Playing Pain Free

May 7, 2012 at 09:33 PM · I'd love to hear from the other side. All I see when I teach and give Master Classes are students who have pain issues,(neck, lower back, shoulder, hand, fingers, elbow, etc) that I correct,(100% of the time), by removing their shoulder rests. This process takes 2 to 3 weeks of full commitment.

BUT...allow me to ask from the other side. I'd like to hear from anyone who started and grew up without a shoulder rest (let's say for 7 years minimum), and because of pain issues put one on and now plays pain free. Thanks for your input

Replies (76)

May 7, 2012 at 09:37 PM · Laurie starts sweating, prepares for another battle in the epic and ongoing Shoulder Rest Wars...

May 7, 2012 at 09:40 PM · *hands a towel to Laurie*

May 7, 2012 at 09:48 PM · (Dylana giggles behind curtain)

May 7, 2012 at 10:07 PM · Well, here we go: round one!

I abandoned the Dreaded Shoulder Rest (DSR?) for several years, by perching my viola on my (reasonably prominant) collar-bone and on the pad of my thumb. I did not, even unconciously, raise my (broad but sloping) shoulder to support the instrument. So, no pain, cramp, or tension.

But I just could not get the sounds I was hearing in my mind's ear, because of inconsistent finger-string contact, and inadequate vibrato, especially on the C-string.

So I have customised both chin and shoulder rests, so that the viola rests calmly on the shoulder via the DSR, its weight balanced( really!) by the weight of my head. The viola has a 45° tilt to the right, allowing me a very decent vibrato even with my rather short pinky on the C-string. In passages with few shifts I can even lift my head off the viola while playing to smile at my colleagues.

My left hand is now free to make the music as I would wish, and I have no pains, no stiffness, and no festering weal on my so-delicate neck! In spite of all my terrible physical shortcomings, my DSR enables me to still play beautifully for hours on end, at the tender age of (let me think)63.

Beat that! Who's next?


May 7, 2012 at 10:14 PM · So if I understand you Adrian, you played with a shoulder rest first?

And then tried taking it off? Not the other way around..

I'd love to hear from the other way around...

May 7, 2012 at 10:15 PM · In junior high school, I played without a rest and developed a horribly tense left shoulder that just wouldn't stay down. Later, I moved to different sorts of rests, most recently a KUN.

For the last year or so, I have dropped the KUN in favor of an Acoustifoam pad (size 4) and it's been really great. (Almost)total freedom of movement, just enough support. I have occasionally also gone without, and it's not too bad as long as I'm using a Strad Pad on the chinrest.

The sound without a rest is often fantastic-- don't know if that is b/c of less tension on the back of the instrument, or because the fiddle moves in funny ways under the bow. Either way, though, I don't feel the need to ditch the Acoustifoam.

May 7, 2012 at 10:32 PM · My left shoulder definitely has to rise to hold my violin...

Did you have a violin teacher in Junior High? Did they know how to deal with pain and technical issues? Were they able to help you?

May 7, 2012 at 11:06 PM · I started without a shoulder rest -- did my first playing in elementary school -- then first tried some SRs at 18-19 y/o. So my restless time span exceeds the minimum of 7 years.

I didn't add the SR because of pain issues but because I liked the feel of it better than the feel of a bareback fiddle. Now I had a firsthand comparison. The left hand and arm are still the primary holders, but now I have more flexibility and freedom -- a better seesaw effect. No desire here -- or need, for that matter -- to go restless again.

I have a fairly short neck, and I had already attained my full height of 5'-10" -- average for American fellows -- at about 16 y/o. With my build, I set the SR low on the shoulder side, about midway on the chest side. Orienting the device SW-NE on the back of the instrument works well for me. I typically practice and play 3 hours a day, two 90-minute sessions, give or take a bit -- pain free.

If SR use causes pain, then probably faulty placement, not the SR itself, is to blame. My experience bears this out. I play on three fiddles in rotation -- can't use the same device for all of them -- or the same alignment.

I use the Flesch flat model chin rest with a large Strad Pad -- my build can't accommodate anything higher. Can't wear jacket and tie with SR -- not enough room. But that's another discussion.

May 8, 2012 at 12:58 AM · I did have teachers through school (and college). I forget precisely when I started experimenting with rests, so I couldn't say who first suggested I try one.

May 8, 2012 at 04:02 AM · "My left shoulder definitely has to rise to hold my violin..."

Lifting my shoulder to hold the violin, as Ms. Jensen says she does, has damaged it severely. My physical therapist has me using a Kun, but backwards, so the high side is on the shoulder. With a center-mount chin rest, I'm using the low side of the sr., because that's where the center of gravity is, and my shoulder can relax. NOW I'm pain free, and no longer facing serious disability.

