Violin Support - What do you think about using a shoulder rest?

September 15, 2015 at 06:01 AM · Hello everyone,

I'm working on a research project called performance-related injury prevention in violinists at the University of Sydney, which one of the major issue we're looking into is the violin support of the shoulder rest...

And yes, yes,...I know this thread has been discussed thousands of millions of times and lit several fires among violin learners and professionals, but our team wants to know more what violinists really think about playing with/ without a shoulder rest - due to physical limitations, sound production, or other reasons. Also we want to hear from you about what factors you think could contribute to your neck problem if you have one when you practice. There are three individual questions as follows:

1. What could cause your neck pain, tiredness, or stiffness in the left hand or neck if you have one of them during playing, regardless of your practice time and the intensity of repertoire?

2. Why do you think you need or don't need a shoulder rest?(please give us the reasons why you feel comfortable with/ without shoulder rest)

3. If you get a chance to design your own shoulder rest, what parts of it you think you'd like to build in or improvise?

These are general open-ended questions towards the violin support issue. If you have any more views about this topic, feel free to post! And thank you very much for sharing your thoughts in advance.

Replies (28)

September 15, 2015 at 07:59 AM · I just love discussing/debating this, but start by typing "shoulder rest" in the v.com searchbox....

You will find dozens of theads, some helpful, some dimissive.

September 15, 2015 at 10:17 AM · 1- I tend to get tense in the left hand if the reperotoire is unfamiliar to me/rather fast and I have not yet had a chance to internalize it.

2- I do not use a shoulder rest because my neck is on the shorter side and I hate not being able to move the violni around. Also, it is lovely to feel the instrument vibrate asyou play :) (I would not use rest even if I had a long neck, see above).

3- If I designed an SR I would make it possible to rest it right on the collarbone, as this can greatly reduce the distance needed for the violin to reach the chin (if not, the instrument has to be put on the shoulder, which makes it end up very far away from the face). It would also be nice to have a rest that came with a few different lengths of 'feet' so that players could easily get it to reach instead of having to go and lllok for them.

Thanks for listening! :D

September 15, 2015 at 10:32 AM · I'll answer the three questions.

1. Pain and stiffness, with or without a shoulder rest, can come from:

- tightening, over long periods, muscles which are designed for movement;

- intense contact at very localised and sensitive points.

We ignore these warning signs at our our peril.

2. All violins are similar: people are not!

Occasional , or even regular support from the shoulder should not imply hunching the shoulder.

I see three cases where a pad or rest are necessary:

- when the tip of the shoulder is much lower than the collarbone;

- when small hands cannot reach the high positions without the thumb coming round the upper bout, or even up the side of the fingerboard;

- long orchestral sessions, sharing a desk, with no respite..

3. I find the shoulder rest has three functions:

- supporting the violin to liberate the left hand;

- tilting the violin to allow easy access to the lower strings;

- keeping the violin on the shoulder rather than the chest.

So I have my Kun well in front of the collarbone, but following its curve.

I shall try to arrange more "hook" over the shoulder.

The weight of my head balances the violin like see-saw: no tension.

September 15, 2015 at 11:28 AM · I hope you guys are collaborating with the folks at Artist in Balance - they have been working on this for years:

http://www.artistinbalance.org

September 15, 2015 at 11:56 AM · 1. What could cause your neck pain, tiredness, or stiffness in the left hand or neck ....

Pain and stiffness comes from clenching with the chin and raising the left shoulder. I used to use SR and I had the classic violin hickey. I also struggled with tension and pain in the left shoulder. Then I stopped using SR and the hickey went away along with the pain. I attribute that to more relaxed shoulder and less clenching when I stopped using SR. Now, I am back to using SR and although the stiffness is gone, the hickey is starting to return. I have taken some Alexander training and that helps to give me awareness of the tension, and relieving it before it becomes a problem.

