance and hold our scrools high just as anyone else.  In my opinion, it is truely an advantage for the playing to hold the scrool (slightly higher than lower) and I think it worths the extra effort it takes from us!

Just my thoughs ie: 2 cents (from what I observed...) 



November 30, 2010 at 04:51 PM ·

"I believe the wide prevalence of SR's is due to the fact that for most people, it is considerably easier to play WITH one. "

Interesting that you said that after telling that most people were not like Perlman and Oistrakh in terms of neck and shoulders...

In fact, I've noticed that since the shoulder rest has appeared on the market, some much more delicate build players have appear as well! 

Obviously there have always been more "bulk up" and more "delicate" people but before the rest era, I noticed a much narrower variety of anatomy in players.  Basically, so many were rather "bulk up" with short neck, broad shoulders and thick fingers.  Perhaps Menuhin and Heifetz (Haendel and Neveu too of course) were the most physically "delicate" and slender players out there.  And we now know that nowadays, one can find even much more delicate and slender players than Menuhin and Heifetz as professionnal soloists.  (I can just think of all these Japanese and European woman soloists)

Maybe I'm wrong but I think the rest allowed a much wider variety of "body shapes" to play the violin and to a quite good standard...   (that's a good point to the rest)

Of course, this is not scientifical.  It's just my observations.

Now, one can question itself about if that + the synthetic strings had an effect or not on the overall general violin sound and it is not my business to debate about that... (since it can start a violin wolrd war! lol)

In the end, I guess it's just about dealing with what nature gave us even if we're not always happy with it!!!  Pros and cons to everything and it could be worst... no violin at all...


November 30, 2010 at 06:25 PM ·

@Smiley: just wondering why your chinrest is 'ok/comfortable' and not 'perfect', a custom made one I'd hope it was 'perfect' (ideally anyway?) do you think you have to go for a 're-fit'?

@Jo, when you say "custom" I think of a chin rest that is specially cut (one of a kind) to suit your anatomy.  That is not what I have.  When I visited with Lynne Denig, I tried many different styles of chin rests and also tried them with varying heights.  I purchased a stock chin rest that fit me best -- not really a custom chin rest by my definition -- although you could argue that it was custom fit.

[edit] @Pierre who posted same time I did.  I agree completely.  By starting this thread, I am not advocating ditching the SR.  I chose to stop using an SR for the time being to release the tension I was experiencing in my left side.  I have spent the past 8 months reprogramming my vibrato to make it steadier and increase the amplitude.  In the long run, I hope this change will benefit my playing.


November 30, 2010 at 06:31 PM ·


On your video about scroll up higher you worry about keeping the bow straight with the bridge all the time. Don't. Watch Milstein at the point, it's never straight!

Whatever you do DON'T push the bow arm forward to compensate!!

November 30, 2010 at 06:45 PM ·


Thanks for the suggestion.  I did not mean to imply that the bow should be straight.  In fact, as you point out, the bow is never straight.  To pull a full tone, on a down bow, the tip is angled towards the body, while it is the opposite on an up bow (tip points slightly away from the body).  There have been a number of threads regarding figure 8 bowing and/or crescent bowing relating to this subject.  This is a relatively new concept that was being taught by Galamian and Delay, but I don't know if the concept even existed in Milstein's prime.  At any rate, my point was that changing the height of the scroll changes the bow angle.

December 1, 2010 at 03:22 AM ·

Hi John.  Good point!  I did not say if Menuhin was slender or not... He trained much and did yoga.  I just said that by comparison with many others who were more "bulk up"  or perhaps less slim than him, he was one of the lighter of his era...

Am I mistaken if he was also one of the first one to invent a rest?  My teacher told me about some Menuhin rests who were in the first ones on the market.

Now of course, much lighter build people than Menuhin play violin. 

I was just trying to point out that since the rest appeared, physionomy of players seem to have change to something averagly "lighter", "slimmer". 

Maybe I'm very wrong but my assumption was that the rest allowed more people of different builds (shapes) to play the violin. 

I personally too find that good players are to be found in both schools!  (a good new!) 


