Positioning of the violin when playing without a shoulder rest?

February 26, 2011 at 01:58 AM ·

 I'm experimenting playing without a shoulder rest. I think I like it (especially the tone quality) but quick question--when playing without a shoulder rest, what role does the actual shoulder play in stabilizing the violin? When looking over past discussion topics, everyone says that the violin rests on the collar bone, but the collar bone extends all the way out into the shoulder joint. 

Basically...is this correct

or is this?

Replies (36)

February 26, 2011 at 07:52 AM ·

I think most people teach the second picture. Is that Heifetz? Lift it up off the shoulder. But I like it all the way down on the shoulder like the 1st picture without a rest. Both are good. But I think you should use a cloth cuz you will wear out the varnish when you sweat.

February 26, 2011 at 08:14 AM ·


the collar bone goes into the shoulder joint is  sort of vague.  Actually the collar bone is free floating at one end. Guiess which one? 

It is not correct to say that one teaches haivng a raised shoulder without a rest.  Quite the opposite.  I have had teachers (very great players) who said the shoudler had to be raised during a shift.  However, I disagree with this too.   The violin is held with the left hand. That is also a little misleading.  The left hand is an exctension of the arm which connects all the way down to the right kidney area of the back and the whole structure is supported by a freely floating head.  This cocnept is most easily udnerstood by taking Alexander Lessons.

The position of the violin is based to a large extent on the ability to play  at the tip of the bow without lockign out the ruight elbow joint.   The violin should float freely with the string at least parallel to the floor. This actually neceesitates a high scroll.



February 26, 2011 at 01:08 PM ·

Please visit my website http://rkviolin.com

Go to "writings" then "Fundamentals of holding the violin".

Also v. the discussion on SR 101 from about a week ago, where we get into the chinrest a lot.

February 26, 2011 at 01:22 PM ·

 This is the right way:

Anne-Sophie Mutter plays Beethoven trios.

February 26, 2011 at 01:29 PM ·

 Pierre, can I ask: what do you exactly mean by the end button at the 'centre of the neck'? (sorry to be so pedantic), do you mean a specific point ie: by the middle of your trachea (voice box)? because in my case it would not be there, but it is rather quite a bit to the left as I use a flesch chin rest (same as Mutter) so my end button ends up pretty much near the ligament which helps our head to keep in balance (forgot what it's called now!), but yes, my violin ends up more up to the left just like Anne Sophie Mutter....

and by the way I found Raphael Klayman's page very helpful when I was learning the rudiments of holding the violin with no rest, thank you Raphael :)

February 26, 2011 at 05:54 PM ·

Walk down a busy street and look at all the variations on the human shoulder: parallel to the ground, leaving the neck at an almost 45 degree angle, narrow, broad, bony, well-padded, head set right on shoulders, head several inches above.  Then explain how there's just one good way to do this.

February 26, 2011 at 06:51 PM ·

Heifetz had the right idea.  You don't need to fill the space beneath the violin in order to play it.  I personally play with about a square inch of contact just to the left of the center of my collar bone and just to the left of the end button.  Students of mine with a bustier physique naturally have a little more surface contact, but if you are holding your violin with the strings parallel to the ceiling, the underside slopes upward.  I don't know of anyone who slopes upward from their collarbone.  But many people (myself previously included) move the violin further to the left, drop the scroll, and bring the shoulder up to support it.  My technique and relaxation improved quite a bit when I broke that habit.

February 26, 2011 at 06:56 PM ·

cant say exactly where my fiddle sits without a shoulder rest.  but i know i cannot wear a turtleneck because it slides all over the place.  i hate all kinds of shoulder rests, feel they distance me from the music.  

February 26, 2011 at 07:56 PM ·

If Mutter wasn't a pro, and she came here for advice, the standard response would be:

"You're doing it incorrectly.  Please get an instructor"

Mutter is guilty of stick pinky finger on the right hand,  bareskin shoulder support,  and an absurdly inaccessible g-string because the violin is way above her left ear-line.  

But since she is a pro, her posture is impeccable.  lol.

February 26, 2011 at 09:35 PM ·

Just took another look at Mutter in a DVD I have of her playing the Mendelssohn concerto. It's a little frustrating when you're particularly looking for something and the camera crew focuses elsewhere! But one thing that I notice re the G string is that she raises her right arm more than average for the G. Couldn't see what she was doing with her left arm at such times. I'll look another time at the rest of the all Mendelssohn DVD, which includes the piano trio in d and the sonata in F.

