Is a shoulder rest necessary for children?

April 12, 2013 at 01:23 AM · I just received a letter that our seven year old daughter is on probation from the University of Texas String Project for being "unprepared without materials" for not using a shoulder rest with her violin. I'm wondering whether in the view of other violinists this is a reasonable requirement.

The decision to use or not use a shoulder rest has always been entirely hers. She's been playing for 2 1/2 years now, and for the first six months she used a simple, 1/2" pad with with two elastic strings that wrapped around the violin. Eventually she found that she was more comfortable playing without it. We've also experimented with the standard clip-on style shoulder rest used by most SP students, a foam sponge, a couple of different soft pads, and a simple cloth.

Her private instructor also leaves the choice to her. He plays with a thin cloth, and his other students run the gamut in their choices.

She also seems to me to be progressing just fine without the shoulder rest. She's currently on Suzuki book four, smoothly shifting into 3rd and 5th positions and executing harmonics, and she's the youngest member of the elementary orchestra by at least a year.

While I'm new to the violin, from the reading I've done there isn't anything approaching a consensus that use of a shoulder rest is better, much less necessary. If anything, the consensus seems to be that a shoulder rest is fine if you need it for comfort (particularly if you have a long neck), but otherwise preferable to do without. It seems bizarre that the SP should insist that an accessory not used by Anne-Sophie Mutter, Jascha Heifetz, Nigel Kennedy, or Itzhak Perlman should be considered necessary.

If there is some evidence anyone can point to that she should use a shoulder rest I'd be happy to consider it. Otherwise I'm not prepared to adopt an approach that many people insist is inferior and, most importantly, that she personally finds uncomfortable.

I'm not trying to start a religious war about whether it's better or worse to use a shoulder rest, but rather whether it's reasonable to impose a *requirement* for use of a shoulder rest.

What do you guys think?


April 12, 2013 at 02:06 AM · No, it is NOT reasonable ! As you have already pointed out, Heifetz did not use one. That should be enough to convince anybody. I find it really hard to believe that they are insisting on the use of a SR as a prerequisite for their string program.

You can try arguing with them but, as with any 'club', they make the rules. Is there one particular person responsible for this strange attitude ?

April 12, 2013 at 02:41 AM · Is she frequently missing anything else that would warrant this notice from the program? I see from visiting their website that their waiting list is extensive and that they really are not interested in keeping students who aren't fully committed.

Who is this directive coming from? A string faculty member? Or a non-musician administrator? I'm sure if her teacher helps clarify the issue, the resolution will be simple, after all, don't the instructors have final say on things like this?

April 12, 2013 at 02:48 AM · what if the are a suzuki program and you just dont want to do suzuki? those university outreach string programs are often lean on staff because they want to involve as many kids as possible, and that often means doing things fairly lock-step.

April 12, 2013 at 07:22 AM · Of course no-one should interfere with a child who doesn't need a shoulder-rest!

How about putting a pad and elastic in the case - in case! Many Suzuki "games" (execises) involve holding the violin without the left hand. We can't change people's arrogance, we just have to work round it..

All the great violinists mentioned above visibly use the their shoulders to support the violin some of the time, and don't need extra support: your lucky daughter doesn't either. Maybe she never uses shoulder support at all, like Menuhin or Milstein (as far as I can see - and hear), or myself, when I play restless (rarely).

I hope this thread can stay lucid: it concerns pig-headed instructors rather than actual technique.

April 12, 2013 at 11:05 AM · Requiring a shoulder rest for a child who clearly doesn't need one makes about as much sense as requiring corrective eye lenses for a child entering first grade -- when, in fact, he may be able to see fine without them.

If I had a kid facing this situation, one who didn't need a shoulder rest, I'd request a meeting with the administrators -- with the kid and, if possible, her teacher right there to strengthen the case against them. If the administrators refused to bend, I'd take the kid out of the program. I have to wonder how much some of these bureaucrats actually know about violin playing -- and what an individual matter it is when deciding which accessories to use -- or not use.

I began playing in elementary school WITHOUT a shoulder rest and continued this way till about 18 1/2 y/o. Then I tried some SRs, found one that I liked, and decided I was more comfortable with the device than without. But that decision was mine -- not someone else's.

April 12, 2013 at 11:21 AM · A person who learns to play without a shoulder rest can more easily adapt to usage of a shoulder rest than the reverse. While I think the administration is wrong in this case and would be concerned about what else they might be wrong about, instead of having it be the highway instead of their way, I'd consider a compromise of a minimal shoulder rest -- a sponge perhaps -- which satisfies their classroom requirements while otherwise going without one.

April 12, 2013 at 11:52 AM · "I'd consider a compromise of a minimal shoulder rest -- a sponge perhaps -- which satisfies their classroom requirements while otherwise going without one."

I wouldn't compromise -- even by this much. I know where you're coming from, but that approach strikes me as appeasement. What these administrators need more of is parents and students who stand up to them and push back. Giving in to their demands and trying not to make waves -- this just ends up letting the bad guys win.

April 12, 2013 at 12:07 PM · There are two different issues.

1. The need for a shoulder rest. No. You don't 'need' one. I'd even go as far to suggest it might cause a problem for some children.

2. The need to keep a large group of kids on track - without catering to everyone's individual whims. I think this is important. Our school band program was a schmoozle. By the time the kids were organized and calmed down...rehearsal was almost over.

