A good reason to use a shoulder rest?

April 11, 2011 at 10:09 PM ·

Ive been playing with my left thumb all the way under the neck instead of the side of the neck or sticking up and I like it alot. Its easier to use the pinky in 1st and 2nd positions and you can reach up to the highest notes easier without leaving the neck. But the thumb sticks to the neck when it is supporting the violin. So now I have to go buy a shoulder rest. I threw it away cuz I didnt like it. Or you could dip your thumb in vegetable oil before you play but that would be kinda gross.

Replies (88)

April 11, 2011 at 11:24 PM ·

As a student, I learned the thumb position you mentioned.  It works well for me.  I'll have to check during this evening's practice session, but I believe I use it more sul G, less sul E.

I played all the way to age 18 without any SR but then tried one and liked it.  It gave my left hand more freedom, especially in down-shifting; whereas I use more hand support in up-shifting.  There's definitely a seesaw feel, a give and take.  A blog by v.com member Michael Shallock explains the mechanics of this better than I can, but I don't have the piece bookmarked.

Other players report a difference in their tone, too, when playing with the SR versus playing without; but for some reason, I haven't noticed a difference with mine.  If anything, I like the tone with SR at least as well as without.

EDIT: Soon after I first tried the SR at 18, I tried playing without a jacket.  I have a medium-short neck, and I can't wear a jacket and use the SR at the same time.  I don't know if you saw the Weekend Vote feature on the tux; more input on this subject there.

April 12, 2011 at 12:15 AM ·

"SR versus tone.  The tighter the installation, the more the muting."

Don, thanks.  I adjust mine so that they are secure but not pinching.  I'm sure this is why I don't detect any loss of volume or resonance.  BTW, I've acquired several SR models since I began SR use at 18, and which one I use depends on which of my instruments is the primary fiddle at the time.

April 12, 2011 at 03:00 AM ·


Life works in mysterious ways, but I was forced to go restless a couple of years ago for a host of reasons.  Difficult transition it was for me.  What I learned (after finally getting a spectacular chinrest) is that the violin is really supported on the base of the first finger from 1st to 4th position with the thumb coming up to the opposite side to whatever height your hand proportions lead it to be.  With that, I find that you would not need oil, or anything else.  The violin is balanced (almost floats) on the hand, and I find great freedom in that. 

This may solve nothing, but maybe it can help.

All my best and Cheers!


April 12, 2011 at 03:12 AM ·

Well to answer the original posting of Andrew's;

I think instead of resorting to a shoulder rest because your thumb is uncomfortable, you should try to figure out why your thumb feels the way it does.  The thumb's job in my opinion is secondary to the rest of the fingers and should act as a guide.  If it is sticking to the neck, that means the player is using too much pressure.

I don't think a shoulder rest is a necessary tool like many make it out to seem (especially the string retailers who are trying to make money and sell you things).  It is quite the contrary in the opinion of some of the greatest players/teachers.  

From the bottom of the instrument to the top of the chinrest is about 3.5-4 inches.  Measure that amount of space with two fingers (your thumb and index finger for example) and with those two fingers (without moving them) place one on the collarbone and the other next to your chin.  The violin on most people will fit easily into that space.  If you have an extremely long neck you can adjust the height of your chin rest.    

Shoulder rests (like Kun, Mach etc.) also can cause damage to the body of the instrument, mute the instrument's natural volume, and throw the left elbow out of position for the vibrato and ideal left hand positioning.

April 12, 2011 at 08:24 AM ·

I hate to disagree with you Nate!

It's really an individual thing - some use a rest - some don't.

I've never seen any damage from using one, and I don't hear a difference either. BUT, I do hear a diffrence sometimes when a non SR user has a lot of the violin back on their shoulder and often with a large cloth draped over the chin rest as well. It's definitely quite muted then!!

The outstanding players who do not use a rest hold the instrument high and off the shoulder and don't resort to dampening cloths, although some might use a small pad, as Stern did. Maybe that's why I always found his sound a bit on the small side ... (wink)

April 12, 2011 at 09:01 AM ·

 If you use a shoulder rest to fix that problem then you are holding your violin incorrectly. The subject of whether or not to use a shoulder rest is an old and tired debate (just check the search bar)....however the truth is that whether or not you use one, it shouldn't take your violin off of your collarbone and it shouldn't be dictating how your left hand holds the violin. I personally use one simply because it's more comfortable for me but I could go either way and it wouldn't change my playing very much. 

I just realized what I wrote was kind of nebulous and nonspecific. The good news is that your problem is most likely very very simple to fix. You just need to have a lesson with a really good teacher who can see what's going on and tell you what to change. On the internet these things are almost impossible to fix. If you have skype and a webcam then maybe. Are you self-taught or do you already have a teacher?

April 12, 2011 at 09:13 AM ·

I would agree with everyone who suggests a faulty left hand technque which should be addressed separately and shouldn't have anything to do with the shoulder rest use, or not using one. So I'm only slightly disagreeing with you, Nate!!

April 12, 2011 at 10:32 AM ·

With bad habits there are some positives ,but there are  also negatives.With this hand position hand vibrato will be next to impossible to learn. What you need to learn is that the index finger needs to be placed first ,then thumb when doing hand drops (bring your hand to your waist then back to the finger board).Repeating this action several different times a day will help get you out of this habit. .It helps to have a shoulder rest with this exercise.

April 12, 2011 at 11:37 AM ·

I totally agree with the responses that this is something related to 'left hand technique' which needs to be addressed and NOT to be resolved by the shoulder rest.

Use a shoulder rest if you wish to, but it is not 'the' answer to the problem.

