Shifting to higher positions without a shoulder rest

December 4, 2016 at 12:33 AM · Recently I've become interested in going "restless" on my violin because the tone sounds probably twenty-five percent better without the rest dampening it's resonance Surprisingly, I've really taken on to it and I can play most of what I usually play with a rest with ease, but it's just shifting up that gives me problems. I've heard that people mostly have a hard time shifting down but that comes naturally to me so I just want to know what can make shifting up on my instrument easier (ex: 3rd to 5th position). I've got a nag in my head saying to loosen my grip on my neck a little bit and that'll help but I'd like some more varied advice rather than solely my own thoughts.

Replies (33)

December 4, 2016 at 01:39 AM · Hi Olivia, I have also been spending my morning practice time playing restless. I notice no sound difference in my instruments with shoulder rest off. I also find awkwardness in shifting from third to fifth position and I think it just really requires lots of practice because now I have to somewhat hold the instrument in my hand. My biggest frustration is adjusting the fine tuner on the E string while bowing because I can't hold the instrument in place with my head while my left hand adusts the fine tuner. I have decided to try a third of my practice time restless for four months although I am dubious as to the benefits of it. There are many old threads on playing restless you can read up on, but it is good to hear fresh new ideas that could be of use to different players.

December 4, 2016 at 01:44 AM · I agree, it's an awkward business when trying to fine tune and the movement from third to fifth is similar for me but I just brace my thumb against the rib, which I used to do anyway. Every violin is different and maybe some just don't have such a drastic difference sound-wise.

December 4, 2016 at 01:52 AM · If you drop your violin, the sound will be 25% worse.

Practice above your mattress or a cushion before you get to the point of relaxed restless holding.

Tuning is easier and safer if you point the scroll toward the floor. Violin is only about 400 grams, but it feels heavier while tuning, just like if one pushes the lever down closer to the resting point.

December 4, 2016 at 06:15 AM · Give a Pirastro Korfker rest a try. I'm finding that it dampens the sound far less than the Viva La Musica Diamond I was using.

December 4, 2016 at 06:50 AM · I also have no Sr.

1. Loose neck will loosen the hand and lessen the bump.

2. Requires practice so the thumb knows where to go beforehand.

3. Make sure the fingers are leading the thumb slightly going up, with thumb leading when going down (aka no Sr style jump shifts that move the hand in an immobile way- instead, feel a light and graceful wave-like slide in each shift). :)

December 4, 2016 at 11:23 AM · Thank you Rocky and A.O for the basic tips for us to keep in mind. When tuning E string I did naturally drop scroll to floor to tune but thought it so awkward that it could not be good techinque and do not remember seeing anyone tune this way on YouTube videos.

December 4, 2016 at 02:25 PM · From 3rd to 5th position? As the wrist often first comes into contact with the violin shoulder in 4th position, we need an elbow swing to the right sooner or later, with the base of the index separated from the violin neck, and the thumb more under the neck.

In 6th or 7th position, I have the pad of my thumb in the crook of the neck, and in 7th or 8th it leaves the neck. I play viola with shortish fingers, which is similar to slender feminine hands on the violin. (I should confess that to get the notes and timbres that I want, I have long since gone back to using a shoulder-rest!)

December 4, 2016 at 02:26 PM · Oops!

December 4, 2016 at 02:37 PM · Hi,

I dont know if it helps or not,but I found that when I went 'shoulder-pad-less',for shifting up,it took some confidence,and faith that I wouldnt drop the violin.I basically focused on what my left-hand fingertips were doing,and let my thumb just follow naturally.Good luck,Im certainly glad I made the change,I dont get a sore back of my neck anymore,from pushing the violin down onto my collarbone,because the violin just sits there,now.


December 4, 2016 at 06:49 PM · Before getting into the do's and don'ts of up-shifting without a shoulder rest, the thing to pinpoint first is whether going rest-less is all around best for you. It is for some players; but some others, who have posted their stories here on, have told of going through contortions to play that way and later coming back to the SR. I strongly suspect that those who have successfully ditched the SR would have been better off not to use one in the first place.

Which SR were you using? I use the above-mentioned VLM Diamond on two of my fiddles and the Kun Bravo on the third one. No loss of resonance here. If anything, I notice more resonance -- more ring to the sound. No firsthand experience yet with Pirastro Korfker, also mentioned above.

Keep in mind, too, that some great artists of the past, growing up in the pre-SR era -- Isaac Stern, for one -- used padding inside their jackets. I can hardly blame them. I don't know about you, but I don't like the feel of a bareback fiddle.

December 4, 2016 at 06:50 PM · Duplicate post -- disregard.

December 4, 2016 at 06:51 PM · Hi Olivia, first of all, don't grip, let the neck of the violin mainly just rest on the thumb, with just light support at the other side from the base of the first finger. Then for shifting from 3rd to 5th, try shifting only with the first finger leaving the thumb as it is, at least, don't actively try to shift with the thumb. This is only an exercise to give you feeling. In the end you normally also shift with the thumb (although in even later stages, that can again be abandoned, but that is when you know your way on the fingerboard really well). Just some informal suggestions!

