I recently went abroad for few months but I didn't bring my violin. Since I was itching to play, I bought a cheap violin online.
I didn't have a shoulder rest so I decided to experiment without one. I've practiced for a week now, and I can play comfortably without a rest or a sponge.
The few days were painful. I was not able to shift at all especially downshifting. My thumb seem to be glued to the neck. However, after one week of focused shifting exercises (Flesch, Sevcik, and Menuhin's thumb exercises), I can glide comfortably in all positions and experience no resistance.
The key is to train your thumb to support the violin yet still flexible enough to slide across the neck. When you first try this, it will be an impossible task. However, with some dedication, your thumb will adapt to its new role.
Resting the violin on your collarbone can be painful if you are just wearing a t-shirt. The best solution is to have some thin cloth to cushion the bottom of metal bracket that holds the chinrest.
As for benefits of playing without a rest, it definitely allows greater flexibility and range of motion of the left arm. I had a Mach One shoulder and it blocks my arm from rotate to the left to reach for the G string. Playing restless, my arm is able to move freely. Moreover, you just have one less piece of equipment to carry around and won't feel like a cat in the water if you ever forgot to bring your shoulder rest.
For the record, I have long neck and very bony body structure. In fact, I used to play on an Extra High chinrest(2x the height) with a shoulder rest set to Max Height. Playing restless does not require short-neck or meaty body because the violin is not actually being "held" like a shoulder rest would do. Instead, for most of the time, the violin is being balanced by your thumb, collarbone, and your head. There is actually a big gap between your shoulder and the violin.
I highly recommend anyone whose livelihood or career does not dependent on violin playing to try this out. Your left hand skill will suffer a bit at the beginning but with one week of focused training, you will regain your ability.
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