Does a pad under the violin dampen the tone?

July 25, 2011 at 01:40 PM ·

Disclaimer: This is not about the merits of SR vs. no-SR. I'm tired of that topic too. I just need some help with my set up. 

I have never been really happy with my set-up and right now I am totally fed up with it. I need some advice if you don't mind. I have been using a bonmusica shoulder rest for years but lately I have switched to a simple pad that I made by rolling up a small towel. It's definitely less restrictive. I was wondering if this would dampen the tone, but I'm not sure if that's a valid concern. I realize that you'd have to hear it in person to tell me whether it really is problematic, but can someone tell me if this is generally considered to be an impediment to the tone? Under my ear I have to be honest that I cannot tell much difference, sound-wise. The main difference that I perceive between the shoulder rest and my home-made towel pad is that the towel allows for more freedom of movement, which I like.

I have attached this photo of the back of my violin with the pad in the position that I have for playing. Under my ear the tone seems quite full, but when I played for other people almost no one could tell the difference between the bonmusica, the towel, and nothing at all. My roommate said she thought I got the fullest tone with the shoulder rest but I'm thinking it's possible that I just happened to play louder with it since I'm used to it. I suppose a pad won't be quite the same tone as nothing at all, but do you think it is more or less as muffling as a regular shoulder rest? It could be my imagination but under my ear I think it sounds the same as playing with nothing. I could be wrong though. 

I realize that many will tell me to go without any support at all. I don't think I have time to learn how to do that right now because I am learning Chausson's Poeme for a recital and I have auditions coming up. Years ago I injured my shoulder playing rugby and it is not comfortable to bring it forward for long hours of practice. I just want to know if anyone else uses a pad or a sponge (or even a bit of towel like me) and if you think it compromises the tone.



Replies (29)

July 25, 2011 at 02:08 PM ·

Hi Michael,

I've found that on my fiddle it depends on the material. I have noticed dampening with a towel like yours, less with cosmetic sponges, least (perhaps none) with that plumbing insulation foam tubing you can get at hardware stores for dirt cheap (about 59 cents per 3' tube here in Toronto.) I've tried the insulation foam intact (tube) and split and flattened out -- only drawback is it's kind of ugly. Right now I'm using the foam in conjunction with cosmetic sponges. Placement of the pad makes a big difference too; the towel covering a larger area of the back and towards the middle probably contributes to it's dampening effect. I've also noticed that any dampening is most noticeable in a dead room, so perhaps it makes little difference in a lively hall.


P.S. Inserting the foam between fiddle and towel might reduce (eliminate?) dampening.

July 25, 2011 at 02:15 PM ·


the best measure is your ear, someone elses, and/or a recording of the violin with/without the shoulder rest.  I don't think there are any objective/scienttific studies of various shoulder rests and impacts on the violin sound. This probably would involve an anechoic chamber, and some high quality microphones, etc. As the room accoustics may have an impact as well.

Sounds like you have your answer.

July 25, 2011 at 02:27 PM ·

You might consider the Acoustifoam rest. It has the physical advantage of your new method but much less contact with the back of the violin.



July 25, 2011 at 02:58 PM ·

The main issue should be whether or not you are comfortable with your setup.  Nothing will compromise your tone more than trying to play with some setup that is not completely comfortable.  That said, you should test the various possible comfortable setups by playing for someone else, probably a teacher, so that you hear what you sound like to other people.  You might also have that person play for you with the setups so that you are ok with the tone.

July 25, 2011 at 03:02 PM ·

 Just play asbestos you can.

July 25, 2011 at 04:58 PM ·

I started with a simple bit of foam held on with a rubber band.  At one point, I thought I'd try a shoulder rest that allowed the full back to vibrate - thinking that the foam damped vibrations and  I'd get better tone.  I tried the Wolf Forte Secundo.  Its a fine shoulder rest, but I couldn't really tell a difference in the sound, nor could others.  I went back to my foam and rubber band.  Like you, I feel more comfortable with a soft pad.

The physics of this are a mystery to me.  I thought vibrations from a full back would improve the lower tones and add fullness.  It seems to be not the case.  Maybe violin frequencies are all high enough that none of them involve vibration of the full back. Comments from luthiers would be interesting.

July 25, 2011 at 05:14 PM ·

If you drop your prejudice against the shoulder rest and realize that it is not restricting your movement in any sort of which way, and stop thinking that you are a hero a la Heifetz, and know what 80% of violin players know that pads against the violin will dampen the sound like cushions in a drum, it will open your ears and mind to reality. The truth will set you free.