December 4, 2016 at 11:22 PM · I created a video a while back that you might find helpful.

December 4, 2016 at 11:59 PM · An interesting and helpful video Smiley. Is that your Laura Vigato violin in the video?

December 5, 2016 at 12:50 AM · Jim, I've been using an Artino 144A.

December 5, 2016 at 01:07 AM · I'll spam this option out again. Hopefully available in the near future as an option for restless players:


December 5, 2016 at 03:29 AM · An oldie but goodie, some advice and a few videos for shifting without a shoulder rest.

Craig, your innovation is interesting, and it is good in that it looks like it's keeping you from squeezing the fiddle with your thumb or holding the fiddle in the crook between your thumb and index finger, both which would be problematic. But at some point you'll probably want to go without it. There are some good reasons why one would not fill the space under the violin with a cushion attached to the thumb. The thumb will have a role to play with vibrato and shifting in the future, and also you aren't going to want that space filled with anything when you are doing vibrato and shifting to high positions. There is a way to cradle your violin between the thumb and the bone at the base of the index finger that allows for rest-less playing as well.

December 5, 2016 at 04:30 AM · Thanks for the feedback, Laurie, love to hear constructive feedback so I can see if improvements can be incorporated. As can be seen by the endless SR debates here on VCom, there doesn't seem to be a "perfect" solution. I'm simply looking for something that helps in a different way than a SR.

For me, the way a SR more or less immobilizes the instrument on your shoulder, and transfers the suppport of it to your neck for long periods of time just did not work for me at all.

I tried the classic rest less playing style for quite a while as well, but it's a struggle to not clamp down to prevent slippage. That's a big reason why SRs are so popular, isn't it?

The challenge is that most people are already so used to whatever it is they already use (or don't use), that trying something different, such as my device will feel very foreign. I imagine when the SR first came on the scene back in the 50's it illicited a good deal of head scratching as well. But by now a few generations of players have grown up knowing nothing else but playing with a SR.

As far as shifting goes, the WonderThumb is a terrific aid in that department. Which is why I interjected in this particular thread. The low friction pad on there let's you glide up and down the neck very smoothly. Downshifts do not pull the instrument away from you since there is very little drag at all. And the curve of the device facilitates vibrato while still maintaining support for the instrument.

Here's a couple more views in more experienced hands than my own:

from the other side:

And yours truly showing a bit about the design concept while on a trip to Japan:

December 5, 2016 at 06:27 AM · Just so that everyone is clear, playing without a shoulder rest basically means that you support the instrument with the left hand all the time, even in first through third position. Moving to the higher positions is not too different from these lower positions in that case.

December 5, 2016 at 08:04 AM · I highly recommend the Ricci book for "restless" playing:

If you can go through all the exercise ( and play in tune), you are pretty much there :)

December 5, 2016 at 11:47 AM · "Moving to the higher positions is not too different from these lower positions in that case."

Nate, for some of us it is very different (and not only on the viola..)

December 6, 2016 at 03:14 AM · Hi Jeff,

Yes, that is my Vigato violin in the video.

December 6, 2016 at 05:49 PM · I've spent the last year playing without a shoulder rest, and I have to say after the first few days of struggling you'll find that your shifting will start to get better, and after several weeks I bet your whole posture and setup will be better, as well as your shifting be completely natural. It has to be natural, otherwise you either can't do it at all or will drop the violin. Problems will work themselves out naturally, and you'll be better off for it.

December 6, 2016 at 05:49 PM · Duplicate.

December 6, 2016 at 07:31 PM · Hi Adrian, I believe you! I just wanted to check, for those asking the question, that there wasn't a different mentality between the lowest positions and the higher ones in terms of support. There are some folks who squeeze between thumb and first finger in the first couple positions, only to try and transition to "getting the hand under" once the hand meets the rib of the instrument. That can make for awkward shifting up.

December 6, 2016 at 11:09 PM · Yes Nate, I often read about the "support" of the base of the index when it ought to be just a contact.

My thumb (and thumb joint) shape necessitates this contact - unless of course I use a shoulder rest... (or maybe try a WonderThumb from Craig!)

December 7, 2016 at 03:11 AM · Same, I need thumb joint help, but that is also where my thumb naturally sits!

December 7, 2016 at 02:35 PM · Adrian,

Shoot me a message on my contact form at my website WonderThumb and we'll see about getting you a prototype to test out and give me some user feedback.

That goes for you too, Smiley, you've been on both sides of the SR issue, I'd welcome your feedback as well.

December 7, 2016 at 08:42 PM · Hi Craig,

I would love to test one out. I just sent a request on your web site.

December 7, 2016 at 11:06 PM · Same. :)

December 8, 2016 at 12:22 AM · I guess these are pretty popular at the current price.....


December 11, 2016 at 05:58 PM · Craig, I'm more than prepared to pay for one: if it doesn't suit me, I can still give you free publicity!

December 11, 2016 at 10:11 PM · Adrian, shoot me a line through the contact form.

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