Violinists who depend on their hands to support their violins?

February 3, 2015 at 03:10 PM · Which violinists need(ed) their hands to keep the violin supported and play?

Replies (51)

February 3, 2015 at 03:29 PM · If this question is another way of asking who does or doesn't use a shoulder rest, then my answer is that I don't use a shoulder rest and have no problems in shifting over the full length of the fingerboard and using vibrato.

In more detail, my left hand does not grip or hold the neck; the neck of the violin merely rests on the thumb and base of the first finger with just enough gentle frictional contact to prevent unwanted movement but to allow the hand and arm to move easily up and down the fingerboard and to rotate about the neck. The same applies when I play "baroque" without a chin rest.

February 3, 2015 at 03:38 PM · I am going to watch this thread closely because I wonder about this too.

I previously used a Kun shoulder rest. I enjoyed the secure feeling but it just felt too high for me and I could not lower it down any more. Also, I had a master class at a camp last summer and the teacher there suggested (as did my regular teacher) that my violin position would be more natural if I could move the button back on my neck, but with the shape of the Kun, that would be higher still. So I switched to the PolyPad, which is still wedge shaped but compliant and just generally lower.

However as a result I too find that I am using my hand for some support, if I had to say how much, I would guess about one third of the support for my violin comes from my left hand, and I also wonder if this is too much. This came up last night as I was doing a Fischer "Basics" exercise that is supposed to eliminate "squeezing" by removing the thumb entirely, and I had to prop the scroll against the wall (which Fischer warns may be necessary) to be able to apply any downward pressure on the fingerboard. That didn't really surprise me considering the basic physics of leverage (torque) that apply to this situation. But even with the scroll propped I was struggling to complete the exercise. The downward pressure is quite high because the exercise is done in first position where the lever is the longest and the string somewhat less pliable especially for the first finger near the nut.

I sincerely hope we can have this discussion without having an SR war.

February 3, 2015 at 04:24 PM · I interpret this question to mean - who does not clamp the violin with the chin (with or without various hardware), and hence uses the clavicle (shoulder bone) and thumb to support the violin.

That describes my stance. I have a shoulder rest, a sponge, to give a bit of tilt and a chin rest which I use only occasionally in large, quick down shifts of the left hand. Otherwise, my chin does not touch the violin. This keeps my left neck, shoulder, and back muscles relaxed, thus keeping my entire left arm muscles relaxed.

Initially, I had feelings that I would drop the violin and occasional problems with the violin shifting down. With persistence (about a year) encouraged by my teacher, these issues disappeared. Somehow, now the violin just sits there.

I've been fortunate to have 2 teachers associated with the Eastman School, and both have encouraged and coached this stance.

Paul, regarding that exercise: The neck should lay on "knob" in your hand where the index finger connects. As fingers come down, they press the violin against that "knob" and it is held securely, by alternating fingers, without the thumb. This is a bit extreme for continuous use, but it teaches the muscles and mind that the thumb should not press. It is just a guide. At one point, I practiced my regular routine for a week this way. One feels clumsy, but I found it helpful. I have done it for shorter intervals several time since.

February 3, 2015 at 04:33 PM · Paul is worried about a shoulder rest war - so I will start one! (wink) Only kidding.

I do use an SR and I hold the violin with the left hand and arm. I keep my chin off the CR (NO chin rest wars now!) as much as possible, so I hold the fiddle about 80% of the time with the left hand. (This means I can't play anything fast and my intonation is dreadful!) (wink) Actually I AM fed up with my dodgy intonation sometimes. I point the fingers along the fingerboard and use the fleshy pads as much as possible. Hope this is helpful.

February 3, 2015 at 04:36 PM · I recently watched a violinist play all six of Bach's Sonatas & Partitas in one night, using no shoulder rest. His thumb stayed high pretty much all the time, and he must have been supporting the neck of his violin in the "V" between thumb & index finger. Yet he played beautifully. Me, I use an Everest SR and a pretty high chin rest and I still feel insecure.

February 3, 2015 at 06:21 PM · I play sans shoulder rest, and actively hold up my violin and viola with my left hand.

