How did the Masters prevent the violin from slipping on the tuxedo when using no shoulder rest?

June 11, 2013 at 10:11 PM · I've watched videos of the great masters, and noticed that they do not use shoulder rests or cloths or other things. They just put the violin up on their tuxedos and go! How do they do it? How does the violin not slip?

I have been playing restless (no shoulder rest OR chinrest) for years, and I can do so (chin off) when I have skin contact (or use a chamois or other similar item to provide friction). However, when the collarbone is covered with clothing, the violin slips around if a cloth/chamois/pad is not used.

However, I do not see the great masters using cloths/pad/chamois.

Was the chinrest essential for the masters to play without any sort of friction-producing aid? Did every one of the masters use a pad sewn into the tuxedo?

I really want to know how to do this!

So, once and for all, vcom members, tell me how they did it!

Replies (33)

June 11, 2013 at 10:37 PM · I don't have any inside info here, but you should remember that tailored jackets are not quite the same as shirts or sweaters-- especially in times gone by, when average cloth weights were much higher than we take for granted today. With a 14oz barathea or flannel, plus a little of the tailor's wadding underneath, a suit jacket would have been a much more receptive mate to a violin.

June 11, 2013 at 10:45 PM · a white satin glove which wafted down to you from the mysterious lady obscured in the shadows of the royal box ...

June 11, 2013 at 11:13 PM · oh, they would spit chewed tobacco between the violin and tuxedo. If you look carefully, you will see that some HIP players do the same before entering the stage. Some of those who studied modern violin use chewing gum instead, but that is considered as equal sacrilege as using a shoulder rest.

June 12, 2013 at 12:20 AM · A most clever but hypothetical method would be to run the rosined hairs of your bow over your left shoulder, providing some grip.

June 12, 2013 at 12:52 AM · Be very careful to whom you listen on the internet! ;^(|)

June 12, 2013 at 03:21 AM · I'm still trying to work out Eric's emoticon. I can't seem to get my mouth right.

June 12, 2013 at 04:36 AM · Greetings,

it's not his mouth,



June 12, 2013 at 05:08 AM · hi Jennifer, I think the answer is the chinrest. you keep the violin in place by letting your head rest on it (through the chin). I myself play without shoulder rest, and at some point had to remove the chinrest as well. I found that I could no longer keep the violin from slipping, just like you wonder about. with the chinrest on it was no problem. by the way I still play without chinrest but now use a chamois cloth to avoid the slippage. for performances, where the yellowish beige chamois cloth is a bit ugly, I use a specially cut piece of red elk leather, which is used by baroque violinists:

Exclusive baroque violin leather pads

June 12, 2013 at 05:53 AM · Sharelle, I believe its supposed to be a version of lol with the teeth showing. It looks more like "grin and bear it".

Or I could just be talking out of my whatever it is Buri was suggesting...

June 12, 2013 at 08:20 AM · There is no emoticon for what I am spluttering right now.

June 12, 2013 at 09:07 AM · Which "Masters" and which videos are you referring to? I ask because I have seen few if any of the violinists who started pre-war playing without a chin rest, though I may have overlooked them, Even if you go back and look at pictures of Ysaye or Joachim, it is hard to point to a a great player who is not using a chin rest.

June 12, 2013 at 02:00 PM · The masters all had large, heavy heads and massive jawlines. :-)

June 12, 2013 at 02:20 PM · Evan nailed it. Some of those guys had jowls that practically smothered the entire lower bouts of their violins, was there even a chin rest under all that flesh?

June 13, 2013 at 04:03 PM · 1. Velcro, one piece glued and stapled to the back of the Strad or Del Gesu, the other onto the tails jacket.

(Bad for the varnish but not as bad as Evan's nails.)

2. A large bunch of clear helium balloons tied with nylon thread to the scroll.

(Less damaging to the fiddle but can be distracting if one gets in the way of the bow and bursts. If you look carefully you can see these in some of the old photos and I believe there is also an oil painting of Paganini showing this technique.)

3. Attached to a bolt through the neck alla Herman Munster.

(This was more common than you would think. Remember they had high collars, so it was not easy to spot.)

4. Some had a cello spike fitted to their violins.

(Hence the pained expressions whilst playing.)

Cheers Carlo

June 13, 2013 at 06:29 PM · Wow, it seems that this really is a mystery.

