Shoulder rest or no shoulder rest?

May 10, 2006 at 04:23 AM · I have heard on this website a lot that a shouldrest can cause tention in the shoulder/neck and that it is best not to use one. I have a lot of tension in my neck with a shoulder rest and i was wondering if i should take it off and try without it?

Some advice on this would be faboulous!

thanks

emm

Replies (101)

May 10, 2006 at 04:34 AM · Chances are, if you are having problems with tension WITH a shoulder rest, they won't go away when you get rid of it. I'm not saying that you necessarily have the right setup, but you should try and address the way you approach holding the instrument before you go discarding your shoulder rest. I know plenty of people who play without tension both ways, and I know plenty who play with a lot of tension both ways.

May 10, 2006 at 05:40 AM · I think any topic with "shoulder rest" in the title should be tagged to have an auto response:

"Please do an archive search on this topic"

May 10, 2006 at 02:47 PM · Ya i guess i should work on tension....any suggestions for that?

May 10, 2006 at 03:29 PM · I always remove a shoulder rest on students and professionals that come to me with neck and shoulder tension. I've had remarkable results in helping them relieve pain using a comfortable left hand position.

May 10, 2006 at 04:56 PM · Hi,

Emily, the issue is perhaps not the SR but other problems, including posture and use of body. That said, consulting a first rate teacher, like Ms. Jensen who posted above might be a very good course of action for solving your problems, especially if they are not being currently addressed.

I personally have nothing against the SR but see it too often mis-used. It's a problem. Look, the SR is a tool, but no substitute for the right chinrest, and even if an SR is used, it should be in the context of natural hand positions and use.

Cheers!

May 10, 2006 at 05:05 PM · Yeah, as far as tools go, hammers ar egreat. But if you use it as a screwdriver, it doesn't work well. Or if you swing it fitfully, you get tendonitis.

Christian's point is really important to bear in mind--that one cannot find a n"easy fix" merely by removing or adding a tool (shoulder rest) without the proper knowledge of how to use that tool, or to get along without it.

That being said, shoulder rests are annoying becasue they mess up the varnish, don't fit in a diminutuve case, and get lost at inopportune times, (like at lesson time :(

May 11, 2006 at 02:17 AM · Thanks everyone for the advice...It is most likely a tension problem i am dealing with...I will take everything into consideration when i go to my private lessons teacher next tuesday! She'll know what to do!

Thanks again!

emm

May 11, 2006 at 02:44 AM · Just wondering... Are the proponents of no shoulder rests generally people with short to no necks?

May 11, 2006 at 03:28 AM · Greetings,

I think there is a trend in that direction. But one of the strongest proponents ever of the `restless` was William Primrose who claimed that it was irrelevent and that he couold teahc a Swan how to do it,

Cheers,

Buri

May 11, 2006 at 03:58 AM · I still don't know why people are so offended by people who use them.

May 11, 2006 at 04:30 AM · I rest my case.

May 11, 2006 at 01:19 PM · People who don't use shoulder rests do not take offense at people who do use them; rather it is annoying to have to put up with people who insist that you must us a rest...and that is where the annoyance comes from. Kind of like bicycle helmets...

May 11, 2006 at 07:02 PM · ...yes, to what bill said...

I learned the basics as a child without one...then tried one when I started lessons again...

*argh* It was a royal pain! Ackward to put on, didn't want to stay put...but most importantly...

...it hurt...

May 11, 2006 at 08:10 PM · I would like to give my modest 2 cents on this issue. I am currently playing w/o a rest and probably won't use one ever again. However, it took me almost 17 yrs (!) to understand two elementary things:

1) shifting w/o a rest absolutely requires that the last finger that played a note remain on the fingerboard while you shift (up or down). This is what Fisher means about educating the left hand. We generally talk about 3 contact points in the left hand: thumb, base of index finger, and fingertips. Well, w/o constant fingertip contact, shifting is impossible because the violin wobbles too much.

2) The violin is held up by the anterior and medial deltoids. If you rest your elbow on a table and play the violin (attention, the elbow should be able to move in or out according to the string one is playing), the deltoid group is relaxed. In this situation, your left hand can learn the adequate movmts w/o interference. Another alternative mentioned by Buri, is to stuff a towel in the armpit. I only managed to learn how to play rest-less after doing this for a couple of days because the need to contract the deltoids to hold the violin up caused my whole left hand to press too hard on the fingerboard. So for someone accostumed to a rest, this "preparatory exercise" may be what one needs to re-educate the muscles so that the deltoid and the hand don't contract simultaneously. The deltoids also have to develop resistance to hold the violin up for an extended period of time (in which case, the towel trick will help).

