Solid Fingers vs. Pain

November 9, 2005 at 09:22 PM · For the past...couple years I have been having trouble with set-up problems. For the past 2 years I had been using a Bon Musica shoulder rest...I then developed severe shoulder pain and therefore was told to switch to sponges. All summer long i tried to work with this and the tension eventually vanished. One problem...I don't think I've had more horrible intonation problems then I have had in my life. I mean, I practiced, for a good month almost 2 hrs a day on scales alone when I switched to sponges. As time progressed, I had scaled it down to about 45 minutes a day. I did them slowly, carefully, the works, everything you're supposed to do, but my intonation was still very unsteady and just plain...bad. As an experiment, I tried going back to a shoulder rest this week (both the bon musica and kuns). Within about 30 seconds of playing, I had my good intonation *relatively speaking* well as the shoulder pain. Any recommendations on how to be pain free with good intonation? Is there a better shoulder rest out there?

I have college auditions these coming months, so I feel like i'm in a tight bind. I need to practice, TONS and I don't want to sound horrible for auditions. I also, however, don't want to be in pain since I know in the next couple months I'll be practicing AT LEAST 4-6 hrs a day. hmm other information that might be helpful: i don't have a really long neck, but it's not stubby and I have really sloping shoulders. If any one has any advice thatd be great. I have already asked numerous musicians and teachers etc. about this but I could always use more opinions. Someone suggested the Mach One shoulder rest..others suggested a bigger centered chin rest. I know all of this is a personal quest, but hopefully at least someone out there had a similar situation to mine.


Replies (18)

November 9, 2005 at 09:56 PM · Is there something that's inhibiting your intonation? For instance, with the sponges, is your arm in a different position, or is your thumb doing some of the holding up of the violin? What's the difference in freedom between the bonmusica and the sponges? (I'm using the bonmusica right now, and am considering trying sponges myself).

All the practice you've done should've taken care of any transitory adjustments. So, what's left? What's still different? Maybe your arm isn't far enough around; maybe you're slouching oh-so-slightly. Any ideas?

November 10, 2005 at 02:23 AM · I strongly suggest finding a teacher or even just a professional player that can help you.

Hasn't your teacher suggested anything? This is really par for the course as far as teaching goes. While there may not be a 'golden answer,' there should definitely be an answer of some sort, a solution of some sort. A great teacher would be able to tell you inside of 3 min. what is wrong (maybe even before you play a note-just by seeing you hold the fiddle).

Have hope. There is a solution to this problem. You just need to get to the right person. Start with your teacher. If there is no answer there, look elsewhere. You don't have to leave your current teacher, but you must find an answer. Holding the fiddle is the primary component to a solid playing, and the least understood, imho.

Don't just talk to another teacher or player. You need to be seen. This is a visual thing for the teacher, and a 'feeling' thing for you.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

November 10, 2005 at 05:52 AM · Greetings,

Yes, I`ve been where you are. It ended my career.

I suspect you need to stay away from shoulder rests at least for a while. If you learn how to play without one, using a sponge then if you want to go back to one then that will be a big help to you.

First some general comments. Sponge is good but don`t hesitate to play around with the amount you use. Instead of sponge you could try a Gewa pad. They are fairly cheap so it wouldn`t be to expensive an experiment. But, try to grasp that without a rest one of the things that supports the violin is the friction between the skin of the beck and the instrument. You can improve this by inserting a piece of soft chamois leather between your neck and the chinrest/ribs. You may not have realized that the slipping you experience from lack of contact (usually with ba rest) contributes to tension by causing your shoulder and neck muslces to contract, and yes, it messes up your intonation. I don`t recommend changing to a center rest unless you have short arms.

Then I would note an immediate problem in the way you think about the violin: you said you practice two hours of scales. I cannot imagine anything worse for you during this kind of change.

You need to recognize that scales are an amalgamation of all aspects of technique and thus need to be practice in small amounts with maximum concentration -after- you have practice shifting, bowing, warm up patterns and so forth. In fact it is probably the shifting which is causing you problems the most right now and scales is not usually the best place to practice this. I recommend you do the sevick or Yost shifting book slowly and carefully in ten minute bursts with organic coffee in between.

But, you also need to understand that the technique used with no rest is radically different from with a rest. The reason rests (incorrectly used) cause so many injuries is that they mitigate against the natural way of the body which is to create stillness through movement , movements so small I refer to them as micro movements. Rest like the Bon Musica feel comfortable at first but paralyse the natural movement of the body so badly you can get into real trouble.

So, for example, when you shift upwards, the left shoulder actually makes a slight preparatory movement down and back so that when the hand moves up you have two opposing movements taking place: the forearm moves towards the nose and the upper arm move in the oppsite direction so the arm is closing like a squeeze box. Without this preparatory movement there is no space for the arm to do this. I have found the absence of this micro movement the biggest factor in poor shifting by far.Shifting downwards is the opposte: the shoulder moves foward slightly in preparation for moving back. This technique is described in detial in Menuhin`s guide to the violin and the viola. In the lesson transcript at the back he actually teaches this point to a student who is making a poor shift in the Mendelssohn concerto.

