Finding perfect violin setup/posture

July 14, 2012 at 06:45 AM · Ever since I can remember I've had posture problems with my violin. It's extremely frustrating and it makes it very difficult to practice. My problems are that I raise my shoulder to hold the violin, creating tension & I bend my neck too much. I'm very petite but my chin tends to slide to the right of the chin rest, not sit on the left. I know bigger players like Perlman, etc. can get away with that but I've never seen a player of my size hold it like that.

I've had several teachers and none of them have seemed to help solve my problem completely. They've given me tips on how to relax but I still can't find that perfect combination of chin rest + shoulder rest. I'm currently using a regular Kun but I've found that the edge of the shoulder rest is too close to the edge of my shoulder, even after adjustment. I'm suspecting it must be a posture issue because none of my friends who have Kun have this problem. I've tried higher ones (I'm rather long-necked and bony, with sloping shoulders) like the Wolf and Bonmusica but have found them too "restrictive", if it makes sense. I have the common chin rest - I think it's called Guaneri. I tried center-mounted ones but my arms seemed to be too long for it and I got sore using it.

I don't know why I have so many problems - I don't know if it's just me because I have some friends who are great players who don't seem to struggle as much as me when it comes to this. Do you guys have any advice on finding ideal setup/correcting posture? Thank you!

Replies (30)

July 14, 2012 at 11:18 AM · This is a common situation where there are two variables (shoulder rest and chinrest) interacting to cause a problem. It can be difficult to identify a particular setup of the interacting components that minimizes or removes the problem.

May I suggest therefore that, as an experiment, you remove one variable in the problem - the shoulder rest - and see over the course of a few days if you can adapt to playing without one. Your teacher should be able to advise you on the details. It may also be useful to read through the discussions here on shoulder rests.

Some violinists, regardless of their level of attainment, find they are uncomfortable without a shoulder rest; others find they can easily dispense with it. The only way is to try it.

I don't want to start yet another pro-anti shoulder rest debate, but I'll just observe that the shoulder rest is historically a newcomer on the violin, dating back to the middle of the 20th century.

July 14, 2012 at 01:39 PM · I'll send something that maybe could help you by email. (too long and have some pictures in it)

I have physical issues (yes for the violin it really is issues!) similar to yours. Long neck, little bony shoulders and nothing holds on them... (purse, school bags and of course... a violin with the usual set-up)

I've tried many chinrests and shoulder rests...

One very important thing, especially for people like us, is to stand very straight while playing with spacial attention on tighs, knees and abs to hold the body straight.

I've noticed than when the legs are too bend, or the abs lazy, not only do we feel like a pudding but the shoulders slop way more and the neck seems longer. When we stand really straight (old master's soldier like posture lol), it helps to gain some squareness in the shoulders without raising them and the neck seems shorter.

Good luck! I certainly understand what you mean...


oups, but you have to send me a message first if you want this text because I can't put attached files here...

July 14, 2012 at 07:34 PM · If you have "always" had problems, then you might do VERY well with Alexander Technique, which addresses the whole body and its function. I know it has helped me on levels way beyond the viola posture problem I started taking lessons to address. My whole use in every respect is better, from picking up a dog, to washing windows, driving....

Your stance and setup while playing are a function of your whole body; changing equipment or the way of holding the instrument is going to address symptoms, rather than the underlying issue.

July 14, 2012 at 11:51 PM ·

July 15, 2012 at 09:56 AM · I would suggest you go to a violinmaker and test different chinrests. Chinrests are so important, maybe even more important than the shoulder rest. Maybe you already know that!? There's also more variety in chinrests than in shoulder rests.

July 15, 2012 at 08:50 PM · 'I still can't find that perfect combination of chin rest + shoulder rest. I'm currently using a regular Kun..'

I think you answered your own question. I'd advise you to try playing without a shoulder rest. You will really learn how to play the violin properly this way with a relaxed, ideal posture that suits you. If you need something to better help you fill in the gap between collarbone and jaw bone, I'd recommend trying a taller chinrest. It's harder I think to play the violin at your highest possible level with a stiff, crutch like object (such as the Kun) holding up the instrument not to mention the amount of sound that is lost with a shoulder rest clamping the ribs.

July 16, 2012 at 02:14 AM ·

July 16, 2012 at 02:17 AM · Nate, can you comment on which type of chin rest you most commonly find successful for going SR free? When I was a kid I played with no SR and I had a Flesch-type center rest with a hump. There is also the Berber type rest. Or do you see mostly hybrid left/center rests like Guarneri or Priska? Or left rests like Kaufmann? Thanks in advance for your advice.

(And by the way, for those of you with really long necks, I saw on Alex Grant Violins web site a version of the Berber chin rest that has adjustable height -- it has jacks built into its feet).

July 16, 2012 at 02:38 AM ·

July 16, 2012 at 03:38 AM · Nate uses Kaufmann chinrests on his violins. One of my other friends who plays rest-less uses the Kaufman as well, with a folded washcloth tucked under his shirt.