In this case I'd probably try and have that requirement you would have to do some research (and while I admire Heifetz, his not using a shoulder rest is irrelevant) and then meet with administration.

In the might have to at least pack one in her case so she has it with her.

April 12, 2013 at 12:58 PM · First of all -- thank you all for your responses.

The requirement is coming from the director of the program. I had written to the String Project with much the same information as I put into the original post and I just now received a response from her.

The director's reply was that my daughter was playing with her head tilted and her posture unaligned, and that the use of a shoulder rest was a means to remedy the posture situation.

When we practice at home or with her private instructor it's just for 30-45 minutes at a time, and during that time she maintains excellent posture. \I have, however, noticed that her posture tends to decline (left arm comes down and she tends to rest her cheek on the chin rest) over the course of two hours of String Project class on Saturday morning.

This may all just come down to two hours being too long for a seven year old to play the violin continuously. As I mentioned originally, she's the youngest in the orchestra. There's another eight year old, and everyone else is around 9-13. The problem is that she's already playing much more advanced pieces than what they're doing and she was bored in the lower level classes.

The director also expressed concern that advanced techniques -- shifting, vibrato, etc. -- would not be possible unless she "is able to balance her posture and create more freedom in her left arm and hands."

This to me is a non-starter. She hasn't begun vibrato, but she's able to shift smoothly and accurately. All the pieces she's working on now have shifts into 3rd, 4th and 5th position, and she can fluently play 3-octave scales.

With regard to Gene's questions, there's nothing else she's missing. This program has a long waiting list for the early stages -- Jr. Cadets, Sr. Cadets, the first two ensembles -- but by the time they get to the orchestras it's pretty thinned out. The way she got into the program in the first place was auditioning to skip the first two "cadet" years of the program after about nine months of private lessons. After that she's advanced one level each semester until now.

To me the primary benefit of the program is that it gives my daughter a chance to play the violin in a group setting. Apart from violin summer camp, her next chance to do so will be in five years when she goes to Canyon Vista Middle School.

As pointed out by Paul and Adrian, this program is a Suzuki program but my daughter's private instructor isn't a Suzuki instructor. When my daughter was four she told me she wanted to learn to play the violin, and after researching he and his father (Serafim Serafimov and Alexander Serafimov) simply had the best references. They are amazing and my daughter absolutely adores them and loves going to her lesson.

April 12, 2013 at 02:36 PM · Aurelio,

Suzuki-style group work usually insists on good posture, but sharing a music stand can undo this: trying to follow the score sideways, plus keeping an eye on the teacher, can bring the violin round in front and ruin good posture - and this for many long minutes.

When I am on the left seat of the desk, I actually sit facing my partner so that my viola points to the conductor, just to the left of the score.

Please be wary of the frequent references to Heifetz!

If you look at the dozens of SR threads on, you will find that SR-users can be stubborn persons of habit, and the "restless" alway know what is best for everyone, and are more inspired by their convictions than by observing others (other than Heifetz..)

Lastly for yor daughter's benefit, I would go for appeasement rather than confrontation....

She sound very lucky!

April 12, 2013 at 03:00 PM · Now we're waging the SR war vicariously through our children?

I've watched a number of Suzuki violin groups, some smaller and some fairly large. Even though there might be a great teacher, it's just not possible to give the same level of individual attention to things like form and posture that you would in a private lesson.

April 12, 2013 at 04:02 PM · My initial reaction was balderdash, but after reading the director's reply, sounds like she has some valid points and is looking out for the best interest of your daughter. Rather than making it confrontational, I think a meeting with the director and your daughter's teacher would be a good idea. The agenda should not be how to get the director to change the policies, but rather are there changes that would benefit your daughter. Maybe your daughter would benefit from changes in her setup.

Without seeing her play, it is hard to give advice, but from the description, I think a proper fitting chin rest might be more beneficial than SR.

April 12, 2013 at 05:31 PM ·

"I wouldn't compromise -- even by this much. I know where you're coming from, but that approach strikes me as appeasement."

Great! The best way to fight a rigid approach is with...more rigidity!

April 12, 2013 at 05:34 PM · Adrian,

Excellent point about sharing a music stand. For her it's also hard because she's smaller than everyone else and her feet don't even reach the ground. The only point in mentioning Heifetz and the others to as examples that it is clearly possible to be a great violinist without a shoulder rest, not that it's the best choice for everyone.


I'm not interested in engaging in the SR war. I don't even have a position other than you should probably just do what works for you. I just want my daughter to be able to play "correctly" in the way that's most comfortable for her and that, for now, happens to be restless. When I got her first violin I also bought a shoulder rest. She used it for a couple of days but didn't like it. Back then she preferred to use a 1/2" pad. Eventually she, on her own, decided she didn't like that either, so for the last two years she's just played restless. We've tried several different rests and pads along the way, but she just didn't like them. Someday she may change her mind again.

Do your second point, I agree and think that it may just be that this program isn't a good fit for her given her skill level and age. It may be better for her to just focus on private classes and join one of the more advanced orchestras in a few years (assuming the SR issue gets settled).


I definitely agree that the director has my daughter's best interest in mind, I'm just not sure that she's correct. The director wrote that "All shoulder instrument players in string project use a shoulder rest as do all the teachers." I see at least a little bit of pro-SR zealotry in that statement -- it's hard for me to imagine that a SR is across the board the best approach for hundreds of students and teachers.

I think the problems with maintaining good posture are caused more by the length of the classes and sharing of a stand than with the lack of a SR.

