How to Play the Violin Without a Shoulder Rest

March 20, 2012 at 01:00 AM · This article is dedicated to Cheryl Corey

This article is intended for violinists who are interested in learning how to hold the violin without using a shoulder rest, or using their shoulder for support. It is based on my own observations, experience, and some of what I have learned from my teachers. There are as many ways to hold the violin, as there are violinists. If you feel comfortable using a shoulder rest or your shoulder to assist you while playing the violin, then by all means, proceed as you are already. This is just one way for violinists that are interested in learning to way to play the violin without a shoulder rest, to do so.

First, the violin isn’t held, so much as balanced on the collarbone and propped up with the left hand. You can think of the violin as a bridge between these two ledges or points of contact. Begin by holding the violin in your left hanging loosely by your left side next to your leg. Bring the violin up with your left hand, and assist with your right hand if you need to, around the lower right rib at the corner. Slightly lift your head up, creating space for the violin to insert into the gap between your chin and your collarbone, and place the back of the lower left bout over your left collarbone. Lower your head down gently placing your chin on the chin rest. The natural weight of you head should be enough to keep the violin in place.

Try to balance the neck of the violin between the lower proximal phalanx of the left index finger and the around the joint between the distal and proximal phalanx of the left thumb. The ideal height of the violin should be about parallel to the ground and you should resemble the form of an archer or gunman taking aim.

Some of you may have collarbones deeply imbedded or very close to your neck. This may be the case especially in children. If so, even a collared shirt may be too thick for the violin to rest firmly over the collarbone. If your violin consistently slips off of your collarbone, try wrapping a cloth around the chinrest and lower bout of the violin for extra friction, or, a piece of chamois (or other fabric with grip such as carpet liner).

The precise way in which you will hold he violin and which body parts it will touch, is impossible to say, especially without observing the person with the instrument in hand. Everybody’s anatomy is different, ranging from different lengths, shapes, widths of body parts, and placements of bones. For example, some violinists like my friend Cheryl, who have relatively long necks and/or combined with broad, sloped, or regular shoulders, may have to hold their violins high in order for the chinrest to meet their chins, and will have the violin considerably off of their shoulder. Others with shorter necks and/or high shoulders will have the violin more adapted to their body shape, and will fit snug, like a doorstop. Their shoulders may even naturally touch the back of the instrument.

Whatever your anatomy, your shoulders should remain down and relaxed while playing. Your spine, all the way up to through your neck, should remain relatively straight with as little deviation from a neutral position as possible. Think of yourself as an athlete. You wouldn’t run, play tennis, soccer, basketball, etc. and keep your neck or spine in a compromised or crooked position. You should be relaxed and flexible at all times to respond to commands and to ensure fluidity of motion in execution.

Try to keep your eyes fixed on the instrument while you perform to watch the bow and/or fingers. It is like looking down the barrel of a rifle when you are taking aim. If you take your eyes off the target, you might miss, or likewise, if you are driving, and take your eyes off the road, you might get into an accident. Violin is a highly complex and sophisticated multitasking operation, and you should use all of your focus and senses to perform it.

The use or nonuse of a shoulder rest is a topic of heated debate in the classical violin world. You may even feel so strongly about using or not using a shoulder rest, that it is a way of life. Here are the reasons why I don’t use one.

  1. Tone – In my opinion, the best tone ever produced on the violin is by masters that did not use a shoulder rest. These include but are not limited to Ysaÿe, Kreisler, Heifetz, Milstein, Perlman, and my teacher, Erick Friedman. If you have never heard these violinists before, I would suggest to get acquainted with their playing. Knowing the work of the greatest craftsmen in your field is helpful. As Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

    If you decide to not use a shoulder rest, try to avoid clenching the shoulder to the back plate while playing. The shoulder acts as a mute, much the way a hand can stop the vibrations of a bell. This is the most stark and immediate difference when not using a shoulder rest or your shoulder to support the violin. Your sound will instantly be more resonant, deep, variant, and colorful. Basically, you will hear the way the violin was intended to sound. Actually, the violin sounds even more sonorous if you remove the chinrest as well. For more reading on playing without a chinrest as Paganini is purported to have played, visit the virtuoso Ruggiero Ricci’s book ‘Ricci on Glissando.’ I also believe that violinists like Kreisler and Heifetz kept their violins high to project more and to maximize the amount of volume from their instruments. It’s kind of like an old-fashioned amplifying technique.

  2. Uniqueness of tone – Using a shoulder rest is more likely to cause homogeneity of tone. I believe the combination of most shoulder rests especially with synthetic strings, set up a limited tonal paradigm. By using more natural support and equipment, the sound will also be more natural, flexible, and “human” like. For example, if you compare most modern violinists that use shoulder rests amongst themselves, I think you will find less tonal variety than if you compare old masters that didn’t use shoulder rests, to each other. If you feel like you need more support to hold the instrument, first try padding your collarbone with foam rubber. You can place this under your shirt, coat jacket, or use a rubber band to fasten it to the back of the violin. The violin is an awkward instrument to play and to keep in position. Be patient with developing your muscles and the stamina to keep it up.
  3. Freedom and mobility - Not using a shoulder rest gives you the freedom and mobility to hold the violin at any height. If you ever teach violin, you will notice that just having students raise their fiddle cures many technical issues. One, the bow automatically becomes more parallel to the bridge. Two, the bow gets naturally drawn into the sounding point. Three, it enables the player to dig more deeply into the strings because they are more parallel to the ground. A shoulder rest fixes the violin into a tilted angle, but it should be relatively flat and played with the most athletic natural approach possible. Wouldn’t you rather eat on a flat table rather than a slanted one? Or, wouldn’t you rather play basketball on a flat court rather than a crooked one?

    Raising the fiddle will also create more space for your left arm to maneuver. Letting it droop will constrain your motions and make you feel as if you’re playing inside an old telephone booth.

  4. Dynamic motion – The violin should not be a fixed and static instrument like the piano, cello, or guitar. Watch Heifetz, Milstein, or Perlman, and you’ll see that the violin is never locked into place, but rather subtly and fluidly moving according to the motions of their bodies. It gives the impression of the strength and fluidity of a spider web in the wind. This is possible only because they play without tension. The most important principle to play the violin well is complete muscular relaxation. The benefits of this are manifold and will be elaborated upon in another article. Imagine you’re cradling a baby bird in your left hand. That will give you the idea of how relaxed you should be.
  5. Facility and coordination – Raising the left shoulder with or without a shoulder rest can impede coordination. Think of the circuit from your head to your left hand as a hose running freely. If you pinch or bend a part of it, the flow of water will be restricted. You can prove this easily by playing a fast passage with your shoulder raised and then down, and noticing the difference in facility and coordination.
  6. Contact and balance – I believe using a technique that keeps contact and engulfs the violin as much as possible is preferable for many reasons. By removing the shoulder rest, this will happen more naturally. You will notice that your approach to the instrument will become more kinesthetic. Having more contact with the instrument will give you more security of intonation and intimacy, and it will become more like an extension of yourself. You will actually feel the vibrations of the instrument through your bone and the rest of your body, and consequently more likely to be physically moved as well as move your audience.

