Science of shoulder rests

November 11, 2015 at 09:04 PM · I was wondering if anyone could point me to any documented evidence of any effect that mounting a shoulder rest may (or may not) have on a violin?

Mostly it seems rather subjective "I played without a SR, and my violin sounded so much more alive!", etc. may simply be the result of a different relation between the player's ear and his/her instrument with/without the SR.

I would've interested if there are any pictures of the effect a SR clamped on a violin back plate may have on the Chladini

patterns? Anybody come across any pics of that?

Replies (62)

November 11, 2015 at 11:02 PM · I think the changes in violin angle and bone contact are partly responsible.

So I tried detecting differences w/wo my stiffish Kun Bravo with the instrument on my lap, and also in 'cello position.

I noticed a slight loss of depth on my more sensitive violin and viola, and none at all on the others.

I haven't yet tried recording.

November 11, 2015 at 11:07 PM · Generally speaking, I'd be surprised if there was no measurable effect on resonances of the plates by a SR (or CR, if it comes to that). Of course, the effect may well be low enough to be not all that noticeable to the listener except with a good instrument under ideal studio conditions, but it will still be there.

Related is a tight left-hand grip on the neck (the "death grip" found with beginners - and quite a few non-beginners!) which has an observable muting effect because the neck is part of the whole vibrating structure of the violin. Impede the natural vibrations of the neck with a tight grip and the vibrations of the rest of the instrument will suffer. I first became aware of this phenomenon many years ago when I played classical guitar.

I too would like to see experimental evidence of all this. Surely some lab somewhere must have done some (PhD?) work on it?

November 11, 2015 at 11:16 PM · I would imagine there would be a visible impact if someone did this test with and without a SR attached:

November 11, 2015 at 11:35 PM · Hard to do that test with the fiddle in playing condition, and gluing the back to the ribs changes so much that testing a loose back is probably useless. A careful recording session might help. Or not.

November 11, 2015 at 11:49 PM · Obviously there is no way to do that test in playing condition. It's pretty hard to do ANY sort of actual scientific research on how a violin actually works, isn't it?

Alot depends on what the player is doing with the bow, pressure, soundpoint, etc. while playing. Difficult to replicate the same bowing while trying to change some other variable.

That is why I was thinking if someone had done the vibration mode testing with the bare plate, and then simply clamping on a SR to see if that had any noticeable change.

Of course, what that change (if any) would translate to in terms of resultant violin in playing condition sound is much more murky.

November 12, 2015 at 01:33 AM · Another reason I would question such tests ....... The shoulder rest is a clamp across the all important back plate. The pressure of course varies with installation force. Tricky variable.

November 12, 2015 at 02:01 AM · a simple tuner(clamp/vibration) + oscilloscope would do what you want... anyone want to buy me an oscilloscope?

Idea is to pick up the intensity of the vibrations with and without shoulder rest. Won't damage or affect the violin in any way.

With an oscilloscope, you can literally the picture of the vibrations and freeze it and plot different notes(frequency) vs intensity and overlay the two plots.

In theory, having shoulder rest must cause dampening effect to the vibration, but so does your shoulder. Less contact=less dampening. A scientific approach would be nice though. You could ask a local university to perform it.

November 12, 2015 at 04:12 AM · I don't know if it can be called 'scientific', but I have done my own home tests with shoulder rests before. The method I used was very simple: Record on the computer myself and a friend playing something with the shoulder rest (a Kun Collapsible), then without the shoulder rest, and compare the amplitude of the sound on the waveform viewer of the recording software. We also tested by playing for eachother to listen, first knowing if we were or were not using the shoulder rest to see if knowing what each would sound like would allow us to distinguish it later on a blind test, and then without knowing when we were using it (the blind test).

Our conclusion was that for the player it makes a difference. We experienced the feeling of more vibration from the violin when not using the shoulder rest. For the listener, we couldn't really spot anything that couldn't be explained by natural random variations on the way we played each time. I'm sure there are differences; add/subtract anything from the violin and /something/ is going to change. But I don't think it's anything that the average listeners will be able to perceive.

November 12, 2015 at 10:00 AM · Hi,

I have tried all - no SR, cushion, various SR's - and my experience is the they are all different. The non-SR does have a particular sound that non of the others have. In some ways it has great projection, but direct contact with the shoulder may do the same as a cushion. So, it depends. Cushions that are on the back plate (like GEWA) do after vibration. As for SRs, I find that the material makes a huge difference and noticed that wooden one like the Kun Bravo are better than plastic, so yes, it attachment to the violin's back seems to affect the sound in some ways.