Also, I don't know if it is 'teacher preference' but my teacher discourages me from keeping the thumb all the time totally under the neck of the violin but rather encourages me to keep it by the side of the neck up to 4th position or so and also roughly in line with 1st finger (I know this is different from teacher to teacher and some would say in between 1st and 2nd finger I think?), he tells me it will help me with more 'reliable' intonation....

 he also tells me to move the thumb together in sync with the rest of the hand as I shift up and down.

April 12, 2011 at 01:23 PM ·

Andrew - you do not say whether or not your have a teacher, and, if so, what his/her thoughts are on this.  This is something a good teacher should be able to help you with.

April 12, 2011 at 01:46 PM ·

@ Don:  I am only a learner myself and a mere beginner compared to many but I'd say it is right and to collarbone and chin I'd add thumb and index finger (even for those who use a shoulder rest it should be so ideally I think), also the chin should only lightly put pressure and not even all the time, I find mine at times is not even touching the chin rest and is away from it by a few millimetres.. (I am guessing the distance, but I do move my head slightly, so many other violinists I have observed).

April 12, 2011 at 07:01 PM ·

This may be a bit controversial, but from my experience, I would say that you can get away with sloppier technique when using a shoulder rest.  That's not to say that all SR users have bad technique.  But when using SR, it requires special attention to keep the left side relaxed and to position the thumb properly when shifting and vibrating.

On the other hand, it is probably more difficult to play without SR for most people (e.g., most physiques), but playing without SR is less forgiving to tension issues.  That is, when playing without SR, it encourages the left side to be more tension free; otherwise, shifting and vibrato just do not work.

I ditched my SR about 1.5 years ago and am playing completely tension free.  If I can maintain the same tension free technique, I may experiment with going back to using SR. 


April 12, 2011 at 08:03 PM ·

why go back smiley?  Whats to be gained, if anything?

April 12, 2011 at 08:28 PM ·

Hi Elise,

I believe the violin is more stable when using SR.  For example, when playing restless and applying vibrato, you need to put some downward pressure on the chin rest to keep the violin steady.  I have been practicing vibrato every day for the past year, and although my vibrato is much looser, it still helps to have the instrument steadied by a shoulder rest.  Otherwise, the instrument tends to wobble, or may want to fall off the collar bone.  The shoulder rest prevents that.

Also, with SR, the thumb is alleviated (to an extent) of its duty to support the instrument.  That in turn frees up the left hand for fast passages, or awkward fingerings.  And in another thread (Fail VLOG II), I discuss the difficulty of going beyond 9th position without SR -- still haven't figured out a good way to do it actually.  The other day, I was practicing 4 octave broken 3rds with my son and I had to rest my scroll on the back of the sofa to get to the top of the E string.  My son on the other hand (who plays with SR), just moves his thumb to the side of the fingerboard to play the 4th octave.



April 12, 2011 at 08:43 PM ·

The only 'problem' I found with playing without a shoulder rest and doing vibrato was that I didn't know 'what do to with the thumb'!!!  my thumb tended to go REALLY HIGH by the side of the fingerboard, much much higher than it ever did when I used to play with a shoulder rest at times, the neck of the violin at times ends up almost in the palm of my hand, depending on what I am playing!! if it's a slower piece or whatever....

but then I posted a thread on here, asking 'what about the thumb' and some people (more experienced than me) replied 'not to worry' if it went higher or lower, to just play and 'let it be' and as I developed and became more experienced playing with no rest it would find its way.

I think it is doing so (my thumb) it's learning what to do by itself! I just have to watch it stays next to my 1st finger as my teacher advised for stable intonation.

I actually don't have any issues with vibrato, I wish I could 'pass the magic' onto you Smiley!!! 

I can sympathise with going in really high positions on E string as I have recently had this problem myself and have only just found an answer with the aid of a person who is experienced in playing without a rest (discussed in thread fail VLOG II), but then I am not Smiley and I can't say what works for me may work for him as we have different hands/neck length/body types etc....

April 12, 2011 at 10:15 PM ·

I have never seen a good violinist play without one...

April 13, 2011 at 01:14 AM ·

Thumb under is just a new thing Im experimenting with. I dont usually have a problem with supporting it without a SR with the thumb sticking up. There is a problem with squeezing into half steps in position 3 and up with your fingers in that position so I dont know if its really good. It feels good playing fast scales in positions 1 and 2.

April 13, 2011 at 03:13 AM ·

playing with or with out a shoulder rest is really an individual thing. I don't press it at my shop. I leave it to the teachers discretion with due consideration to students health and welfare. Pearlman does not use one, but Joshua Bell does. Pearlman has a shorter neck and big hands so he can handle a violin with out a rest. His hand size is one of the reasons probably for his thumb positions as well as support for not using a shoulder rest. Bell on the other hand has a longer neck. as for damage to the instrument, the only rest that I have seen to cause this is when the rubbers wear off and are NEGLECTED on being replaced. Thumb position is also an individual thing. Gualamian had a good method for it. a larger hand can reach so the thumb could rest higher on the neck were as a smaller hand wont have the reach so the player will need to position there thumb under the neck to allow for reaching and even forward of the index finger.

April 13, 2011 at 05:24 AM ·

 @ Thomas:

you need to get out more! live life and look around you ROFL  there is PLENTY of good violinists on both side of the pond (SR and no SR both famous violinists and non famous)

April 13, 2011 at 12:20 PM ·

 and infamous...

April 13, 2011 at 01:30 PM ·

Thumbs, rests, and vibrato... Oh my! :)

Jo, I've been practicing with no SR and have been following the advice to place the fingers and let the thumb do its own thing. My thumb goes through so many changes while playing, as does my entire hand. I watched the thumb yesterday while practicing, and it goes from sticking out horizontally under the neck, to curled up around the neck, to pointing toward the scroll, to sticking way up above. It's not a stationary thing. Likewise, when I just play stopped notes, my hand is more parallel to the neck, but as soon as I start to vibrate, the hand pulls away at an angle, the thumb changes, and my head gets heavier on the chinrest. Not tense or clamping, just more "weighty." When I put the SR on, the left-hand gymnastics are less dramatic but intonation suffers (and my bow arm is all wrong, but that's another subject).