    An adjustment that is helpful when not using a shoulder rest is placing your thumb slightly forward, about opposite your second finger when it is placed on the note F natural on the D string. (This is also suggested by Leopold Auer in ‘Violin Playing As I Teach It.’) Supporting the violin essentially by the hand, you will need to find a more stable balance and more stable fulcrum point. Your tone will even improve slightly with the thumb in this position, because the violin being held with more firmness and security, will allow the bow to draw sound out of the instrument more easily.

    Moving the thumb slightly forward will also allow your hand to more easily stretch into the higher positions. The greatest advantage of this technique however, is that in third position, your palm contacts the ribs (and the thumb, the saddle). Watch videos of Heifetz, Milstein, Kreisler (silent), Elman, Oistrakh, and Perlman and you’ll notice that they all do this. Actually, I’ve never seen a great violinist not do this. The greatest violinists always have great contact with their instruments. Friedman conveyed this principle using the analogy of a blind man walking and tapping the wall with his stick to find his way around.

    Keeping the violin high also balances the entire frame of the body. When the violin starts to sag, the body follows with it, and starts to put stress on one side of the body. Become sensitive to this and adjust as you play. A good place to start is with the feet. Think of the placement of your feet as the foundation to a building or the roots of a tree. The rest of the body should remain balanced, centered, and upright on top of that.

    Having the violin droop down is a natural tendency for violinists especially as they try to concentrate more. Always, remember to reset your posture and not let your focus unbalance your posture.

    Another anecdote Friedman told me was about Fritz Kreisler. After being struck by a truck in Manhattan, Kreisler was left deaf. Trying to play the violin again, he asked Nathan Milstein if the first note was in tune, and from there was able to continue using muscle memory. This was an object lesson in the importance of contact with the violin.

  7. Aesthetics – Good posture will not only make your sound better but also look better. The violin is one of the most beautiful objects ever created. Some of the most gorgeous, made by Stradivarius, Guarneri, and Amati are enigmatically beautiful and the full glory of the flames of their backs can be exposed even on the stage when played without a shoulder rest. Holding the violin high gives an impression of regalness and elegance to the audience. I have always felt that the shoulder rest looks like a foreign object on the violin and destroys its lines as well as those of the player. Keep yourself exposed as well as the violin. There is no hiding when you are on stage.
  8. Philosophy - Lastly, it is my philosophy that if you don’t need a crutch, don’t use one. If you can master your way around the fiddle without the use of a shoulder rest, then you should feel proud. It could be argued, that one is not even playing the violin when using a shoulder rest or their shoulder. Are you really a cyclist if you’re still using training wheels?

Replies (101)

March 20, 2012 at 10:37 AM · Emil, and interesting and useful post.

I find I almost entirely agree with you, except that I do not find a shoulder rest effects the sound, and I do not see why one can't be just as free and relaxed, and loose, when using one. It's really horses for courses.

One or two wonderful contemporary players I know of use a shoulder rest and in their own way are just as phenominal as those past masters who did not.

However, you are not being dogmatic about it, and you are obviously a very observant and experienced player and teacher. Thanks for your contribution, and I would say that it always remains food for thought. We should not have closed minds, and experimention will always continue with me, as long as I can continue to play.

March 20, 2012 at 01:24 PM · Interesting! Thanks for posting your article.

I play without a shoulder rest...that's how we all learned. So when I was first advised to try one (years later as an adult)...and did...I was appalled at how painful the entire process of playing a violin had become. To me...it's a torture device.

However, in all fairness...I think it's generally easier to learn/do vibrato with a shoulder rest...

...and the drawback of not using one is the pressure the violin places on your collarbone...but a sponge has taken care of that issue for me...although I hate having the sponge and elastic bands on my violin...feels like it's wearing braces or something along those lines...

March 20, 2012 at 01:45 PM · I'm always exposing the back of my fiddle to all and sundry. Especially when I use it to swat flies or play cricket ... (For our American friends cricket is that wierd game where someone throws a very hard ball at you at great speed, and you try and hit it with the fiddle - sorry, I mean bat ...)

March 20, 2012 at 03:48 PM · "Lastly, it is my philosophy that if you don’t need a crutch, don’t use one. If you can master your way around the fiddle without the use of a shoulder rest, then you should feel proud. It could be argued, that one is not even playing the violin when using a shoulder rest or their shoulder. Are you really a cyclist if you’re still using training wheels?"

Peter, you don't find this just the tiniest bit dogmatic?

March 20, 2012 at 05:11 PM · Lisa - erm - I don't think I said that!

March 20, 2012 at 07:31 PM · No, you didn't say it, Peter, but you were congratulationg the OP for lack of dogma. Catma, too, I suppose.

March 20, 2012 at 08:13 PM · Catma? What's that?

In fact I said I almost agreed with him. That's not saying 100%

Anyway, I use a shoulder rest, so I'm not in his camp.

March 20, 2012 at 08:54 PM · … try wrapping a cloth around the chinrest and lower bout of the violin for extra friction, or, a piece of chamois (or other fabric with grip such as carpet liner).

I find the Strad Pad ideal for this.

If you can master your way around the fiddle without the use of a shoulder rest, then you should feel proud.

Grateful, perhaps. But proud? As if SR-users, who are in the majority, were an inferior breed?

As a kid beginner, I first learned to play violin rest-less and continued doing so all the way to age 18. All those years, I never considered using the SR -- though I recalled that my first teacher had used one. It was my idea, at 18, to try out some rests. Now I had a comparison -- SR versus no SR. For me, SR wins, hands down. Hilary Hahn and Josh Bell -- to name just two famous soloists -- seem to be doing fine with their SRs.

It could be argued, that one is not even playing the violin when using a shoulder rest …. Are you really a cyclist if you’re still using training wheels?

And yet training wheels, typically, are devices that little riders start with but then drop; while the SR, if any, typically comes later, not at the beginning. And the 3-wheeler and 2-wheeler are usually -- though not necessarily -- two different bikes; whereas the violin is still the same instrument with or without the SR.

Having more contact with the instrument will give you more security of intonation and intimacy.

I heartily agree with this. But the way I, personally, achieve maximum security and intimacy with the instrument is by going jacket-less and tie-less, not rest-less. I've already harped plenty on the matter -- here and here, for instance.

March 20, 2012 at 09:10 PM · I thought the post was OK but I have to say on re-reading and with others comments I'm finding more to disagree about.

Trouble is that I'm such a friendly chap that I don't stick the knife in quite so readily, but I have to agree that some of the statements were a bit extreme.

However, I think words were attibuted to me which I never said, which is rather dishonest. But I can also see that I misunderstood the fact that you were quoting him, so maybe we should all go to bed. (It's late evening here in the UK - and life is abit of a bummer at the moment, so I'm a bit short tempered tonight. Must be the meno-pause).

March 20, 2012 at 10:02 PM · This is a very well thought out explanation, Emil, and I commend you for sharing these ideas and principles!

For everyone else, I've known Emil for almost a decade. We were both students of Erick Friedman at the same time. I'd suggest all of you to open up your minds and give these ideas a try. It's easy to jump to conclusions, and stick to developed habits. These ideas, I'll assure you, do come from the very highest of sources and were principles that Leopold Auer, Jascha Heifetz, and our teacher Erick Friemdan adhered to.

I'll conclude by saying that the shoulder rest is in fact a crutch. It supports the violin like scaffolding does to hold up a building under construction. The training wheel analogy that Emil presented in comparison with the shoulder rest is apt. A shoulder rest, in my opinion, impedes an athletic approach to playing the violin at the very highest level. In addition, as discussed in this article, the natural resonance and tone of an instrument is changed significantly (in my opinion for the worse) when a shoulder rest like a Kun is clamped on the sides of the violin.