Cheers,

Christian

November 12, 2015 at 04:58 PM · Not quite what I was looking for, but:

November 12, 2015 at 04:59 PM · Also from there:

http://phantomrest.com/sound.php

November 12, 2015 at 05:18 PM · Note that in the video, the bow contact point is quite different in the two sets of scales. That alone is enough to make quite a difference in the sound.

(This technique can also be used in violin shops to sell "upscale" violins.) ;-)

November 12, 2015 at 05:31 PM · Right!

Which is why I imagined that the chladini pattern may be the most repeatable way to test the impact at least on how the back plate vibrates. Which may or may not impact the resultant sound out of the full instrument

November 12, 2015 at 05:40 PM · ...and it's made by the people who sell those shoulder rests. ;)

November 12, 2015 at 05:56 PM · Seraphim, motion of the parts of a violin can be very difficult to relate to sound in a meaningful way. Some parts move a lot, but radiate little sound, because their size is inadequate, relative to the frequency being played. Look at a vibrating string, for instance. It is moving much more than any other part of the violin, but by itself (without being attached to a hollow box), emits almost no sound.

And other parts of the violin may be moving a lot, but moving out of phase, so they cancel each other out.

So I have no doubt that we could see some differences in vibration patterns by attaching and removing things like chinrests and shoulder rests, but I don't think that would tell us much, compared to impressions from careful listening. Listening is still our assessment standard, which we haven't been able to improve on with measurements, despite some heavy investigation going on.

November 12, 2015 at 06:38 PM · Listening doesn't seem to help any.

Exhibit A:

The multitudinous SR debates already in the VCom archives!

;^)

I know it doesn't tell the ACTUAL change, but it would be interesting to actually be able to empirically SEE a change in the vibration pattern due to a SR or not.

Most everything else is entirely subjective.

In regards to the different sound point in the video above; was that intentional or not? Or perhaps it was caused by a change in the way the violin was held, resulting in an inadvertent shift in bow contact point?

That's why I ask for a simple chlandini pattern test. No voodoo, no shenanigans, just a simple A-B test showing that there is indeed an impact on the vibration of the instrument.

Maybe I'll write to Pirastro and see if they have any test data for their new Kofkler Uber-rest ($$$) with claimed "increased resonance, etc..."

November 12, 2015 at 07:00 PM · Yes, sound is subjective. With all the capabilities we have to generate various charts, graphs, and 3-D models of vibration, it's sound which is still the final arbiter.

If you're seriouly interested in this stuff, you might consider attending the Oberlin Acoustics Workshop. It would save you from wasting a bunch of time on the host of things that have already been tried, and didn't pan out. Things have gone way way beyond Chladni patterns.

The site below has some examples of animations they have done (and these are just some of the simplest they've done):

http://strad3d.org/demo/st_10.html

November 12, 2015 at 07:22 PM · Thanks David!

Doesn't look like they are interested in what I'm interested here. But I love the simulation stuff.

November 13, 2015 at 01:04 AM · I agree with David that glitter patterns aren't going to give you any clear idea about what happens to the sound.

I have done some impact response tests with chinrests and shoulder rests, and generally both of them affect primarily the lowest structural resonances, i.e. the CBR (usually around F#, first position D string) and B1- (usually G# to open A string). The one test on a shoulder rest showed the low resonances got a bit weaker and very slightly lower in frequency.

November 13, 2015 at 02:04 AM · David, I believe the strad3d.org link you posted has helped me to understand why my Jay Haide doesn't wolf at all, whereas my old violin, which is 50gm lighter than the Haide, has the traditional wolf resident just past halfway up the G. Furthermore, I think it helps me to understand why a low tension G, such as the gut Pirastro Chorda, pretty well gets rid of that wolf. Would I be correct in surmising that a couple of centuries ago when all the strings were gut and at a lower tension than today?

November 13, 2015 at 03:24 AM · For me, it's not a sound issue, it's related to fitting the instrument for posture's sake.

If you're comfortable holding the instrument, you will play a heck of a lot better. For some people (like me), that means no shoulder rest at all, just a cloth and an appropriate height chin-rest. For others, that means a shoulder rest that actually fits their body, since everyone is different and has unique requirements.

The difference in sound is likely to be so minimal, that slight differences in point-of-contact will make a bigger impact than the shoulder rest itself (as demonstrated by the video above).

> Note that in the video, the bow contact

> point is quite different in the two sets

> of scales. That alone is enough to make

> quite a difference in the sound.