Holding the violin up w/ the deltoids is much better than using neck muscles. (I realize this is a somewhat crude anatomical description of what goes on, but I'll let others talk about back muscles, legs, etc.).

Since I have a short 4th finger, my 3rd finger tends to be too flat. The shoulder rest prevents me from bringing my elbow in as I need to be able to place my fingers correctly.

I hope this may be of use to somebody out there and I would like to thank Buri specially. If I said something wrong, please feel free to comment.

May 11, 2006 at 08:21 PM · I had a particularly gifted giraffe who came for a lesson once, and I threw his shoulder rest out of the window. Then I berated him for bad posture. Never saw him again, lovely chap tho.

May 11, 2006 at 08:29 PM · Greetings,

John, it took me months to sort that giraffe out. He is now principal viola in the Chicago symphony. Please take your teahcing responsibilities more seriously,

Buri

May 12, 2006 at 08:56 AM · "Just wondering... Are the proponents of no shoulder rests generally people with short to no necks?"

Aaaargghh, this myth is the only thing about it all that makes me angry. THe violin should sit on the collarbone. The violin itself and a chinrest of the right height should then fill the space up to the jaw, so that the neck need not distort itself in any way. That's all there is too it, except for one discovery I've made: the violin needs to tilt to the right so that you can reach the G string without raising the right arm above horizontal, otherwise you're at risk for a shoulder impingement. I use a foam wedge for that.

I love playing w/o a rest, it has helped me understand and deal with the importance of the right chinrest, and it has (with much, much work) improved my shifting technique. As stated above, I had to give up on my slapdash 'try and hit the spot from the air' shifting and really understand and use every interval involved in every shift, with my finger on the board.

I'll use this opportunity to give BURI and big hug and thank you. Buri, your advice and the Basics book you recommended have both hugely improved my playing and I use them every day.

:)

May 12, 2006 at 10:36 AM · Susan --

So, the distance of a longer neck should be made up with a chinrest of a higher build? Or, perhaps a chinrest raised with additional cork at its base?

May 12, 2006 at 11:43 AM · Thank you, Susan, for mentioning the point about the collarbone. I must by all means clarify that when I wrote above about the violin being held up by what is roughly an "isometric" contraction (but not really so(!) because actually there is a much greater freedom of mvt than w/ a rest) of the deltoids I do NOT mean that one raises the left shoulder. This is extremely important. As Susan said, the violin rests on the collarbone. Use a higher chin rest. Make a point of keeping your neck as relaxed and natural as possible. The jaw only touches the chin rest to keep the violin from whobbling and from falling off the collarbone during downshifts.

Next step is to dissociate the shoulder/deltoids from the muscle group involved in left hand articulation. Use the towel in the armpit or elbow on the table for support. Begin shifting exercises using one finger scales up and down the strings. Rest when tired, or else you will instinctively try to raise the violin by pressing harder on the fingerboard.

To help clarify things, one can play "air violin" w/ the elbow on the table. Then lift your elbow off the table and touch your left shoulder w/ your right hand to feel the muscles come into action. Understand that that group is going to be henceforth responsible for holding the violin up and moving it around while it rests on the collarbone.

To repeat: the violin should not rest on the shoulder, but on the collarbone. And keep your fingertips on the board.

May 12, 2006 at 01:55 PM · Hello Again!

Thanks tristin! That really helped me as far as where i should place the violin exactly!

May 13, 2006 at 07:35 AM · I use a high and tiltable chinrest by SAS, which I ordered online. It's marvellous!

I find the freedom of the shoulder being completely independent from the violin, which is sitting on top of the collarbone, is a really good feeling.

May 13, 2006 at 10:08 PM · I tried to play without a shoulder rest for a while when I first got my new chinrest (Whittner hypoallergetic - the greatest chinrest ever!). I've always been told that the sound is better, more open, etc. without the shoulder rest. I thought I'd test it out for a while. Although I have no trouble playing without the rest, I was surprised to find that the instrument actually sounds a little better with my rest. It seems to project better, not to mention I feel wonderfully relaxed with my current shoulder rest/chinrest set up. Why change something that is working right? Anyway, has anyone else encountered this? It doesn't really seem to make sense.

-Laura

May 14, 2006 at 12:18 AM · I used to use shoulder rests but recently switched to a very high-tech setup of a kitchen sponge held in place with a rubber band. I am now much more relaxed and my fiddle sounds better. Go figure as to why.

MG

May 15, 2006 at 03:14 AM · Perhaps the sponge is soaking up all the undesirable sounds...be sure to give it a good wringing out when you're finished lest they return.