When I first tried it fifteen years ago, I was worried that it would cause more tension. Imagine my surprise when in practice, it actually helped me reduce the tension in my left hand, and provided more information for movement with more surface area contact with the instrument at the neck and upper bouts.

I adapt these concepts behind using the left hand to support the instrument, and making more contact with the instrument (but not squeezing or pressing) with my students, the majority of which do use shoulder rests.

February 3, 2015 at 06:24 PM · Gene, that's more or less how I found it. I don't have any tension now at all.

John M - insecurity about dropping the violin or it slipping can be more a mental thing, more often than not. It's rare to hear of anyone dropping the fiddle but I suppose slipping can be a problem.

February 3, 2015 at 08:18 PM · I use a hybrid Ricci's glissando technique and baroque technique and uses no shoulder rest.

February 3, 2015 at 09:21 PM · Hi all,

The heart of the issue isn't about shoulder rests or chin rests, but rather the idea of allowing the instrument to balance in our left hands with addition to the collar bone, shoulder rest, or both to balance the instrument on the other end.

I would encourage everyone to think about the evolution of upper string instruments from vielles, rebecs, and folk fiddles, which were mostly held against the chest, and that over the centuries the successor, the violin gradually migrated higher towards the neck, eventually involving the chin (jaw bone, more accurately), and along with other contraptions.

To me the support of the left hand is crucial both in baroque and modern playing, especially because without the left hand, the the upper shoulder, neck, and jaw takes on tremendous tension to secure and "lock down" the instrument in place. Simon Fischer has exercises of releasing your head from the chinrest.

This is an illuminating video, I think both for modern and baroque players alike.

February 3, 2015 at 10:05 PM · Yes, a very interesting video. I like the freedom that the violinist has, and I can more or less do what she does in respect of chin and head off the instrument. However, she really only plays in first position at least in the video we see. This means there are no shifts up, and more importantly down, where some gentle holding of the fiddle is required.

Even with shifting and later and more modern music, I do not think the chin needs to help support the instrument for more than about 30% of the time. So we can be 70% free - which is pretty good. Maybe the downward shifts only involve a second or so, in which case we are more or less 90%+ free of using the chin rest. (Of course she had no chin rest on the violin as she had no need to use one).

February 3, 2015 at 11:43 PM · I would think anyone who doesn't/didn't use a chin rest. One name that comes to mind starts with JSB and ends with ach.

February 4, 2015 at 12:49 AM · I can't believe that we are back to this topics!

First off all, I attended Amandine Beyer's guest-direcor concert here in Toronto and also her master class. She uses chin-on and chin-off approach all the time, and this video was an extreme case, not the norm.


There are 2 great violinists, Arabella Steinbacher and Julia Fischer, both former students of the same teacher: Ana Chumachenco. Arabella does not use a shoulder rest, but only a piece of chamois, while Julia does. However, what is common for both ladies is that violin appears to be a part of their body. Their posture is quite natural and both of them appear to be very relaxed while playing.

In other words, what works for some, may not work for the other. Last thing I want to see in violin playing is another religion where believers in one approach can not live and let other people live, but consistently try to convert the infidels.

Find out what works for you. Feel your body, change what does not work, try again until you find the best approach. But please, do not try to convince the others that it is the only approach.

February 4, 2015 at 01:02 AM · Greetings,

Rocky, I also lose patience with the fanatical either or debate, but I do think in this thread it has been avoided rather well. Just quiet individual statements with no proselytizing

.John, I don't know if you can adjust the height of the Everest but if you are feeling insecure it is often the paradoxical case that your set up is too high rather than low. I have no idea if this is true for you but it might be with experimenting with a lower set up to see what happens.



February 4, 2015 at 01:18 AM · Hi Rocky,

I don't think anyone on this thread is particularly advocating for or against shoulder rests - and frankly I don't care what you use - but I do care deeply when I see friends and colleagues suffer great physical pain because they were bought up with a non-helpful mindset of using the shoulder rest in way that involves tremendous tension attempting to give the left hand 100% freedom and end up with more restricting tension and immobility. And I'm not implying that all shoulder-rest users do.