You will also find that as you shift up you need to move the violin slightly to the left and or up.

Another major factor in bad intonation is that you don@t recognize that a large position change is not a change of finger shape, but hand shape! A small preparatory upward movement of the hand befoe a big upward shift is very helpful.

Because you feel less supoort at the moment you are probably tensing up in all manne rof places before you shift during scales. So I suggest you pause on the note before each shift and analyse your body part by part form the left hand thumb, through the fingers, wrist elbow, shoulder etc checking each part and ordering mentlal to relax. Only then do the shift.

Another misunderstanding about not using a rest crops up all the time and has already appeared in this discussion. Are you hoding the violin with your thumb? Of course you are. that is what it is there for. But that does not mean it needs to be tense. It can be completely relaxed and support the violin. This does not inhibit the vibrato or generla facility in anyway. Such limited thinking and understanding about what the body is doing is very dangerous. You thumb is part of your hand which is supported by your arm which is an appendage draped over the spine supported by the upward energy from the head and the power of the legs. the thumb is not `holding` the violin as a discrete entity. if you think the thunmb `hold the violin` and therfore cause extra unncessary tension then there is no integrated view of the body.

As for you intonation, I recommend you work on a lot of arpeggios and scales in thirds. Practice the scales in thirds on one string using 1313131313113 etc. Then 242424242424242424 the 1324132413241324 as normal. Then do the next two strings in the same way. But conrol your manic urges and work in very small busrts.



November 10, 2005 at 12:39 AM · Bravo Buri (as always!)!! Thanks goodness finally someone said something about that thumb!

Btw, where have you been lately, Buri?

November 10, 2005 at 04:18 AM · You mentioned the Mach One shoulder rests. I recently switched from a Kun to a Mach One. I felt like the Kun wasn't giving me enough support and I was literally restling with his during practice time and orchestra. The Mach One is quite high, which can certainly be a good thing. I find that it provides a lot of support and it very very stable. IF you decide to go back to trying a shoulder rest, I would really look away from kuns or things that may be too highly padded to provide rigid support (which is what I need, at least). In terms of chinrests, I use a nearly centered, wide chinrest to help my positioning and I find that it helps with intonation because of my small hands.

**Another tip, try and work with the positioning of your shoulder rest. Some people like them very tilted to one end and others like it in the middle or opposite. This can make a HUGE difference, even if you don't change that actual rest.

November 10, 2005 at 11:25 PM · GRR! Buri, did you have to say ANYTHING? Now I'm going to be wrestling with what you said in my mind all weekend, trying to see how it applies to me...there goes my terrific practice! Well...thanks covered a lot about what I've been thinking about lately.

Just a note I wanted to add, is my teacher says that whenever you're having a LH problem, it usually is because of the left shoulder.

November 10, 2005 at 11:37 PM · Welcome back, Buri! I have missed your ideas!

November 11, 2005 at 01:08 AM · Greetings,

well, now I have aggravated the heck out of everyone here is are a couple of afterthoughts.

To my mind, the weakest shoulder rests are those thta try to conform to the shape of the shoulder in a very obvious way even though they are adjustable. The shoulder always seems to me to be tyring to adapt to that shape. I know this from rleentless observation of players who use them. Thus, I have sene a good dela more success with rests that try less as it were. The best appear to me to be the Wolf Forte Primo (possibly the secondo) and the Menuhin which I think is no longer avaible but there is an equivalent out there somewhere.

Secondly, I woyuld practice putting the violin up with your right hand by holding the right lower bout. First bring the left hand across your chest so that the left hand fingers rest lightly on your right shulder. Then put the violin up while doing nothing with your head. this somewhat peculair action is extremely beneficial. There is a step by step sequence of photos of Williajm Primrose doing it in the Menuhin book and I have also read articles recommending it in the Strad. The most recent being by Walfisch I think.



November 11, 2005 at 01:33 AM · Buri--

Good ideas you have. I don't use a rest at all and agree with the rests you suggested (though Midori and Shaham do quite well with there Kun's somehow, so it can be dangerous to shut the door on what I consider to be a horrible rest).

However, I think the rest you are thinking of is the Wolf Standard Primo. An often overlooked rest, but a rest that does less, as you say. It's quite low, quite comfortable, and somewhat close to playing with nothing--well, not really, but you know what I mean.

I've had tremendous success as far as students go using this rest, the most recent having won a concerto competition. Setup and proper understanding of how the fiddle balances, rests and moves with your body is one of the real keys to unlocking unlimited technical potential. So many students have fears of the fiddle slipping, and humans of course have such a natural inclination to grab.

