Look, No Shoulder Rest!

January 21, 2017 at 06:51 AM · I posted a thread a while back about switching to playing my violin without a shoulder rest. Now, I can do it effortlessly and I can elevate it from resting on my shoulder and I have a more free, rounder, and sweet tone. I'm more relaxed when playing, and I love the feeling of no shoulder rest because I can reach any position I want to however high on any string with ease. I'm just very happy about this accomplishment.

Question: How common is it for a violinist to use no shoulder rest? I've only ever met but a few.

Replies (49)

January 21, 2017 at 07:53 AM · Anne-Sophie Mutter doesn't use a shoulder rest. Just ensure that you can hold the violin comfortably without additional pressure from your head.

January 21, 2017 at 08:01 AM · Amongst those who play "restless", I think we we must distinguish between those who still use their shoulder some (or all) of the time, (including Ms Mutter..) and those who support the violin only on the collarbone and left hand. Amongst my acquaintances, and amongst those I have observed, the latter group is far, far smaller.

Absolutely all the Great Names of the 20th century used (or still use) frequent support from the shoulder (with padded clothing, or not) to some extent. Even Milstein.

The shoulder-rest is simply a means of adapting very similar violins to very different shoulders. Long gone is the time where a person's physique excluded them from high level violin-playing. So I feel that the real debate is whether or not to use the left shoulder to support the violin.

Tone? On a sensitive instrument, the lateral clamping on the back plate does indeed restrict certain resonances, and "resters" like myself seek means of assuring stability and lightness without clamping (with mixed success!)

January 21, 2017 at 02:44 PM · I have been spending half of my practice time playing with no shoukder rest for about two months with the original goal to eventually end up 100% restless. Restless practice has taught me to hold the violin in a much different way than when using a shoulder rest and I will keep on with this practice routine but enjoy using the rest because vibrato and shifting is so much more natural and comfortable.

January 21, 2017 at 03:13 PM · A few of my colleagues are rest-less but the great majority of players in my orchestra use shoulder rests, including me. The overwhelming majority of guest soloists we see also use them--most recently, Kolja Blacher, former concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic. Pinchas Zukerman is a notable exception; he plays without SR.

Use one, don't use one, do whatever enables you to play your best with relaxed shoulders and hands. It isn't a good/bad issue, and many fine players have used shoulder rests their entire careers.

January 21, 2017 at 03:57 PM · Hey, I concur with you Mary Ellen. There are a few members here that preach shoulder rest users will be damned to hell on judgement day and just thought it would be beneficial to work on some self introspection and try avoid that outcome.

January 21, 2017 at 04:09 PM · I don't use one, but have a small of chamois to provide the right tilt (only because my chin rest isn't ideal).

January 21, 2017 at 07:21 PM · I made the opposite observation -- I felt my tone improved when I put on the SR. Hard to rule out differences in the positioning of one's ear relative to the f-holes as the cause of this miraculous change.

January 21, 2017 at 07:28 PM · Sometimes when testing violins, I go without a shoulder rest, mostly because I'm lazy and don't want to mess with them while moving from violin to violin. Otherwise, I would use a shoulder rest, although I think I could learn to live without one if need be.

January 21, 2017 at 08:06 PM · Paul, I agree about change in angle, but I tested for tonal change with the viola on my lap (open strings only!), and played 'cello fashion. The slight tone reduction only applied to my wide-bodied, well-arched, lighter-built viola: the other was not affected. I use Kun Bravos at present, which are farly heavy and stiff, with adjustment notches fairly far apart, so they tend to be either too tight or too loose.

January 21, 2017 at 10:16 PM · Olivia, et al.,

I started, and played, for the better part of 30 years without a shoulder rest. Then a bicycling accident fractured and displaced my left clavicle. Once it healed, I found it uncomfortable to play and started using a SR. The accident also damaged the shoulder itself and I now have limitations on how high I can go up the fingerboard without discomfort. Not a great loss as I rarely am called upon to play in the upper registers. Heck, I'm 70 years old and still playing - that is a bonus by itself!

FWIW: I like the change in tone of my instrument as there is now no pressure on the bottom plate.

January 22, 2017 at 12:10 AM · The violin I have now definitely sounds better without a shoulder rest but, for the life of me, I can't figure out how to tune the e string without it. After almost dropping it twice, I'm staying with the shoulder rest

January 22, 2017 at 12:18 AM · Leon, I usually just rest it on my shoulder only when I tune. Otherwise you could pause to tune the violin with it still up, but it would be less accurate in pitch.