There are many very fine violinists who have used shoulder rests, but the truly great artists on the violin (Heifetz, Kreisler, Friedman, Milstein etc.) in all facets, have not used shoulder rests.

March 20, 2012 at 11:31 PM · Thanks for the support Nate. I realize that a lot of violinists use a shoulder rest or not because they feel comfortable. However, some may play with tension and even sometimes pain. If this is the case, here is an exercise that I think might help to eliminate discomfort, promote balance, and free your sound.

First, remove your shoulder rest and angle the violin just high enough so that the violin is falling into the base of your neck and resting on the collar bone. Do not support the violin with your shoulder or touch your chin to the chin rest. Your neck should be neutral and your head should be free to move in any direction. Practice at least one to two octaves scales for at least 5-10 mins a day like this for a week, while making sure there is no tension anywhere in your body. I hope this helps and that you will notice improvement.

March 22, 2012 at 02:16 AM · Emil,

I played with pain for years until my teacher suggested some practice time without the SR to re-learn my balance. I've been spending about 10-15 minutes each day without one and yes, my tension & pain is nearly gone. I'm still a SR user, but going without one really exposes every little bit of tension

March 22, 2012 at 12:14 PM · Good for you Mendy and I'm glad that this has worked for you. Best of luck in your pursuits.

June 8, 2012 at 08:50 PM · There are videos on Youtube with Yehudi Menuhin giving exercises which will help your stability and flexibility immensly, whether you use a shoulder rest or not. The video called 'Yehudi Menuhin Violin Tutorial - 3. Left Hand First Exercises'

June 8, 2012 at 09:17 PM · If the shoulder rest is a crutch then so is the chinrest. Take it off too, then you can see the violin as it was designed to be played. Oh, and uncovered gut strings, baroque bow, and candles too.

I don't use a shoulder rest except when I feel like it.

Cheers Carlo

June 10, 2012 at 07:21 AM · I have gone from shoulder rest to none over the years and coincidentally I decided to go back to not using one recently. The sound of my instrument changes dramatically (which I'm sure is not news for anyone) and the feel of the violin is more organic and gone is the feeling of the instrument being propped up or wedged to my body.

I use a modified method that Zukerman showed me years ago of using (as he said he first used a door stop (!) wrapped in a sock...) a piece of foam underneath my shirt or other clothing and then a simple rubberband along the backside of the violin to ease slipping. I find that in practicality you can put as much or as little as you need underneath your clothing to almost equal any support you would get from a shoulder rest.

The only issue (and not an insignificant one) is vibrato and general left-hand facility. I can say that I have never used a wrist vibrato in isolation (rocking of the hand at the wrist instead of using the whole arm/wrist with the fulcrum of the first joint of the fingers) but when I am without a shoulder rest it often becomes the only option. I also have an enormous hand (well, two actually) so that's also a considerable detail.

June 10, 2012 at 08:01 AM · I went "restless" for several years, with the benefits that Emil describes, but I just could not find the vibrato that my inner ear wanted, (on the viola) either on the C-string (with my very short pinkie), or high up on th A, (where my thumb has to come round the upper bout, or even along the side of the fingerboard!)

I like the bycicle analogy, but I would rather compare a shoulder-rest to finding the right saddle than to childs' training wheels.

I would insist on the word "rest", quite different from the notion of a "crutch". My viola rests on my shoulder. I have simply adapted the viola to my lanky frame so that I can play how (and what) I wish.

I appreciate the lack of knee-jerk reaction on this thread, with more searching questions than dogmatic answers.

P.S. Folks who try my violin or viola just love my much-adapted chinrests: perhaps I should take out a patent before describing them!...

June 10, 2012 at 09:08 AM · Juan-Paolo

With a hand that size you should be playing the double bass!

June 10, 2012 at 09:23 AM · I'm young (violin years ;) ) and hence still open to broad experimentation. Recently I discovered that I'm holding the violin totally wrongly. I had difficulties with a conventional shoulder rest - could not get comfortable with a kuhn-style and although the Bonhoffer was OK initially, it was too restrictive for shifting and playing in general so that too got dumped.

I adapted a 3/4 shoulder rest onto my full size violin to bring it very close to the neck. That has worked pretty well but I always have the feeling that the violin is escaping me and rotating to the right (pressing against my L index).

After reading I realized that my setup stopped the violin from contacting the collarbone at all and I've been experimenting with fixing that. A lot of this has been restless (hence this post). It seems my violin lodges quite nicely on the collarbone and I do not have much issue with it slipping off (which is amazing since the last time I tried this it was the biggest problem - I think watching Menuhin on his teaching utubes was a big inspiration).

I really like the freedom of the shoulder - in particular with shifts high on the fingerboard (BTW - this, and not tone, is the biggest attraction for me for going SR-less. However, after a short while I get tense and start to clamp the shoulder, in an attempt to to support the violin back. The problem is the weight of the violin on the L hand. It seems that once the violin is under the chin there is an extra force pushing it down into the hand, which is, of course restrictive. It may be that the problem is the chin rest (or rather all three types I tried) because getting sufficient grip at the chin comes with a leveraging action that pushes the scroll end down.

So, I put the full sized SR back on - but in the 10 - 4 o'clock position suggested elsewhere - this aligns it along my shoulder and is far less restrictive than when accross the violin. I'm not really sure why the SR is so much more confortable than without since its not in contact with my shoulder most of the time.

I'm going to keep experimenting to see if I really can play SR less - not for purity or even tone but for maximizing freedom.

June 10, 2012 at 10:26 AM · My violin did not come with a shoulder rest so I practice without one. At first, when I started off with incorrect posture and holding the violin, I felt pain on my collarbone and shoulder. But when I corrected it, it is fine. I rest the side of the jaw close to my chin on the chin rest so part of my jaw and part of my chin is on that rest and have my shoulder relaxed while the violin is leaning on it. I hold the fingerboard up between my thumb and forefinger. I am not too sure about the difference between not having a shoulder rest and having one as I have not progressed enough and have only practiced without one. But I can see the sense of having more control over your violin when it is more physically in contact with yourself as the player. I think I will remain without a shoulder rest unless a medical reason of some sorts pops up requires for me to have one.

June 10, 2012 at 11:48 AM · Elise

Take you head and chin off the chin rest most of the time - or at worst only just touching.

June 10, 2012 at 12:02 PM · I'll give that a try ....

June 10, 2012 at 12:52 PM · I wasn't going to respond to this thread since as many of us know, there have already been about 100 other threads on this topic on v.com over the years. But perusing Emil's post - admittedly not every single word - I found so much that resonated with my own approach that I'll just say a word or two.