It's excellent playing throughout, btw. I must say, though this is really off-topic, that while I'd been an ardent admirer of her for many years, some recent recordings of hers that I've caught on the radio have puzzled and disappointed me. I'm thinking off-hand of the Mozart sonata in e, and the Kreisler Lebeslied. To me, these interpretations seem mannered, self-indulgent and just peculiar. There are long patches of vibrato-less playing - I mean loooong - slow, streched-out phrases and slow-motion portamenti, etc. I'm definitely not a believer in applying the same vibrato all the time - but applying the same non-vibrato so much is just strange. And slower isn't always more profound. Sometimes slower is just slower. Well this DVD is quite good.

February 26, 2011 at 09:39 PM ·

Ms. Mutter does hold the instrument differently from Mr. Heifetz.  Well she uses that Carl Flesch chinrest which goes in the center over the tailpiece necessitating her to hold the instrument more on the shoulder.  Heifetz's violin rested more so on the collarbone with very little shoulder contact which is most ideal because this way there's less actually coming into contact with the back plate of the instrument - the more that comes into contact with the instrument hampers its vibrations. 

My teacher who was Heifetz's student told me he worried about breathing too heavily while standing next to Heifetz, because he thought he might accidentally blow the violin out of his hands.  That's how relaxed he said Heifetz was.

February 26, 2011 at 10:43 PM ·

 it really must be down to people's physique as well, as although I use the same chinrest as Mutter and as a result the violin is a bit more up to the left, on me the body of the violin does not touch my shoulder AT ALL! (body of the violin will be about a centimetre to a centimetre and a half away) Obviously my shoulders must slope down more than Mutter's shoulders LOL

but the centred chin rest does really help me balance the violin better I have noticed and it does help with straight bows up to the very tip where I don't have to strain my arm so much anymore.

February 26, 2011 at 10:54 PM ·

 nice video Pierre :)

where did you get that chin rest by the way? was it made for you?

I see what you mean about the end button now by the way, I put it in the same place as you :) pictures/videos are so much better than words sometimes

I have to say though, I cannot hold my violin parallel to the floor without the aid of my left hand like you, just goes to show that although my neck is not long and it is normal I'd say, my shoulders are not really that straight and have a bit of a slope (guess maybe most people would fall in this category).  Does not bother me and does not hinder me in any way and I can still tune my violin fine, it just slopes downwards whilst tuning then I just pick it up with my left hand and keep it strings parallel to floor whilst playing :)

February 27, 2011 at 02:09 PM ·

 Thanks everyone for the great responses! I still feel like I'm doing it wrong...I have bony shoulders, and when the violin isn't touching my shoulder, it hurts my collar bone. I don't want it to touch my shoulder though, because it mutes the sound. But I also don't want a bruise on my collar bone...dilemmas. 

February 27, 2011 at 03:07 PM ·

Hi Kaelyn,

I ditched the SR a little over a year ago.  I made a few videos relating to playing restless.  You might find this one helpful.

Proper setup for playing without SR

February 27, 2011 at 03:53 PM ·

 Thank you so much, Smiley! That helped a ton. I already owned a raised chinrest, but the pad over the collarbone solved all my issues. I found a cosmetic pad, and built it up (less than a centimeter--a teeny tiny amount) with a cotton round. How did you attach it with rubber bands? that's the one thing I can't figure out. 

February 28, 2011 at 12:26 AM ·

Just hook one side of the rubber band on the button and the other side to the c-bout.   If your button does not protrude enough to hook a rubber band on it, you might be able to loop around the chin rest

February 28, 2011 at 12:48 AM ·

Sorry.  I meant the end pin, not the button

February 28, 2011 at 09:37 PM ·

Heifetz` thumb is miles away from his first position fingers , He is either reaching up before a shift or has left his thumb in place while the fingers moved down .

He is clearly clutching the neck of the violin between the high thumb position and the side of the index finger.  Given that he is not supporting the violin with the shoulder, how is it possible to perform vibrato with the considerable friction in either case?

February 28, 2011 at 10:28 PM ·

I  think John is right. And Heifetz never cluthced. Read Nate's post.