July 25, 2011 at 05:34 PM ·

Andre - please, please don't go there... the topic really was NOT about the choice of shoulder rest against not but about pads and effect on tone.  Pads and effect on tone.  Pads and effect on tone.  Pads and effect on tone.  Pads and effect on tone.  Pads and effect on tone.  Pads and effect on tone.  Pads and effect on tone.  Pads and effect on tone.  Pads and effect on tone.  Pads and effect on tone.  Pads and effect on tone. 

Need I repeat? :p

July 25, 2011 at 05:38 PM ·

Here we go again :-)

July 25, 2011 at 05:51 PM ·

To answer Michael's question, I think it depends on the violin.  Each violin resonates differently.  My teacher, fellow v.commie Ron Mutchnik swears by the Acoustifoams.  We have done tests.  On most violins, it does not affect the sound, but on MY violin, it definitely has a dampening effect.  So, if the towel is doing the job, and you (and friends) cannot tell a difference in sound, then it sounds like you have a winner. 

July 25, 2011 at 06:42 PM ·

Like you, I'm experimenting with setups, and found that the "Huber pad" (available from the UK for about 15 USD inc. international shipping) works best.  Denser foam than you get from an upholstery shop; neat size, comes with 5 possible configurations, fastens with elastics.

I don't notice much-if-any damping on either violin or viola (why I needed something flexible...) but it's supportive and compact.  I got mine through, because couldn't sell it internationally!

For my playing, the issue is much more if I grip too tightly--that, with ANY setup, affects the vibrations, particularly on my (older) violin than my (5-yr-old) viola.

July 25, 2011 at 07:02 PM ·

To assume that playing with a shoulder rest and using no shoulder rest will achieve the same end results is a misguided notion I think.  

I think the worst kind of rests are the ones that have feet that clamp to the ribs of the violin and mute the vibrations.  Most players I have listened to who use big shoulder rests have tiny sounds.  Many shoulder rests are tilted or angled so that the player will bow and hold the instrument at a completely different angle from someone who does not..  Shoulder rests such as the Kun, restrict movement because they are so stiff.  

I think a much better option to a shoulder rest (if you need to use something under the instrument) is a small cosmetic sponge or foam rubber (which Isaac Stern used).  They are not stiff nor do they clamp the sides of the violin.  

July 25, 2011 at 07:05 PM ·

 I would back what Smiley and others have said: if you and your friend have not really noticed much of a difference with your towel then go ahead and keep using it, after all it's making you play comfortably right? :)

I also would like to back up Marjory's idea of the 'Huber pad'....I personally do not use any type of rest at all when I play the violin, but have tried the Huber pad in the past and have noticed hardly any impact on the tone of the violin by the Huber pad and it helps to play the violin in a very comfortable and 'free' way, very much like playing with no rest at all but just a little help there to rest your violin if you have a slightly longer neck...or if you prefer a little more 'security/stability' either whilst your transition to no rest at all or all the time if that's what you prefer/find more comfortable.

July 25, 2011 at 07:18 PM ·

There are 3 instruments to consider here.

The violin.

The bow.


I'd like to address the 3rd instrument - Michael!

Michael - if you've got freedom and relaxation and more connection between yourself, the fiddle and your sense of musical expression with a towel - then I vote TOWEL!

Smiles! Diane

July 25, 2011 at 07:50 PM ·

Thanks for keeping this constructive, I'm glad it was understandable that this is not an unfounded rant against shoulder rests (what's best for me may not be what's best for 80% of everyone else), but just a question about pads, as Elise pointed out. I will try some other pad options that were suggested and see what my teacher says the next time I go to see him. And thank you John for your concern. It's white though. 

July 25, 2011 at 08:06 PM ·

"and realize that it is not restricting your movement in any sort of which way"

Hahaha, like a cast on the foot allows no restriction of movement of the toes, HAHAHAHA!

July 25, 2011 at 08:21 PM ·

 I like Diane's reply :) :) :) 



July 25, 2011 at 09:04 PM ·

I am talking about classical players and not kids whose violin scrolls point half way to the floor and have the sloppiest posture imaginable.  

July 25, 2011 at 09:18 PM ·

I noticed dampening to my violin when a pad or cloth is attached to the back, so I placed the padding over my shoulder and under my shirt. This also reduces the weight of the violin which allows easier manipulation from the left hand. I position the pad on my shoulder even before I leave the house and I just whip my fiddle out and away I go, without going through the ritual of attaching foreign bodies to my instrument.   I am now useing a very firm material such as the peak of my cap, it's shaped nicely to fit over my shoulder. But I will adquire a thick piece of leather and cut it to shape.

July 27, 2011 at 06:49 PM ·

Not quite on topic, but I was thinking the other day about how much effort is needed by the left arm/hand to support the weight of a violin being played without a shoulder rest.  So I measured it (approximately).