I also like to say that the violin is not held so much as it is balanced. I was especially tickled by Emil's anaolgy at the end, comparing using a SR to riding a bike with training wheels. I had long used the same anaology, and thought I was the only one! (Adrian - to be very picky, I would compare the saddle to the chinrest.) I wouldn't go so far as to say that you're not really a cyclist if you use training wheels - more important, by implication, that you're not really a violinist if you use a SR. There are too many great example to the contrary. But once you get the hang of going restless, the sense of freedom and opennes and oneness with the instrument that you get, lends a whole other dimension to your playing. I have been on both sides of the SR fence, so I speak from personal experience. I began without one for a number of years. Then I used one for a number of years - or should I say several, never satisfied or completely comfortable with any SR/chinrest combo that I tried. Finally in 1986 I spent a summer studying with Aron Rosand, who taught me how to really play restless, among many other things. It is this approach, slightly modified, that I pass on in my own teaching. And I have also offered - and still do - one free lesson in how to go restless to my colleagues - an offer that has had very few takers. There are absolutely many great SR users, and I am not saying otherwise. And some non-resters are a bit smug. (Look Ma, no hands!) At the same time, some resters seem to view non-resters almost as aliens. And what I object to most is not someone using a rest, but the assumption that the rest should be used from the beginning as a natural default. If someone were to say to me "I could teach you to also play comfortably and securely w.o. a chinrest" I'd say "show me what you got" But time and again when I've made a similar offer to a colleague re going restless - usually when they've complained about theirs - you'd think that we were both divers, and I'd offered to cut off their air supply. It's like "I can't, I won't, you can't make me" If they had a silver cross and a wooden stake handy, I think they might have used those against me, too! Why do some resters feel so threatened by the very idea?

If anyone would like to see a complimentary treatment of the subject, please visit my website http://rkviolin.com Go to "writings" then "Fundamenntals of holding the violin"

Now, if I comment any futher on this subject, someone please take my magic smiting bow from my hands - and hit me with it!

June 10, 2012 at 01:27 PM · How is it that the no-rest missionaries never, ever, address the practical aspects which I tried to bring up in my above post, (or on other threads)?

I am not a SR zealot, but I have many colleagues and students with a morphology similar to mine. The photos of restless players (e.g. Raphael or Dylana) always show relatively square-shouldered, short-necked, long-fingered men or women.

Your enthusiasm is infectious, but singularly unhelpful in practical terms for us beanpoles!

June 10, 2012 at 02:07 PM · Raphael: are you available tuesday afternoon or early evening for that free lesson? It so happens I'm passing through NY to go to cold spring harbour and could visit... :)

I need to know soon though - to arrange a car etc...

June 10, 2012 at 06:56 PM · Elise giving up the SR?? What's next, republicans supporting abortion and gun control :-)

For a free lesson with Raphael, I might take the train up to NY one day. Does that offer apply to people who already gave up the SR?

June 10, 2012 at 07:08 PM · Smiley :P

I can take the jibe - but I can't take being associated with that particular analogy. How about liberals closing public schools and cancelling health care?

...

Actually, I've never argued FOR the SR, just for the Right To Choose.

See what a good liberal I am? :)

June 10, 2012 at 10:14 PM · OK - at the risk of getting smitten with my own magic bow, just one more posting to clarify a few things, and then I will lose interest in this thread.

1. I don't believe that any one approach, no matter from whom, is going to work equally well for everybody - and that includes my own. All a player and/or teacher can reasonably say is "I have an approach that works well for me, has worked for a number of others, and it just might work for you as well."

2. As to bean-poles vs no-necks, it's not as simple as that. I actually have a fairly long neck, but it's also thick, so it doesn't look long. What about Erick Friedman? No bean-pole he, but he was about 6'3", and he had a not short neck, and was strongly anti SR. As to long or short fingers, Aaron Rosand does not have long fingers, and neither does Glenn Dicterow, but they are both anti SR. I believe that Anne Sophie Mutter also does not have particularly long fingers, but not only plays restless, but completey bare back. On the other hand, Hilary Hahn has fairly long fingers, but is a rester. And James Ehnnes has really long fingers but is a rester. So it is possible to have various kinds of physiques and hand and finger formations and go one way or another. My approach however, narrows the distance between the shoulder/clavicle area and the chin.

2a. Even as to rest vs no rest, it's not always so simple a dichotomy in my approach. I strongly recommend trying my technique for a while. If it just doesn't work, then I recommend a more flexible PAD situation. I particularly don't like the kind of RESTS that attach at the sides of the violin, and tend to lock you into one position and angle.

3. My offer is serious, and Elise and I have already been in touch to work something out. But let me clarify that what I am offering is a short limited lesson in my approach to playing w.o. a rest. For a full-blown all purpose lesson, you must pay a full blown price! I may not look at this thread any more. So anyone is welcome to contact me directly at violinist@rkviolin.com

4. As I said a long time ago - rest, shmest. As long as you have your health!

June 11, 2012 at 12:19 AM · Once upon a time students with certain physiognomies were told to choose instruments suited to their shape. Now we live in an age when anyone can do anything. Perhaps someday we will have 150 pound weight lifters in the Olympics and 300 pound gymnasts. Some violinists should be playing the cello. But if they want to play the violin they are free to do whatever it takes to realize their ambition. But no one can make consequences go away. Play in pain if you must.

I am an advocate of holding the violin with the left hand. It hasn't made me better than Hillary Hahn but I am better than I was when I held the violin with my shoulder and best of all, no pain.

June 11, 2012 at 01:10 AM · I played the violin for about five years without a shoulder rest. Adding a shoulder rest did change the sound of my violin a little. My main concerns of playing without the shoulder rest is that it was more difficult to manipulate both my bow (it's difficult to get nice steady motion when your violin isn't steady) and violin. But the real reason why I changed was because I was expierencing painin the lower region of my back and in my neck to the point where I would have to take breaks within pieces. If it's the tone color you want to improve I suggest looking at the strings and rosin you are using. Best of luck!

June 11, 2012 at 08:35 AM · After my "restless" period (ah, youth!) I used a small orange-slice-shaped foam pad for a gentle support, and to tilt the violin/viola for a more flexible access to the lowest string. However, three-hour-long orchestral or dance-band sessions lead me back to a rigid rest; but, I insist, not to a rigid grip! The rest gives me stability, not rigidity, and frees my left arm and hand to respond to the music. No cramps, no tension, and no stigma on my delicate neck! But I shall continue to experiment, for the benefit of my students as much as for my own..

June 11, 2012 at 02:38 PM · I've been doing some 'early SR-less days' comparisons. The first surprising thing is that there isn't that much difference to my technical playing - shifts, etc seem rather comparable.

I am more assertive and feel more confident with the SR still. however, when I record both playing with the SR sounds too aggressive, mechanical by comparison whereas without it seems more lyrical and expressive - more musical, more consistent with the musical line. This is astonishing because it certainly feels less so when you are playing... perhaps one way to put it is that with the SR you play on the violin, without it it seems as if you are playing 'in' it. One big higgledy jumble of arms, violin and bow, hard to really tell where one starts and the other ends.

At this point its all rather confusing. Back to the drawing board...

June 11, 2012 at 03:35 PM · Sorry, me again!

I do find a slight difference of tone when removing the Kun rest, but this can be partly due to the change in angle radiating differently, and also to the harder (and very uncomfortable!) contact with my ancient collar-bone.. I tried the instrument "cello" fashion, and couldn't hear a difference.

By the way, are there any threads on the joys of playing the 'cello without a spike, baroque fashion?

June 11, 2012 at 04:09 PM · 'I do find a slight difference of tone when removing the Kun rest.'

Well, I'm pretty sure Stradivarius did not have the Kun in mind when designing his violins. :)

June 11, 2012 at 04:31 PM · Fair enough, Nate, but the "modernisation" (neck, bass-bar, bridge etc.) of all(?) Strads has changed their tone far more drastically than adding a Kun rest!