2. Why do you think you need or don't need a shoulder rest?

Whether you use SR or not, it is very helpful to be able to support the instrument without the use of the left hand. THat is, if you let go with the left hand, the violin should stay in playing position. This allows easier shifting (especially shifting down), and also freedom when moving to the top of the fingerboard. For most people, the ability to support the instrument without the left hand requires the use of SR (or lifting the left shoulder which is strongly discouraged)

Playing sans SR is really nice though and I miss it in a way. The instrument sounds better and it is so much lighter. SR users do not appreciate this because they are accustomed to the weight of SR, but if you play restless for a few years, the weight of SR really makes the instrument feel clunky.

3. If you get a chance to design your own shoulder rest, what parts of it you think you'd like to build in or improvise?

The challenge for me is sloping shoulders. If you have square (e.g., horizontal) shoulder, then the shoulder rest should keep the violin in place and life is good. But if your shoulders slope, then the shoulder rest is sitting on an incline and the incline is pushing the instrument away from you. The way to compensate is to commit the cardinal sin, raise the left shoulder. If someone could invent a shoulder rest that would keep the violin in place for people with slopy shoulders, that would be a huge help.

September 15, 2015 at 02:08 PM · 1. What could cause your neck pain, tiredness, or stiffness in the left hand or neck if you have one of them during playing, regardless of your practice time and the intensity of repertoire?

An improperly set up SR could (and did for me) lead to some serious problems. My first teacher had me use a Kun. It was just what all her students used. Along the line, I realized that it wasn't providing the necessary support and I was clenching. It was slipping around because it was too short. I tried every shoulder rest I could get my hands on, finally settling on the Wolf. I really liked it because it allowed me to get the height I needed with my "giraffe neck". I ran into problems with that one, too. I started having left wrist pains - I actually had to take some time off playing to let it heal. I finally went to a physical therapist and they told me it was a pinched nerve in my neck! At about the same time I realized that the Wolf didn't fit my shoulder. I tried some different SR's again, this time deciding on the Bon Musica. It's worked ever since.

So, long story short, it's really important to have a set up that allows you to relax.

2. Why do you think you need or don't need a shoulder rest?(please give us the reasons why you feel comfortable with/ without shoulder rest)

I think I need a shoulder rest because, as I mentioned before, I have "giraffe neck syndrome" (not an actual syndrome, just a funny way to say I have a long neck). I need the support to relax in my playing. I need it to shift, and do effective vibrato. I did play a concert on a baroque violin with no chin rest or shoulder rest, but I clenched my left hand every time I shifted. I also found the violin to be very uncomfortable sitting on my collarbone. If I wanted to be a Baroque performer, I would ditch the shoulder rest and learn how to restructure my posture, but since that's not my plan, I use a shoulder rest. It's easier and it puts less stress on my arm-shoulder-neck. I feel like it also gives the violin a chance to ring, as when I play without a SR, it sounds slightly muted. This is also helpful for me because my violin has a dark sound and can use all the projection it can get.

3. If you get a chance to design your own shoulder rest, what parts of it you think you'd like to build in or improvise?

Hmmm, this is an interesting question. I haven't thought about it much before, but I know I would want it to be as versatile as possible. I would want it to have a wide variety of height and tilt settings. I'm not sure how it would work, but I'd want a material for the feet of the SR that would let the violin ring more and not mute the vibrations at all. I would also include some sort of mechanism that would keep the feet exactly where you set them. The standard shoulder rest foot is mounted on a screw to make for easy adjustment. This caused me some trouble - sometimes the feet would turn inside my case and alter the height of the shoulder rest. I would take it out of the case for my daily practice and wonder why it didn't fit right. If I was designing my own shoulder rest, I would make sure there was something to stop it from changing settings while in the case.

Good luck on your project!

September 15, 2015 at 02:15 PM · The space required by a long neck should be filled up with a taller chinrest, not jacking up the body of the instrument with a SR

September 15, 2015 at 02:20 PM · I have a combination of both sloping shoulders and a very long neck. That always led to tension and some form of neck ache that I first tried to alleviate by setting the shoulder rest as high as I could. Eventually I had a custom chin rest made and all my posture problems went away! While I still use a shoulder rest, I actually believe the chin rest is more important for comfort and preventing injury than the shoulder rest.