May 8, 2012 at 05:49 AM · "My left shoulder definitely has to rise to hold my violin..."

I'm unclear dylana - are you saying it should?

May 8, 2012 at 07:45 AM · Playing with shoulder uncomfortably raised or dropped to hold the violin can cause shoulder problems. When my daughter switched up to a 3/4 size violin she found she was dropping her shoulder to hold the violin when using a shoulder rest as her neck was small in comparison with the depth of the instrument (she has long arms so needed to go up a size!) A month of that led to major shoulder problems that required six months of physio to get over.

To get over the poor positioning she played without a shoulder rest (either with a folded cloth or a small pad) and a very shallow chin rest and that fixed the tension and soreness- until she had a rapid growth spurt about a year later, when she found herself raising her shoulder and it was starting to get sore in a diffent spot, so she went back to playing with a rest.

Her teacher doesn't mind which she does-he plays without one most of the time.

May 8, 2012 at 09:54 AM · I rhink the answer to the original question is: Yes.

Noncontroversial too!

May 8, 2012 at 10:11 AM · I love you, Dylana! :)

(because you fundamentally changed my playing forever)

May 8, 2012 at 01:46 PM · To clarify my question and why I ask is..

When you start and play for many years without a SR, the left thumb usually is high, the left wrist collapses to shift, the left wrist touches the ribs of the violin in 3rd. position, and unless you have been made to play otherwise, the position of the violin is rarely perpendicular to the body. When removing a SR after starting and playing with one, these issues have to be addressed. I have seen many play with a combo technique and do fine with a SR..violin more in front, left thumb not under neck, left arm not over-twisted etc..

but the question I ask is:

If you started and played without a SR for years and this caused you pain, why? what were you helped with?

I have never, in over 32 years of teaching privately, been unsuccessful in removing a SR to fix ANY pain issues, including students who claimed their back pain could not be fixed because they have scoliosis. This has included any neck size, any height person, (exception: 1 explanation: she had a rare disease and not only needed a SR but a raised chin rest as well)

May 8, 2012 at 02:19 PM · I played violin without a shoulder rest from age 4-1/2 to my mid 30s. Then I found a chinrest model that was ideal for me (an original Stuber) and that really helped my playing - especially my arm vibrato. At about that time I tried a shoulder rest and that helped even more. I played with a shoulder rest from my mid-30s until my early 70s.

Now I can no longer use any of the common shoulder rests and I play either "restless" or with a low-height acoustifoam rest. I still use the same "original Stuber" chinrests. Unfortunately, the "Stuber" chinrests now mass produced are not the same, and I've had to have a replacement made to order.

With or without a shoulder rest, I have always held the violin between my jaw and my collarbone, and used the shoulder rest to adjust the instrument's tilt.


May 8, 2012 at 02:53 PM · Dylana, it's true I didn't answer your question about pain, since I have always studiously avoided it! (I started when I was nearly 15.)

In a relaxation session during teacher-training, we were asked what aches and pains were re-emerging: in my case, it was the ankles, and a burning spot on the collar-bone where the violin rests.

This was more "discomfort" than "pain". We adults use up some of our brain-power ignoring such trifles, but children have not always learned to do this - and why should they!

Dylana, when you ask some-one to remove the S.R., do you want them to rest the violin in the hand, or on some part of the thumb, or should the shoulder rise to take the weight. According to your photo, you would have to raise it quite a lot, which I imagine can lead to assymetrical tensions, then compensatory ones, and lasting and excruciating problems..

I only get cramps in orchestral playing, where I can't always "set myself up" as I would like.

Your questions, and the various answers, will make everyone more aware, which is vital for caring teachers guiding young children (of all ages!)

Thank you!

May 8, 2012 at 03:28 PM · Dylana -

I am now teaching privately full-time, having quit a career as a performer due to shoulder problems. After surgery, years of physical therapy, etc. my pain improved but comes back too quickly for me to survive professional situations, and apparently is caused by a genetic problem. That being said, I could not even teach if I did not use a shoulder rest. When I have to hold a student's instrument to tune it, the discomfort is almost immediate without a shoulder rest.

And I have had students with this problem. One went to a summer program where they took everyone's shoulder rests away. She survived for a few months, and then needed physical therapy and had to stop playing for an extended time. When she recuperated, we had to adjust her shoulder rest and chin rest for a careful custom fit, working with her physical therapist, and get the angle of the violin just right so she wouldn't have problems with the right shoulder as well. The physical therapist was adamant that she need the shoulder rest so she could adjust the angle of the instrument. She is now in a conservatory and doing remarkably well. (There was also an element of learning how to use her body correctly and developing musculature to support arm movements needed for playing, which many growing young people need.)