April 13, 2011 at 10:29 PM ·

@Jo Parker

I do get out and "live" as you say and see a lot of good violinists every day at New England Conservatory, all of whom, use shoulder rests.

When I say good violinist, I am including symphony players, credited teachers, and established soloists. All my teachers tell me to NEVER play without a shoulder rest, as it can lead to more than just bad technique.

I am sure people like Joseph Silverstein, Arthur Grumiaux, and David Oistrakh all used shoulder rests or something of a similar nature. Its simply a bad idea to play without some kind of support. It can cause bad position and bad technique. Perlman does not use a conventional shoulder rest, but he has a stuffed cloth for support. 

If one is concerned with the tone (like I was) use a non-invasive shoulder rest like a sponge or something. A shoulder rest should be in a symbiotic relationship with the player, so to speak, as not to hinder ones playing.

April 14, 2011 at 12:27 AM ·

It can cause bad position and bad technique

Well, then use a reference (please not Fischer) such as Yampolsky's "The Principles of Violin Fingering" to indicate specifically what cannot be done correctly.

Also, isn't Menuhin the poster boy for holding the thing up with no support at all.  So many of the other "old masters" I think are into cheating (pads, thick suits, etc) somewhat in that regards

Anyways, the real reason we hate SR's.  It just looks plain butt ugly to watch.  The violin is projected outward and doesn't look natural at all.   You can tell there is not a natural interface between instrument and human.  Made 10x worse when the violinist bobs about (eg. Hahn) in some "artistic" fashion.

Anyways, this fad has come to an end.  The medium is visual now,  and the game is innovation.  Who cares if you've got a huge repertroire,  non-distinctive clean tone,  when the halls are empty and improvement in audio recording is no longer relevant.  You're yesterdays news. 

Be gone with the technicians and their SR monopoly.

April 14, 2011 at 03:12 AM ·

as far as a shoulder rest hampering sound just think of what your shoulder does to sound being pressed against the back of the instrument. but it all goes to what your needs are to be successful at what you do. there are religious people for every profession and all of them think of themselves as right. But it should be to the needs of the instrument and the needs of the player.

April 14, 2011 at 04:47 AM ·


as always the shoulder rest or not debate begins to degerate into `M right and you are wrong exchange.

Not interested in that aspect but I wish people wouldn`t say things like

`as far as a shoulder rest hampering sound just think of what your shoulder does to sound being pressed against the back of the instrument.`

simply because it is an inaccurate description.  I don`t use a rest and neither do my students most of the time (unless they feel they need one  in which case they do).  My shoulder doesn`t `touch` the back of the instrument let only `press.`  Where an earth did the idea that one removes the shoudler rest and then presses the shoulder against the violin come from?;)



April 14, 2011 at 05:42 AM ·

Anyway, I agree with whatever Buri says (as usual ;) )

and I'll be quite happy being a violinist with 'bad technique' (according to you and your teachers/professors) just because I am not using any support whatsoever 

and NO, I am not refusing to use a sponge/cloth or whatever because of the 'tone' but because this is the happiest most comfortable way I have played the violin and I have tried every gadget/sponge/cloth/piece of wood on the market (almost gone bankrupt as I ordered stuff from all over the globe) and even home made things I could before I chucked it all in a big draw and now don't even use a chamois leather anymore!

April 14, 2011 at 07:40 AM ·

 Mr. Ross, are you suggesting that people stop using shoulder rests because of the way it looks? It seems that's the only reason you indicated.

Thomas, I'm sure Ida Haendel would like to have a word with you about that.

April 14, 2011 at 08:19 AM ·

Oh yes Michael, Ida must have 'bad technique' as 'unlike Perlman' she does not use a 'stuffed cloth' to support her violin AH!

well I wish to have bad technique as Ida myself then! LOL I'll sign up for it right now :)

April 14, 2011 at 01:03 PM ·

I think you should just be able to pick up your instrument and play as naturally as possible. I'd rather not even notice it's there, I just want it to be part of me so the music can flow naturally. If I need a bare instrument, or several attachments and padded cloths on the thing in order to do this, so be it. :)

April 14, 2011 at 04:22 PM ·

Don - I think the frequency has more to do with the fact that there is no right answer, so everyone can argue endlessly, stand on their position and, if motivated, feel superior.  With respect to comfort, because we all have different neck/shoulder sizes and structures, I think many violinists have difficulty finding a rest which works completely.  I am certainly in that boat.  Some rests are pretty good for me, but none perfect.  I don't do well without one either.  They are designed for lowest common denominator with some capacity for adjustment to individual needs.  I suppose the person who invents the absolutely custom rest ("tailored for you precise needs") will probably make a fortune, if that has not already been done.

April 14, 2011 at 08:40 PM ·

I'm with Tom. Does anyone custom-make chin rests, shoulder rests, etc., on an individual basis? Maybe you can think of it almost like a prosthetic, molded or carved to an individual's jawline or shoulder and at the right height and angle. Or, close enough to fit perfectly but still allow some freedom of movement... Someone must have thought of this already, then why isn't it more prevalent? Cost prohibitive, perhaps, or there's just enough variety in what's available to make a custom 'kit' that's workable, but not ideal, so we live with it -- for a while. Based on the energy these threads produce, it  sounds like a full-custom solution is the only way, and people would stop preaching a rested or restless gospel. If I was a performer I'd pay a small premium for something custom-fit to my anatomy.