I chose that particularly video to highlight the link of ancient roots of violin/rebec/vielle playing to show people that the violin hasn't always been under the chin, and as you correctly pointed out, Amandine Beyer chose to play that way for that particular repertoire only and is not the usual way she plays for other repertoire, which does involve the chin I believe...

So, am I saying you should throw away your shoulder rest: no. Am I asking you must play chin-off: no. Am I saying perhaps we can all learn something in releasing tension by experimenting with how to let the instrument balance between the left hand and the body: yes.

And I have friends who actually projected more and played with more resonance with a shoulder rest after playing without one and I whole-heartedly supported them using one...please believe me I really don't care about the piece of equipment in itself but how to let it help us.

February 4, 2015 at 01:49 AM · Thanks, Dorian, for posting this eye-opening video.

Here's another example of chin on, chin off in a very different style of playing.

February 4, 2015 at 06:04 PM · Roy, this chin-off-chin-on thing is interesting. I have a piece that I'm polishing, and naturally there are parts of it that I really enjoy and that I can play very well, and I've noticed that during these parts I sometimes kind of "let myself go" a little because I'm just enjoying playing it so much, and then it happens that my chin leaves the chin rest completely. I caught myself doing that a few times, and I thought maybe it was just poor discipline on my part, so it's good to know that maybe it's not strictly forbidden.

February 4, 2015 at 08:47 PM · Good heavens, no.

You can and should parctice huge sections of msuic and even whole pieces with the hea dof fand then try to retain that sensation. I do a 2 minute shifting exercise at te end of Fischer swarmingup every morning that has big leaps and mt hea dis almost permanently off the fiddle.

I cant help feleing this is an importnat issue for you at the moment. You say that going up the violin is nerve wracking and laborious 8sorry my words) but although the top of the fingerboard may be considere dan advanced zone the ability to slide up ad down the violin in a loose and relaxed fairly aimles sway should be possible if you are relaxed enough.

Many player stypically see a shift or bug jumop cooming and sort of conratc , tense up and start meausring the distance really carefull , squeezing and so on.

Actually we nee dto be the opposite. let the head go, relax the thumb, let the head go forward and up , imagine the note and GO! Have fun. Smile.

The big tip off is if you drop the scroll slifhtly when you shift.. No movement is good but its helathy to see everything going UP and to the left.. I have actually been advise dto make just such a movementt by some veyr greta players.



How taht for eary morning typos?

February 5, 2015 at 04:42 AM · Buri I really agree, the two issues are probably linked somehow, and thank you for your warm encouragement. Regarding the long shift its just really new territory, i've not played anything that goes up that far into the nose-picking region.

February 5, 2015 at 10:46 AM · Violists and "petite" violinists can share the same problem: with the thumb supporting the (fiddle's) neck, our fingers simply cannot reach the highest notes. Our thumbs must come round the bout, or even along the edge of the fingerboard.

So some support from the shoulder (with or without the Diabolical SR..) is essential, some of the time.

I like to alternate: collarbone (ouch!), a relaxed shoulder with DSR, and left hand, but without changeing my basic posture.

February 5, 2015 at 04:21 PM · John, it was in a "relaxation" session (during Suzuki training, in fact) that the trainer, having reduced us to a state like lukewarm sweetened milk, ask us if any old discomforts were re-emerging. Most of us said "ankles". I also noticed a "hot spot" where the (tilted) viola crosses my collarbone. Nothing life threatening, but it implies that when I play, a tiny part of my (tiny) brain is busy cancelling this very localised pressure. Like "getting used" to stiff leather boots. I resent my (tiny) brain being abused in this way.

Hence my apparently heretical "see-saw" mode, where the DSR "rests" (ha-ha) on my drooping shoulder, and the weight of my head balances it. The edge of the viola is thus often 3/8 inch (approx.) above my poor old collarbone.

But don't tell anyone, or I shall never reach Venerable status.

February 7, 2015 at 12:19 AM · With a recent neck injury (undoubtedly a result of reaching for a much too low chinrest, especially after changing things around), I experimented a bit with playing with my chin off. It seems that in order to balance it this way I would need to move the violin around so the tailpiece is pointing straight into the middle of my neck.