But on to the shoulder rest matter:

1- My pain was caused by tilting my head too far down trying to 'pinch' the violin between the jaw and the collarbone. The shoulder rest played a huge role in holding the violin in the right position, filling in the gap between it and my sloping shoulder, but it was just one piece of the puzzle. In my particular case the real problem was the chin rest.

2- I can play without a shoulder rest, but it's like going for a walk barefoot in the woods: You have the capacity for it, but you'll run into situations where you wish you had some boots on!

Without the shoulder rest, shifting isn't as dynamic as it is with the shoulder rest on, and also my vibrato suffers as it becomes tense, because I find myself supporting the violin with the left hand. And if I feel like the violin is slipping, I start to clench to hold it in place. With a shoulder rest, I don't have to worry about any of those things and can concentrate on the music.

3- The main design feature I would go for on a custom shoulder rest would be a hook to go over the shoulder and put the violin exactly where it's supposed to go. Even using shoulder rests, I've seen countless people who have it basically over their breast, with the violin aiming almost forward. I don't know if that's how they adjust their posture to this instrument which is particularly tricky to play, or if they don't know where they should be holding it, but I think one with an adjustable hook should solve a lot of problems people have with shoulder rests. And many people find their violin slipping down their shoulder/chest and fix that by wrapping up rubberbands and other things around the shoulder rest; a hook over the shoulder would fix that. And it should be very articulated, able to tilt in all sorts of directions to conform to people's unique body shapes. Also as a feature, as little as possible surface touching the violin so it doesn't interfere with its resonance. ...and make it of some space-age material that's super-light, like carbon fiber or something! ;)

September 15, 2015 at 02:48 PM · I'm concerned that the premise of your research is flawed because no discussion of the effects of shoulder rest on physical well-being can possibly be complete without also considering the closely related role of the chin rest. But here goes.

Q1. What could cause your neck pain, tiredness, or stiffness in the left hand or neck if you have one of them during playing, regardless of your practice time and the intensity of repertoire?

A1. I'm with A.O. on this one -- I tend to tense up in my left hand and develop fatigue and soreness in my left forearm when I've got something unfamiliar or murderously difficult (for me) to play, especially when I have not warmed up some. I believe it's really kind of an overall systemic tension that seems to concentrate itself in those locations, though. My teacher says my hand positions are fine and I trust him. I really don't get neck pain.

Q2. Why do you think you need or don't need a shoulder rest?(please give us the reasons why you feel comfortable with/ without shoulder rest)

A2. I was taught to play without an SR as a child. But I was not taught well, and I always had trouble holding up my violin. The metal chin-rest foot rested right on my collarbone all those years, and now I have a bony lump there. I took 20+ years off from the violin, and when I returned, I found that resting my violin on my collarbone for any length of time became painful because of the bony lump. I tried using the Kun for a few years, and that was okay, but ultimately I decided that it's too high and too stiff. So I now use the PolyPad which is a curved piece of foam that is affixed to the bottom of my violin with rubber bands. The polypad is lower, lighter, and gives me the right amount of freedom.

Q3. If you get a chance to design your own shoulder rest, what parts of it you think you'd like to build in or improvise?

A3. I hate to say there's no room for improvement, but there are already so many shoulder rests available on the market that I think that most of the design parameter space is already fairly well represented. How do you make something that is not too high but still very secure? I think where people continue to improvise tends to be in the gray area between SR and no-SR, which is in the small pads, cloths, sponges, foam pieces, etc., all of which are easily customized and inexpensive to the point of being disposable. For example, the PolyPad.

September 15, 2015 at 03:59 PM · I use a shoulder rest because of damaged shoulder--macerated labrum, bone spurs, arthritis. These may have been caused in part by poor playing practices, but whatever the reason I need one now.