April 14, 2011 at 10:14 PM ·


April 15, 2011 at 12:15 AM ·

Based on the frequency and magnitude of shoulder rests, etc. threads I have to conclude that almost no amateurs achieve true comfort

What do you expect?  Right from Day 1 the student is brainwashed that Structure = Function with The Bow Hold and the Violin Hold.  They completely misunderstood the essence of violin playing and needlessly purchased piles of equipment to solve a problem that never existed in the first place.  Menuhin describes the dilemma facing the beginner perfectly in his out-of-print book 6 lessons:

"In developing technique, whether in the left hand or the right hand, there are three stages.  The first stage is a complete softness of the joints, as in a baby, each checked seperately.  The second stage is the co-ordination of soft movements and the development of elasticity and resilience, both in stretching and compressing actions.  The third and final stage is the development of strength and firmness, and freedom.  These stages cannot occur in any other order.  If, for instance, firmness precedes elasticity, there are dire results in terms of stiffness.  Again, if elasticity precedes the feeling of complete softness and passivity, there is bound to be a residue of tension.  A violinist must always  be prepared to take the three stages in their correct sequence whenever he picks up the instrument"

April 15, 2011 at 12:27 AM ·

You show up for lesson 1 totally unprepared in regards to physiology.  There is no careful and coherent physiological development in  working on technique because it violates sacred principles of ear guided intonation and physics derived (pressure, speed, etc)  tone development.    A whole cottage industry of relaxation quacks then appears on the scene to "correct" what was never taken seriously in the first place. 

The entire obsession with stability of the violin itself, hand/arm movements, etc is really quite insane.  The philosophy appears to be conformist.  A factory system to produce the same appearance and the same sound.  Who said communism is dead.

April 15, 2011 at 03:17 AM ·

I had an astounding revelation this evening.  Normally, I never wear a suit, but tonight, I had a performance with the BSO (rusty musician thing), that required a coat and tie.  I found that the violin was so stable and just wanted to stay in place.  The coat has padded shoulders so it gave me a feel for what it is like to have more square (rather than droopy shoulders), and man does it make it a lot easier to hold the violin in place.  I might start playing with a coat all the time. :-)


It goes to show that physique has a lot to do with comfort.  Perhaps, rather than a shoulder rest, someone should invent a shoulder cover that simulates what I experienced when wearing a coat?  I'd be the first one to buy it.

April 15, 2011 at 04:24 AM ·

 Or you could just get a shoulder rest. :)

April 15, 2011 at 05:50 AM ·


you didn't have John's rest on! and you were wearing the suit! and your violin stayed firmly in place :) well done you :)  did it feel good?  you looked good :)


April 15, 2011 at 12:33 PM ·


You won't like hearing this, but I have 4 shoulder rests.  They all cause tension in my left side.  I think it is a combination of poor body physique and bad technique.  Yesterday, before playing with the coat and tie, I experimented with various setups, including a shoulder rest.  The only way I am able to play completely tension free is without SR -- at least for now.

But you have a good point.  The natural instinct (after reading my post) would be to get a shoulder rest.  But for some reason, that seems to have a different affect than padding on the left shoulder.  I'm still trying to figure that out.  Why is it that a padded left shoulder does not cause tension while SR does?

April 15, 2011 at 01:36 PM ·

Hi Andrew,

Uh Oh, you mentioned the words 'shoulder rest' and opened the usual pandora's box. Never mind, let them argue it out....

Regarding your sticky thumb, maybe if you clean the neck of the violin properly with a damp cloth or polish in case of an accumulation of dirt this might help.  I occasionally use a little baby powder on my thumb when it gets sweaty and sticks to the neck.  My teacher actually made me learn this thumb position, mainly for being prepared to reach high notes quickly, like you said.  It works well, just remember to keep your left elbow well under the violin, as well, this might help you in third pos and try to keep your palm away from the fingerboard, with your wrist straight.

By the way I do use a shoulder rest, but aim to try and lose it soon.  Cheers.

April 15, 2011 at 01:40 PM ·

Hey Smiley,

Great performance! You look very comfortable.

I haven't found a rigid rest that works because none conform to my protruding collar bone. After a lot of movement from playing, they all slide down the slope of my clavicle taking the fiddle with it. Of course I find myself adjusting, but inevitably some shrugging takes place. With my old setup, just shifting would cause my shoulder to rise, not excessively, but enough to cause clamping into the SR, (the anterior deltoid naturally rises when lifting the upperarm.) With my new setup, since I just fold my arm into my side, there's no need to lift the upperarm, and hence the shoulder, although it still happens from time to time.

I think the soreness comes from filling the gap with a rigid SR. It's kind of like holding onto a very thick bar, as opposed to one that fits nicely in the hand (a common strategy amongst powerlifters to increase their grip strength.) You can keep your shoulders raised for a long time, fairly comfortably, even if gets a bit tiring (although chronic shrugging can lead to shortening and tightening of the upper trapezius, common amongst the stressed out.) But in that case, the shoulder is raised in a balanced way, using all the muscles surrounding the shoulder. I think this is true even with the fiddle resting on the clavicle. But as soon as you place something close to the anterior deltoid, which is where all rigid SRs end up for me, the shoulder wants to grip forward and up, engaging the anterior delts and pecs. I think the pecs can deal better in the short run; the delts start screaming after a while; it would be analogous to holding that heavy bar with the tips of the fingers and thumb -- the fingers would hold out longer because their grip muscles are in the forearm and are stronger then the muscles of the thumb. So by shrugging with a rigid rest near the anterior deltoid, we're overworking the weakest muscle in the chain -- a good strategy for powerlifters preparing for a meet; not so much for a violinist trying to make it to the end of a concert. In the long run, the shortened pecs can develop knots or trigger points (seized muscles/fascia which can cause referred pain; a knot in the pecs can cause pain in the delts); over a longer time, the increasingly bad alignment in the shoulder caused by pushing the shoulders forward can cause the humerus to get misaligned in the glenoid cavity, the ball-socket-joint, and then you can get labral tearing and all sorts of nasty injuries. 