In order to do vibrato, I've found that I've had to use exclusively use the thumb for support and counter pressure and let the index-finger-knob be used only as a guide. Do you have another solution to this problem?

Some clarification about the intent of this thread:

I was hoping to get some names that I could search for on youtube so I could analyze what they're doing.

This definitely isn't about shoulder rests. It's easy to see who uses one or not. But it's unclear who needs their hands to hold the instrument up, or at least who plays as if they do.

February 7, 2015 at 03:56 AM · Try to find a shoulder rest that suits your needs cos if you want to hold it mainly by hand you got to get a teacher that know the left hand style for shoulder restless . The finger hand shape for shoulder restless is much different than those depending on SR. However if u really wanna hold violin with hand cos of the relaxation , you can try getting a SR that suits you and only depend on it when you need release base joint or do gymnastic on finger board. As for normal cases just support the violin with hand so no much weight is supported by SR . Btw blame the previous generation for not learning to support violin with left hand properly. Instead choosing the shortcut and not realising it just a solution that exchange problem with another problem.

February 7, 2015 at 03:02 PM · Matthew,

I apologize if my previous post was too harsh.

There are plenty of video clips on YouTube, from so called Period performances (Tafelmuskik, Il Giardino Armonico, Europa Galante, Ensemble 415.... ), Early 20th century masters, such as Heifetz, Milstein, and contemporary players as Arabella Steinbacher and Gordan Nikolic.

Here is an interesting clip where you can see Mr. Nikolic and Ms. Fischer using different ways to support their instruments:

Sinfonia Concertante

February 7, 2015 at 07:39 PM · To those who claim not to use the left hand to support the violin - try striking a Heifetz pose with your left hand in your pocket.

OK, joking :) ... however, whether a shoulder rest user or a chinner, I think it's important to be feel totally comfortable and secure with the instrument (and of course be able to 'everything' on it too).

I'm a rest user, but it did take a bit of time to get the right set-up. I know quite a few people who were uncomfortable rest-less, but some rests simply did not work (and it took a while for them to realise, usually only after aches and pains).

I'd agree that rest-less give you the greatest freedom of rotational movement, although I'm not in agreement that all that movement is beneficial, or even necessary.

February 9, 2015 at 02:22 AM · Violist William Primrose

February 9, 2015 at 09:43 AM · "To those who claim not to use the left hand to support the violin - try striking a Heifetz pose with your left hand in your pocket."

I know you were joking, but Heifetz and Perlman, to name but two, can be seen supporting their (precious) violins on the shoulder from time to time, while tightening bows, turning pages, pushing up glasses etc. I don't maintain they use their shoulders when playing, though I ahve a sneeking supicion they do someteimes.

I have met "restless" friends and colleagues who claim they never use the shoulder, but would be very surprised/annoyed to see videos of themselves!

February 13, 2015 at 12:50 AM · Just tossing this in, my daughter's teacher encourages chewing gum during practice because you can't clench with your head/jaw and chew gum at the same time.

February 13, 2015 at 09:49 AM · A cure for the Gerald Ford Syndrome?

(A joke for the OAP's!)

February 14, 2015 at 10:47 AM · John Cadd - it could have been worse - Jim Ostrichface :)

February 15, 2015 at 08:57 AM · The key to figuring out the least laborious way of holding the violin is to try to play Paganini and Bach shoulderrestless and chinrestless for a year. If you do it wrong, you will have pain all over the place very quickly.

February 16, 2015 at 08:18 PM · I play fiddle (which may mean my post is not applicable to your question).

I use my left hand to support the fiddle and I don't use a chin rest. I've found chin rests hurt my neck and contort my body unnaturally. I was so happy when I replaced my chinrest with a cloth and rubberband (to hold on the cloth). Of course, chinrests are also designed to hold the violin in a more classical position on the shoulder instead of further onto the chest (as fiddles are often played).

Many fiddlers use their hands to support their fiddle, some more than others. I've seen folks who 100% use their hand and press the fiddle to the center of their chest to hold it up. I place my chin on the chin rest and my left hand is usually close to the neck. The violin often sits on the muscle in the palm that connects to the thumb, but never in the groove in the center of the palm. I would say my left hand holds about 25%-50% of the violin's weight. Of course I don't do much shifting. :)

February 17, 2015 at 07:48 PM · "Jim Oistrakh reported playing at the Royal Albert Hall with a slovenly habit of chewing gum as he played . Not nice "

John Cadd - you cad. Unlikely to have been me. I have no teeth.