The biggest problem with every conventional shoulder rest I have tried (Wolf, bon musica, kun--and spinoffs--viva la musica, mach 1, you name it) is the length They all hit my shoulder joint, which defeats the purpose. The Playonair is too much in contact with the instrument, tho its length is better. On viola, I've gone so far as to use a violin Artino--the little cheap one--extended full lenght and reversed so the padding is more central, and only the support goes to the left.

On my violin, I currently use a kun-like rest; on the viola a violin wolf 2ndo extended its full length. Both are reversed, so the main padding is central. These allow collarbone contact, and are least intrusive at the other end.

September 15, 2015 at 04:50 PM · Q1. What could cause your neck pain, tiredness, or stiffness in the left hand or neck if you have one of them during playing, regardless of your practice time and the intensity of repertoire?

A1. Clenching to hold the violin from sliding off my shoulder. My neck is probably shorter than average. In playing position, my traps, collarbone and pecs are just about in the same plane so the restless violin is on a slope. My challenge has always been to secure the violin to this slope. The chinrest clamp is in contact with my collar bone which is painful when restless. Inability to vary head and neck position when restless causes pain.

Q2. Why do you think you need or don't need a shoulder rest?(please give us the reasons why you feel comfortable with/ without shoulder rest)

A2. The SR provides friction to help hold the violin on the slope. The SR reduces the pressure of the CR clamp on my collar bone for comfort. Currently using a bon musica with a hook over trap. This allows complete removal of head from CR for neck tension reduction. Not able to rotate the violin clockwise, as in looking down the strings, making very high position G string difficult to reach. I constantly vary the CR vs left hand support ratio.

Q3. If you get a chance to design your own shoulder rest, what parts of it you think you'd like to build in or improvise?

A3. Some padding between the CR clamp and collar bone. Very secure on the above mentioned slope. Allow freedom to rotate for high position on G.

Able to fit easily in violin case. Able to raise E string side of violin.

September 15, 2015 at 05:27 PM · Anybody know what the market size is for shoulder rests?

a million a year?

$10 million a year?

A gazillionbillion?

September 15, 2015 at 10:18 PM · For me, the first improvement would be to have a shoulder rest that JOLLY STAYS ON THE JOLLY INSTRUMENT through thick and thin!

September 15, 2015 at 10:19 PM · 1. What could cause your neck pain, tiredness, or stiffness in the left hand or neck if you have one of them during playing, regardless of your practice time and the intensity of repertoire?

In my experience, having a shoulder and/or chinrest that aren't a good fit can lead to raising or pushing forward my left shoulder and squeezing down with my neck & jaw.

2. Why do you think you need or don't need a shoulder rest?(please give us the reasons why you feel comfortable with/ without shoulder rest)

Commercial shoulder rests such as Kun, Wolf et al haven't worked for me because I have shoulders that are fairly narrow with very little slope. If I put a Kun-type rest on the violin and set the rest on my shoulder, then angle the violin to have contact with my collarbone, the scroll will be pointing to the sky.

I am currently using a homemade shoulder pad and have been cycling through my chinrest collection trying to find the best combination.

3. If you get a chance to design your own shoulder rest, what parts of it you think you'd like to build in or improvise?

I doubt it would be possible to make a Kun-type shoulder rest that would work for me. It would have to be made so low it might actually be touching the back of the violin and then it would have no possibility of adjustment for angle.

September 16, 2015 at 07:42 PM · Small point: I like the OP's use of "violin support" rather than "violin hold".

September 16, 2015 at 07:56 PM · Hmmm....@ OP - are you sure you guys aren't designing your own shoulder rest and want input? I'm only asking... ;-)

Anyway, I agree with the thought already expressed that a comfortable and secure hold, or support - or the term I prefer, balance - is never a matter of just one factor, but of a few simultaneously. To focus on the use or non use of just one factor is not going to be the Holy Grail of violin playing.

For my approach, go to my website http://rkviolin.com Go to "writings", then "left hand fundamentals".