Thanks again to everyone for your responses.

April 12, 2013 at 06:25 PM · I'm an adult who can choose my own equipment. I have decent posture when playing standing up, but I've always had trouble with posture in long orchestra rehearsals.

Besides the obvious fatigue factor of a long rehearsal, I've had the following problems:

Vision difficulties, either because my eyeglasses need replacing, or because a stand partner has poor vision and pulls the stand too close to them.

Body proportions not suited to playing seated -

I have long arms and a short torso, so when playing seated I end up twisting into odd positions to avoid bumping my bow into my leg when playing downbow on the E string.

Height differential - if stand partners are different heights, one person may end up tipping their head back to look up while the other person is slumping down to see music that's too low.

April 12, 2013 at 06:35 PM · > The director's reply was that my daughter was

> playing with her head tilted and her posture

> unaligned, and that the use of a shoulder rest

> was a means to remedy the posture situation.

That sounds reasonable to me.

The only thing I take issue with is that the goal here is to help your daughter have good posture, and the solution needs not to come from an administrative directive that says "bring a shoulder rest or we'll kick you out." That's way too much of a brute force approach that doesn't engender any goodwill.

It needs to be addressed through a conversation in partnership with her *teacher* to correct the posture issue, regardless of how that comes about (shoulder rest, foam pad, better body awareness, etc.).

If I were the director, I would say to the teacher, "I've noticed student A's posture in class needs some attention, could you please address it with the parent and hopefully we'll see some improvement over the next couple weeks?"

April 12, 2013 at 08:00 PM ·

There is I suspect a general ergonomic issue going on for your little girl, and it all becomes celar in this statement:

"For her it's also hard because she's smaller than everyone else and her feet don't even reach the ground."

And that needs to be attended to by the orchestra (not you!) immediately, because no way would any adult player cope with a two hour rehearsal with their little feet dangling in the air, or their toes just touching the floor while they balance precariously at the edge of their seat straining to see around the edge of their instrument and up over the edge of the music stand that is set too high for them with their stand partner.

So what she needs is:

a seat at the right height that allows her feet to rest on the floor, or a footrest at at the seat with her stand partner. She needs to be able to position one foot in front if that is how she plays, she needs to be able to get in and out of her seat without tripping, and other kids need to be able to move around with out tripping, so

Perhaps her own stand if the footrest does not resolve her height issue due to problems with seat depth or problems with tripping over the footrest.

Not being supported in the seat is a really big issue for a little kid for any length of time, even just sitting eating dinner, but while playing an instrument like the violin, that can have its own compensatory balance issues. gaw the mind just boggles about what your girl must be trying to do, and what the adults around her are thinking!

In other words, this problem is not being addressed from the right spot. It is not from the neck down, but from the floor up, that solution needs to start.

April 12, 2013 at 08:09 PM · It's surprising how misinformed and incompetent a lot of these people in teaching are (including at this program evidently). So according to their rules, Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, and Anne Sophie Mutter would be thrown out of their program for not being 'prepared' with the 'right materials.'

Actually I would see it as a blessing in disguise, if she cannot continue her studies in this program.

I would point out to these people at the program, that the violin in fact was built to be played without a shoulder rest originally. Some of the greatest violinists of all time have played without shoulder rests.

April 12, 2013 at 09:07 PM · Scott, taking a stand based on one's principles and honest convictions -- especially when these are rooted in firsthand experiences and observations -- hardly fits the definition of rigidity.

Confrontation doesn't have to be hostile. But it does call for facing the issue squarely and telling it like it is -- even at the risk of offending some hearers. As already indicated, if I were the parent, I'd request a meeting with the administrator -- and bring along the kid and her teacher, if possible, to buttress our side of the case. If the administration wouldn't budge, I'd have the kid herself decide whether to stay in the program or abandon it.

Nate said:

"Actually I would see it as a blessing in disguise, if she cannot continue her studies in this program."

That's the general feeling I get, based on the evidence so far presented. Since OP has stated that his daughter is "already playing much more advanced pieces than what [the other participants are] doing and she was bored in the lower level classes," I at least have to suspect that she may well have outgrown them by now and be ready to move on.

If so, it's not the end of the world. The UT program isn't irreplaceable. The whole situation reminds me of a line from the classic 1939 Oz film:

"Come along, Dorothy. You don't want any of those apples."

April 12, 2013 at 09:57 PM · Just to add Ricci and Oistrakh to the list of people who would be thrown out!

April 13, 2013 at 12:23 AM · Second time I have seen Perlman mentioned as using no shoulder rest. Depending on your definition of shoulder rest, this is flat out incorrect. Twice I have been standing right next to Perlman after a concert, where he slipped out a shoulder pad that was underneath his jacket, once last year, and about 15 years ago. I also saw a female violin soloist do this (but from her blouse), just don't remember who it was.

Perhaps a similar pad whould help? Technically, not a shoulder rest.

Also, it has taken me many years, and as much as I like to buck authority, especially if they are wrong (lulz) sometimes it is better to go with the flow, especially if the ends - staying in a highly competitive string program - justify putting up with a rest for 2 hours.

April 13, 2013 at 02:07 AM · Stop thinking about it as a shoulder rest or not issue, that's the problem the teachers have fallen in to. That is not the problem.

The problem is that her feet cant reach the floor, so she looks like she has poor posture. Who knows what the top half of her body needs, she hasn't got the bottom bit sorted out yet. Stabilise the roots, and let the branches do their thing.