January 22, 2017 at 12:55 AM · Leon, I also had a difficult time tuning my e string and Rocky told me to let the scroll point towards the floor. Of course you want to be very careful doing this at first and he also recommended doing it over a bed till I got the hang of it.

January 22, 2017 at 01:16 AM · Thank you for the suggestions. I tried every which way and just can't do it. Someone else suggested pointing the scroll down and as soon as I let go with my left hand it slipped out. I caught it before it fell too far. I might be uncoordinated, but I'm quick.:-)

January 22, 2017 at 01:28 AM · Try using fine tuners, or is that already the case?

January 22, 2017 at 01:40 AM · I did it!!! I decided to try it again and what happened is that the fiddle slipped down to the front of my shoulder a little and stayed there. I tuned up just fine! Thank you all for the help and inspiration to try it again.

January 22, 2017 at 03:22 AM · When I played without SR, I used my bow hand to turn the E string fine tuner. Worked fine for me.

On the issue of playing without SR, I think it is a good way to release tension in the left side, but I don't believe it is worthwhile just for the sake of being able to play without one. Using SR or not depends on your physiology. The vast majority of people have a physiology that benefits from using a shoulder rest.

The high level players that do not use SR either have no necks, or very square shoulders that will support the instrument, at least momentarily, when needed.

January 22, 2017 at 03:38 AM · Not true in all cases, though!

I have sloping shoulders, a medium length neck and a collar bone that is very close to my neck, but I play without an SR just fine.

The actual issue is that you need a chin rest that is ideal or almost ideal for your own face, which usually means customization $ and time, since more modern chin rests are designed with SR in mind (even when not, they suffer from lack of variety in shape and size).

January 22, 2017 at 03:56 AM · For me one of the key elements of playing without a shoulder rest is to move the violin to the left, so that the chin is at or near to the tailpiece, and the crest of the violin back is at or near to the shoulder. I think that a Guarneri chinrest is not well suited for playing restless because it's too far left, so the violin ends up too far right. I use a Teka, and still my chin is positioned on the right side of it. Others to consider are Zitsmann, Ohrenform, and even center mounted Flesch. I urge everyone to try moving the violin to the left, and see if it doesn't make restless playing more comfortable and practical.

January 22, 2017 at 04:39 AM · To the OP, I'm glad you've gone through this process of discovery and are happy with the result!

January 22, 2017 at 02:18 PM · I support the violin with my left arm, which bends around to adjust the fine tuner while keeping the bow arm free. I didn't have to struggle to work this out as it was a natural extension of reaching the fine tuner with the left hand and supporting the violin at the same time, so I'm not sure why it hasn't also occurred to others -- maybe it's an issue of arm length or mobility?

January 22, 2017 at 02:34 PM · Arm length issue- I have relatively short arms that cannot play the last few cm of bow comfortable, which means curling around to the fine tuner gets in the way of the bow, making it very difficult to fine tune the E.

January 22, 2017 at 02:36 PM · Mary Ellen -- Zukerman used to stick a rubber wedge under his jacket. Not sure if he still does, but I considered this a form of shoulder rest. The *myth* was that is was a rubber doorstop stolen from Galamian's studio, but I can't confirm that part.

January 22, 2017 at 03:57 PM · In my transition to play restless I have discovered that by folding up a handkerchief into a small pad and inserting this under my shirt and a short distance from my collar bone makes a world of difference to me as it is sort of a crutch to help and keep me from giving up and returning to my happy shoukder rest world. I suppose it is cheating in a way but as Douglas has just mentioned about Pinchas Zukerman and the rubber door stop I do not feel so guilty anymore...

January 22, 2017 at 04:57 PM · Even Perlman has a rubber cementized small sponge stuck on the back, so...

Although, it is possible with JUST chin rest, but you need one that perfectly fits the high and angle of your jaw (which usually means having one carved).

January 22, 2017 at 06:12 PM · "Mary Ellen -- Zukerman used to stick a rubber wedge under his jacket. Not sure if he still does, but I considered this a form of shoulder rest. The *myth* was that is was a rubber doorstop stolen from Galamian's studio, but I can't confirm that part."

I actually knew that about the rubber wedge but his rhetoric is certainly anti-SR. Had not heard the Galamian myth but that's funny! Those among my colleagues who go restless also use a small foam cosmetics pad stuck to the back of the violin but that's much more about adding friction than it is about adding height.