The PT was also adamant that no one should raise either shoulder to play, as this jams the long arm bone into the shoulder socket in such a way that it can do damage over time. I now look for this in all my students.

May 8, 2012 at 03:39 PM · Adrian,

I am not sure what photo you are referring to that shows me raising the shoulder so much. Perhaps taking a look at my YouTube vidoes will clarify.

I use everything to hold my violin, hand, thumb, shoulder..

My shoulder meets my violin and my violin meets my shoulder. When I take off a SR I make sure that the student holds the violin pointing to the floor for awhile because trying to hold the violin as high as most SRs hold it is ridiculous when you don't have a SR on.

I also make sure that when the violin is removed (when you freeze from playing) that there is no back twist.

May 8, 2012 at 03:43 PM · Annette,

When their shoulder rests were removed, did the teachers help them to understand the violin then needed to be held lower?

Did they help them to relearn how to use their left thumb?

Did they reposition the violin more to the front so that when playing at the tip of the bow the right arm has no hyper-extension?

Did they reconnect the violin to the body or were they playing with the violin in the air?

There is much to watch and help with when removing a SR..the body wants to keep going back to what it knows and a careful eye needs to help the process..I have had students come to me who've 'tried' to take the SR off without help or knowledge and have failed miserably.

May 8, 2012 at 05:15 PM · Hi Dylana,

sorry I am 'wary' that I am 'off topic' but could not resist asking you something and 'telling you' something....

I know you want to hear from those who have 'put on' a shoulder rest to solve pain and I am not one of these, I have done the opposite, took the rest year and 4 months ago....(after 4 years of playing with a rest)

what I wanted to say was: I think (at least looking at my own experience) that you are right when you say that those who 'give up' the shoulder rest after being used to use one, that unless they are 'guided' in how to hold the violin without a rest then they tend to want to go back to what they were doing before (instinctively) as that's what 'feels like home'.

Looking back I did just alexander technique teacher originally did say I'd need a very low chin rest like the Kaufman, but I could just not play with such low/flat chin rest and I used chin rests double that height, being 'adamant' that they were the ones suited to me and they did not hyper-extend my head up and backwards....

I first used a centre mounted new-flesch type, then switched to one which looked like a Guarnieri but had a hump nearer the tail-piece and still higher than the kaufman, then I placed a 'raised Guarnieri' and at this point (approx 10 months after removing the shoulder rest) I finally started 'really' changing the way I was holding my violin and I ended up holding it exactly like Milstein used to!

2 months after this final 'adaptation' I tried a kaufman chin rest on (this now at one year and 2 months since giving up the rest) and it felt like the BEST chin rest ever! even though I could not contemplate using it ever before!

I think what happened in the one year I was learning to play without a rest with NO teacher to supervise me and tell me what to do/not to do, I slowly 'adapted' and learnt myself! Like you say, my violin is not as high anymore :) and I think I have learnt to use the lower chin rest and now find it much more comfortable as I have become more confident in holding my violin without a rest and don't feel like my chin/jaw have to grip as much anymore, the violin will not slip away :)

What I wanted to ask you is about the left thumb......

If I don't pay any attention to it, my left thumb will instinctively not be very high when in 1st position, it is not totally 'under the neck' but more like half-way from being under and being all the way up and above the fingerboard....

My teacher used to point at me that it should be higher but I feel like I 'lose control' and my intonation is harder to achieve also, my 3rd and fourth finger struggle to get on the right place if my thumb is really up and beside the fingerboard....

I watched numerous people who play 'rest-less' and most of them have the thumb high up next to the fingerboard, except from Ann Sophie Mutter, she has it lower and my thumb does what hers does.....

My question (sorry for the long rumble) is:

does it 'matter'?? shall I leave my thumb to do its own thing or insist that I teach myself to keep it higher beside the fingerboard? is there an answer to this or is it just down to the person's hands/fingers?

May 8, 2012 at 05:56 PM · Dylana, I had only seen the photo on your profile. Now that I have watched you a little on YouTube (and I shall go back for more!) I understand much better.

I am relieved to find a kindred spirit who doesn't see why the violin should pont skywards! But if I try to do as you do, I meet with two problems:

- with my lanky, bony frame, the violin points nearly vertically downwards;

- on the viola, and with rather short fingers, I simply cannot reach the higher positions with my thumb still on, or near, the neck: I slide the thumb round the upper bout, no longer offering support to the viola. (By the way, I can then use all four fingers with ease.)