April 13, 2013 at 03:30 AM · I'm guessing they don't want to see kids with their violins drooping to the floor, a position which is both unattractive and ineffective. Some kids can achieve good posture without a shoulder rest of some kind, but not many. I'm guessing that is the reason for the rule.

Also, the people who believe it's actually preferable not to use a shoulder rest are a vocal minority. It's fine to go without it but it's not most people's preference.

April 13, 2013 at 03:43 AM · Shoulder rests 100, chin rests 0!

Don't get my point? Think about it.

April 13, 2013 at 08:26 AM · I think shoulder rests only came in in the 60s. How did people manage to play the violin prior to that?

April 13, 2013 at 09:39 AM · Malcom, industrial rests may have appeared as late as the 60's; before that, those who needed, or preferred, support from the shoulder (like my own viola teacher) made their own arrangements (inside or outside clothing).

Baillot (1834), who recommended placing the chin on the left of the tailpiece (rather than over it, as Spohr proposed) also mentions the utility of a shoulder-pad

Nate, the violin was not designed to play 19th or 20th century music. And our creator definitely did not design us to play the violin!

Eric, as a long-necked, sloping-shouldered beanpole myself, I agree that chinrests deserve the closest attention: they are very often responsible for bad posture, and bad choice of other accessories. They are often excruciatingly ill-shaped, and too low or too high.

To return to the thread, (!) no teacher, or team of teachers, has any right whatsoever to eliminate a child on such arbitrary or personal grounds.

April 13, 2013 at 12:34 PM · "I think shoulder rests only came in in the 60s. How did people manage to play the violin prior to that?"

Simple, and an answer to those who always trot out the same Famous Guy names when the question comes up:

Those that were uncomfortable without a shoulder rest simply quit. Shoulder rests now make it possible for many more people to play who would have otherwise given up.

The Fallacy of Positive Instances prevents people from recognizing the simple effects of Darwinian (and Wallacian) selection.

April 13, 2013 at 12:58 PM · If they kick her out they are quacks. Find a teacher who teaches the child not the program

April 13, 2013 at 01:16 PM · Shouldn't someone provide her with a foot-rest?

April 13, 2013 at 01:32 PM · Yes, she needs a foot rest and a proper chin rest, not a shoulder rest.

April 13, 2013 at 01:55 PM · "the violin in fact was built to be played without a shoulder rest originally"

As far as I know, the violin was originally cradled in the arm and not held up to the chin.

April 13, 2013 at 02:49 PM · "… as much as I like to buck authority, especially if they are wrong … sometimes it is better to go with the flow, especially if the ends - staying in a highly competitive string program - justify putting up with a [shoulder] rest for 2 hours."

On general principles, I must differ. Furthermore, if putting up with the SR for 2 hours per session caused discomfort, inconvenience, reduced efficiency, or long-term damage, would you still advocate this go along to get along approach?

Again, if I were the parent, I'd try to resolve this issue with the administrators. If that failed, I'd leave it to the young lady herself to decide whether to stay in the program or abandon it. She's the one doing the playing; and if anyone ought to know which method is most comfortable for her -- pad, SR, or no shoulder device at all -- she is that one. Like me, she has had the benefit of comparison.

I am an SR user, which puts me in the majority; but as you can see from my responses in this thread, I will defend to the end the right of other players to go without the device if they prefer to play without it. As a previous poster pointed out, it's harder to go from using the SR to playing restless than the other way around. Don't add any extra accessory unless or until the player has a genuine need of it.

April 13, 2013 at 04:38 PM · I've actually noticed a lot of people who use shoulder rests, droop, or play slouched over due to the slope of the rest. I've written at greater length about this here before.

The violin without a shoulder rest, tends to lie more flat on the collarbone/clavicle. If you place a violin with a shoulder rest on a flat surface, such as a table, you'll notice the part of the violin with the rest, is artificially elevated higher, than the scroll of the instrument, kind of like a seesaw. A violin without a shoulder rest on that flat surface will rest absolutely level from end button to scroll.

When you place it on your collarbone with a shoulder rest it is no different. You'll need to lift the violin either with your left hand or shoulder in order to just keep the violin level.

'Nate, the violin was not designed to play 19th or 20th century music. And our creator definitely did not design us to play the violin!'

Plenty of great violinists have played works from those periods without shoulder rests. It can be done. :)

April 13, 2013 at 05:35 PM · I suspect that many children will play with or without a rest, and different heights of rests as well as different chinrests, as they grow.

I went through a lot of different shoulder-rests and chinrests as I was growing up. I did a lot of playing with just thin sponges or folded cloth or nothing at all, interspersed with periods of higher support, before eventually settling into a shoulder-rest when I reached my full growth.

April 13, 2013 at 06:32 PM · Nate, nothing to disagree with in your post!

May I usefully take up your see-saw image: my viola scroll rises when the weight of my head falls on the chinrest - no tension, no slouching, just a simple see-saw motion.

Each to his own!

April 13, 2013 at 07:22 PM · NA Mohr "Shouldn't someone provide her with a foot-rest?" That's what I suggested a day ago.

Sadly the message got lost in the war (someone shot down the pigeon).

Meantime in the trench a little kid continues to be the pawn in a completely irrelevant battle for how the upper half of her body will meet with her violin.


April 13, 2013 at 10:24 PM · I agree with Nate that you will see plenty of bad postures and droopy violins in SR-only groups. This group has decided that they want uniformity in the extreme. Perhaps that is their choice but it does seem a little sad. Its too easy to say, "Just quit" though. Kids make a lot of friends in their violin group.