I just think the endless proselytizing on both sides is silly. Use what works, and the evidence suggests that for many, it's a SR.

January 23, 2017 at 08:27 AM · Zukerman certainly hunches his broad, square shoulder much of the time. Perlman too, sometimes.

Even Alex Markus's interesting posts, with U-toob views from behind of several "greats", show intermittent support from the shoulder, despite Alex's affirmations to the contrary.

I think one reason why the vast majority of orchestral players use shoulder rests is the way that the timing of the three-hour rehearsals is decided by the conductor, and the group as a whole; we can't do 5-minute pauses when we feel like it! Also sharing a desk in a restricted space can hamper our ideal setup and posture.

January 23, 2017 at 04:15 PM · I think it's really rare. Among my colleagues my age or younger I'm practically the only one I know who doesn't use one.

It depends so much on your physical makeup. I have a fairly pronounced collarbone and squared shoulders so putting the violin right there is great. My wife and others who are somewhat petite have a difficult time going restless as they don't have much of a collarbone "ledge" and their shoulders slope a lot more.

January 23, 2017 at 04:39 PM · I switched to playing restless a year ago. I use a 2' x 2' sheepskin chamois folded up into about a 6" x 6" square, which I put on my collar bone (I think I may have gotten this idea from a post Rafael made here). It provides more than enough traction to stop sliding as well as a small amount of padding, which is more important in the summer months when wearing thinner clothing.

If you wanted slightly more lift, I think you could glue some foam into the middle of the chamois and then fold it back up. However, in my case I think the best option, if I wanted slightly more padding, would be to instead get my chin rest raised 1/4-1/2 of an inch with some cork slivers. I may try that in the summer and report back.

January 23, 2017 at 07:34 PM · Can we distinguish between (a)some padding over the collarbone, to stop slipping, and maybe tilt the violin a little on its axis; and (b)padding over the shoulder for actual support and to free the left hand..

January 23, 2017 at 08:13 PM · But my roll of chamoid does both (but mostly does a). :)

January 23, 2017 at 08:39 PM · Trends change. My final teacher was born in 1917 (now a century ago!), and the vast majority didn't use shoulder pads back then. I got used to not using anything, and I'm most comfortable that way (depending on the material with or without support from the shoulder. Nice to alternate and give the shoulder a break!)

Then later, people had the idea using rests would cut down on back and neck problems, so they were automatically put on everyone's instruments. Since, it's been observed it's possible to do damage both with and without, and it's possible to play well both ways, too. I would say a minority of students seem to be helped quite a bit by using them, but I don't think they're as necessary as much as they're seen.

January 23, 2017 at 10:43 PM · Same. Almost nobody needs them, but are never offered/try alternatives. :(

January 24, 2017 at 12:38 AM · It seems like the violin setup does change depending on whether or not you use an SR; true? With an SR, the violin is more out to the left side, and it's flatter ; without an SR, it reaches out more to the front of the chin, and the front slopes down. Correct me if my thinking is wrong; I'm still trying to fully understand mechanics behind the violin hold and its effects on tension in the body.

As I'm still trying out different combinations, how am I to know what's best for me? Is the only way through trial and error, until one time it'll just 'feel so right'? Or maybe my current SR and CR are the best combination? How am I to know if I'm at my ideal 'relaxation level'?

January 24, 2017 at 01:03 AM · First Q: with no SR, violin is usually somewhat more to the front, with the tilt usually being less, since the right is lower and thus bows more easily.

However, it also depends on arm length: I like some tilt to the violin to reach the G, but I am one of those folks that cannot use the last few cm of bow (not tall enough). :)

January 24, 2017 at 01:03 AM ·

January 24, 2017 at 01:41 AM · Our body changes constantly anyway, and what works best last year may not work as well now...we should be constantly exploring our body/technique/equipment and seek out what works best for us. You can seek out with a specialist like an Alexander Technique instructor who can tell you from a physical point of view which set up gives you the least extraneous tension.

I think there's nothing wrong with using a shoulder rest/sponge/whatever you put underneath violin as long it's not abused: meaning one doesn't hold up the violin primarily with the shoulder via the shoulder rest.

My observation is that people who prop up the instrument with their shoulders all the time tend to end up with serious back/shoulder problems. In some cases their shoulder rests are so high the instrument has no contact with the collarbone at all. (Painful to even think about it.)