I couldn't help looking at the video again since you mentioned this and noticed that it's also different bow speed, amount of hair in contact with the string, etc... :)

November 13, 2015 at 03:24 PM · I think we have pretty much exhausted this topic. My takeaway is that there is no scientific proof; just lots of "anecdotal" evidence. You can make of it what you will. But, I think the search ultimately asks the wrong (although an interesting) question. IMHO, the right question is: what works best for you?

November 13, 2015 at 03:52 PM · Exhausted what topic?

Debate about whether or not to use a shoulder rest? Yes, that's been beat to death.

That's not what I'm asking for.

I'm asking if anyone had any ACTUAL data that shows what effect attaching a SR has on the sound of a violin. Or at least what impact it had on the vibrational movement of the instrument.

That certainly has not been exhausted, because the response to that question has been very sparse.

Lots of claims are made, yet nothing to back it up? Pitastro's site claims in regards to its Korker SR "Brings out a much wider dynamic range from the instrument". Can they just throw that out there with no data? Maybe so.

I'm not looking to see how it may impact MY playing, I'm interested in the basic facts themselves (if there are any).

November 13, 2015 at 04:31 PM · Outcomes will vary from one instrument to another, as they will with different shoulder rests, and where exactly one chooses to attach them.

I don't know of any "universal rules" for shoulder rests.

November 13, 2015 at 04:35 PM · Quoted from http://www.pirastro.com/public_pirastro/pages/en/Pirastro-KorfkerRest-00001/

"Brings out a much wider dynamic range from the instrument"

Yet another of those unrelated comparatives that marketing and advertising are so full of.

I ask myself, "wider...range" than what? Other shoulder rests (perhaps), or no shoulder rest at all (basic physics and common sense suggest not - if luthiers thought that attaching something to the body of the violin would improve the tone they would have done it centuries ago). No definite answer is forthcoming so I ignore such comparisons.

November 13, 2015 at 06:11 PM · "Brings out a much wider dynamic range from the instrument"

Which also begs the question,

Will it broaden the dynamic range by giving you more room on the soft end, or the loud end? ;-)

I like this better though, from the testimonial section:

"The secret to glowing, resonant, vibrant sound? Pirastro Korfler Rest. It's that simple."

So I guess there's no further need to practice "tone production" any more. :-)

November 13, 2015 at 08:05 PM · >>So I guess there's no further need to practice "tone production" any more. :-)<<

Thank you Pirastro for that! ...can you guys make a chin rest that will help my vibrato also? With all the talk on vibrato on another topic, I'm feeling like mine just doesn't stand out enough! I'm wondering if there's anything I can clamp onto my violin to improve that! ;)

November 13, 2015 at 10:13 PM · So to summarise the thread so far:

No, no-one here seems to have any actual evidence about what happens to a violin when you put a shoulder rest on it. ;)

November 14, 2015 at 09:21 AM · Good news, is it not?

November 14, 2015 at 01:49 PM · Don or I could generate a spectral graph (an FFT) of a particular violin with and without a particular shoulder rest, but it wouldn't tell you nearly as much as listening. We do not yet have a machine or computer-based data acquisition and processing system which works as well for assessing tone, as a trained ear/brain system.

That's why violin making competitions still use musicians to judge tone and playability, not machines. The same goes for violin playing competitions.

November 14, 2015 at 02:15 PM · Chris and David - thanks. You have confirmed my view that the topic of whether there is any scientific evidence on SR vs. non-SR has been exhausted.

Seraphim - time for a new question.

November 14, 2015 at 02:48 PM · "I was wondering if anyone could point me to any documented evidence of any effect that mounting a shoulder rest may (or may not) have on a violin?"

Hi Seraphim,

There was at least one controlled scientific test done and published in The Strad some years ago. From memory, there were three rests tested against each other (including a Wolf Forte Primo), and against a no-rest scenario.

It was a purely scientific test, measuring volume and vibration, and eliminated any artistic subjectivity and prejudice. I'd guess you could find it online if you are a subscriber.

Failing that, you could contact http://www.orpheusmusicshop.com/contact.html to see if they could locate the paper back issue.

I do remember that the results showed that there was more freedom of vibration of the violin body with *any* rest tested. I can't prove that, of course, as I don't have the magazine article as evidence.

Obviously the sound with / without a rest would be different to the player, and possibly a listener too, but that is no indication of what actually sounds 'better'. Stating the obvious, really!

November 14, 2015 at 04:55 PM · Jim-

So it appears that Pirastro's claim of "increased resonance" may in fact be true???

Yet many say that their subjective impression is reduced sound.

I'll see if I can find that, even though it was published in the pre-Internet world.

Tom, it seems as if you want to wrap up this discussion? I don't understand that. This is a discussion forum, for sharing ideas, asking questions and perhaps, if we all participate, we may even learn something new.