I was just thinking, though, what if a kid insisted on using a cello bow?

April 14, 2013 at 04:08 AM ·

In my experience, students with poor\wrong equipment struggle with learning and struggle with posture. Students that are properly fitted with the right equipment learn so much quicker, enjoy playing and are much much easier to teach.

It's the teacher's responsibility to properly fit the student with the right equipment, and it seems that your teacher has dropped the ball on this one. I recommend that you ask the String Program for a name of someone who can properly set the violin up for her.

Or maybe someone here can drop a name of person in your area.

April 14, 2013 at 04:52 AM · I do not wish to enter either the debate about shoulder rest or compliance.

I would like to address the following paragraph:

To me the primary benefit of the program is that it gives my daughter a chance to play the violin in a group setting. Apart from violin summer camp, her next chance to do so will be in five years when she goes to Canyon Vista Middle School.

If this is your main concern and you do not wish to force your daughter to comply with the UT program’s requirement then there is another possibility, viz. The Austin Chamber Music Center (link here). I do not know the cost but if you select the Education tab you will see that there is a program called the “Academy for Young Artist” for students ages 6-18.


Pat T

April 14, 2013 at 03:41 PM · Let's not treat the footrest idea as a joke: a straight back while playing is important. Also, many chin- and shoulder-rest combinations lead to bad (if not harmful) neck alignment, clenching, immobilised shoulders (which I avoid, even with a SR!).

I'm not so allegic to drooping; after all, the 'cello is hardly ever held horizontally....

April 14, 2013 at 04:22 PM · I note that your daughter is taught privately by Alexander Serafimov, who is not involved in the String Project program.

The most direct way to deal with your problem is to ask him to advise you. The Serafimovs are among the best and most respected teachers in Texas.

April 14, 2013 at 10:56 PM · I agree that the footrest idea is not a joke. Balance with good posture (at least here) starts with the feet.

April 15, 2013 at 11:22 AM · I agree that the child's teacher should be involved in this. Perhaps even the child's teacher knows the director of the UT school and could place a polite phone call on your behalf? Meanwhile offering to do a little more to help the child find ways to maintain posture through long rehearsals?

There is something also that you can advise your child. When the teacher stops the group, or when there is a little break in the action, get in the habit of taking your violin away from your shoulder and adopting a standard rest position. This will provide intervals of rest during a long rehearsal, whether in a standing group or in a seated orchestra. I see kids mindlessly holding their violins "at the ready" while the teacher is explaining something for a couple of minutes or working with a different section of the orchestra. No wonder they start to droop.

April 20, 2013 at 03:44 PM · Yes, listen to you teacher and get shoulder rest . About $10 on amazon.

April 22, 2013 at 02:13 AM · Yeesh - in our "free to be me" culture, how did some programs get so conformist?

I work with 6-10 year olds on violin, and most of their little necks are too short still to put a shoulder rest on their violin without feeling like it makes them into a giraffe. That's not all of them, of course, and I do use a shoulder rest with a well fitted chinrest. It took about 6 different styles of chinrest and 3 of SR before I found my "magic" combination. I even played without a chin rest for a while - It was quite comfy, except I couldn't pull my viola close enough to me and I felt unstable. That said, I keep my SR just as low as I can so that the curvy part is only about 1/2" from the viola and I feel connected to it.

My 8YO plays with a microfiber towel I sewed into a 2 layer square for him - he dislikes SR also. I recommend those to kids who don't like the sponge or SR, but feel it slip just a bit. They have just a little grab to them that helps significantly.

I agree with the others here though 100%, conference with tutor and program director, fix the dangling foot problem that I don't understand why it wasn't addressed immediately. Then we can talk about a fitting session for a CR and SR/no SR combo.

I do portraits also, and anytime someone dangles from a stool their posture and portraits suffer.

April 22, 2013 at 02:56 AM · Interesting....I know a guy who went to a very prestigious school in New york, had the same problem with the school. Apparently, it was a big taboo to play sans shoulder rest. Many great violinists insisted and still insists on playing without one. In fact, their left hands are so developed that they don't need to "hold" the violin anymore. Much like my teacher, sometimes he just plays the violin on his left hand with his head swinging around making jokes.

If anything, I envy your child because I have a rather long neck so it's difficult to play without a SR. As for her posture, I think it has a lot to do with the 2 hour class. It is just too long.

May 22, 2013 at 12:05 PM · As a teacher I require all beginners to acquire a shoulder rest. I recommend the appropriate-size KUN rest for all ages. Pads are better than nothing, but do not give the firm support that is optimal. My reasons are many, so here's a partial list:

1. Beginners tends to grip the instrument tightly and 'hold it up' with their hand. This is a natural instinct that will lead to big problems later. Even in the earliest stages, it will slow down and hamper development of independent fingers and a decent hand position.

2. The rest helps beginners learn to use their head to hold up the violin, and encourages keeping it more on the shoulder, rather than pinning it to the chest with their chin, which is what the natural instincts will tell them to do.

3. It will help prevent raising the left shoulder to bring the violin to the jaw, avoiding one little set of tension-producing bad habits.

4. Shifting and vibrato are impossible until the student has the weight of the violin out of his hand.

5. It helps students learn not to 'palm' the violin by collapsing the left wrist, a favorite stance of beginners worldwide.