September 16, 2015 at 09:53 PM · I'm only a beginner/intermediate player, but own experience of learning to play restless leads me to agree with Raphael - developing healthy setup and mechanics are the result of a wide range of interacting factors.

Playing restless with poor mechanics will lead to injury. Playing with the "ideal" rest - whatever that might look like - will also lead to injury if mechanics are poor. Playing skillfully either restless or with a rest will be healthy. The rest design itself is a small part of the equation.

The Violinist in Balance project took a holistic approach, looking at the interaction of whole-body playing mechanics, shoulder rest and chin rest. As described, your project looks rather too narrowly defined to be useful.

If you are at an early stage, you might want to review your direction. There are some very smart and experienced people here would be generous with their advice if you asked for help in strengthening your project.

September 18, 2015 at 11:22 AM · John, as I have my Kun in front of the collarbone, and with the highest screw legs, it tends to tilt off as the viola tends to swing to the right. I have added a nice brown shoelace looped around th Kun's left foot, and the corresponding corner of the viola. Not elegant, but safe!

September 19, 2015 at 03:06 PM ·

If you give the chin a lot of jobs, than it will create more problems with the neck, jaw and breathing. In reality the left arm is unable to do it all. Your equipment must be set up so that the arm, neck and chin do as little as possible to stabilize the violin. As of date, there isn't a product(s) to do this, and sadly, because of traditionalist, we are still in the dark ages of ergonomics in equipment design.

September 19, 2015 at 11:23 PM · Tons of good and thoughtful answers so far.

September 19, 2015 at 11:52 PM · Maybe the violin should actually be played like a cello? Balanced upon a knee.

September 20, 2015 at 04:45 AM · Seraphim, I've seen once a band of gypsies playing like that, and they were actually really good! ;)

September 20, 2015 at 09:02 AM · Or "da spalla", with a strap like a guitar, but with the scroll pointing down?

September 21, 2015 at 05:04 AM · I am in my sixties and have never had pain or serious discomfort in playing. I got rid of my shoulder rest 30 years ago. I am of medium stature and have a short neck, so the need for a rest to fill up the space is not there.

On the other hand, I do need support for a viola. Too big and too heavy to manage without a pad.

September 21, 2015 at 01:42 PM · https://youtu.be/iqPk7SvYBdA

September 21, 2015 at 03:59 PM · So what's all the nonsense about keeping the violin horizontal?...

September 21, 2015 at 05:34 PM · Seraphim, I'll forward that Halvorsen video link (a superb example of virtuoso recording and playing) to a cellist friend who has recently started learning the violin, as I also did some years ago.

Getting back to the subject of the discussion, I started learning the violin shortly after I retired, and like most beginners I was under the impression that a shoulder rest was a necessary item for playing the instrument. A year later, after trying several different shoulder rests I realized that none was satisfactory, they restricted my playing, made me feel tense, and I knew this wasn't how it was supposed to be.

After watching a few videos of SR-less violinists I experimented with not using the "scaffolding". It took me only a couple of days to get used to playing SR-less, and as time went on I became more and more relaxed and tension-free in my playing. My teacher saw what I was doing, but didn't try to dissuade me because she could see it was working, although she herself has always used a SR. She did, however, give me further tips, including posture (she uses the Alexander Technique), more detail about the positioning of the violin on the collarbone, not gripping the CR muscularly with the chin, and minimal pressure (or friction, really) of the thumb on the neck to enable fluent shifts.

The outcome of all this is that I don't have physically tiredness or discomfort after, say, a 3-hour rehearsal followed by a 2-hour concert. Last Saturday's concert of Verdi's La Forza del Destino overture, Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, and Beethoven 9 is a typical example.

Physically, I'm 180 lb, 5'9", and medium length neck, so of fairly average build.

September 23, 2015 at 06:21 PM ·

A good read

Musculoskeletal disorders in professional violinists and violists

"The neck, shoulder and temporomandibular(jaw) joints are the most commonly affected areas, due to prolonged flexion of the head and shoulder required to hold the violin."

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

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