But, if you can avoid raising the shoulder altogether by changing the setup (lower scroll, greater tilt angle, arm out to the side, shifting by folding rather than raising the arm,) by keeping the upper arm low all the time, I think you can play pain free even with a rigid SR. I've found that a regular length of concert and typical orchestral program is fine (as is solo rep over the course of a recital) with a rigid SR, but what still kills me is a longish opera (also non-stop playing in a longish show,) for which a squishy pad works better.


April 15, 2011 at 03:53 PM ·

 Excellent points, Don. ^^ 


April 15, 2011 at 04:37 PM ·

Hi Christian,

I was perusing this thread and noticed your entry. It sounds like I've tweaked my setup in the same way as you have, balancing the neck on the 1st finger. May I ask, what kind of chin rest did you get and where? Thanks.



April 15, 2011 at 06:01 PM ·

Yes, the hive mentality of the conformists (aka ponzi supporters) has created the same problem that threatens the bees:  Colony Collapse Disorder

The Factory Robots masquerading as distinctive soloists are as shallow as the Neo-classical economists masquerading as management atop the orchestras.

April 15, 2011 at 10:20 PM ·

Uh oh. I started a fight. Or you could do it like this guy -




I think they use oil on their fingers too for vibrato and slides.

April 17, 2011 at 03:36 AM ·

In my post about shoulder rest, I was not taking one side or the other. I was just trying to have those who are one side or the other see things from the others perspective. It is not cut and dry across the board. If you can play without hurting yourself, the instrument, or the music, bare instrument or shoulder rest then do it. I will say teachers need to be careful to the needs of induvidual student. consider wisely that we are not all cut from the same cloth (WE ARE NOT CLONES). we all have induvidual needs and challenges to over come in this. we can argue points on all sides, but in the end it is what works that matters. Now I am not denying that there are basic guide lines like counting; it will always be the same no matter what. If Ehnes or Bell plays with a Shoulder Rest, that does not make them any less of a player then Pearlman Who just uses a cloth or someone that just uses a bare instrument (or reversed).

April 21, 2011 at 10:13 PM ·

Ive been wood sheding again. I think holding the violin with the thumb low on the side of the neck and the base of the index/palm touching the other side might be the most important thing to learn on the violin. Like Christian Vachon said in the 4th reply to this thread. I like to hold it with my thumb sticking up high and no space between the palm and the neck underneath but that causes really bad problems for your pinky if its short. So if you keep your thumb pad under the neck like you do on guitar the pinky moves great but then you need a shoulder rest cuz it sticks and jerks the violin when you shift. And it hurts the wrist a little. That fixed some things for me - my wrist is straighter too. I like to play naturally but I think that one thing is really important.

April 22, 2011 at 05:35 AM ·

An experienced golfer is motivated to go to the range because he/she enjoys the originally unanticipated pleasant physical sensation of a proper golf swing.  In contrast, the modern violinist acting as instructor--being fanatical about stability-- reinforces the early negative experience of the beginner, that interacting with the violin is an unpleasant and very awkward physical experience that must be "tamed" by bolting it onto your chest.  The student immediately senses a joyless future filled with extra hassles:  "Why didn't I just save myself a lot of grief by picking the piano?" Just picking up the violin and placing it in playing position is a joyless experience for SR users.  They will never understand the beautiful sensation of balance that occurs when the correct physiological training is undertaken as demonstrated in Menuhins book and video "Six lessons..."  But it takes time.  Thumb development can take a few months, for example.

And thats why the SR promoters are so dangerous.   They ingrain in the mind a miserable awkward device that tortures you in order to produce sound.  If its all about the end product, then just put the instrument in the attic and turn on the CD player.

April 22, 2011 at 07:09 AM ·

 I just picked up my violin with and without a shoulder rest on it. I can't say that I noticed a particular difference in the amount of joy that I experienced either way. I don't even notice my shoulder rest while I'm using it and it works for me. I can play well enough without one that if all the anti-SR fanatics in the world joined together and banned shoulder rests I could do fine without it but it's comfortable for me so I'll keep using it. It bewilders me that people get so worked up about something like this. 

Obviously if it is as much a source of torture and hardship as Mr. Ross claims then for whatever individual is experiencing this it is obviously NOT an ergonomically sound solution. For some it is, for some it isn't. Where are all these "SR promoters"? What I see mostly around here are anti-SR extremists preaching and trying to turn personal ergonomics into dogma.

The SR that I often use is the same kind of shoulder rest that David Oistrakh used: a bit of strategically placed cushioning. I'll speak for myself but I am very grateful that Mr. Oistrakh didn't choose to leave his violin in the attic and turn on the stereo instead!

April 22, 2011 at 08:36 AM ·

 Michael, you ask: 'where are all these SR promoters'?  I just thought I share my experience which is VERY LIMITED so I don't want it to be the rule by all means.....  But I found it very interesting that as soon as I started playing with no shoulder rest (3 months ago) and openly 'admitting so' to the world, after 4 years of using a rest, I was totally shocked by what was happening.... I never said to anyone 'I stopped using a rest because this way is the best way' or 'I stopped using a rest because the masters never used one'  or 'I stopped using a rest because using one is wrong' or anything that in any way could point the finger that using a rest was a 'wrong' decision, I simply said 'I stopped using a rest', at this point some people immediately would comment 'shoulder rests are absolutely essential', or others would ask me why, I would then explain I went through 18 months of pain/tension and trying dozens and dozens of different chin rests and shoulder rests to no avail and only not using a rest has helped me play pain and tension free, so then people would start an argument with me that my technique will suffer and nobody plays the violin well with no rest and so on.  Others have watched my videos of me playing, not noticing I now did not use a rest, they commented on how much my posture and bowing and my left hand have improved and they were SO impressed and they asked me what shoulder rest I used, when I said NONE they just did not reply to me (this is over the internet) and I know why they have not replied to me, it's because they are avid SR activists and they just don't know what to say (and not it's not because they have forgotten to reply, they replied to other things).