November 14, 2015 at 08:11 PM · "So it appears that Pirastro's claim of "increased resonance" may in fact be true???"

Hi Seraphim - no reason not to believe it.

I use a shoulder rest, but for much more important reasons than perceived minor tonal differences.

I smile when I read through some of the shoulder rest discussions, and see comments like "I ditched my rest after 20 years of playing, and the difference in sound is unbelievable." Well, it would be, wouldn't it? Right, no more, else I'll start another war ...

From memory, in that Strad article, there was a conclusion drawn, roughly that rest/restless = cradled/clamped. As they say, "go figure!" :)

November 14, 2015 at 10:15 PM · I have just carried out a simple experiment using an old Bonmusica shoulder rest that I haven't used for several years. I suspended my old violin in free space by the scroll, with the SR attached - those trying this, who are of a nervous disposition, may wish to place a cushion underneath their violin. I plucked the strings at their midpoint and listened to the resonance. I slid the SR off and repeated the plucking. The improved resonance was very noticeable. I repeated the experiment with my Jay Haide - the effect is still there but not so pronounced as on the more resonant old violin. I think plucking the strings is a more reproducible operation than bowing for a test like this.

Perhaps this is what Pirastro was getting at in their SR ad - they are claiming their new SR, soundwise, provides the closest approach to playing without a SR.

While on the subject of resonance, too much chin pressure (i.e. clamping down) on a chinrest will dampen the sound, almost like a light mute - as will a chinrest that is fitted too tight (quite apart from possible compression damage to the ribs under those conditions). I like my chinrest firm enough to hold under all playing conditions, but just "loose" enough so that I can gently slide it off with my fingers.

On the opposite pole to Jim, I don't use a shoulder rest, but for much more important reasons than perceived minor tonal differences. :)

November 17, 2015 at 04:08 AM · I had an interesting day once tagging along with Aaron Rosand, who was, among other things, teaching a group class at a conservatory. One thing he did was make every single student at least try to play without the shoulder rest. He maintained that there was a tonal benefit to doing this, and I will say that in each case there was a definite change in the sound, in the same direction. In most cases the change was positive, if one had a taste for an old-style violin tone, the type of player Rosand represents (lots of great names in that crowd, that I don't need to list, I'm sure).

This makes sense, if you consider that the shoulder is or is not damping the back, and the back does contribute a lot to the sound of the instrument---that shouldn't be a surprise.

One variable that was removed in each case was that he had a very specific way to hold the violin without the rest, a method that was comfortable and worked well. Participants used this hold, and generally admitted that it made holding the violin without the rest much more friendly than they were able to do on their own, without his technique.

November 17, 2015 at 09:36 AM · So, Michael - what was this very specific hold?

November 17, 2015 at 01:08 PM · A colleague has told me that when Sir Neville Marriner set up The Academy of St Martin in the Fields one of his first acts was to tell those who were using shoulder rests to get rid of them. Shoulder rests would have still been a bit new on the scene in the late'50s

November 17, 2015 at 02:06 PM · Sharelle--It's a whole series of movements to make sure the violin is placed correctly. I could name them, but since I'm not a violinist, I am not sure I would communicate it correctly at all. He started by holding the right shoulder blade with the left hand, which pulls the whole left shoulder around quite a bit.

November 17, 2015 at 02:42 PM · Sharelle, I suggest you look for Aaron Rosand on YouTube, perhaps starting with,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmNfwDnW8E0

That is the first video I've seen of Aaron Rosand playing, and it struck me that my SR-less violin hold, which I developed over the years when I ditched the SR, is very similar. And there ends any resemblance between my playing and his. Of course ;)

November 17, 2015 at 02:47 PM · Yehudi's tutorial

November 17, 2015 at 09:15 PM · Michael, indeed many violinists suggest placing the left hand on the right shoulder; this raises the left shoulder to a useful extent. but once the left ar turns upwards to hold the violin, we have to use shoulder muscles to keep it as high. Hours of tension in view...

November 19, 2015 at 07:19 AM · "The shoulder rest is not a moral issue." --Kurt Sassmannshaus

An influential pedagogue at my alma mater (Indiana) is so vehemently anti-shoulder rest as to claim it causes health problems. Myself, I stand with Mr. Sassmannshaus. It is not a moral issue, nor (I am convinced) a health issue, nor a true sound issue, in my opinion. Of course any adjustment you can possibly make to the instrument could potentially change the sound. But some people have long necks, and the demands of the instrument have changed drastically throughout the centuries. For those who benefit from a shoulder rest, the value of an ergonomically appropriate set-up will trump the marginal cost to tone every time.