When I abandoned my S.R., I enjoyed, for several years, the freedom of movement, the increased sensitivity in shoulder, arm and fingers; but I was dissatisfied with my expressive possibilities.

Now, like several of the above "posters" (but without their suffering) I have adapted the accessories so that the intruments are ultra-stable, while I am free to move as I feel.

Dylana, I appreciate your sensitivity and your concern for folk's well-being - rather rare qualities in the no-S.R. crowd!

May 8, 2012 at 06:29 PM · Dylana,

First of all, I have to say how much I adore your playing. I still have my old lp of you playing Sibelius with the Philadelphia Orchestra and cherish it.

I am a non SR user, but was curious what your opinion was about when use of a SR is warranted. As you know, there are a great many great players who do use a SR.

Best regards,


May 8, 2012 at 06:43 PM · "My left shoulder definitely has to rise to hold my violin..."

I'm unclear dylana - are you saying it should?

Could I have an answer please? It's obviously an important point - thanks.

May 8, 2012 at 08:26 PM · I'm not quite what you asked for, because I've never played without a SR. But I developed pain as a teenager, and it was pretty severe. I could not sit for an hour straight in an orchestra rehearsal without back pain. I was using a Resonans pad shoulder rest at the time. For many reasons, this among them, I quit playing altogether for >8 years.

When I started again, I got a new SR, a Kun with adjustable feet. I played around with the adjustable feet until I found a height that was comfortable. I also saw an Alexander Technique teacher who didn't know anything about violin playing but who watched me while I played scales and adjusted my back and shoulders.

Nowadays I still use the same Kun, I sit the way the Alexander Teacher showed me and the way my violin teacher tells me, with the violin more to the front. I also have an Ohrenform chin rest that allows me to move my chin around as needed for comfort.

I've never wanted to change that set-up, including the Kun SR, in the intervening ~20 years because the back pain that I suffered as a teenager went away with the Kun and has never come back, except when I have to sit in long orchestra rehearsals in bad chairs, and I know that's from the chairs.

May 8, 2012 at 10:13 PM · Hello Bud,

I hold the violin on my shoulder, with my chin and also with my left hand. If I am playing high on the G string, I might bring my violin down and front to make it easier and closer. My shoulder rises and falls as necessary...

I certainly don't push my shoulder up and hold it there...and often the shoulder moves forward as well...freedom of movement is critical.

May 9, 2012 at 01:41 AM · If you click on my name you can see a picture that shows that the shoulder doesn't even come near the violin. The violin is balanced between chin and collarbone and held up by the left hand. The primary support is the "shelf" at the base of the first finger. The thumb lightly touches the neck to keep the violin balanced. This took more than a year to master. (I played with a rest for over 35 years) I still don't play even remotely like Ms. Jenson but I am more than a first position beginner.

May 9, 2012 at 06:29 AM · Thanks both of you. dylana, I take it your acromion (that bony bump on the shoulder) sometimes touches the back? or does the clavicle solely press upwards?

May 9, 2012 at 11:27 AM · Hello Jo,

There are many issues involved in the left thumb. My first concern would be how twisted your left arm is..position of violin affects that as well. The left elbow should be comfortable. If your L arm is not too twisted or your elbow pointing to the front then I wouldn't worry about your thumb. All this said, if you have any pain or discomfort in the left arm at all, the thumb would just be one symptom.

Hope that helps...Dylana

May 9, 2012 at 01:14 PM · thank you Dylana, very kind of you to explain and try to help :)

I understand what you say....I don't have any pain in my arm/hand/fingers, my elbow is not pointing to the front, though when playing on G string I obviosly move it a little bit more to the right.

My arm is not twisted.....

I can't help but think I play this way as I 'always' played this way from 'day one' (ie 5 years and 4 months ago).

I wanted to try to 'learn' to keep my thumb beside the fingerboard but not sure if I would make things worse or improve once I get used to it or no difference.....mmmmmhhhh I'll think about it :)

May 9, 2012 at 01:18 PM · Interesting the left thumb has come up here. I felt it getting strained the other day - I just wished the strain away. I'm not sure what compensated.

May 10, 2012 at 01:42 PM · John: I've noticed that many of the most famous players play in a way that would be corrected immediately by your teacher if imitated. Why? because it works for them and does so because its personalized. Just look at Bell, Perlman and Ehnes...

Thus, anything goes as long as it optimizes your playing AND it optimizes your long term health!