P.S. I an much impressed by your videos, but aren't the staccato passages in the Dinicu meant to be downbow?!

June 11, 2012 at 05:35 PM · 'Fair enough, Nate, but the "modernisation" (neck, bass-bar, bridge etc.) of all(?) Strads has changed their tone far more drastically than adding a Kun rest!

P.S. I an much impressed by your videos, but aren't the staccato passages in the Dinicu meant to be down bow?!'

Hi Adrian, yes you're right that those things all factor into sound, but I think shoulder rests that clamp the ribs really dampen the sound and throw the instrument out of optimal positioning for tonal projection.

Thank you for your comments on the Dinicu! I did a few down bow staccatos. You can see near the opening and also the very last two passages are down bow in the Heifetz arrangement as well.

June 11, 2012 at 07:41 PM · Nate , I do think you should have used a flat bow though ... (wink)

June 11, 2012 at 08:57 PM · Couldn't get the logisitcs sorted out this time - but just wanted to thank Raphel for his kind offer - hopefully we can do it some later date.

My impression is that the sound difference on removing the SR is way more interesting than just removing the SR. You change from a fixed violin and movable bow to two fluid objects! Seems to me that this changed relationship has a much bigger effect on sound (including tone) than just vibrations. One interesting thing is that its actually harder to squelch the strings - I have a tendency to overplay and removing the SR makes this harder.

Stay tuned for the next bulletin...

June 11, 2012 at 09:11 PM · Quote from Elise -

"My impression is that the sound difference on removing the SR is way more interesting than just removing the SR. You change from a fixed violin and movable bow to two fluid objects! Seems to me that this changed relationship has a much bigger effect on sound (including tone) than just vibrations."

Elise

This is just not true. I use a shoulder rest and I can move the fiddle in any way I want, to the extent that the bow is stationary and the fiddle moves to play the note. The shoulder rest does not inhibit movement.

The big problem happens when the fiddle is gripped by the chin and head, with or without SR. The shoulder rest does not cause the problem. Gripping does.

P.S. If you are ever passing through London I will give you a free demonstration about playing with or without a rest, that's if I'm still around and haven't kicked the bucket by then.

June 11, 2012 at 10:10 PM · Funny you mention that - I'm passing through Heathrow on the 17th July! Unfortuantely I don't think there is any time unless you are out heathrow-way...

June 11, 2012 at 10:14 PM · What about Tullamarine?

Would you be passing through there at any time?

June 12, 2012 at 12:15 AM · [gets out atlas... lessee..]

possibly, if we hit an unfavorable jet stream and accidentally go into orbit then the gravitational pull of the moon could well put me on the other end of the earth.

Why, is there a lesson on going SR less offing? :)

June 12, 2012 at 05:05 AM · I think Nate's comment about athleticism is especially relevant for this topic. I have seen him use it in other posts or videos and I think it gets to the essence of what playing a musical instrument is all about.

Furthermore, if a shoulder rest is a good thing, why not just get the maximum benefit and attach a crane to the end of the scroll?

Tom

June 12, 2012 at 12:15 PM · Well at this stage SR-less has an interesting effect on tone (as above) and definitely seems more like me and my violin partner. However, I can still get more power and a more complex sound without it - its easier to dig into the string and to do vibrato.

the reasons is simple - the left hand has so much more to do - it was crazy busy already handling note selection, intonation, vibrato etc. Now it has to also ensure that the violin is held up and in the right position for the bow (two new major jobs). Hopefully with practise it will learn all this and give me a much more complex and interesting sound.

The biggest factor for me going SR-less is the challenges for the L thumb - which are way greater than indicated above. For playing the violin this digit is the most mysterious of all - gurus often say that it will find its own way, in essence dodging the job of trying to explain! Well, it won't: you have to teach it to keep the violin from rotating and provide counter pressure for your L fingers, not to mention be fluid and not gripping...

June 12, 2012 at 12:15 PM · I have to say, I tried playing without a shoulder rest for the first time and was amazed. I felt as if an appendage was grafted onto my body and I became one with the violin. It was just a remarkable experience. The music was not just coming out of the violin but coming out of me and the violin as a unit. I was also amazed the it was not as difficult as I thought it would be (balance is the thing). After playing a while, I put on my shoulder rest again and I got the feeling of "IMMOBILITY", as if my violin was glued on and was a foreign object.

I put away my shoulder rest and am now playing without one.

June 12, 2012 at 12:27 PM · Elise wrote:

The biggest factor for me going SR-less is the challenges for the L thumb (not even mentioned above BTW). For playing the violin this digit is the most mysterious of all - gurus often say that it will find its own way, in essence dodging the job of trying to explain! Well, it won't: you have to teach it to keep the violin from rotating and provide counter pressure for your L fingers, not to mention be fluid and not gripping...

Well, therein lies the problem. As long as you are playing the violin upright in the earth's gravitational field, then you have to figure out a way to support it. One way is to use a shoulder rest. Another is to use your left hand, in which case, your left thumb has to move in ways that it didn't have to before. That is the challenge and difficulty for SR users to go restless. For me, it took several months to get comfortable without SR. But I also made some changes to my setup (e.g., higher chin rest).

There are some individuals that have built-in shoulder rests. What I mean is, their physiology is such that they can keep the violin in place without using the left hand. These people have short necks and square shoulders, so the violin is nicely wedged in and the back of the violin sits on their shoulder. These people do not use shoulder rests. In fact, there is not enough room for a shoulder rest. However, this is a very small percentage of the population (maybe less than 5%). For the vast majority of people, they either have to use SR, or figure out how to support the instrument with their left hand.

June 12, 2012 at 08:44 PM · I actually agree with Peter's last post - I must be going soft!

Yes, I find my SR provides more, not less freedom to try and attain the gorgeous tones running round in my head. Expecting the thumb to allow good finger action as well as holding up the fiddle is a bit like trying to lift the chair you are sitting on.

I certainly enjoyed my "restless" time, but folks seem to enjoy my playing more nowadays, when my thumb has recovered its role as a support for finger contact and vibrato.

June 14, 2012 at 06:27 AM · I forgot my shoulder rest one day during practice for a school concert, and Oh, The Pain. I've spent a good many years trying to keep the violin (especially the chinrest clamp)as far from my collarbone as possible. I have a permanent groove somewhere in the middle of it from my younger years practicing with an uncomfortable rest and unable to do anything about it. Sadly, although I would like to go completely 'restless' I can't fathom how I could be at all comfortable. I suppose the chinrest must go too.....

June 19, 2012 at 02:50 PM · John, it's never the end, and I'm already thinking of a new slant on this subject - namely, I'm trying to perfect playing on a shoulder rest - without a violin. It should be much easier ...

June 20, 2012 at 03:41 PM · [this post has been edited a few times before I got it right]

John, you say resistance is futile, we all know all the greats had shoulder rests hidden in their jackets. Check out Ida Haendel, for example in the video below she just wears a thin veil over her shoulders, no place to hide any kind of foam or shoulder rest!

Click for Ida Haendel

Note though, that Ms.Haendel, like Anne-Sophie Mutter, supports her violin for a substantial part by her left shoulder. This contrasts sharply with Nathan Milstein who had his violin very much towards the center of his body.