November 19, 2015 at 09:52 PM · Sarah - very well put. Thank you. I also stand with Mr. Sassmannshaus.

November 19, 2015 at 11:48 PM · I agree with these sentiments in regards to use of a shoulder rest or not depending on playing preference and comfort being of prime importance.

However, I'm somewhat interested in this aspect:

"... the value of an ergonomically appropriate set-up will trump the marginal cost to tone every time."

Let's say the SR does indeed have a noticeable, albeit slight degradation of tonal quality over not using one at all.

Violins seem to be relatively valued based upon certain qualities, one of highest importance is tonal quality, is it not?

So, the difference between violin X at $25,000 and violin Y at $35,000 is that little *something* extra that violin Y has. And you're paying a $10,000 premium for that.

There is therefore the possibility that as soon as you clamp that SR on there, the tonal quality loses $10,000 worth of that indescribable *something* (that nobody has ever been able to measure or gauge, but we all know it's there...)and is now equal to the non-SR violin X?

Possible?

I realize that if the player is simply going to clamp the same SR on both violin X & Y, then it cancels out.

But a premium price is put on tone for violins, so how much is lost due to using one?

I use neither a SR, nor a $35,000 instrument, so I'm just interested in this for the sake of Basic Research.

November 20, 2015 at 01:02 AM · It may be worth noting that people who make violins most probably are not the slightest interested in what is attached to the violin by future owners (i.e. SR/CR) but are only concerned with how it resonates and sounds straight from the workbench. Anyway, with the many kinds of SRs and CRs around it wouldn't seem to be practicable to factor such add-ons into the initial design.

The only violins that are regularly played without both SRs and CRs are the baroques - correction: I know one exception very well indeed ;). Cellos of course don't have add-ons.

November 22, 2015 at 08:19 PM · 'Cellos?

I suspect that the stresses in the spike mounting will have some effect on the vibrations. But resting the lower bouts on one's calves will, too..

November 22, 2015 at 08:33 PM · I'm starting to think that even if we had a violin that floated in the air, completely unsupported, people would question how much the fingering action on the neck/strings affected performance! ;)

The solution is telekinetic playing! Hold the violin in the air and depress the strings and bow it, all with the power of our minds! :D

November 22, 2015 at 08:33 PM · indeed. and there are some concert halls that still don`t allow livestock on stage anyway.

Cheers,

buri

November 22, 2015 at 08:55 PM · Adrian, as a cellist I can assure you that a cello spike with the right sort of wooden flooring provides pretty good amplification for the lower registers; especially useful when playing in a dance band, as I have done.

Fox, that would be an interesting experiment in a space station in zero-G.

November 22, 2015 at 10:32 PM · >>Fox, that would be an interesting experiment in a space station in zero-G.<<

Wow, you're right, that is an experiment we /can/ do and that I'd love to see done! I wonder if there are any astronauts who play the violin...

November 22, 2015 at 10:37 PM · Just wonder what happens when they start playing spiccato in zero-G, I think you need gravity for bowing.

November 23, 2015 at 09:21 AM · I've found that I can get very brief intervals of zero-g practice by jumping off a stool. ;-)

November 23, 2015 at 12:38 PM · In a zero-G space station there would be problems with bow rosin dust getting everywhere, including lungs and technical equipment.

November 23, 2015 at 02:52 PM ·

November 23, 2015 at 04:22 PM · David, you could improve the jumping-off-a-chair zero-G thingy by going to the top of a tower with a spiral staircase (300+ steps would be ideal) and hopping down from one step to the next while playing the violin. And don't forget the video for YouTube.

The Guinness Book of Records will probably provide a slot for it, as it does with other lunacies ;)

November 23, 2015 at 09:06 PM · Whew! I thought at first that you were going to suggest descending from the tower in a single leap. LOL

Neat idea though. I could prepare for performances ranging from the space station, to Jupiter (2.5 times Earth gravity).

November 23, 2015 at 09:08 PM ·

November 23, 2015 at 09:56 PM · Oh geez, now I've got to top that by playing the violin with a Sawzall WHILE SKYDIVING?

November 23, 2015 at 11:24 PM · You might find it more practical to get a capo.

I am something of an expert about shoulder rests. One day mine fell off. I was too lazy to replace it at the time. Then, I never did and now I forget why I had it in the first place.

My expertise however is in getting a violin SR on violas.

November 24, 2015 at 12:20 AM · A Sawzall! So that's David's secret! :D

November 24, 2015 at 01:11 PM · Works OK for tremolo, or perhaps "Moto Perpetuo". :-)

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