Anyway, I am just surprised, I suddenly feel like the 'black sheep' honestly!

April 22, 2011 at 09:07 AM ·

 Well Jo, those people were being foolish to say such ridiculous things to you. The fact that this topic is even a source of controversy complete with "sides" and activists is really asinine in my opinion. Anyway, congratulations on finally solving your discomfort problem! It feels good to come to a conclusion that works for you doesn't it? That's really what this is all about anyway, sheesh.

April 22, 2011 at 10:27 AM ·

 I know Michael you're right and yes, am so happy to finally be 'happy' with my violin :) now all I have to concentrate on is getting rid of my other gremlins....number one my lovely intonation problems HAHAHAHA ;) my lovely and very patient teacher is helping me with it and has heard huge improvements in the 1yr and 10 months I've been with him :)

April 22, 2011 at 04:12 PM ·

The thing that I find really interesting is the difference in the violin movement without a rest. I think it's fair to say that, restless, the violin can be moved about much more in all directions (and it does), and you see more of that now than ever before. If a player is comfortable rest-less, that's fine, but I'm not sure if there's any benefit to the excess movement (but I wouldn't know, because I really need to use a rest, as I have explained graphically in previous threads and posts :) )




April 22, 2011 at 08:58 PM ·

Ah, such a classic argument!

One must really make three categories, not two:

1:  Using a standard SR, which basically locks the fiddle into one position. (this probably makes vibrato easier, at the expense of some expression & relaxation)

2:  Just using a little padding, foam, rolled-up lapel, etc.

3:  Using no SR or padding at all.


I think people erroneously lump #2 with #1, which creates a lot of confusion & needless arguments.   #2 is really just #3,  but with the violin a little higher.  You can still move it about.

Ultimately, unless you use a standard SR, you simply need to find the proper HEIGHT of the violin. - what works for you relative to your body. This is also dependent upon what chinrest you use, of course.

April 22, 2011 at 09:35 PM ·

 Also Allan, what is interesting is that whilst many 'may' find vibrato easier with a shoulder rest I actually find it a lot easier now that I have learnt to play without any rest/sponge and use nothing at all not even a cloth/chamois! My vibrato has reborn, it is the best it's ever been so far and getting better :)

why? I am not sure why I think it's because I now hold the violin with my hand and as such I use my hand as a 'leverage' in a more effective way than before? I don't know, wish I could be a 'fly on the wall' and observe myself before and after the 'shoulder rest' and see what I am doing differently in the tiny details hehehe

April 22, 2011 at 10:24 PM ·

Andrew's thread; Even though I prefer the tone without one (SR).

The idea that the clavicle acts as a soundpost to the thorax when playing the violin is a fallacy. The shoulder rest has even less contact with the violin than the body has when playing without  it. So the only difference in sound you will hear is called auto-suggestion and is not based in reality. If you feel comfortable to balance an impossible thin instrument on your neck and then like the contortion to keep it stable, by all means carry on. The smart money is on the 90% of violin players that found the SR is a much better option.

PS The worlds fastest player uses a SR, that in my view proofs something. 

April 22, 2011 at 11:14 PM ·

"The worlds fastest player uses a SR, that in my view proofs something. "

@Andre - who is that?


April 23, 2011 at 12:47 AM ·

 Andre, you won't win any arguments by just making stuff up.

April 23, 2011 at 06:30 AM ·

Q ; Who is the worlds fastest player?

A:   David Garrett, Officially recorded playing the Flight of the Bumble Bee in less than 1 minute 6 seconds for the Guinness Book of World Records. Look it up on You Tube if you think I made it up. To set the record every note must be played and be audible. Quite a feat.

I am waiting for the restless guys to bumble through it.



April 23, 2011 at 07:53 AM ·

 that's ok Andre, David Garrett is therefore the best and fastest violinist and because he uses a shoulder rest everyone should use one. Are you happy now?

I'll keep using nothing and I'll keep being a useless slow violinist.

Case closed, bye now.

April 23, 2011 at 11:26 AM ·

 When I grow up, I wanna be David Garrett!

April 23, 2011 at 11:43 AM ·

 Ah Allan BUT do you use a shoulder rest? if you do you're half way there and if you don't you better start using one now as you won't be as fast as him otherwise

April 23, 2011 at 03:46 PM ·

lmfao Maybe it should be illegal to mention shoulder rests in any post. I started the fight back up again. Menuhin was pretty fast without a shoulder rest. But most of my favorites do use one.



People who use it sound great to me but I hear a prettier tone when I play without one. It could be that it sounds better playing it but it sounds the same on the other side of the room? Or because I play a chinese $300 outfit? It has a sweeter tone without the SR. I think its the same volume both ways.

April 23, 2011 at 07:59 PM ·

"Maybe it should be illegal to mention shoulder rests in any post.  I started the fight back up again."

Definitely tongue in cheek, I'm sure.

This board gets fresh blood all the time; so I doubt that the SR subject will ever go away.  I'm all for robust discussion, as long as it leads to problem-solving and progress; but in any case, you're not the one who started the fight.

One thing that causes the fights, besides personal attacks, is an attitude of some respondents that amounts to: "I'm right.  My way is the way it's got to be.  Anybody who doesn't see things my way is a heathen and a corrupt S.O.B." -- or D.O.B., if you please -- "and just plain wrong."

I've taken some strong stands on the board; but they are a matter of principle, and I try to keep civil and stress that the technique or procedure I'm describing is what has worked for me -- sharing the info, for what it's worth, leaving others to try it themselves and then take it or leave it, judging from their own results with it.

April 23, 2011 at 08:15 PM ·

Are we in an endless feedback loop again?