I try to play like Milstein but have the experience that you can only do that with adequate covering of your skin around the collarbone. Otherwise the metal clamp of the chinrest rests directly on your skin just above the collarbone and that really hurts and actually damages your skin. It is no problem if you wear a jacket, or a tie, or if you use a piece of chamois leather over the back of the chinrest. For some reason, if you play more like Mutter, with the violin more towards your left shoulder, the metal clamp touches the skin at a less sensitive area and I find I can then play just in a t-shirt without any protection. I would appreciate hearing if other people have similar experiences.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: if Milstein would have worn strapless gowns like Mutter does, he would have been in trouble!

June 20, 2012 at 04:17 PM · For many of my students, I've found that not using the shoulder rest actually improves the overall posture quite a bit. My 2 cents is to be very patient. I was flip flopping between with and without the shoulder rest for a bit after 20 years of playing with, and it took over a year to become really comfortable to play without.

June 20, 2012 at 06:31 PM · Add me to the flipfloppers now! However,I suspect thatEVERYONE should learn how toplay without just to educate your left thumb! Iplay muchbetter with one now that I've learned toplay wihtout. [sorry about the defective space bar on my puter... grrr]

June 20, 2012 at 07:11 PM · jean...as a child I learned to play without a shoulder rest...tried one as an adult...it hurt...so I promptly and happily went back to playing without a shoulder rest - and had no issues...then I lost some weight and now have prominent collar bones again...(who knew the added weight would be a bonus in that regard?).

...and you're right...can't play directly on the collar bone...it really hurts.

But some chin rest types are less problematic than others...so not everyone might have an issue depending on where the clamps actually are...

The red cosmetic sponges (I gave up looking for them locally and ordered them from Shar) work well. If they muffle any sound, it's so slight no one can notice.

I tried various white ones too...and I prefer the red...the texture is better (even if it's just in my imagination)...and the colour doesn't stand out...quite unobtrusive.

Now I can wear whatever...the sponge is enough to protect my bare skin, even if I don't have a t-shirt underneath that also covers the collar bone.

June 20, 2012 at 09:40 PM · Thanks for the cosmetic sponge tip! I googled a bit on it, now guess I see how it works, you just put it next to your end button so that it covers the metal clamps, then put an elastic band between the end button and a corner so that the sponge stays secured behind the band. I'm going to try that! For the moment I use a cloth of chamois leather, I'll compare what is best.

June 20, 2012 at 11:33 PM · Is my anatomy perculiar? I LIKE the chinrest bar, I can lodge it behind the collar bone and then there is no problem shifting down at all. indeed, I was thinking of adding some rubber tubing to the bar to make it a little more prominent.

I do, however, add a little padding - a strad pad and a small washcloth..

June 21, 2012 at 12:50 PM · Sorry for the late response. I hadn't realized this thread had flared up until now, but I just wanted to address a few concerns that have been mentioned above including, vibrato, stability, the chin rest and the thumb. All of these issues can be resolved through relaxing.

June 21, 2012 at 02:53 PM · Emil,

I appreciate the tone of your post (which I have copied for easy reference), just as I appreciate the approaches of Raphael Klayman and Dylana Jenson. However, in many "restless" posts I am exasperated by:

- references to extra bycicle wheels, or to "crutches", which I find arrogant and inappropriate (is a conductor's platform a "crutch", a control-freak's ego-trip, or just a useful way of gaining eye-contact?)

- clear, practical, questions being met with simplistic slogans which resolutely refuse to tackle the issues.

"Relaxing" does not alter the length of my 4th finger, or change the shape of my thumb joints!

I find restless playing enjoyable and invigorating; I have progressively returned to the diabolical SR for purely practical, musical reasons, not from misplaced ideology..

June 21, 2012 at 03:50 PM · Adrian,

Thanks for your post. Every hand has it's strengths and weaknesses. I don't believe in a "perfect hand" but I do believe in objective ears. Listen and observe yourself objectively, as you would a machine, and I think you'll find the answer you're looking for. In your specific case, it's impossible for me to judge without seeing you play. However, relaxing your hand completely, will allow you to stretch the fingers more than you thought possible. Also, if your pinky is short, I'd suggest trying to move the pinky closer to the fingerboard and experimenting with different hand and arm positions until you find what best meets your needs. Many violinists are unaware of how much tension they harbor in their body, limiting their potential. I hope this helps.

June 21, 2012 at 05:06 PM · Emil, thank you for your sensitive response.

I often forget to mention that I usually play viola: thicker neck (on the viola, that is!),strings higher off the fingerboard, firmer finger-pressure, but wider shifts, broader and more supple vibrato (with definitely no contact at the base of the index..),full and concious use of all the half positions, wider shoulders (again, on the viola!) exra weight, a more extended left arm making hand action more difficult...

I like (and manage) to get an expressive vibrato on the C with my pinky, at least when practicing. In fast passages, my index must lie on its side, but for expressive notes, my hand goes down a semitone, to "square" the finger.

I tilt my violin 30° to the right, the viola, 45°.

I hold them both high.

My challenges on the viola are similar to those of my violin students with small, slender hands, so I think my remarks go beyond viola-playing.

I am preparing a few short "warming-up" videos for my students, and actions (will, hopefully) speak louder than words....

Thank you for this stimulating and (relatively) undogmatic thread. Like many of the above "posters" I shall continue to explore. At 40, I knew everything; at 63, I only know what I know (which is not negligible, but I have a lot of room for improvement!)

June 21, 2012 at 07:26 PM · I am very interested in the relaxing issue. I often wake up with a stiff left hand and now suspect that I am getting joint friction from tension. Also, I want to play really fast and up to recently was stuck at about 1/16ths at 100/quarter note. This seems to be yeilding if I work on relaxation. The conundrums are two fold - relaxation with the left while 'digging in' with the right (also relaxed I know but I think you understand) and relaxing while still making a clean note...

Same holds true with or with out SR (hehe keeping it relevant..)

June 21, 2012 at 07:40 PM · Adrian - I respect and admire your humility.

The viola is a hard insrument, much harder than the fiddle - which is why I play violin now - after a long time making a living as a viola player.

Life is good now, and the fiddle repertoir is so wonderful.

June 21, 2012 at 08:53 PM · Elise,

You might want to look into Alexander Technique. I did a lesson with Diana Rumrill last week and am doing another tonight. By developing an awareness of your body, it helps to promote healthy habits.

June 21, 2012 at 09:01 PM · I really should Smiley - I need it for dancing too. Trouble is, so much to learn so little time - and this is a very challenging work year... which is why I'm running off to Italy :D

June 21, 2012 at 09:24 PM · Elise, I have often had a stiff left hand (and a clicky left elbow) in the morning just through having slept on them!

Tension and speed?

Two girls playing the Bach Double: apart from tailoring the fingerings to suite their very different hands, I asked one of them to practice the runs of 1/16ths ("semiquavers" in proper English..) slowly with vigor and then relax the hand to play faster; and with the other girl, I suggested slow floppy practice, with more tonus when playing up to speed. These differences corresponded to their characters and to their general way of moving.

In both cases, my instructions were designed to seek out the right degree of tension to play with both freedom and precision.

As you have indicated, removing the Diabolical Shoulder Rest has a very stimulating effect on re-awakening sensations in the left hand (and elswhere). I shall suggest it to my two young (and willful) ladies so they can choose whether or not to put the DSR back again....