December 1, 2010 at 04:23 AM ·


rests were around along time before Menuhin put his forward.   Actually I like his. To m mind it has two importnat features. First, it is quite low and second it doesn`t try to conform to some supposed shape of the shoulder.  The original is no longer in production but ther eis an almost identical version produed somewhere in Europe. To my mind it is a poor imitation.  The rets didn@t suit a lot of people but a lot of veyr good players i know have sworn by it over the years.



December 1, 2010 at 01:32 PM ·

There is a detailed discussion of the problems violinists with long necks can have in,  (in English). Basically, the thesis is not to go down the route of more and more elaborate SRs but to design a chin rest that is high enough for the individual.  The website is from the music department of the University of Utrecht. 


December 1, 2010 at 04:41 PM ·

Buri and Trevor, thanks for the info!   What you say is interesting about the Menuhin rest!


December 1, 2010 at 06:28 PM ·

I recorded myself this morning.  Perhaps someone can see something in my technique that might be causing my fingers to ache.  If so, please let me know.  Sorry for all the wrong notes, but I was a little pressed for time and didn't feel like doing a second take.  Obviously, the Chaconne is not ready for prime time. :-)

Really bad bach


December 1, 2010 at 11:04 PM ·

Smiley, looking at your latest video, the first thing I focussed on was your left hand, its movements, and your fingering. Nothing there at all looks like bad left-hand technique, as was suggested earlier. Take away your face and the sound, and everything looks just like any (even famous) accomplished player (meaning, your posture, movements, angles and attitude look just like this).

One thing I did notice, as you turned to show the other side of your hand, was that you seem to be fingering more with the fleshy pad that with the ball of the fingertip. Not saying this is wrong (although I use balls of fingertips always), but could that be one reason why the tips are uncomfortable and sore? That, plus playing for an hour without a break, might explain it. Now I know people play long sessions, but is there ever a solid hour without a break?

About the rest-less playing, and its issues. If you remember, some time ago I put up a video explaining the mechanics of why I use it :

Now, what I'm leading up to is this : in that video the shoulder rest supports the violin and gives me total comfort and freedom of the left hand. People have commented on the fact that this setup restricts the rotary movement of the instrument (violin rotated through the neck axis, while the body is still parallel to the floor). Now for anyone who feels the need to do this (I certainly don't), what do you think of the idea of a "halfway" shoulder rest, which had sprung legs (think miniature car coil spring suspension), so that there was the ability to rotate, while still being held firmly between shoulder and chin? Just an idea ... it might just give you the freedom to play in the same way you do with your current setup.

What say you , Professor Cadd? :)


December 2, 2010 at 01:58 AM ·

Smiley, I'm not a teacher at all and  not even doing that Chaconne but I usually do know some technique basic principles and your technique looks good visually.  (for what I can tell...)

I just mean nothing awful or very badly positioned at first sight : ) 

For one thing, your head is very straight and that is a challenge for long necks.  It's a very good point of yours. 

Bravo and good luck!  Is the collar support John Cadd's invention or your own? I also put a pad with elastics under my violin and recently I fold towels on my shoulder too. I like very much that bi support idea.  One on the neck/shoulder and the other on the violin.  Find it comfortable!      


John, happy to hear about your experience with that rest.  I am not the one to ask for the shoulderless dress.  I'm not at that stage in my evolution yet... (and perhpas will never!)  You mostly play with shoulderless beautiful dresses when you are a soloist in famous halls right? : - )

December 2, 2010 at 02:17 AM ·

I personally find that if I'm balanced too much on my index finger and stretching for the forth finger by bending the wrist out I get a strange sensation in my fingertips (strangely enough I find it's worst in my first, second, and third fingers when I'd expect the fourth)

Are the base knuckles are sticking out in high positions? (It's hard to see from that angle...)


December 2, 2010 at 03:48 AM ·

@Anne Marie,

I am using the Cadd Pad.  So far it is the best solution I've tried for playing without a shoulder rest.