May 10, 2012 at 05:10 PM · Jo: fwiw, my prof (a pretty respected guy who tends restless but not diehard about it) actually encourages the thumb to rest back where yours wants to go. He's not diehard about that either-he's one of those who says, here are the components of how it should work, let's figure out how they work for you, which i love :) and I'm not thoroughly comfy with a low thumb all the time but I can definitely feel situations where that does free my hand better.

Dylana: not directly relevant to the topic, but likely relevant to readers of this thread, I am curious if you have to do a lot of CR adjustment when removing SR. Thanks!

May 10, 2012 at 09:10 PM · thank you Kathryn :)

I was reading again over Carl Flesch book (which I'd forgotten about as I've read it a while ago) and he says that the position of the thumb is 'directed' by how long your fingers are, so for some it will be higher above the fingerboard and for some lower. In his book it has some photos/diagrams where he says what to do to find where your thumb should 'naturally lie' I've done this and my thumb ends up exactly where I always have it :) not under the neck and not higher than the fingerboard, kind of 'half-way'.

I am double jointed in my thumb, index finger and little finger and my thumb at times bends backwards at the proximal joint (the one nearer to fingernail), when it does this my thumb then 'looks/seems' even lower, though it isn't really....that knuckle is still in the same place but as the top bit of my thumb where the nail is is bent backwards it gives the 'illusion' of my thumb being even lower :) LOL

I have decided not to worry about my thumb anymore, I am now convinced it's doing the right thing......

May 11, 2012 at 06:04 AM · That would be distal joint... While I'm posting: I think sensitivity to stress varies from player to player. I noticed this with my instrumental teaching with children - they'll put up with the most uncomfortable positions and say/do nothing about it. I had to learn (from my piano teacher) to be sensitive. I felt straight away last month when my thumb started talking to me.

May 11, 2012 at 06:57 AM · sorry Bud, yes it is the 'distal' joint LOL I was not 'with it' obviously as I even read what I've written before posting! :)

May 11, 2012 at 07:44 AM · Ellie, if there is any pain involved please find out why there is any. Pain is your body telling you that something is wrong and if you ignore it, you will run into serious health problems later in your life. I always carried my backpack on one side of my back and now I find out that it might already have done permanent damage. Please avoid that, why wouldn't you...

Other than that, I used a shoulder rest from the beginning on and I do not even consider going on without it (tried it a few times). Therefore I cannot really write anything regarding the topic...

May 13, 2012 at 05:40 PM · Dylana, you mentioned in your initial post:

"All I see when I teach and give Master Classes are students who have pain issues, (neck, lower back, shoulder, hand, fingers, elbow, etc) that I correct, (100% of the time), by removing their shoulder rests."

So no one comes to you pain free? I must know one thing -- something that just won't let go of me: What would you do if a pupil came to you already using the SR -- but without any pain issues?

May 13, 2012 at 05:57 PM · Prevention is better than cure!

May 13, 2012 at 05:58 PM · Seems I wouldn't qualify as a student. I play with a SR, relaxed posture, flexible vibrato, freedom of movement in all directions. And no pain (only sometimes when listening to my pupils).


May 13, 2012 at 08:34 PM · Interesting topic..

May 14, 2012 at 12:59 AM · Ms. Jensen: I admire you for jumping into the shoulder rest fray. Years of discussion about the harm done by using a shoulder rest have convinced me that fear blocks even an attempt to consider giving it up. The only success I've had is with people who have studied with me. I never insist the the student play without a shoulder rest. All I ask is that they play five minutes a day without one, using the basic principles one needs to do so. I've never had a student take as long as a month before finding it much easier to play with no shoulder pad. Of course, in the studio you can reassure, explain, gently correct, and so forth. One gets none of that from a purely verbal description. Since fear is a mighty opponent, merely verbal descriptions are quickly vanquished, and the shoulder pad holds sway. I've actually given up trying. All I would say now is what Milstein told Primrose (a Dounis product), when the latter complained that his students tensed up when they played without a shoulder rest. "Tell them to use the left hand." It's really just a matter of BALANCING the violin between the collar bone and the left hand. Unfortunately, the mere idea of no shoulder pad is far too frightening to contemplate. I'd love to know if anyone has given it up only by using what they read. Again, Ms. Jensen, my hat is off to you. Charles Johnston

May 14, 2012 at 01:54 AM · John, I feel quite confident that Dylana will respond in due time. I notice she's given a good deal of individual attention to the posters in the thread already. I will stay tuned.

May 14, 2012 at 06:10 AM · Poor Josh must of went through a lot of pain at this stage.Constantly adjusting the violin is a sign of a poor set up, Joshua does it a lot here.

He is extremely intense here, but he has good posture and his violin isn't moving around.