June 22, 2012 at 05:30 PM · Oh, Adrian, you are naughty ...

July 7, 2012 at 07:19 PM · Hi Emil,

The only part of your presentation that I would have to disagree with is the last few sentences of the first paragraph of no. 3

" A shoulder rest fixes the violin into a tilted angle, but it should be relatively flat and played with the most athletic natural approach possible. Wouldn’t you rather eat on a flat table rather than a slanted one? Or, wouldn’t you rather play basketball on a flat court rather than a crooked one?

I'm sure you've seen this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJ7Vi-5dkJo

Look how incredibly tilted Oistrakh's fiddle is. I am not saying he doesn't move and adjust it freely, but in general, it remains very tilted.

Also, this video illustrates another point I wanted to make but also shows the tilt.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQjzKVkFqag

Milstein's string's are hardly parallel to the floor and his violin is quite tilted. Study some of his other videos such as this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbI2O00BnUQ

again you'll see how tilted his violin is. I agree with you that it is not rigid and fixed in one place, but it is clear that Milstein and Oistrakh's violin's are quite tilted. Heifetz on the other hand plays with a flatter fiddle. It all has to do with arm length and how rotated your left elbow wants to be, etc.

In conclusion, all im saying is that even though master violinists make claims, it is more important in my humble opinion to study how they make their claims because as you said, there are so many variables in body types and techniques that it's important to know how to cater to the individual. Furthermore, I understand your argument about tone, But in my experiences I have seen violinists without SR's that do not play with unique and individual sounds and one's that use SR's that have very distinct and rather beautiful sounds. Tension can occur with or without the shoulder rest, vibrato can be easier with or without the SR. I am certain that no matter how many "rules" we establish, there will always be exceptions, because of the tons of variables that make life so interesting.

I hope I did not offend anyone, because the fact is that the only occurrence where I will completely disagree with people is when they make

blanket statements.

Thanks,

Jonathan

July 10, 2012 at 04:55 PM · Oistrakh had extra padding in the shoulders of his suits earlier in his career, and later switched to using a Poehland Pad.

July 10, 2012 at 04:55 PM · In "The Way They Play" (Vol.1) Oistrakh tells Samuel Applebaum how pleased he is with his new Play-on-air shoulder pad. He doesn't say if he used another sort before.

July 11, 2012 at 07:15 AM · On the strength of your recommendation I tried practicing without an SR - in an all-over-the-violin piece - and to my surprise, it could be done. But still I was relieved when I put the SR back on. Going to do this more often.

July 11, 2012 at 11:21 AM · I have played without SR for about 2 years now and I think I might be ready to put it back on. I might start a new thread -- "going back to the shoulder rest." There are distinct advantages to having the violin supported without the use of the left hand. It frees up the left hand and thumb for shifting, vibrating, etc. and generally makes it easier to play an already difficult instrument. The key is to eliminate tension at all cost, whether a shoulder rest is used or not.

July 11, 2012 at 05:49 PM · "Bart Meijer

On the strength of your recommendation I tried practicing without an SR - in an all-over-the-violin piece - and to my surprise, it could be done. But still I was relieved when I put the SR back on. Going to do this more often.

From Smiley Hsu"

Smiley and Bart - Don't let the b****** wear you down. Use a shoulder rest!!

July 13, 2012 at 01:14 AM · I haven't converted back yet -- just experimenting over the past few days. My violin sounds so much better without the huge clamp on the back. I dont know if I will be able to get used to the sound with SR, but I am going to keep trying

July 13, 2012 at 09:55 PM · Jonathan,

As I alluded to in the tutorial, there are many ways to play the violin well. The purpose of writing it was to offer an ideal way to play the violin. Of course, you will notice variations among masters from this for many reasons, including anatomy, but the overriding principle that they follow is relaxation, no matter how it's begotten. However, like my teacher used to say, "Don't take my word for it." Try playing with the violin higher and lower, angled and flatter, with a crooked bow and straight bow, in tune and slightly sharp, etc. and you will come to the same "blanket statements" that all the masters did.

October 9, 2012 at 07:38 PM · "...you will come to the same "blanket statements" that all the masters did"

Please name the specific masters.

December 27, 2012 at 02:08 PM · Hello everybody. I'm a guy who has been playing violin for some years now, but only received a few lessons. The rest of what I know is from YouTube and forums like this. Nonetheless, the lack of a teacher (I guess) has resulted in an unrelaxed playing technique. It's difficult for me to play more than five minutes without getting tired in my left arm and neck. I have always used a shoulder rest but lately I have tried without one. And I must say that it actually frees up some tension, but unfortunately not all of it :-(.

So here's a few questions:

Is it necessary to be able to hold the violin just with your jaw and shoulder?

I'm asking this question because by balancing the violin on my thumb and index finger, it is a bit difficult for me to play on the e-string, and do vibrato, for instance. I feel an urge to move my index finger away from the neck, but I can't without the violin slipping down to place, touching my index finger.

And another thing: I've seen a lot of violinists who hold their upper arm (from shoulder to elbow) pretty far from their body. In my case this over time, causes my arm to tense up and get tired. And isn't that natural? I mean, it gets me thinking of an analogy:

back in elementary school I remember playing this game, where a piece of tissue is held out in stretched arm for as long as possible. Eventually it feels like holding a sack of potatoes or something. And this makes me think how it is possible to hold your arm out like that without getting tired and tense up?

Well, I guess this covers some of my questions. sorry for my clumsy English. I hope you all understand, and have some enlightening things to teach me:-)

December 29, 2012 at 05:06 PM · Observations:

- I have seen Heifetz, Oistrakh, Perlman, (but not Milstein) holding their violins with their shoulders while e.g. giving the bow screw a tweak between movements. Either their shoulders are "square" enough, or they have a pad inside their coats. Either way, they use their shoulders when they need to.

- Dylana Jensen, in her stimulating thread, refers to using her (pleasantly rounded..) shoulder when needed. She also contests the need to hold the violin very high.

- Many "restless" colleagues claim not to raise their shoulders, but in fact they do (no, I am not imagining it.) They would be surprised to see videos of themselves!

- Tilt: many old paintings etc.- before the SR era - show violins held high, but tilted sometimes almost vertically; the flat-held violin is a 20th century fashion!

- Tone: the "greats" mentioned by Emil used 3 out of 4 gut strings and fairly high bridges; so lower tension in the string, but higher pressure on the wood..

- Although I usually prefer Milstein, Heifetz had a freer vibrato on the very high notes: I imagine he used his shoulder just a teeny bit? (Milstein prefered the hand-held approach, and he readjusted his violin constantly, and held it lower than Heifetz.)

Personally, I have adapted the shape and position of both rests to provide stability with minimal interference; I can lift or turn my head while playing, and the SR acts as a fulcrum: when I lower my head the scroll rises. My viola is balanced, not gripped..

All my choices come from comparing the resulting sounds (tone, articulation, vibrato) with what I wish from my instruments (violin and viola).

December 31, 2012 at 06:48 PM · One can also lean on a chair with the scroll.

My old violin's scroll is worn out where the fiddler used to touch the chair with it.

Whatever rocks you boat.

Happy New Year!

January 19, 2013 at 12:19 AM · This is an excellent article. I created an hour-long video series on the subject myself. You will find some of the same points, but also live demonstrations and helpful exercises. Let me know what you think!