April 24, 2011 at 08:46 AM ·

Jo sez:   " Ah Allan BUT do you use a shoulder rest? if you do you're half way there and if you don't you better start using one now as you won't be as fast as him otherwise."


Nah, I can't stand the things.  I'll be perfectly happy if I only get a fast as Menuhin.  (g)

- besides, I'm never actually GOING to grow up, so there's no problem here!

April 24, 2011 at 03:42 PM ·

One of my prize possessions is a SR marketed under the name of Yehudi Menuhin, so even he saw the benefit for people like me who cannot keep the violin in a horizontal position, like  a magician elevating a body in mid-air, without a SR.

The video of Yehudi is impressive, I must admit. I wonder what he uses under his jacket (just joking, wink wink). 

April 24, 2011 at 06:04 PM ·

 Lookee here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4UYX-Zp4sY   (OMG, is this good!)

Go to ~ 2:20 and you can clearly see how Menuhin holds the neck.  Also note how he changes the angle of his fiddle for various passages. - something he couldn't do with a large mechanical brace riveted to his neck.

-and he's pretty fast, too!


Also see here:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejwLoIuc75g&feature=related

It shows how he changes his hold when in the lower positions, letting his thumb come up higher.  IMO, this is one of the keys to freeing yourself of the dreaded SR.

- note also how loose his bow hair is. (related to another recent thread here.)


April 24, 2011 at 09:14 PM ·

The 'dreaded SR' like a 'Large mechanical brace riveted to his neck' ?  

Oh dear! this sounds like Frankenstein playing violin in a dungeon. I will have to sleep with the lights on tonight! 

Allan I differ from you on the loose bow hair. The video shows Menuhin from the front and from that position the hair will look like it is loose because the wood of the bow is tilted sideways towards the camera. Also bouncing the bow creates the impression. If you look closely you will notice that the hair has just the right tension, not loose.   

April 24, 2011 at 11:08 PM ·

Andre, while you are right that he is mostly using an angled bow (for a softer sound) there are moments where you can clearly see that it's perpendicular (the tip is in the frame) and still quite loose, compare to, say, Hahn or Bell.    


Menuhin actually mentions using low tension in one of his books.  He also recommends "holding the bow as if it were a baby bird," which I love, and which goes hand-in-hand with the loose tension.

April 25, 2011 at 01:56 AM ·

 The reason why this stupid topic can never come to a constructive conclusion or make any progress is because everyone's body is different and everyone' s solution is different. If Yehudi Menuhin thought shoulder rests were useless abominations then why did he develop one of his own design? If SR were necessary for everyone then how is Ida Haendel still playing like a champion without one? If they weren't necessary for anyone then why did Oistrakh and Stern use them? If you need a SR to play fast like David Garrett then how come Heifetz didn't seem to have any trouble playing fast without one? 

The debate is not a debate, it's a pointless argument with no solution. People need to quit being attached to being "right" about "the one way" and mind their own business. That's all I have to say on the subject, I'm going back to playing etudes. Peace.

April 25, 2011 at 05:49 AM ·

Will the last man out please switch off the lights? 

April 25, 2011 at 05:51 AM ·

 My advice: use a shoulder rest if you feel more comfortable with it. 

April 25, 2011 at 06:57 AM ·

As Michael (three posts above) says and Laurie (above)  implies, there is no clear end to the arguemnt. It does get boring.

So best let it rest, provided it is a choice. For me there was no choice & I felt a bit trapped into playing with a rest, & had no real basis of deciding what suited me until I found teachers who had the skills to play and teach a good violin hold without a rest. Now I do have a choice (and for me there is a tradeoff between a certain comfort & sense of freedom without a rest, but  greater dificulty in shifting).  I am grateful to the teachers who helped & wish there were more like them.

April 25, 2011 at 10:02 AM ·

For TOTAL freedom try the full house; chin-rest-less, shoulder-rest-less, belt-less, bra-less and commando. It is absolutely euphoric.  

April 25, 2011 at 10:12 AM ·


To highlight something that John just said, the issue is not the rest, or the pad, or whatever, but of executing correct movements and being in balance.  Whether you achieve that with or without a rest is something else that one has to do, whether by choice, or not.  There are certain errors in movement that can be masked by the use of a rest, but if you want to play well, you will have to deal with those anyway regardless of the rest or not, so it doesn't matter.

Maybe the discussions should be oriented on how to play the violin well, period...


April 25, 2011 at 10:12 AM ·


I always play bra-less.



So did Menuhin.




I think!    (g)

April 25, 2011 at 01:59 PM ·

I have made the transition from shoulder rest to restless, and I have explained the reasons before. I am so elated with my achievments to play restless that I will never don a shoulder rest no more. It's just me..you use one if you want. Of course there are still a few inconsistencies, but I take notice of thier improvments. It gives me such great pleasure to handle the instrument with my left hand, even when I hold it by my side after a satisfying practise . 

April 25, 2011 at 09:53 PM ·

John, your so feisty!

I'm planning on going the other way,  eventually progressing from no SR, no hanky, etc, to no chinrest.  

Then no bow .........    

- Possibly not even strings, though I understand that to reach THAT level of enlightenment & grace, one must first pick a little blue flower that grows only near the top of the Himalayas, then carry it by hand to Italy, (barefoot) all the while humming Paganini's Caprice #24 backwards, and plant it next to the grave of Andreas Amati.

April 26, 2011 at 06:01 AM ·

 John, what is your question? do you mean how long a person who goes 'restless' can then say they have definitely settled in with the new set up?  was that the question?  or did you mean something else?  (or the joke if it wasn't a question.... LOL)

whether it was a joke or a question my latest new set up (which is restless and use nothing but I 'do' use a chin rest) so far as lasted exactly 3 months and is getting more and more comfortable each week...

will 'get back to you at 6 months' to let you know if I am changing anything ;)

April 26, 2011 at 04:09 PM ·

Go practice, people!