6. The rest encourages development of a consistent violin position by preventing 'slippage' and the resulting constant adjustment.

IMO, the teacher is right on! - especially if this is 'class' strings and not private lessons, where you can watch each student and instantly correct deviant positioning.

Beginners vs. Perlman/Mutter is like puppies vs. race horses. They aren't even the same creature. If you have a very advanced student with a short neck, that's a different thing. By all means, let them experiment with rest-less playing then, AFTER they have learned their basic techniques.

Chances are excellent that your students aren't worried about the details of protecting a Strad, getting the last decibel out of the back, or eschewing the possibility of rest disasters amidst major concerti in front of large orchestras. Until that day, get the rest ;-)

May 22, 2013 at 03:53 PM · But Julie, many violinists play without a shoulder rest so why is shifting and vibrato impossible without one ?

Do you teach your students that the left hand has no part at all in supporting the violin ? I am unsure where you stand on this point.

NOTE : I play with a shoulder rest but I am trying to learn to play without one...a tricky transition.

May 22, 2013 at 04:26 PM · There are many good reasons to use a shoulder rest, and the majority of my private students do use them (although I have two that do not). However, I take issue with some of these points:

> 4. Shifting and vibrato are impossible until

> the student has the weight of the violin out

> of his hand.

This simply isn't true. My non-SR students hold up the violin with their left hand in balance with their collarbone/jawbone, and are shifting and playing with varied, interesting, vibrato without any issues. It certainly requires a somewhat different approach to the technique, but I don't think it is appropriate to claim that something is "impossible" just because you don't have any experience with it.

> 6. The rest encourages development of a

> consistent violin position by preventing

> 'slippage' and the resulting constant

> adjustment.

If the instrument is slipping, then all that is needed to remedy that is a cloth that supplies sufficient friction, a chamois or the cotton-flannel equivalent works well.

One can develop a consistent violin position with or without a rest. The issue I run into is some SR designs prevent the player from adjusting the angle of the violin relative to the ground. Being able to rotate the violin on the axis from the scroll to the end button is extremely helpful, particularly in extended passages on the G string, getting a better sound on the E, and making certain bow strokes easier to execute by keeping the bow at the same angle of attack. In order to change the angle, you use your left hand!

> If you have a very advanced student with

> a short neck, that's a different thing.

> By all means, let them experiment with

> rest-less playing then, AFTER they have

> learned their basic techniques.

This isn't about beginner vs. advanced. This is about finding the best fit for the student, regardless of their ability level. If I did a poll of what just my own private students used I'd practically have a listing that looks like the Shar Catalog.

Whether they use a SR or not depends on their physical makeup at that point in time. One of mine has never used one, while the other transitioned away from using the SR because it made playing more difficult for him. I also have had a student who towered over me at 6'5" in his senior year for whom playing violin without an SR and a very tall chinrest to match would have been comical because he was practically a genetic cross between a human and a giraffe.

> I recommend the appropriate-size KUN

> rest for all ages.

So what do you do when a child's shoulder is not shaped like a KUN?

May 22, 2013 at 08:44 PM · Not to enter into the many other issues Julie raised, but really, she needed to read the OP post more carefully as this child is not a beginner.

And then she needed to read the responses more carefully as her points do not address what eventually was revealed to be the issues and what became good suggestions to resolve.

May 23, 2013 at 05:10 PM · Because it's an entirely valid way of changing the angle of the instrument by pivoting on the collarbone, without having to move the rest of your body. Some players don't have enough mass at the intersection of the collarbone and chin to be able to move it easily using the muscles around that area, and moving the head around isn't always best for the neck.

I'm glad you are able to cite a single example of a person who does it differently; I think I've seen all sorts of combinations, including players who effect this angle change simply by changing their stance and bending their knees. For the record, I only brought this up because of the earlier assertion that it was "impossible" to shift or do vibrato while using the left hand to do other things.

May 23, 2013 at 08:31 PM · All of Julie's reasons correspond to my own, except that I have not found a suitable Kun rest for every child. I have found the tiniest model much too high, and the wrong shape. The shoulder end is not adjustable, and the curve is such that the violin is too far to the right, which is precisely what I (and I think Julie) want to avoid.

I notice from these posts that a majority of children (just like a majority of orchestral players..)use a rest if given the choice, but that having this choice is very important.

May 24, 2013 at 09:54 AM · A lot of teachers build up the chest side of the Kun (wrap with thin foam, etc.) to help keep the violin from slumping toward the chest. The problem seems to be that the Kun assumes a wider (front to back) shoulder than little kids have.

May 24, 2013 at 11:29 AM · Hi,

The problem with this topic is that there is no fit-all solution. The one thing that I find troubling is the comments that violin technique for playing with or without support is different. It should not be. The pad or rest may fill a gap but the principles are the same. Most of the injury problems attributed to rests are due to the fact that people are making an error in balance which is masked by the rest.

Part of the problems with rests vs pads is actually the chest-side part of most shoulder rests. That is why many pedagogues who specialize in children (like Mimi Zweig) and others use sponges and pads of various heights.

The slippage and other things attributed to the rest are actually caused by an incorrect angle of the left elbow which is pointing sideways to the right and drags the violin along. If the elbow is pointing down with the violin floating above it, in line with the axis of gravity, the problem ceases. You can find that easily without a rest as it is exposed to a greater degree but, it will be a problem with or without a rest. Slippage can also be a problem with a rest if the rest is too high and prevents contact with the collarbone which results in a loss of stability and can lead to a shoulder injury as one tries to maintain contact between the shoulder and the rest.