I am definitely open to the idea of using a shoulder rest again if only I can find one that is comfortable and does not  promote tension.  A few weeks ago, I visited the local violin shop and tried a few SR's and came home with a Bon Musica.  It felt pretty good in the shop, but after about 30 minutes of playing, my left shoulder started getting achy.  That was the end of that -- anyone interested in purchasing a Bon Musica SR?

As for my achy fingers, I would not rule out bad technique, but I also think it is possible that somehow, I am just prone to this condition -- just like I get achy feet if I stand too long.  Surely, that isn't due to me having bad standing technique.  I have no calluses whatsoever on my left fingertips.  In fact, if you examine them compared to my right hand, you will not see any difference.  So that makes me think that I am not pressing too hard. I guess I can blame it on my mother for not making me eat more vegetables when I was little :-)


December 2, 2010 at 04:21 AM ·

I was in a car accident where this drunk dude ran into me at full speed while I was stopped at a red light. I had to get some physical therapy and one day this woman (I think from the Philippines) who was working on me said, "do you know you don't have a neck?" Well I had not realized that at the time but what she meant is that I have a short neck compared to most people. Not only do I not use a shoulder rest but took the chin rest of my violins and that seems to fit me fine. I thought I would mention that, in case someone thinks this is a bad idea and I should do something different.

December 2, 2010 at 01:24 PM ·

Hi Smiley,

By any chance, are you striking the string with the middle (along the mid-line) of the fingertip, where the tip of the bone lines up?


December 2, 2010 at 02:02 PM ·


Looking at your most recent video your playing shows a lot of promise. There does not appear to be too much wrong with your left hand, and I think it is good that you use the pads rather than the tips of your fingers. Try not to let the wrist bend out too often (I know we all do it).

Of course you need to work a bit more on the intonation side of things, as we all do, and that means lots of careful ear training in every piece you do.

The sound on your video was rather low, or is that my computer? I had everthing turned up to maximum.

December 2, 2010 at 03:28 PM ·

Grabbing the last post; will edit later. 


Well, I think the SR debate is by far the most controversial subject on this board -- perhaps analogous to the abortion debate between Democrats and Republicans.  My purpose for starting this thread was not to debate whether an SR is a good idea, but rather to discuss the specific techniques relating to the use (or not) of SR's.  I appreciate all the advice and opinions offered here and hopefully, people will benefit from these ideas down the road...with or without a shoulder rest.

I think my main takeaway from this discussion is that violin setup does not follow a "one size fits all" approach.  Anyone that says SR's are good, or SR's are bad is missing the point.  The key is that we all have unique anatomies and it is important to experiment with the setup to find something that is both comfortable in the long term and allows the best opportunity for technical and musical growth. 

A year ago, I used a SR, now I don't.  Next year, I may use one again.  Now that I have a clearer understanding of the advantages and disadvantages, I feel that I am in a better position to make that choice.

[Additional Edit]

I wanted to thank Jeewon Kim and Roland Roberts who wrote to me directly and offered additional tips to help with my achy fingers. 

May 15, 2011 at 09:33 PM ·

Congratulations on this wonderfully detailed and highly informative thread!

This being said, I hope that with this magnificent thread we may (can, must and will) put this "SR/ no SR" debate to eternal rest. A wooden stake and a mouthful of garlic should do the trick.

I beg you people, no more "SR/ no SR" necromancy! It has been done to death (and beyond).

PS: Once again, thank you for the wonderful videos.

May 16, 2011 at 12:05 AM ·

Any additional tips for itchy fingers?  Don't be rude. 

May 16, 2011 at 01:46 AM ·


I still don`t get it. Should we use a shoulder rest or not?



May 16, 2011 at 02:23 AM ·

As I've said before, I played without SR all the way from beginner stage till I was 18 y/o.  Then I tried an SR and liked playing with one better than without.

What I did dispense with, right around that time, was the jacket and tie -- and good riddance.  Can't manage both SR and the traditional performer's garb at the same time -- one or the other had to go.

To each his own -- we're all so different -- one size won't fit all -- one solution won't fit all -- no right or wrong answer on this subject.

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