How to Play the Violin without a Shoulder Rest

March 23, 2013 at 02:54 PM · B

March 23, 2013 at 02:54 PM · U

March 23, 2013 at 02:54 PM · M

March 23, 2013 at 02:54 PM · P!!

April 10, 2014 at 09:43 AM · I keep reading from the school above that you play without an SR by holding the violin on a table between the collarbone and the hand. The idea is to keep the shoulder off the violin for full resonance.

Eric Friedman has been used as a role model for this but look what happens when he lets go with his hand to adjust his bow (at 28 seconds):

suspended animation

One can of course argue that this was a momentary grip to let him adjust his bow - but there is no obvious change in his hold once he starts playing. Also, he can obviously kick this gift in whenever he needs it during his playing. You can see something similar with Menuhim. I think what it really tells us is that these violinists were able to grip the violin sufficiently well enough with the chin/collarbone/skin/whatever that they did not have to worry about dropping it. I think the same is the case for Heifetz but I have yet to catch him holding it up without his hand (if anyone knows of a clip I'd love to see it).

Lesser mortals often bring the shoulder forward while letting the violin sag a bit to provide a natural SR - that's the case for Mutter, Jenson and some baroque violinists (e.g. Rachel Podger). There are violinists that truly do balance between the collarbone and hand but I suspect a lot of virtuosity is compromised in the process.

May 24, 2016 at 09:30 PM · Quick question. I'm learning to like to play without shoulder rest lately, but there are two slight issues:

1. The metal clamp of the chinrest seems to dig into my collarbone, and it really is uncomfortable for playing for more than 10 minutes at a time.

2. Suppose I got rid of the chinrest also to eliminate that issue above, the violin seems to sit too low, and I seem to have to clench up my left shoulder when I do downshifts, to not drop my violin.

Should I keep trying without SR and possibly CR?

May 24, 2016 at 09:31 PM · I should include that I've had 2 surgeries in my left shoulder, and I cannot fully put the violin to my left, it'll always be about 30 degrees from my nose-to-violin angle.

May 25, 2016 at 12:19 AM · Metal parts of the CR uncomfortable on the collarbone when the SR is removed? One very workable solution I found is to cut some chamois leather into strips and wrap a strip round said metal part of the CR. Use a little bit of ordinary paper glue to stop the ends of the strip from unwinding.

However, the best solution for some may be to lose the CR and put in the effort to learn to play without one. It need not take very long.

May 25, 2016 at 01:20 AM · It seems that I prefer to play scales, and long term practice with SR, but don't even bother putting it on when playing a short 3~5 mins piece and breaking in between.

I think the worst part for me is tuning. I NEED SR and CR for security while tuning

May 26, 2016 at 03:10 PM · May I just add that the chin rest and shoulder rest must be adjusted together. And that turtle-neck sweaters, or slippery-collared tuxedos with bow-ties thickening the shirt collar, play havok with the best laid plans. Indeed the vast majority of orchestral violinists us SR's.

November 25, 2016 at 11:41 PM · My background is in classical piano and I have just started violin (I had my first lesson last week - 44 year old adult beginner). After trying different shoulder rests I can't understand why my teacher wants me to use them when I feel so much better and freer playing with the violin just balanced on the collarbone. With the shoulder rest it feels wrong: to use a piano analogy, it feels just like playing on one of those plastic electronic keyboards with the spring action instead of playing on a real accoustic piano action.

November 26, 2016 at 05:14 AM · I'm just a beginner, but am working on a different solution to the instrument neck support conundrum. This prevents the neck from sliding down the thumb, yet allows for very easy shifting up and down the neck, and minimal interference in hand dexterity.

WonderThumb

November 26, 2016 at 11:19 AM · Shawn : wait until you start shifting positions (especially downwards shifts) or doing vibrato. Then you will know why so many people use a shoulder rest :)

November 26, 2016 at 12:23 PM · Yeah, because they have have not learned how to support a violin in more than one direction of motion! :P

November 26, 2016 at 01:51 PM · Shawn,

Using a shoulder rest (or not) depends on your anatomy. For shifting and vibrato, you need a stable setup so the violin stays comfortably in place. For the vast majority of people (I would guess > 80%), a shoulder rest or some sort of shoulder pad or support is helpful in accomplishing that seemingly simple task. I played for 3 years without a shoulder rest and it was very helpful in releasing tension in my left side, but in the end my anatomy requires a shoulder rest in order to keep the violin in a stable position.

November 26, 2016 at 03:53 PM · Same here, Smiley.

As regards tone, my rather stiff & heavy Kun Bravo does indeed clamp my new viola's back-plate more than the lighter, more supple plastic version. But stability is important too, espacially when my thumb has to leave the neck comletely when playing in the higher positions. Time for further experiment..

November 27, 2016 at 08:55 AM · A.O. wrote "Yeah, because they have have not learned how to support a violin in more than one direction of motion! :P"

A.O. could you please post video of your down shifts in some interesting repertoire such as Zigeunerweisen or Svedsen's Romance so that you can demonstrate your support of violin in more than one direction of motion?

November 27, 2016 at 09:30 PM · I shouldn't need to... that comment was partly in jest, although watch any video of Heifetz, Elman etc, and watch as they shift all over the fingerboard without a so-called "needed" shoulder rest.

I don't use one, and my neck is not exactly long as a giraffe, but not Perlman short either.

You just have to find the right chinrest, and possibly a bit of chamois for non-slip grip. :)

Or, look at Szigeti here, who has a neck that iis longer than mine is, yet plays flawlessly:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Pm6kBXkqT4

November 27, 2016 at 10:01 PM · Ah, the argument about the "right" way to do this or that. When I started playing I weighed a lot more than I do now (over 80 pounds more) and I played without a shoulder rest. As I lost the weight I found that my neck started to hurt. By the time I got to my current (healthy) weight I needed and still use a rest.

A crutch isn't actually a bad thing (I've also got an arthritic hip and I use a real crutch to walk and I really need that). These are tools that allow us to do what we want and need to do.

I never hear anyone complain that Pearlman sits while playing instead of standing. The reality is that he has to sit to play. Sitting doesn't make his playing worse.

Finally, my Mittenwald-Strad actually sounds better when using the rest because collar bone and shoulder are not touching the bottom plate. Your experience will be different because you are different.

November 27, 2016 at 11:11 PM · Hands, shoulders, collarbones are as varied as faces!

November 28, 2016 at 12:06 AM · I am easing into playing restless but unsuccessful so far but will try it for another four months or so mixed in with my rest playing. I can shift fine to fourth position naturally, but a shift from say third to fifth causes an awkward movement of my fiddle and must learn to get around this obstacle. Once my hand gets up above fifth there is no problems. I also have an awkward vibrato without the rest as my hand is in a different position then I have been accustomed to for forever.

November 28, 2016 at 02:11 AM · @Jeff: For four down to three etc, your thumb must get used to shifting a tiny bit before and thus lead your fingers (it happens with practice, don't worry).

If practice doesn't fix it, you probably just need a more personalized chin rest for more adequate support when shifting. :)

November 28, 2016 at 03:36 AM · Hi Jeff,

I did a video a while back about shifting without a shoulder rest. In it, I discuss the challenge shifting up to 5th position. Maybe you will find something useful in the video.

https://youtu.be/AJxv49Tp-Tg

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