As for shifting and vibrato, if one rests the violin on the base of the first finger with a light thumb opposite and the elbow properly balanced, you will have a good vibrato and shifting without a rest. It will also make things easier with a rest because you will be in balance with the instrument. Again, the problem is not the rest, but an error in movement.

So, what is the point. The rest or pad or non-necessity for it is a separate issue from the movements necessary for playing and the basic positions of the hand. Its function is to fill a gap not to create a separate technique. Understanding this would solve certainly most debates about rest vs non-rest playing.


May 24, 2013 at 11:56 AM · Christian,

I am always surprised to read about resting the violin neck on the base of the first finger, as opposed to against it. I always find that this is precisely what causes cramped left hands in the children.

I should be interested to hear how a flexible vibrato works with such a contact: does the base of the index rub against the side of the fingerboard, or does the skin absorb the movement?

I have watched several highly interesting videos on this very subject, but unfortunately the violinists in question have a rather meager, bleating vibrato, far from what I or my students would wish. Even more so on a viola!

When I practice "restless", it is my thumb which supports the violin, not the base of the index, which touches the fiddle in fast passages, and leaves a 1 mm gap for vibrato.

Note that this post, like Christian's, is not pro or anti SR. Just practical.

May 24, 2013 at 09:19 PM · Perhaps it should be called VIOLIN REST?

It is not shoulder that is resting, but the violin!

In my mother tongue it is called "bridge" for a good reason - it bridges the gap.

Sorry, had to ping the discussion, so we can all reach 100 posts and give it a rest....

May 25, 2013 at 10:09 AM · Hi Adrian,

For me, yes the side of the first finger touches the neck for the most part. I find that the finger can move and the hand is not stuck against the fingerboard as the thumb doesn't press and the contact is light. If there is tension, it begins when my left elbow is pointing to the right. By feeling the violin neck on the root of the first finger the elbow is correctly balanced and the thumb doesn't press.

As for videos, I can point to three violinists who use this technique brilliantly, and all of them use something different in terms of support. There is Martin Beaver, First Violinist of the Tokyo String Quartet who plays without a shoulder rest. Secondly, David Oistrakh, who uses a shoulder pad most times though we don't always see it because of the lighting in the various films. And finally, James Ehnes, who uses a shoulder rest. The one thing that you will notice with all three is that there is little or minimum rotation of the elbow which is essentially pointing down, or resting at the bottom of the pendulum if you will.

Hope this answers your questions.


May 25, 2013 at 10:58 AM · here we go again....

May 25, 2013 at 11:28 AM · Hi,

Rocky, in which way "here we go again?" In giving examples, answering Adrian's questions about the left hand and use, three different players are chosen, using no rest, a pad and a shoulder rest but using the same principle of placement of the left hand. This idea or concept of the placement of the left hand can be found in the Flesch Art of Violin Playing, Galamian's Principles of Violin Playing or other works I am sure. The point being that good playing principles can be used and applied and essentially remain the same no matter what one uses. See, part of the argument for one camp or the next which creates much of the trouble is that a different technique is required for each. It is not and has nothing to do with the choice of using or not a form of support.


May 25, 2013 at 04:45 PM · Rocky, thanks to Elise, Aurelio and a few others, we have actually dicussed practical issues, and not just say Heifetz didn't need a SR etc. etc.

John, some of us don't need to fill the gap under the violin, and some of us do, and some (like me) find it helpful.

John and Christian, the kind of "gap" I refer to ( between fingerboard and index) can be microscopic, and not show on video: and the width of vibrato of many illustrious players makes me wonder. But I do appreciate all this unbiased observation..

May 25, 2013 at 09:19 PM · Hi,

Adrian, you could be right. I think that the base of the first finger, even if touching is free to move along the fingerboard since neither the thumb nor the base of the first finger press against the neck of the violin. Three other examples of violinists that come to mind along the same lines are Michael Rabin, Vadim Repin, Renaud Capuçon. I think that there is a way to setup the hand for its particular geometry in a way that is natural for everyone in spite of differences following similar general guidelines. These have been listed long before me and can be accessed by anyone. Now someone may do something else and sound great. Its just that many of the top players follow similar lines of approach in spite of what people may view as differences rather than looking for what unifies them.

John makes a good point also in that there are many fantastic players that do individual things in that it in no way interferes with their great playing. Hilary Hahn, Janine Jansen and Julia Fischer all rotate the left elbow to the right considerably and sound fantastic.

The approach of Carl Flesch to the issue in the Art of Violin Playing is very nice. He discusses support and the non-use of it in an objective way but does not say that it changes the correct movements for good playing in any way. I am more for the camp of looking at what unites us in a practical way allowing for the differences and finding solutions to help each other. Good balance is good balance. Good movements are good movements. Good geometry for each body is good geometry. If something, or lack thereof, interferes prevents you from achieving that, than yes it is an obstacle. Often when one takes off the shoulder rest, they are often drawn to be more aware of problems of balance and movements creating tension and obstacles. But these problems were there before they took off the rest were they not? However, if a rest does not interfere, than where is the problem? And if an in between solution works for you, then where is the harm in that?


May 25, 2013 at 10:20 PM · Hi John,

EDIT: Don't know what to respond to that one as this is not my area of expertise, so will leave it to someone else...