July 16, 2012 at 05:10 AM · Hi Paul, yes Brian beat me to it. :) Kaufmann is quite a good chinrest in my opinion. I use it on both my violins, and I believe Heifetz used something quite similar as well. Everyone is different so I would not say there is a 'right' chinrest. Over the years I have particularly disliked the ones that have a flap over the tailpiece (for comfortability) but I have recently tried a few designed like this (I think one is called the Guarneri) that I liked. The chinrest that goes completely over the tailpiece is the Flesch chinrest. Anne Sophie Mutter uses it and plays with no shoulder rest. It seems to work well for her.

July 16, 2012 at 08:32 AM · Samantha and Eric, I must have a similar morphology, as do many others on other theads.

I like Eric's use of foam additions as this will provide support without rigidity.

I found playing restless stimulating (but inadapted to my left hand shape); it required a higher ridge on the chinrest. I now use a chinrest similar to Nate's, but re-carved to suit my jawbone. I will try to include photos of my chinrests: everyone (almost) who tries my fiddles likes them. (But maybe I should patent them first! I have never, ever seen the like in the shops.)

I had one young very slender pupil who used a Play-on-air shoulder-pad blown up like a baloon! Support with flexibilty again.

I find discomfort affects tone more than a shoulder-rest does.. And good left finger contact, too (especialy on the viola, where my fingers seem shorter!).

It is true that attention to these accessories is a 20th-century phenomenon, but it goes together with a supple, varied available vibrato on all notes, and with clean shifts, for all players, young and old, weak or strong.

Samantha, how about removing shoulder-rest (!) and chinrest, and try playing in front of a (full-length) mirror, and see exactly what's missing..

Pro-resters tend to be obstinate, anti-resters seem rather too self-sufficient; so far, this is a nice, thoughtful thread: I hope it can stay that way!

July 17, 2012 at 03:13 AM · I had a lot of trouble adjusting my shoulder rest. Not even my teacher was able to nicely do it. I'm using a Kun by the way. I went to the guy who I bought my violin from (amazing repair man!) and he managed to fit it perfectly for me. I went home and felt that I could use a little more comfort as I have a long neck. I purchased the extension piece from him, he adjusted it to fit me and it works perfectly now. The extension replaces the lower screw piece and the lower screw piece then replaces the upper piece. It sounds like this might be beneficial for you. Can you feel the violin clamping to your collar bone? This was my case and it would hurt after a while. The extension raised it enough for me. Find a luthier in your area and ask them if they can help you adjust your shoulder rest and chin rest setup to fit your body. This should be something that they would provide. Find out if you need the extension.

July 17, 2012 at 08:36 AM · Like Tristan, I dont like the violin on my (bony) collar-bone. Never mind the thick, satinny lapels of a tuxedo, where a non-slip additional cloth pushes the violin even further forward ..

Personally, I find the Kun and Wolf rests have two advantages:

- the left end rests on the shoulder: no need to clamp the violin with the chin;

- the right end leans just below the collar bone, keeping the violin stable and a little to the left: my left hand is free to move, vibrate, and come round the violin's shoulder from 8th position upwards. (I have short fingers and I play viola, too).

Let us remember that most violins have a similar shape, but that most violinists certainly don't!

The violin must be fitted to our bodies, not the other way round! Then, maybe, we can concentrate on producing those wonderful sounds running round in our heads...

July 17, 2012 at 02:11 PM · Your posture concerns are not untypical for teenage girls. Keep looking for a teacher or shop who are very attuned to making a combo of rests that will fit you, and who can regularly reassess as you continue to grow and your shape matures.

July 27, 2012 at 09:45 PM · Thank you all, and sorry for replying so late!!

July 28, 2012 at 03:06 AM · @Nate that's interesting, a couple of weeks ago I tried going restless but I took off my Kaufmann CR and put on the Flesch CR that I had as a kid. I could not get comfortable with that. Maybe I will try again with the Kaufmann on your suggestion. I think one issue is that I'm bigger now than I was then. The effect on individual size/reach on positioning of the violin on the shoulder is explained nicely in Simon Fischer's "Basics" as I'm sure you're well aware. Trying the Kaufmann would be consistent with Fischer's account of this issue.

Interestingly I use the Kaufmann when I play with an SR, but the left ridge of it was offending my jawbone so I tooled a notch out of it in my workshop. I think as long as one is not weakening the CR structurally one should feel free to sand, file, grind, carve, and otherwise modify the exact shape of the CR to fit one's anatomy.

August 7, 2012 at 09:54 PM · Paul, that's exactly what I do : damn, too late to take out a patent...

November 11, 2012 at 02:55 AM · I just purchased a "Slipper" shoulder rest and it is remarkable. After all of these years of the violin slipping when I shift into other positions it just stays horizontal all by itself. I ordered a center chin rest because it shifted my chin to the right. This note probably will not be posted but not sure how to honestly tell people about my success with it.

November 11, 2012 at 04:02 AM · Throw away the shoulder rest and the chin rest.

Go baroque. Chin off.

Vivaldi didn't need them. Bach didn't need them.

Neither did Paganini.

You'll be in good company.

November 11, 2012 at 06:42 AM · I suggest contact Peter Purich, in Montreal - he's helped countless string players find pain-free solutions to violin and viola playing; many luthiers and Alexander technique teachers recommend his services.