March 3, 2011 at 09:28 PM ·

Kaelyn, if it's any help, what I was taught when I threw away my shoulder rest was to stand with my hands at my side. Then bring up the left arm (with the violin of course) in over the left shoulder until it just about reaches your neck, and then just turn your head sideways onto the chinrest. No reaching out with the neck or anything - just purely turn the head. So basically the violin just sits there and is held up with the left hand. And throwing away the shoulder rest was the best thing I've done. Good luck - I remember it took ages before I felt secure, having been used to gripping with the shoulder (Ugh!)

March 4, 2011 at 04:29 AM ·

 A few suggestions and a comment at the end about Heifetz and Mutter.

If you take a look at violinistinbalance.nl  there is a section dealing with "squaring off" and forming an "L" with your upper arm being the vertical part of the L and your lower arm being the horizontal part of the "L" . The violin is positioned ( moved)  such that  in keeping this "L"  shape your bow will be parallel with the bridge. The violin is brought to the bow rather than the other way around.

The natural place your arms rest at their sides when brought up to playing height achieves the same position. You do not  need to stretch or hyper extend the arm in order to reach to the tip of the bow with a straight bow. This position tends to encourage a chin rest whose cup goes over the tailpiece. While one should be able to move freely in the neck a little bit side to side I do not believe a position that keeps the neck turned to the left most of the time or a position that pushes the violin over to the shoulder and raises its height such that you must reach very high with your bow ( especially on the G string)  and over with your left hand and arm is a healthy one to maintain for a lifetime. 

 Also, the scroll end may extend out to the left but the end where the button is ( where the  nylon cord of the tailpiece wraps around) should fit close in, usually towards the center of the throat, and the violin rests on the collarbone. If your chin falls to the right of the tailpiece in this position you can choose to leave it that way which makes most left of center cupped chin rests ( like the Guarneri model, though it is center-mounted it is not center-cupped) in effect jaw rests rather than chin rests. Of course if you turn your neck to the left you may end up with the chin on the chin rest too but to keep this position or to rest the head at a leftward tilt ( like a sleeping position) I think will not be good for the neck or the upper spine for the long haul.

 If you can find a center-cupped chin rest  whether it is center mounted or mounted to the left of the tailpiece I believe you will have a greater chance for comfort in the neck and still be able to reach to the tip of the bow  easily with a straight bow.

 Obviously everyone is built differently, even within similar jaw and chin types there may be variances with shoulder widths, pronounced or more recessed collar bones, etc. so I only propose the above as a safe point of departure from which you could find what works best without risking long term pain.

It is also important to not confuse comfort and ease of movement with what is familiar. One's  body may have adapted, and mentally, may have adapted, a position that seems comfortable because it is familiar but not because it is ultimately healthy or, in truth,  comfortable.

 Even if one does not agree with Heifetz' position versus Anna Sophie Mutter's or the other way around or feels neither is ideal for most individuals their playing testifies to a consummate skill  that is nonetheless the envy of  violinists who are convinced their position is the "right" one. With playing at this level, one has to wonder if  certain bodies are sufficiently adaptable that even if it looks like it should be a problem or doesn't fit one's sense of logic or understanding how the human body should move optimally, it  somehow manages to work for them.


March 4, 2011 at 01:07 PM ·

 ron, thanks for another insightful post.  really like your mention of bringing the violin to the bow.

what happens with players with longer bow arms...does that change the violin angle more to the left?  ( i was going to write all things being equal, but that may not be the case i guess).


March 22, 2011 at 01:56 PM ·

As someone who is attempting to finally play shoulder-rest-less, I have a question for those of you who have done it for a long time.



Especially fine E-tuning.


There seems to be no easy way to hold up the violin with your jaw, like you can with a shoulder rest.

Not too big a deal though, because with your G, D, and A strings you can just sort of 'walk' your hand from the fingerboard over to the scroll, and still suport the violin with the left hand.


But the fine tuner throws me for a loop.  I sorta try to support the violin body with my left elbow, contorting my left hand around the bow and back... well it's just not pretty.

Is there a better way?

March 22, 2011 at 05:26 PM ·

 Jared, the only way I can do the E string is by RAISING MY LEFT SHOULDER!! (shock and horror LOL) and having the violin swung ALL THE WAY to the left so that it is totally in line with my shoulder, there is NO WAY I could play the violin like that, it is only for doing the E string tuning with the fine tuner hehehehe.