February 18, 2015 at 04:27 AM · This talk about chin off technique has gotten me concerned. Is it a good idea to position the violin in such a way that it's fairly stable with the chin off?

February 18, 2015 at 05:54 AM · Greetings,

yes. You should be able to lift the head off the chinrest and look around the room without the violin becoming unstable.

You could try this: put your left hand on your right shoulder . This creates a kind of platform with the collar bone. Now use your right hand to place the violin in playing poisiton while keeping the left hand where it is. Then bring your left hand under and into its playing position. I dont use this technique because i have an intense dislike of holding the violin by its lower body which you tend to have to do in order to put it in place. But this is an old and well establishe dtechnique.

In general, i think if you pay a visit to Raphael Klayman`s site you will find a great dela of importnat advice about playing restles sand many other relayted subjects.



February 18, 2015 at 06:19 AM · N.B. such 'headless' stability can only be achieved for certain body types with a shoulder rest or wedge for optimal tilt angle. On the other hand, a flat chin rest can push the left side down with the head on. Angles must be optimized from above and below.

As I mentioned in another thread, for long term comfort the left palm should be at the level of the shoulder socket. For those with clavicle set higher than the level of the shoulder socket this means either: the scroll should be allowed to droop (comfort far outweighs any minute advantages gained by a high scroll) or the butt end should be lowered... somehow.

For those (especially teachers) who have a more optimal shoulder/clavicle shape, try fastening a 2" cube to the inside edge of your clavicle and play restless to see what it feels like for some of us children of a lesser violin god. For those with less than ideal shoulder complex, try playing with the shoulders shrugged. That's the stability we want to try to mimic by whatever means, short of playing with the shoulders raised. (Message brought to you by the unorthodox church of violin playing.)

February 18, 2015 at 07:18 AM · Buri, I have examined Raphael Klayman's site with interest (during some quarrelsome SR debates..), but I find that while the left-hand-on-right-shoulder idea effective, once the left hand resumes its playing position, the shoulder has to be held up, i.e. hunched, which is surely what left hand support folk want to avoid?

February 18, 2015 at 07:26 AM · Adrian, I would guess that the 'hunched' feeling is more pronounced for you (as it is for me) because of a big shoulder width to arm length ratio. For the same arm length, those with narrow shoulders would be able to touch the opposite shoulder without having to raise their active shoulder, and hence have an advantage over broad shouldered folk like us on the fiddle.

To get a sense for what it's like for the skinny shouldered, reach over and touch the clavicle rather than the shoulder. But either way, to create the platform involves raising the shoulder complex above neutral as you say, and/or swinging it forward.

February 18, 2015 at 11:52 PM · Should I be able to play with my chin off as well?

I had my violin supported entirely on my collar bone. When I moved it so it is on both my shoulder and collar bone, and centering the tailpiece so it's pointing directly at the middle of my neck, it's now balancing nicely without my head getting involved.

But once I start play, the bow will eventually knock it off.

February 19, 2015 at 12:23 AM · Greetings,

Adrian, you are quite right about one consequence eof that exercise. It works for some and not others.

I actually prefer the idea of floating the left ar with the hand palm down in front of the chest. Ther dis a point where one is in a state of relaxed suspension without effort. From there one can rotate the left forearm out into playing position. This avoid stone problem ypu describe and also correlates with Jee Wonspointnabout hand and shoulder socket relationship.

Mathew, if you are comfortable in is new violin position yu may find the friction of a chamois leather cloth enough to stop the bow knocking the violin down if that really is a possibioity....



February 21, 2015 at 03:31 AM · So I managed to get playing with my chin off working, and I've been practicing like that.

But now that I try to put my head back into the equation, I'm having troubles. I switched out my chinrest with a center-mounted rest I had lying around. But I feel like I need to turn my head too far to reach it. It's like my head wants to be over the right side of the tailpiece.