June 13, 2013 at 06:41 PM · Thanks Carlo!

I guess am not the only black sheep now!

More bizarre ideas, anyone?

June 13, 2013 at 10:10 PM · I did hear on the radio that it was the likes of Bach who did not use a chinrest. The conclusion was that they kept the violin steady with their left hand and didn't care if they did a lot of glissando as a result.

June 14, 2013 at 07:01 AM · @Rocky. I share my knowledge of historical performance practice with you all and you call it bizarre? I am cut to the quick!

June 14, 2013 at 11:01 AM · Hi Jennifer,

To answer the questions that you asked...

About chinrests: yes, they do help, especially with down-shifts.

As for the pads in tuxedos, not everyone had one sown-in. Different people used different approaches. Some, like Thibaud, Milstein and Prihoda used nothing, just their hands. Pinchas Zukerman recounted that he once saw Milstein play a Paganini Caprice for him holding the violin with his hand against his chest! Some, like Heifetz and Szeryng seemed to have a shape of collarbone and jaw that rotated the violin towards the shoulder which seemed to help them. Stern and Zukerman use pads under their jackets. Szigeti and Francescatti rolled a handkerchief which the put under their jackets. You can seem them adjusting it on a couple of videos. Oistrakh and Grumiaux used shoulder pads attached to the violin. However, Oistrakh said he used his hand to hold the violin (hence the freedom of neck) and that the pad was there to prevent raising the shoulder for some shifting.

Stability or non-slippage is more dependent on the positioning of the left hand and arm and using the right movements when using nothing or small support like the masters above.

Hope this answers in part your questions...


June 17, 2013 at 02:34 AM · One of the living masters and his unique way to secure the violin:

June 17, 2013 at 03:53 PM · I think Christian gave a good answer/explanation.

I also don't use a shoulder rest and can do so ok with violin on clothes or bare skin. I can't really tell you 'how' I do it to be honest as I never asked myself the question and never 'analysed' what I do but I think it is indeed a combination of chin on chin-rest and my left hand and the violin positioned properly on collarbone.....

I remember when I first learnt to play with no shoulder rest the violin would slip all over the place like it was on an oil patch!!! I have this beautiful silk black handkerchief and I wanted to use it to protect the violin if I had bare skin showing/touching the violin but if I used it I found it so slippery the violin would fall off me, but now I use this silk handkerchief and the violin does not slip at all, so I have obviously learnt to do something I did not know how to do in the beginning!

June 17, 2013 at 04:33 PM · Rocky mentioned Onofri. I always thought that the scarf was very pragmatic.

But, my initial question was about those masters who did use chin rests. I will put a chin rest on my violin once again and report back on whether I am able to play without any friction-producing aid while the collarbone is covered with clothing.

About Maestro Onofri:

Q:You often get asked about the neck-scarf you use with your violin. When did you first start using this technique and what inspired you to try?

A:'I was searching for a method to hold the violin in order to combine the freedom given by the instrument with no chin rest [...] without the useless risks and rigidity given by chin-off playing. The result was the scarf, and just some months after my invention, I discovered that it was a historical method, where Italian sixteenth-century violinists played with violin hung round their neck by cords or scarves.'

So, maybe those of us who do not use chin rests need scarves!

June 17, 2013 at 09:22 PM · I wonder if the fabric had anything to do with it? It's not like slippery polyester was around, and it wouldn't have been used to make a tuxedo until the 60s/70s.

June 17, 2013 at 11:10 PM · I was going to say something similar to Christian and Evan...

Those videos are in black and white and the image is bad so it's difficult to see everything...

I've seen many masters use towels, curchiefs, small pads under the violin etc. on the old videos. They tell they all used nothing, it's simply not true!

But today, the players do not have the same shape as these old masters. (as a general rule...) In these days, masters all had very big and round faces, no neck, broad shoulders and were almost all men. Some neck/jaw/head shapes really hold the violin tucked in naturally. (My teacher is like them and I saw it first hand... I'm jealous lol:)

If everyone tried to play like them (set-up wise) nowadays, it would create many ergonomic problems. With the shoulder rests appeared a wider variety of players...

June 17, 2013 at 11:25 PM · Hi,

If you would like to see current videos of a modern master who plays with no pads, no SR, etc. like those of the days gone by, I would suggest that you look at videos of Martin Beaver, first violinist of the Tokyo String Quartet. There are a number of videos of the quartet on YouTube.