April 26, 2011 at 05:15 PM ·

It`s almost 50% of our identity

What identity?  99.3756% of violinists use a "shoulder rest" of some sort -- either a metal bar or a sponge pad or they got natural body (eg. Heifitz) shape to not need one.   The few violinists who hold it up with maximum space between violin and shoulder hardly even exist.  Where is the discussion on Menuhins technique?  How come the major sponsors here don't sell Menuhins book (Six lessons) or instructional videos?  Virtually no one here has ever seen his instructional videos.  Some debate.   The endless debate is between the "its so comfortable" gang who have 12 chinrests and 12 shoulder rests/pads.  Apparently its not so comfortable if the prices keep going up and new inventions appear every year.

And the OLD MASTERS (aka Soviet school) blather --- go look up the standard reference "Technical Fundamentals of the Soviet Masters"  :

"A clever invention [shoulder rest] of the second half of the 20th century, shoulder rests have shown to be quite useful for manya violinist, aiding in stabilizing and maintainng physical contact with the instrument.  How does one make the right choice?  It so happens that shoulder rests are not suitable for everyone.  Their essential purpose is to fill the space between the shoulder and the violin and thus create stability of contact between the body of the player and the instrument  .In the beginning stages, one should try to do wihout a shoulder rest and use a generic thin rubber sponge instead held by a rubber band streched between the lower left corner and the button.  This type of shoulder pad is compact and will not slide"

There you have it.  The OLD MASTERS were completely pro-max stability.  The silly suggestion of a sponge pad is not really serious as the violin will still slide.  Thats why they are rarely used.  Even the model exhibiting the "proper hold" is using a metal bar, not a pad,  and of course it demonstrates the violin sitting in place with the left hand nowhere to be found. 

The old masters do not recommend holding the instrument up entirely with your hand.   It does not even mention the existence/possibility of such a technique.  Therefore, there is no debate whatsoever.   The pro- max stability fanatics are merely arguing amongst themselves over which device is better.   The mystery is why Heifitz says "get rid of the scaffolding" when in fact his shoulder were so broad and neck so short that in effect he was using natural scaffolding just like the metal bar users who don't have the anatomy to do without.

April 26, 2011 at 06:08 PM ·

Under modern conditions the increasing use of shoulder rests may only lend witness to the poor design of chin rests.

The instructors simply adjust the SR to the height of whatever chinrest the student feels "comfortable" with.  This always ensures the violin is too high even by SR standards. 

But you're right.  SR users require a custom designed chinrest.  Most pro's actually do such.  But hey, a certain vendor can't even sell properly designed chinrests that don't bang on the tailpiece.  

"Go see an instructor", they say...and the bulk of them couldn't care less how the SR/chinrest assembly really fits.  No wonder they keep buying and buying.  But thats the objective.

April 26, 2011 at 09:05 PM ·

Your fingers ( especially the pinky ) move better with your thumb low and on the side of the neck. Like Menuhin does it. But its more natural to put the neck all the way down to the skin in the U shape between the thumb and index. Maybe violin necks should be made thicker so it forces that position naturally without thinking about it? That wouldnt be much more weight would it? I think its alot more fun to play naturally but not if your fingers cant move right. Maybe almost naturally. Ive been thinkin about putting rosin on my left fingers too cuz I slide too much doing vibrato and Im tryin to wobble instead.

April 26, 2011 at 10:42 PM ·


Andrew, this violin rests actually on the base of the 1st finger (i.e. index) of the left hand.  The height of the thumb varies on the person depending on the length of the latter and the distance between the base of the first finger and the root of the thumb.  If you do that, then you will have a position that is natural for your hand with good finger angle and mobility.  Menhuin's hold is just that.


April 26, 2011 at 11:20 PM ·

Andrew, this violin rests actually on the base of the 1st finger (i.e. index) of the left hand

Menuhin certainly DOES NOT advocate that...and he is very clear about it in his instructional video.  In fact I have some direct quotes from the video:

"It is important that the violin should be supported and touched only with the fingertip and the soft pad of the thumb"

"Karen, perhaps you might show me your hold of the violin. Thats very good. If you can increase even more the space between the root joint and the first finger base and keep that soft and free"

And in his book "6 lessons...", ...and a circular shape is formed between the thumb and each finger as in the right hand of the bow.  To achieve this shape its is necessary, with the slight rotation ofthe forearm, for the base joint of the first finger to come away from the neck and that of the fourth finger to come closer to the neck without disturbing the shape and contact of the thumb"... Earlier inthe chapter: "Until we learn to relax and develop the thumb, we will not do our best with violin playing; hence my great stress on the thumb and on learning how to use it"

April 27, 2011 at 03:56 AM ·

I've said more than enough on this topic on other threads in the past, as well as on my website http://rkviolin.com. My views and techniques are based on years of experience as a professional performer and teacher, and as one who has studied first-hand with some of the greats, such as Aaron Rosand and Glenn Dicterow.

I'm not going to repeat myself anymore. I've come late in this thread mainly with a plea to Laurie: in the "Submit a thread" section, it says in bold "not all threads will be accepted!" I think that most of us would be very happy if no more SR threads would be accepted - at least for a long,long time to come. People can be referred to the myriad of words already written here on this increasingly tedious subject. What do you say?

It's getting to be like the old Abbot &Costello "Niagra Falls" routine - except we substitute the words "shoulder rest". "Shoulder rest? Shoulder rest????? Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch - and I broke the violin over his head!"

April 27, 2011 at 04:14 AM ·

I agree 100% with Raphael.

99th reply.

April 27, 2011 at 04:15 AM ·

 ...and 100. Please refer to the search bar if any of you are craving more insipid nonsense on this topic.

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

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