I hate the Guarneri design chin rest just as some hate SR. I feel that the Guarneri CR is the root of all pain.

May 14, 2012 at 07:40 AM · I think Young Joshua bell adjusted his violin all the time because his accessories were the wrong shape. Our shoulders, jaw-bones, thumbs etc. are as different as our faces! I spent some time filing and tilting my various chinrests until I was hardly aware of them, and I have no red sore on my neck...

May 14, 2012 at 07:50 AM · I think most people think the reason they feel pain when playing without a shoulder rest, is because they're playing without a shoulder rest, rather than examining what is specifically making them feel the discomfort.

When some switch to playing without a shoulder rest, it exacerbates tension and foundational issues in their technique which I believe can be masked by a shoulder rest.

The shoulder rest is to violin playing what I think scaffolding is to a building, what crutches are to someone who's injured, or what training wheels are to a bicycle. The shoulder rest is there to prop up the instrument for players who do not wish to balance the instrument (as Charles described above) without the aid of a rigid object for support.

Many shoulder rests have a slope or tilt, causing the g-string side of the instrument to be angled considerably higher than the E-string side. Some play hunched over because of this I've noticed.

I know the subject of this discussion is more about the physical health of the violinist playing pain free, but I'd also like to point out that the shoulder rest according to many authorities, impedes the instrument from vibrating and resonating to its fullest potential. The violin does not have the power of a trumpet to start with. I often wonder why people affix an object that clamps and mutes the instrument from ringing. Do opera singers put a clothespin on their noses before singing an aria? Why should violinists do the equivalent?

May 14, 2012 at 09:42 AM · My violin actually sounds better with the right SR attached. I use one made of maple (Augustin). It does not mute the vibrations at all, while it offers free balance of the instrument. I don't press the violin between shoulder and chin at all, I only prevent it from slipping around and balance it with the chin when moving the left arm.

Maybe all those religious SR haters should keep in mind that there are many different models, as well as many wrong ways to apply them.

The violin was not designed for the way we play it today. It's made for sound alone, not for playability. Therefore we need to make adjustments.

May 14, 2012 at 10:38 AM · I don't want to sound like a snarky creep here, but have you heard of the "search" button? This is approximately the bazillionth thread on SR/noSR.

Really now, there are loads of lengthy, detailed, top quality threads on the subject and it takes just a couple of clicks to access them.

This site should have a more specialized distribution of forums, like right/left hand technique, bowing, fingerings, interpretation, repertoire etc. that would save us all the trouble of answering again and again with the same arguments to the same threads over and over again.

May 14, 2012 at 10:50 AM · Oliviu, you are quite right, but please note that Dylana's thread is one of the few (from a known soloist!) to propose more questions than answers, with rare concern and modesty.

May 14, 2012 at 12:25 PM · Hi,

Although I myself solved my pain issues by switching to not using a shoulder rest (which was a long process since I had to do it alone), I have seen student, including one of mine, eliminating problems by going from non-SR to SR. I think that body geometry played something in it. No matter how many chinrests we tried, and various cushions, she never felt quite balanced and secure. Also, the hand formation made it difficult to have good balance of being on the base of the first finger and having enough counter-support from the thumb to help because the person had a short thumb and long length between the root of the thumb and base of the first finger which made it difficult to line up correctly.

This exception being the case, like Nate said: "When some switch to playing without a shoulder rest, it exacerbates tension and foundational issues in their technique which I believe can be masked by a shoulder rest." That is indeed very true, and for those that choose to use a cushion or SR, it is hard sometimes to fix positioning or imbalances because you can "get away with it" so to speak with the SR.

Hope this adds something to the discussion...


September 28, 2013 at 02:12 AM · Kind of a late response, but just read this thread when Laurie posted a recent interview/masterclass with Dylana Jenson online.

Anyway I am an example of "the other side," that a shoulder rest fixes things for me. I have tried and loved playing without a shoulder rest. You learn to adjust, and the violin has so much more freedom to move and adjust to what is best for whatever passage one is playing with. That said, I don't have the body I was born with. I survived an accident that tore my shoulder from its socket and more things I won't go into. I've had two operations, one of which I am in the last stages of recovery from. When I play with a rest I am comfortable and pain free. I have a swan neck and if I move my head too much I irritate my still healing neck and shoulder. Playing without one does triggers pain. And I've tried about every possibility. When I finish the recovery process, I do plan on attempting restless playing once more. I'll settle on whatever my body tells me is best.

For my students I likewise adjust to whatever works for each one, but all things being equal I start them without a shoulder rest first.

September 28, 2013 at 02:27 PM · I happen to think that it is the CHINREST that causes many neck pains.