Thinking about fiddlers/violinists 300-400 hundred years ago, a lot of paintings and drawings I've come across depicts the violin on their arm, chest, or collar bone without using their head(!) to stabilize the instrument. Of course music got much more complicated technically since then and I'm not saying go play a Shostakovich concerto with the violin on your chest, but I strongly believe there is something we can learn from our violin ancestors in finding a balance with our body and instrument (balancing the instrument on our collar bone for our modern day repertoire and the left hand), instead of seeking a total deadlock "grip" in search of "rigid, in place" mentality.

I agree with Mary Ellen's view on cosmetic sponges more as giving friction than adding height. I used it for a one year until I transitioned to a cloth and then to nothing. Ultimately I took the sponge away because I thought it was doing the same thing as a shoulder rest, which to me was still an attempt to "lock" instrument in place because I still had a fear of dropping the instrument. Without a shoulder rest, the left hand takes more more supportive role for sure, and I think for most violinist without a shoulder rest, the violin is more centered and flat (more balanced!) since there's nothing to prop it underneath—but nothing wrong with that either.

January 24, 2017 at 11:47 AM · I went restless for a few years, (with the above-mentioned adavantages) then went to one of those wedge-shaped pads to tilt the violin to play better on the low strings, then back to a shoulder rest to cope better in 3-hour rehearsals and sessions. In contrast to many folk, I find the contact with the collarbone has become very uncomfortable (I'm 68yo) and I now use a Kun rest with long "legs" on a relaxed shoulder, with just the weight of my head on a much re-carved chinrest balancing the fiddle see-saw fashion. No grip, no cramps, no hickey..

If I lower my head, the instrument touches my collarbone, but I often raise it to let the left had take over. But the weight of the violin, or viola, is spread over the whole SR, which is set up in front of the collarbone (except the wide end, which rests on the curly bit).

Just my 2 centimes d'Euro..

January 24, 2017 at 05:58 PM · The main point in playing restless, in my opinion, is how much the chinrest has to be lift. OK the violin (or viola) rests on the collarbone but the gap between the chin and the chinrest has to be filled.

There are two interesting pages that go in this direction:

- Frisch and Denig violin chinrest fitting system -> http://www.chinrests.com/ which uses left placed chinrests and

- the Violinist in Balance research -> http://www.violinistinbalance.nl/ which uses central chinrests, the Flesch and Berber models.

January 24, 2017 at 09:11 PM · And I agree with your two centimes d'Euro Adrian.

January 24, 2017 at 11:47 PM · For me playing restless allows me to adjust the relative angle of the violin from right to left (rotating on the axis of the end button through the neck). The small movements there significantly reduce the amount of motion necessary to reach the G string!

January 25, 2017 at 02:39 AM · I propose we give Adrian a raise. I think his opinions are worth at least 3 centimes de euro!

January 25, 2017 at 06:44 PM · A 50% raise! Recognition at last! But the Inland Revenue might take an unhealthy interest...

January 25, 2017 at 08:58 PM · I will second Adrian's raise, now to seek Laurie's approval.

January 26, 2017 at 12:50 AM · It's not true that the gap between chin rest and chin has to be filled all the time (at least not for all players). You certainly need to be able to put the chin on the rest when you need it! But if I really got a rest high enough to fill the gap, it would be at least a couple of inches high. Much of the time, my chin is either barely touching the rest or it's completely off.

January 26, 2017 at 12:53 AM · Nathan, how does the violin not fall if your chin/jaw isn't leaning on the rest?

January 26, 2017 at 04:16 AM · In my case the violin is supported completely by the left hand, except for those moments when I need friction to keep the violin from flying away! That basically means downward shifts. Although even then, I make sure to support "up" while the hand moves down the fingerboard. But the friction is only a temporary necessity.

That doesn't mean I'm all the way off the rest the majority of the time. But I certainly wouldn't want all that space filled in, propping my head up! I like to be able to move it around to relieve tension.

January 28, 2017 at 12:22 AM · Yes, no SR means you have a bit of space to move, but it doesn't mean me and Nate play while looking into the sky... :D

The support from the chinrest is also needed for wider vibrato (though I can do a narrower one, even with no chin rest).

January 29, 2017 at 06:11 AM · I use the stuff under carpets to keep them from sliding for my violin. Works well. Play however makes you the most comfortable. It was always no sr growing up with my teachers who reinforced it. Plus, short neck, long arms on me so it's just been natural. I've tried a SR a few times, even have half dozen somewhere and one in my case, just in case for whatever reasons I need one. But, it's fairly unnatural for me. I have students who've gone with and without one, sometimes it helps, sometimes it hinders them. Completely personal choice.

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