May 15, 2006 at 07:29 AM · I'm restless myself.

Being restless changes the way the bow hits the string and the way I hold my left hand.

I could be rested if I wished to be, but I prefer the tone I produce when I'm restless.

May 15, 2006 at 12:00 PM · I started with an SR, on the advice of my prof, who said my neck was too long to go without. Not knowing any better, I went along with this. Then one day, 2 things occurred by coincidence. I changed chin rests (I use the "Abuhl" special) and I forgot my SR somewhere outside my home. I remember Stern, Perlman, etc played without SRs, so I went searching in my house for anything made of foam. I cut a piece out of an old cushion, and found this soft foam did nothing. Then I found my old cervical collar, made of surgical HD foam, and simply draped it over my shoulder. Very effective. The rest is history, so is the SR. Putting the violin on the collarbone, supported by the foam at the shoulder is very comfortable, and creates a more natural connection between body and instrument. Angle is better too, so my right arm is not moving so much vertically as before. The new chin rest is very comfortable. Overall, I'm glad I'm now restless.

September 21, 2006 at 02:25 PM ·

October 17, 2006 at 07:10 PM · While we're on the topic, and not to steal this thread... I was performing this past weekend and noticed my Mach One sliding out of position and even falling off at one point. I got tired of adjusting it so I decided to chuck it. I am now shoulder rest-less, for the time being, but have a dilemma: I think my chin rest is too flat without much of a hump. It tends to slide away as I do get a little sweaty at the chin from vigorous music making. Does anyone have suggestions on a chin rest with a hump?

October 17, 2006 at 08:27 PM · The bow and string contact point ought to be as close as possible to the plane of the collar bone. A shoulder rest lifts that point further out of that plane.

It has nothing at all to do with neck length: that would only matter if we were trying to keep the fiddle at jaw level.

It is better to relax the head down to the fiddle than raise the fiddle to the jawline, because that keeps the bowing dimension all of a piece with the collarbone.

gc

October 18, 2006 at 06:26 AM · Greetings,

Eunice, you might try a piece of chamois leather before you start thinking about changing the chin rest,

Cheers,

Buri

October 18, 2006 at 03:03 PM · Hello... I have an interesting thing to say to you all who debate over the "to be or not to be" about the shoulder rest : I have at home a substantial amount of DVD's, VHS's and Laser Discs where I can watch and listen to the very great masters of violin. Well, I have news for you : JASCHA HEIFETZ, Issac Stern, David Oistrakh, Leonid Kogan, Henryk Szeryng, Yehudi Menuhin, Itzak Perlman, Arthur Grumieaux and Nathan Milstein, ALL OF THEM DO NOT USE A SHOULDER REST !!!! I myself find this observation very interesting ... Let's use our common sense : Either all of these great masters have more or less the same neck, shoulders, etc. and therefore do not need the rest (something that I find extremely unlikely), OR the need of a shoulder rest is purely a myth. Maybe I am wrong, but my most elementary logic tells me that we all can learn (like the great masters did) to play w/o the rest and that the use of the rest is not necessary at all as long as we develope the right technic. Otherwise, who could explain to me why none of the great masters I mentioned above don'y use the rest ? I look forward to have your opinion on this.

Regards,

Juan Manuel

October 18, 2006 at 06:22 PM · And 50 - 60 years from now there will be a list just as long of performers who will be considered "great masters" who did use shoulder rests.

This discussion is SO pointless.

October 18, 2006 at 06:34 PM · Amen, Preston.

October 18, 2006 at 07:41 PM · ....and then perhaps 150 years from now, the 'masters' will use fine tuners on all four strings because of some other crazy belief.

October 18, 2006 at 07:29 PM · ...or Toni Furman will be the master.

October 18, 2006 at 07:43 PM · ...only when chanterelle goes out of style

October 18, 2006 at 08:37 PM · ...fortunately prunes will always be with us.

October 19, 2006 at 04:20 PM · I just started playing the violin a year ago. I am 5'10" and have a long neck. My teacher is a violist who doesn't like shoulder rests. So I played without one but find I get wicked pain down the left side of my neck and shoulder. Consequently, I have tried various combinations of chin rests and shoulder rests and had one chin rest raised to try and solve the problem.

None of the stiff shoulder rests worked for a couple of reasons: 1) I hold the instrument more closer to midline than to my left shoulder, so attaching the shoulder rest on the violin puts it at an unstable angle; 2) they didn't feel comfortable (too stiff); 3) they raised the voilin too high off my collar bone which is, based on my research, not the thing to do. The chin rest that was raised was OK but still something was not right.