I'm 6'2", and the "standard" chinrest height makes me angle my neck down significantly to make contact with the chinrest. That gives me pain.

If the chinrest height is adjusted to fit correctly, I believe that shoulder rest or no shoulder rest will not make much difference to neck discomfort.

I've played both with, and without a shoulder rest and it didn't make alot of difference until I addressed the chinrest issue first.

September 28, 2013 at 05:38 PM · I agree with Seraphim on this. You have to get the chinrest sorted out before you start looking at the shoulder rest or think of removing it altogether. My favourite is the Tekka but the Kreddle looks very promising.

September 28, 2013 at 06:24 PM · My theory:

When you use a shoulder rest, you support the violin using your chin as the counterbalance to the shoulder rest.

If the chinresst is not the correct height, that means mis-alignment of your neck, and pain. as you clamp down to steady the violin.

If you get rid of the shoulder rest, you support the violin mostly with your left hand, and don't feel the need to clamp down with your chin, and thus an improper chin rest may not be as noticeable an issue. And why the original poster found an almost 100% improvement in pain relief by getting rid of the shoulder rest.

That is how it went for me anyhow.

Get the correct size/shape/height chin rest and the world will be your oyster.

September 29, 2013 at 12:08 AM · I have thought the chin rest to be of primary importance, since I started about 5 years ago but everywhere I asked it was only about "shoulder rests" or else there was no help at all, and I asked a lot.

I was told variously that you don't need to put your jaw on the rest anyway, that I should just exercise more, that raising a chin rest will damage the violin etc, etc. Lynn and Denig ignored my polite and optimistic request for information (I was a just "self-diagnoser in a distant land" after all) and Wolf has been promising an adjustable rest based on "violinist in balance" for years but not yet delivered (AFAIK)...they told me it was imminent but that they had some problems with their manufacturer/supplier, over two years ago now. Otherwise, I would have to fork out money I can't afford on experimenting with all manner of niche rests I could only get sight unseen off the internet and that were probably (based on description) not right for me or pay $300 to have a local luthier make a custom one (his first attempt at it!).

For my money, the Kréddle looks like the real first attempt at a widely adjustable chin rest, done simply. Why has this taken so long? One interesting thing is that so far the comments have suggested that SR's are not used when using the Kréddle.

September 29, 2013 at 08:01 PM · I've tried taking off the chinrest completely, with and without the shoulder rest. I see the advantages of playing chinrestless. It's actually quite comfortable once you get used to it. Though my chinrest is Kaufman style, low and flat and I'm quite comfortable with it. I do agree that the chinrest is just as important. There seem to be far more premade chinrests than shoulder rests on the market. I've even heard of a fellow that will custom make a chinrest. I wonder if the same exists for a shoulder rest.

October 2, 2013 at 08:21 AM · I'm a beginner, but here is what worked for me. I'm very tall and so I got a 41mm chindrest from SAS. It's a custom order. Once I got used to that I took the shoulder rest off. Based on the advice of another shouldrest-less player here, we did a skype session and I put it away and haven't used it again. I think I could lower my chinrest a bit now, the next size down from SAS is 35mm. But I'm currently very comfortable the way it is and I don't have any pain.

I just started lessons and the teacher mocked me about my high chinrest. And a previous teacher teased me about it. But I don't care because it works for me. I had to cut some foam out of the case so it'll shut but that wasn't difficult either.

According to violinist in balance, the chinrest is the place start and I agree. And I think the SAS chinrests are very nice and affordable. Mine hasn't come off once, it's very stable and I can position it wherever I want. I have mine over the tail piece, well just slightly to the left.

October 2, 2013 at 10:39 AM · ("Dylana giggles behind curtain") ...

Just as well we don't have a Hamletta in this Discussion, otherwise that'd be the last of Dylana!

October 2, 2013 at 10:50 AM · My shoulders slope more than most (and my wrist doesn't turn as much as most people's either), so I've never thought of playing without a pad or a shoulder rest (I'm pretty well dependent on my bonmusicas at the moment), but the idea of looking at the chinrest is a new one on me. Any suggestions as to the best plan of campaign (which chinrest to try first, etc.; whether even after the chinrest is optimized I may still need to put a pad under my shirt ... )?

October 2, 2013 at 12:35 PM · just wanted to come back to Adrian in the original thread back in 2012 who "accused" Dylana about raising her left shoulder quite high. in the following video you can not really see her left shoulder but it still appears to me very obvious that she does not raise it.

October 2, 2013 at 07:02 PM · ("Dylana giggles behind curtain") ...

"Pay no attention to the lady behind the curtain!"