Very interesting interview:

I'm planning on paying a visit to him myself, asap.

November 11, 2012 at 04:30 PM · LOL Jennifer Holmes. the first person who had invented chinrest was Louis Spohr, in 1820. And of course, Bach, and Vivaldi had never used chinrest, they had died before the chinrest was invented -__-

November 11, 2012 at 05:26 PM · The shoulder rest came into use (misuse?) sometime in the middle of the 20th century. I, and a few others here, are old enough to have seen them making their first appearances in orchestras. There is still a respectable number of players who don't use shoulder rests. Before shoulder rests were around some players would use a cloth or pad between violin and collar bone for comfort. Alternatively, a coat lapel might be turned over to act as a pad.

If you look at pre-chinrest violin music carefully you will see that composers of the time usually made it easier for violinists to come down from high positions by providing a short rest at a suitable point, using an open string, or making it possible to play a passage in one position across two or more strings. There were also methods of fingering and shifting devised by the players of the Baroque and onwards to cope with all reasonable eventualities. Unreasonable eventualities presumably came into the repertoire when the chinrest become properly established :)

November 11, 2012 at 10:19 PM · well, now i'm thinking whether there were very tall people with very long neck long, long, time ago.....I'm curious how violinists with very long neck played the violin. lol. I know to balance the violin, but still, I could expect those violinists who didn't feel comfortable, but there was no other alternative to give comfort......

I don't have long neck, I've had several shoulder rests that won't make me feel comfortable, i kept on buying one until I realized that chinrest might be the solution. I ended up using berber chinrest, now I play restless.

But if chinrest had never been invented, I'd use pad or towel, or handkerchief for my chin, to protect the wood of my violin. especially in the summer, when i always sweat (I don't like summer!).

If shoulder rests had never been invented, a foam might be used.

I think, having a short neck is such a bless for violinists and violists :D

Anyway, what kind of chinrest did Jascha Heifetz use? Anyone know?

November 17, 2012 at 04:54 AM · lol Vanessa: You wrote:

"LOL Jennifer Holmes. the first person who had invented chinrest was Louis Spohr, in 1820. And of course, Bach, and Vivaldi had never used chinrest, they had died before the chinrest was invented -__-"

That's my entire point.

Paganini . . . Vivaldi . . . Bach . . .

. . . these guys used neither chin rest nor shoulder rest.

There are lots of passages in the music of all three composers where one must shift rapidly downward from a high position with no break.

Spohr was a good businessman, but Paganini he wasn't (not to mention Bach or Vivaldi). He saw an opportunity to make money. Who's to blame him?

November 17, 2012 at 09:52 AM · @jennifer: ow, okay! Haha! But after visiting old historical buildings here in the europe, i have an idea that people in old (ancient...?) time were shorter than the modern(er) era, and the people mentioned hmmm i think their necks were short....

Well i've ever played without chinrest,

I play without shoulder rest, i don't have a giant neck (but the main reason i play without is because SR hurts me)

And after reading the article (i believe it was Emil who wrote it) about how to play restless, i became convinced that chinrest is not to be clamped, if there's a good balance between collarbone, violin and left hand, then no matter the chinrest is there or not, i still can play.

But then again, i dont have giant neck.

November 19, 2012 at 02:54 PM · I love Biber, Bach, Vivaldi, but I also love Brahms, Elgar, and Bartok. I adopted a shoulder-rest so I can play what is in my mind's ear, not to be bullied by my instrument, or by my physical limitations.

Yes, the tone changes, but I think this is mainly due to the different angle of the violin under the ear: if I try "cello" fashion, I don't hear any difference.

November 19, 2012 at 04:01 PM · Adrian - what a great point: "Yes, the tone changes, but I think this is mainly due to the different angle of the violin under the ear: if I try "cello" fashion, I don't hear any difference"

Hey, we can start an entirely new SR war! We've not had one for a little while now...

November 19, 2012 at 09:11 PM · "Hey, we can start an entirely new SR war! We've not had one for a little while now..."

LMAO! I wasn't aware of this until a group admin warned about shoulder rest war, directly after I said I have dismissed shoulder rest.

I started browsing this site more and read about the shoulder rest discussion.

And then I began to think,"shoulder rest war? Should any of us (in the group) start it? I don't think so! We aren't pro and uhmmm...lot of us are still struggling in the 1st position LOL, unlike, there are professional violinists on this site"

shoulder rest war is funny! Why should anyone care about whether someone uses it or not. I don't use SR, my teacher uses it and doesn't even complain so I won't bother if someone uses SR or not, it's none of my business, though ;-)

I understand there are teachers who force their students to use SR, but that's something they have to discuss with their teachers, or create a war with them, not with any of the members on this site.

Funny and interesting!

November 19, 2012 at 09:32 PM · Vanessa - you are of course, right (least I think so) but some people think that there is a lot lost with an SR, more than a 'real' violinist should tollerate. The discussion of whether there is or is not is very interesting, the one where people are dogmatic either way is, shall we say, less so..

BTW I use one but have tried playing without (I also have a long neck).

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