June 18, 2013 at 12:48 AM · "I discovered that it was a historical method, where Italian sixteenth-century violinists played with violin hung round their neck by cords or scarves.' "

So...hoisted by their own petard?

June 18, 2013 at 01:10 AM · Re Anne-Marie's response...

I recall reading about an autopsy of Paganini--he had asymmetrically distorted neck and left shoulder, probably a result of a lifetime of violin playing. If this is correct, the human body can adapt orthopedically for violn playing. What a beautiful idea!!!

June 18, 2013 at 01:51 AM · Evan :)

But sometimes, pain/tendonitus etc. can occur too. I think Paganini was rather tall and very thin from what I heard and the only picture I saw. Maybe not the best shape (ergonomically) for the violin with no SR yet he played so well (they say!). It's incredible yes...

There's a thread here on how we adapted physically to the violin and it was very interesting to read. Do not remember the exact title... We cannot change dominant features (as neck lengh) but some small things, yes (I beleive). My neck also turns more on left than right side now that I have been playing for a few years. But I'm not to the stage to have any spine or shoulder deformation (I'm not Paganini either!!!)

June 19, 2013 at 03:16 PM · Okay, so I did try to play my violin with only a chin rest (no shoulder rest). I did find that it was much easier to do than no chin rest.

With no chin rest, I rely on friction between (1) rib and neck, and (2) bottom plate and collarbone.

With the collar bone and neck covered with clothing, I no longer had those two types of friction, and had to rely on a new type of friction, (3) between chin rest and jaw.

I noticed that the higher the violin is held (i.e. the closer you raise the scroll to the ceiling), the more contact you have between jaw and chin rest, giving more security. However, you can no longer hold your head totally erect as in chin-off playing. The head needs to be tilted down to the side somewhat to get the friction between jaw and chinrest . . . which is what you see with many of the masters. The higher you raise the violin, and the lower you tilt your head, the more friction you get. I guess you would call this chin-on playing. Chin-on playing without a chin rest results in having to tilt the neck too low (which is probably why nobody does it, maybe only people with very short necks)

So, I can now see how the masters were able to do this, as they used chin rests. (Guess maybe I should have tried this before asking this question.) Maybe some people found this discussion useful, though.

For sure, though, people who are used to using shoulder rests will still find this method to feel quite insecure.

For chin-off playing, though, I think the scarf is the way to go!

June 19, 2013 at 06:14 PM · This is not meant to revive the age-old chin-rest/SR discussions....nooooo.... but a CR adds to the weight of an otherwise light instrument. Any side-to-side motion such as bowing will need to be compensated with greater downward pressure from the chin and more careful control from the left hand. A lighter violin without a CR requres less of both, IMO. The baroque style of playing is more relaxed, but more modern compositions (Beethoven and later) probably will require greater support from these contact points, including more friction (stickier) shoulder under the violin.

June 25, 2013 at 10:35 PM · I play without a shoulder rest and do not find it difficult, though I do concede that a tux coat is somewhat slippery. I agree that the chinrest is the key ingredient. It's essential that your head have enough grip on it that downshifting is secure. Mine is an old over the tailpiece style with a somewhat deep cup. The common Guarneri type often has a quite flat cup and I don't have a sense of security with one. I would experiment and find one where your jaw has a secure grip.

June 28, 2013 at 05:36 PM · One element in this issue is, I think, the question of the "vectors" or force (Remember physics 101?). We tend to think of the shoulder (or collarbone) and the chin as holding the violin because of the vertical (up-and-down) pressure between them.

But, many years ago, one of my teachers pointed out that the pressure isn't entirely "up-and-down." It is horizontal. In other words, the left shoulder is moved to the RIGHT (not UP) towards the center of the chest. The head and chin are moved to the LEFT (not DOWN). So the violin is sort of squeezed in place by one vector (the shoulder) moving underneath it to the right, the other vector (the head and chin) moving on top of it to the left. It is more of a squeeze rather than an up-and-down vice (like a pliers).

That help?



June 29, 2013 at 12:17 AM · Not that it matters, but for most cases it is fine to think of a "(unit) vector" as just being synonymous with a "direction" (speaking loosely).

You may also have rotation (of the violin) to worry about if things aren't lined up quite right.

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