Sorry -- couldn't quite resist my own poor spoof of the Oz film. No -- Dylana is NOT a humbug.

October 2, 2013 at 07:25 PM · John, I went through a chin rest review earlier this year and made a change -- going back to the type I'd used before and regaining more freedom. If you have some old CRs in your collection, as I did, you might want to start there for comparison.

Beyond that, a luthier or teacher should be able to offer userful input. It seems generally a matter of experimentation and trial and error for each player. I blogged on my experience here.

October 3, 2013 at 09:46 AM · Michael,

don`t worry about teachers mocking you for going restless and using the SAS. You have shown that although you are a beginner you have in this area at least a greater understanding of what violin playing is about.



October 3, 2013 at 10:09 PM · Jean, I had meant to imply that if Dylana wanted to raise her shoulder,(which she says she does, early in the thread) she would need to raise it quite a lot. No "accusation" nor un-warranted supposition

I am pleased that many subsequent SR threads have avoided the hoary "Heifetz didn't need one" syndrome...

October 4, 2013 at 06:45 AM · I got excruciating pain from a borrowed violin with a low-set Kun and a "Guarnerius"(!) chinrest (which I find has no relation at all to my anatomy). My own accessories are fine-tuned to my skeleton..

I see many posts referring to "clamping"; I don't clamp: my fiddle rests(!!) on my shoulder via the SR , and is balanced by the weight of my head. Really. I only have discomfort when sharing a music stand prevents me from settling the violin as I want.

October 5, 2013 at 03:02 PM · I used to play with a shoulder rest but somehow I lost on my screws on my adjustable Kun so I decided to play without one. After 6 months of trying one day I could just do it. Everything felt so natural and pain free. I had a larger range of motion, my hand was more free. I love it

October 5, 2013 at 03:11 PM · I am against raising the left shoulder with or without an SR.

I wish the debate would be clench or not clench (i.e. raise shoulder or not raise shoulder) and not necessarily SR or no SR.

If violinists learned that the function of the left hand is to hold up the violin and focussed on developing that technique they would figure out soon enough what to do about the shoulder end of the violin. I believe that most would reject the SR and not raise the shoulder. Some few would find some other accommodation mainly to add a little friction. Some would recognize that they really should be playing the cello.

October 5, 2013 at 03:54 PM · Clenching is also done with the chin independantly of the shoulder, which can be a cause of much discomfort.

And another quite important function of the left hand is to stop the notes correctly on the appropriate strings. Sometimes the job of supporting the violin with the left hand interferes with the dexterity required in that regard, which is what many SR proponents cite as a main reason to use one.

October 5, 2013 at 04:44 PM · Since I did post up in this thread, I should update by mentioning that for the last 3 to 4 months, I have started to use a shoulder pad after many years of using nothing.


October 5, 2013 at 09:53 PM · Seraphim, it could be but if it were that important we would hold the violin like a cello. I contend that goal Dexterity is best achieved in realizing goal Support

October 5, 2013 at 09:53 PM ·

October 6, 2013 at 08:58 PM · Why shouldn't I scamper all over my viola with same ease as a cellist? My left hand has much better things to do than hold the instrument! Match my inner ear, for example.

October 6, 2013 at 09:41 PM · True enough, Corwin. However, many would argue that the support you are referring to is thus best provided by way of a shoulder rest.

BTW, I am not firmly on either camp as of yet. I am still experimenting.

October 7, 2013 at 06:52 PM · Adrian, why not indeed!? You should turn it around and play it on your knees just like a cello.

October 11, 2013 at 04:24 PM · I had been playing with a shoulder rest the past couple of months, but I was getting an increasingly significant pain in my neck/trapezeus area.

I went rest less for a couple of days, but I missed the support the SR had to offer.

My latest solution, which provides almost as much support as a "traditional" SR, but does not lock in your position as much, and allows the violin to move more naturally, and subsequently (for me anyhow) does not lead to neck pain is the Peohland shoulder rest/pad

I added some extra padding to mine, as the stock model did not adequately fill the gap between the back of the violin and my broad, muscular, almost Herculean shoulder.


So, if a SR gives you pain, and going restless feels a bit too insecure, try a shoulder pad instead. Either a Poehland, or maybe even a Artino Magic Pad.

October 13, 2013 at 06:59 PM · The Poehland C-pad came up on a thread of Elise Stanley's: if we slide it on its strap right to the edge of the fiddle, it can rest on the collar-bone and tilt the violin to the right without blocking the shoulder.

I used one, in front of the collar-bone, as a soft shoulder-pad substitute. I didn't test its effect on tone.

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