When I put my head on the right side of the chinrest, it also wants to knock the violin over to my collar bone. Any attempts to move the violin more to the right results in it teetering on my collarbone, or falling off.

Edit: Leaning my head over seems to work, but I'm under the impression that you shouldn't do that.

February 21, 2015 at 03:53 AM · Greetings,

my guess is the center mounted rest is the wrong direction for you.

Since you probably lack a little mobility in the shoulder joint you can make life a lot easier by having the head slightlymore to the left of the arse end of the violin. This reduces the need ot get the arm and hand unde rand round so much.



February 21, 2015 at 04:21 AM · Buri,

But if the left end of the violin is under my head, it won't be adequately supported when I lift my head, which is why I moved it over to the right in the first place.

February 21, 2015 at 05:14 AM · Greetings,

with the right chin rest and a piece of chamois leather you should have enough support but a thin oiec eof sponge under your jacket or shirt might be useful. One of the reasons for playing without a rest is the ability to have more than one position for the violin in relation t th e head and neck. Its quite normal for players ot move the violin further towards the chest at the arse end when playing technicla passages or stretches for the reasons i mention in the previous post.



February 21, 2015 at 05:46 AM · I think something got confused.

To clarify,

If I have the left side (from my perspective) of the violin on my collar bone, I can't lift my head off the chin rest without the violin falling down.

If I move the violin so that the right side of the violin is on my collar bone and the left side is on my shoulder, I can have my head off the instrument. But then my head wants to be slightly to the right of the tailpiece, and resting on the chinrest pushes it off of the shoulder and onto the collarbone, throwing it off balance.

February 21, 2015 at 06:48 AM · Hi Matthew,

How about the center? :)

February 21, 2015 at 07:21 AM · Katherine,

It seems that I need to be able to fit at least two fingers (35cm or 1 3/8 inches) between the button and my collarbone (back side of it) in order for it to start to be stable.

If the button goes closer to my back, it becomes more well balanced, but adding my head to the mix has a destabilizing effect. Unless it's far enough back. But then my head need a chinrest on the right side.

If it goes closer to my front, it teeters on my collar bone precariously and eventually falls off completely, but adding my head has a stabilizing effect.

I guess right at that middle point isn't too bad for my head, so maybe that's the solution.

February 21, 2015 at 08:01 AM · Greetings,

are we talking about the violin sliding down or the right side dropping down?

If it is sliding thta is the problem then chamois leather or a strad pa will solve that staigth away. If you are worried about the right bout being lower that is ok within reason and anyway on of the key advantages of playing restless (although you can do it with some rests) is the ability to rotate the violin to provide bette raccess to the g string.

I still think you would be better off working with a small piece of sponge at this stage until you really feel where you are balancing the violin. You can always chuck it away later and it doesnt cost as much a sthe pile of shoulde rrests sitting in my fridge.





February 21, 2015 at 08:21 AM · Buri,

My collarbone is acting like a cliff ledge. When enough of the weight of the violin is over the edge, it'll teeter, and eventually fall over it and become perpendicular to the floor. With the weight of my head, it's balanced with the left side of the violin on my collarbone, but not without.

When it's securely balanced, the right side is lower than the left, but I'm not worried about that.

February 21, 2015 at 11:20 AM · Matthew, I'm intrigued, when your head balances the violin on the collarbone, are you sure that the shoulder is not participating at all? I have met many who claim this, but in fact do otherwise, because the habit is so ingrained.

Or, are you including the curled extremity of the collarbone, which I would have included in the "shoulder"?

February 21, 2015 at 07:12 PM · The edge of my violin might be resting on my shoulder (area directly behind the collar bone) with my head applied, but it's hard to tell at the moment with the new chinrest and after changing so many things.

I'm definitely not doing anything active with my shoulder, and there's a big gap between the bottom of the violin and my shoulder/collar bone extremeties.

March 1, 2015 at 10:37 PM · Hi. It was just brought to my attention that my website has been referenced. There's no point in re-hashing all the details that you can find there. But one of the main points that I do wish to re-iterate is that I feel that the violin ought not be 'held' by any one point of focus, but BALANCED among a few, so that it feels secure, yet almost floating.

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