May 25, 2013 at 11:11 PM · I started violin when I was 7, using a small foam pad for my shoulder rest. It worked fine for a while. I think I was 10 when my teacher told me I should get one a shoulder rest.

Of course, not everyone needs one. Some violinists have short necks, and shoulder rests don't help support the violin at all. Others, like myself, have giraffe necks and need a high shoulder rest and a high chin rest.

So I wouldn't say it's reasonable for them to say that your 7-year-old can't play the violin without a shoulder rest. They could suggest that she get one, but saying it's required is a little silly.

May 28, 2013 at 09:55 AM · Okay, where has the OP gone? Aurelio, if you have been brave enough to stick around for most of this, did you have discussions and a result regarding your daughter's issue? I would very much like to know.


May 28, 2013 at 10:41 AM ·

‘Shifting and vibrato are impossible until the student has the weight of the violin out of his hand.’

So what you are saying is that no one can learn shifting or vibrato without a shoulder rest?

‘If you have a very advanced student with a short neck, that's a different thing. By all means, let them experiment with rest-less playing then, AFTER they have learned their basic techniques.’

How about my teacher who was over 6’4” and Eugene Ysaye (also very tall)? They did not start the violin using shoulder rests, and turned out pretty well I think...

May 28, 2013 at 02:49 PM · Aurelio...

If you want a shoulder rest quick: my preference would be Blackerby Violin on Anderson Lane. Take the Anderson Square exit off 183 and head South a couple of blocks.

If you need a foot rest, just use a tape measure to see how high it needs to be. If you are uncomfortable putting it together, get the materials and I can whack it together for you.

I'll use the same framing nailer that I use to attach violin necks. :-)

Seriously - it's good to know what's behind the probation. Maybe you could video a session, so she can see for herself what they are concerned about.

June 2, 2013 at 05:20 PM · Nate and John:

I seem to have ruffled some feathers, so I'll try to smooth one or two. I am talking only about beginners and early intermediates. What some Violin God with 10,000+ hours of practice time logged does is up to them :)Once these motions are practiced and automatic, you can do them with or without a rest.

My opinion is that it's easier to LEARN the motions with some support. What I say here is from my personal teaching experience. The sponges really don't seem to contribute much except perhaps a bit more comfort.

I ain't Dorothy Delay or Kurt Sassmannshaus - with some wonderful exceptions, a lot of the kids practice three or four days a week between baseball games, dance recitals, homework and barbeques.

Believe me, they need all the help they can get~

June 2, 2013 at 07:09 PM · Julie, I for one actually agree with you, but where you "ruffled feathers" is in implying that he SR is necessary rather than convenient or useful.

This sets off a mass of posts about Heifetz or Rosand being against SRs; or the violin not being designed for one; or the effect on tone; or crutches, bicycle side-wheels etc.

Followed by a posts pointing out that Rosand and Szigeti used padded coats, and John's excellent "Idaspy" anti-arrogance thread; or the human body not being designed for the violin...

And so on.

And so on.

However, the points you made were eminently practical, as are my own, coming from real-life teaching situations with children, not master-classes with geniuses!

John once suggested to me that I use "can" or "may" rather than "will", and "some" rather than "every".

At least we are all, (sorry, we all seem to be) passionate about our instrument and the yougsters who seem to wish to play it!

June 3, 2013 at 11:48 AM · Thank you, Adrian :)) Error 405: Le mot juste not found! I will be more careful in future.

June 5, 2013 at 11:22 AM · The position adopted by some teachers in this thread is that geniuses can do whatever they please, but their students ain't no geniuses, so they should do what they tell them, which is to use a shoulder rest.

E.g. Julie wrote:

"Beginners vs. Perlman/Mutter is like puppies vs. race horses. They aren't even the same creature. If you have a very advanced student with a short neck, that's a different thing. By all means, let them experiment with rest-less playing then, AFTER they have learned their basic techniques."

Before Perlman and Mutter became "the" Perlman and "the" Mutter, they were just kids, gifted, but still kids who had to develop and learn how to use their bodies just like everyone else. Not long ago, shoulder rests were not the norm, and everyone learned without them, and therefore kids are certainly capable of learning without them while not being geniuses or advanced.

As I see it is more likely to be a limitation in teachers, in their own experience and knowledge and time available for specific guidance to help kids with restless playing than deficiencies in kids not being geniuses or very advanced players out of the womb.

By the same argument that geniuses can do whatever they please with violins, the fact that many advanced players use a rest has no bearing on the claim that kids should be made to play with a rest.

Rests can be helpful, but they can also be harmful in impeding the correct positioning of the instrument and hence the body, by forcing the limitation of their geometry onto the geometry of the body. A rest properly positioned on a suitable body is arguably not harmful, but the argument that there is insufficient time or attention to teach kids to play properly without a shoulder rest also implies that there will not be enough attention to them being adjusted with an optimal shoulder rest and position for their bodies.

In this view, a sponge or pad is not the same as a shoulder rest, but the opposite, giving greater freedom and flexibility; constraining the player less to its geometry and difficult to adjust mechanism.

Going back to the OP, the student in question was not struggling to play without a shoulder rest, but was advancing quite well. The limitation which came into play was the administration's, which had a fixed policy of requiring shoulder rests.

June 5, 2013 at 08:21 PM · I also wonder if attitudes like this

"let them experiment with rest-less playing then, AFTER they have learned their basic techniques"

coming from SR users/proponents themselves are why some people feel that SR's are "training wheels".

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