One of the easiest ways to help shifting that I've found is simply to tell the student to release their head/chin pressure while/before shifting. There is so much pent up tension in this area, even in professional players that I have seen. This 'letting go' of the fiddle yields incredible results almost immediately.

Anyway, not to ramble on...check out the Wolf Standard Primo if you must use a rest. Simple, comfortable, affordable, non-obstructive.

November 11, 2005 at 04:23 AM · wow, thanks to everyone for commenting. To answer Walcott's question, I have brought it up with my teacher, but she is the type that knows what is comfortable for her and wants you to seek out your own way. I've also spoken with other teachers that are either dead set against rests or those that give you the "find your own path" and "try everything" thing...anyways, I thought a lot about what you said Buri. it is true I don't know much about my body and violin balancing and all etc, and you're advice really made me think and practice a different way. I'm trying to find the gewa pad you suggested. It's funny that everyone has been mentioning wolfs because I just went into William Harris Lee (downtown chicago) and basically asked them to show me everything they had with chinrests and shoulder pads/rests. I tried the Mach One and did not like it at all. My shoulder just wasn't made for that rest. Right now I'm trying out the "Super flexible" wolf and one of the playonair pads. hopefully something will begin to work. THanks,


November 11, 2005 at 05:34 AM · Just to let you know, the Wolf Standard Primo is a lot different than the other Wolf's. The Wolf super-flexible is the one with that wierd metal bar, right?

November 11, 2005 at 12:30 PM · Greetings,

if you go to the Shar website you can see pictures of most of these things. There is anothe rkind of pad called soething like Dolland or Polon (or prune) which Oistrakh was very taken with at one time. you can seeit at aforementioed site. A poinbt to be careful of, the Gewa come in two differemt heights and there is a big difference in feeling and support. Personally I have never suceeded in using one because they have the same effetc on me as a rest IE y body tends ot adapt to it rather tahn vice versa.

It has taken me about two years to learn to play (in the sense of performing comfortably in public) without any support at all. That it the option after the sponge which is kind of a nice compromise. Especially if one goes that far, the chin rest is crucial. I felt my playing was about90% okay until a month ago when I found a really big comfortable Guarneri type chin rest (but bigger) and that rounded things off perfectly. A real step up,



November 12, 2005 at 04:26 PM · Hi

Have had problems years ago finding a shoulder rest that was comfortable. Played for years totally without!

Problems with intonation? Yes!

My solution: Let the violin "rest" a bit lower between your left thumb and index finger.

Do not hold the violin with the left hand but let it sink lower into the hand. This made the trick for me! No big problems with intonation any longer (as long as I practise). Worth trying.?

I also beleive in training in the gym a couple of days a week. Blood flow into muscles that have been sligtly tense makes a big difference.

Violin playing is NOT the most natural posture and movement pattern for the human body. We can only make as relaxed and natural as possible.

November 17, 2005 at 04:28 AM · yes, now concertgoers everywhere will not only see someone totally relaxed but THERE'S an anomoly. sweet.

on a more serious note (no pun intended): the wolf didn't work out at all...unfortunately. I ended up having pains in my elbow and other odd places that i didn't even know were possible after a couple hours. quest continues...I needed something quick cause i had a concert and I couldn't go back to pads so i made my own little...thing. It looks really strange but it works for the moment. Lets just say it involves something that was invented in the 1950s that no one's ever heard of and a tempurpedic pillow....use your imagination. (it's quite comfy i must say...but isn't the most practical looking thing) Anyways, I ordered the "playonair" shoulder rest, which sounds like it's a broad pad on a shoulder rest which would be just the hopefully THAT will work out. *crosses fingers*

Buri: i've been practicing and working on those micro movements....didn't even notice these things before and it's really opened me up to other things that i've been doing...crazy fun. Thanks again.


November 17, 2005 at 05:21 AM · Hannah, sorry the wolf didn't work for you. Just to satisfy my curiosity, what is the exact name of the model of Wolf rest you used?

November 17, 2005 at 05:59 AM · Greetings,

the Playonair is not a broad pad on a rest. For thos eold enjough to remember `action man` it is the spiritual equivalent of the rubber dingy in the `commando kit.` It has the habit of deflating in mid performance which is something us older males know about.



November 17, 2005 at 06:18 AM · Speak for yourself. All I want to know is what the mysterious 1950s invention is.

November 17, 2005 at 11:19 AM · Hi there,

oh yes... the bon musica shoulder rest. I end up using both a bonmusica and wolf shoulder rest. My bonmusica is great for gypsy style playing, for getting in and under the strings whereas my wolf seems to be more comfortable for more classical pieces and shifting positions. what sort of bon music are you/ have you been using? Is it an ergonomic bendable type? I did suffer some pain at the time of the use of this rest as well..... its interesting isn't it....


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