I have on the wall of my kitchen a kitchen scales which has a horizontal platform for weighing flour, sugar etc. Conveniently, this platform is at shoulder height.  I weighed one of my violins (with chin rest attached) on the weighing platform – it was 425gm (15oz).  I then placed the violin on my collar bone with the violin neck resting on the raised edge of the weighing platform, just short of the scroll (i.e. where I would hold it in the first position) – the indicated weight was now 170gm (6oz).  A slight downward pressure with the chin (perhaps just opening my mouth a little) would reduce the indicated weight on the scales to well under 100gm, even to zero (which would be the situation if I were to use a shoulder rest).

Note that my left arm and shoulder muscles are not just supporting that 170gm (or less) of the violin, but the much bigger weight of my left arm and hand, and this weight will have to be supported even if a shoulder rest is used. At the moment I don't know how to weigh my left arm and hand, at any rate without undergoing heroic reversible surgery :-)

A tip: don't wear a watch on the left wrist. It is extra weight which would be better off on the bowing arm, or even not worn at all when playing.


July 27, 2011 at 08:04 PM ·

 So Michael, I hope you'll be back to this thread to let us know what you ended up doing at the end? (just curious that's all :))

this thread made me go and 'fetch' my old Huber pad last night and I placed it first on my violin with an elastic band (I have now played with no rest/sponge for 6 months coming next week), then I took it off the violin and placed it under my top directly on my shoulder.  Then I took the cloth I clean my violin with, folded it up until it formed something which looked like Michaels' towel in the picture, placed that under my top on my shoulder as well (in place of the Huber pad).  I was 'curious' to see if it made my violin sound 'different'. I did not have an audience and did not record myself, sorry, but 'to me' the violin sounded definitely louder when I use absolutely nothing (when I use nothing my violin does not touch my shoulder, my neck is not long but not that short either so I have a gap of half an inch between violin and shoulder, the violin only touches my collarbone and chin).   

so 'for me' anyway, I liked 'my violin' better without the pad/cloth in between, BUT with the pad/cloth it was a minimal difference and if I was comfortable and tension free with a pad/cloth this would NOT stop me from using it, I play with no pad/cloth as that's the way I am most free/comfortable.  I hope you settle on what YOU are happy with :)

July 27, 2011 at 10:02 PM ·

Trevor if the Three Stooges were still around you would be a great stand-in.  

July 27, 2011 at 10:06 PM ·

 Yes, basic science my friend.  Any contact of anything on the wood is going to dampen the sound.  Just holding the thing with no shoulder rest will dampen the sound cause it's touching your shoulder.

July 28, 2011 at 02:20 PM ·

 A lot of the high frequencies of many violins come off the back and ribs, more so on older instruments than new ones, generally, in my experience. Damping the back can be good or bad, depending on how your violin sounds, and which direction you consider the changes to be, good or bad. I have heard damped backs smooth and darken instruments which might be a bit bright, and also smooth and darken instruments which were already too smooth and dark. And then there are the ones that don't change at all.

One thing that's almost certain is that you will not hear as much change under your ear as people will at a distance, unless you are one of those few people whose left ear is on the inside of their left elbow. More of any change will happen out beyond thirty feet or so, after the sound from the whole instrument has a chance to gather back together (if there is anything to gather--lesser instruments tend to not show as much difference in this, either).

Anyway, the bottom line is your results WILL vary, depending on your violin and your taste, and be sure to check from a distance, too.

July 28, 2011 at 03:23 PM ·

Michael - your post was very informative.  One question that occurs to me is whether you can compensate to some extent for the effect of something touching the violin by adjusting the soundpost slightly?

July 29, 2011 at 02:57 AM ·

 I doubt it.

July 31, 2011 at 05:53 PM ·

 Try the PSR (perfect shoulder rest). It has two layers of foam and the one in contact with the back of the fiddle is very low density and seems to me to interfere much less with the sound. Also attach it like I mention in my article on how to hold the violin found on this site. If you attach it like the manufacturer says it is in the wrong place and it is held too tightly against the back of the fiddle.

August 5, 2011 at 04:08 PM ·

Whatever you choose be sure to check how it feels when playing in a suit jacket. Some years ago I went without shoulder rest or pad for a while and was fine most of the time but I did find that I had to adjust somewhat when playing in my tuxedo jacket which of course feels quite a bit different than a shirt or sweater since there is already some padding in the shoulders. You want the fiddle to feel secure with any movement being intentional on your part. A slippery pad can be as bad as a wobbly shoulder rest. You want a set up that's going to be comfortable when performing.    -M

August 5, 2011 at 04:39 PM ·

You seemed to have answered the sound question with your friend but I'd be curious to know how large a space you were in was it a room or a performance space like a hall?  -M

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