I hope you understand what I mean if not I could post a photo of me tuning the E string :) 

March 22, 2011 at 06:20 PM ·


I use my right hand to turn the fine tuners.  You can't turn the tuner and bow at the same time, but usually the e-string will ring long enough that you can hear the pitch as you turn the tuner. 

March 22, 2011 at 07:14 PM ·

I will probably be thrown out for saying this but I find Ms Mutter's way of holding the fiddle and playing most un-natural. I also remember many years ago when she played a concerto (I think the Mendelssohn) with an orchestra I was in that she had beefy arms and I seem to remember she used a pad of some sort.

I find her visually and aurally tense when she plays, and I don't know if she will be able to keep it up once she gets a bit older. I have to say I have never been a great fan of her playing or her interpretations.

March 22, 2011 at 08:41 PM ·


Yes, that's exactly like I do.  Not comfortable, but I suppose it works.



I don't know why this didn't occur to me before.  I just saw a video of Heifetz doing exactly as you describe.

Thanks for the replies

March 22, 2011 at 09:27 PM ·

"I just saw a video of Heifetz doing exactly as you describe."

Right, I taught him that move.  Unfortunately, he did not return the favor by teaching me how to play.

March 23, 2011 at 07:04 AM ·

 Peter, have you seen Anne Sophie playing the violin very very recently?

she has changed A LOT, I think now she is much more relaxed and much more 'natural' in her hold/position/stance than she used to be years ago.  I won't comment on her sound/interpretation etc as I am not 'qualified enough' to do that.

But yes, in regards to her posture and violin hold I think that NOW, these days she has a very good posture, much much better than years ago

Jared, could you point me to the video where Heifetz tunes his E string the way that Smiley taught him to do it? ;) thanks

March 24, 2011 at 09:55 AM ·


Yes, I've seen fairly recent videos of her playing. (Ms Mutter).

She is still pretty tense even if she is more relaxed!

June 14, 2011 at 03:00 AM ·

 Great ideas here,

Nice to see so much thought and consideration being given to one of the most important aspects of playing the violin - holding it as comfortably and relaxed as possible.

@ John - sorry for not coming in ;-) I  didn't see the post until now :-( 

June 14, 2011 at 10:53 AM ·

 Other solutions occur to me for tuning the E while in the playing position and shoulder-rest-less (there must be a useful German word for that mouthful!) – have a very well fitted E peg and tune from that (it is possible with a metal E) – use a gut E (but you've got to be prepared to change it monthly) – a Perfection peg or similar (engineering-wise probably the most efficient solution for a high tension E). All these solutions enable the correct after-length for the E.

June 16, 2011 at 01:23 PM ·

Is German for "shoulder-rest-less" "ohnegeigestütze" (because it is the violin that is being supported, not the shoulder)?  Would someone like to confirm – or otherwise?


June 16, 2011 at 11:07 PM ·

Hello! At one time I, too became interested in playing without a shoulder rest, and now I no longer use one.

Heifetz would be a great example of what I am about to tell you.

First of all, the positioning of the violin on the collar bone will vary from person to person. For some, the violin will be entirely on the collar bone, and for others the violin will rest a little bit on the shoulder.

First, you start by putting the violin on the collarbone. Then you turn your head until it is over the chinrest (don't twist the neck or lean the head). Then you put your chin on the chinrest so that your eyes are looking directly over the fingerboard.

As far as the shoulder, (I am describing the Russian method of holding the violin), you shouldn't really depend on your shoulder too much, and you must "hold" the violin with your arm. This actually creates a balance so that the player is relaxed. There is no clenching!

And usually when you choose not to use a shoulder rest, if you choose, you can adopt the Russian shifting technique where the thumb and wrist has more of a role in supporting the shifts.

June 17, 2011 at 12:34 AM ·

"As far as the shoulder, (I am describing the Russian method of holding the violin), you shouldn't really depend on your shoulder too much, and you must "hold" the violin with your arm. This actually creates a balance so that the player is relaxed. There is no clenching!"

Do you mean you do put it on the shoulder but also support with the hand too? Or only touching the collarbone?

"And usually when you choose not to use a shoulder rest, if you choose, you can adopt the Russian shifting technique where the thumb and wrist has more of a role in supporting the shifts."

Can you describe this russian shifting and thumb more?

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