Currently I am using a soft spongy rest called "the perfect shoulder rest" (Shar music). It's cheap and it has helped to the point where I don't have any shoulder pain and since I'm not foucusing on how uncomfortable I am and stretching every 5 minutes to relieve the soreness, my left arm has been liberated and is feeling more free to move.

Now I'm not a professional but I see that Hillary Hahn and Joshua Bell use shoulder rests and they seem to be doing ok! Also, lets remember that our species has grown taller with each generation and along with that I would bet that the length of the neck has extended as well. Unless I'm mistaken, I haven't noticed that the dimentions of the violin have grown in accordance.

So I think what it boils down to is finding the best set up for you which may or may not include the use of a shoulder rest.

October 19, 2006 at 05:47 PM · I stopped using a shoulder-rest because it just felt more natural and the tone of my violin seemed more open...

Mainly because the violin-hickeys I get make me feel loved.

October 19, 2006 at 05:51 PM · Regardless what your reason is, if you are going to use a shoulder rest, it is probably not a good idea to leave the shoulder rest on the violin ALL THE TIME. I just realized the Kun plastic feet took away some varnish on my favorite violin on the rim of the lower bouts... Aaaaarrrrrr....

October 19, 2006 at 07:42 PM · I would listen to Dylana J.

it is a very subjective topic. And a lot goes into it. Dropping the shoulder rest requires the shifting of your body center in relation to the instrument, re-adjusting the left hand fingers in relation to the fingerboard and some other things. If one does not make the proper adjustments, rest assured, tension is bound to be a major issue.

What you are describing, is despite the fact that you do use a shoulder rest, you still have tension problems.

It is something you should address with guidence.

If your teacher is unable to help you with it, seek someone who can.

October 20, 2006 at 01:28 PM · I would second Gennady. My daughter was fortunate to have Dylana Jenson for her private lessons at her camp this summer. We are still working on weaning her from a rest, but her sound has improved greatly.

Ihnsouk

October 20, 2006 at 11:40 PM · Greetings,

a very lucky young lady,

Cheers,

Buri

October 21, 2006 at 02:52 AM · Yes, indeed. She is also lucky to rely on insights from you and others here.

Ihnsouk

October 23, 2006 at 05:47 PM · Although many very fine players use a shoulder rest, I truly feel that learning to hold the violin without a shoulder rest is better. There is a huge difference in the sound produced by violinist who do not use a shoulder rest as well as having cleaner and more accurate left hand facility. The violin should be rested on the collar bone, and held between the index finger and thumb as Auer, taught. Never should one raise the shoulder to hold the violin. My teacher was against the use of a shoulder pad and I made enormous progress when I learned to hold the violin correctly. If one is to look at the great violinist Heifetz, Milsten, Oistrakh, etc, they all held the violin without the use of a shoulder rest and played with great ease. Hefetz was against the use of a shoulder rest.

Again many very fine violinist use a shoulder rest, you can not rule out talent. I do feel personally that the older violinist played better they seemed to have more of an individual sound and the violin sounded better. When I watch films of Milsten Heifetz Oistrakh, Elman. The violin seemed to look easier and more natural and just sounded better.

October 23, 2006 at 08:34 PM · All three of those violinists used shoulder rests...just not ones that clamped onto the violin. They shoved thick pads under their coats.

"The violin should be rested on the collar bone, and held between the index finger and thumb..."

Look very carefully at this sentence. Why would anyone ever want to give their left hand more to do? To distract the thumb and first finger from their jobs of shifting, playing in tune, and balancing the violin to HOLD it, is just not sound teaching. Of course there are proper ways of playing the violin without a shoulder rest, but this is not it.

Preston

October 24, 2006 at 04:39 AM · Actually, Oistrakh and Grumiaux did use sholder rests - the small crescent-shape type. And this is coming to you from a srong proponent of NOT using a rest! BTW, I have a fairly long neck, though it doesn't look that way, because it's also a bit thick. I think SOME "restless" people MAY feel a bit superior. On the other hand, over the years, I've gotten so many surprized and uncomprehending looks from people seeing me not using one, as though it were an oddball thing to do. We're all trying to play the best we can. It seems only logical that IF we can play well with less aperatus and less weight attached to the violin, and more freedom, and more intimacy with the instrument, it would be preferable. On my website I have section under "writings" called "Fundamentals of holding the violin and bow". Early on in the left hand section I present an approach to playing without a rest, which is closely based on what Aaron Rosand taught me. See if this works for you.

http://rkviolin.com

October 23, 2006 at 11:05 PM · Greetings,

Grumiaux certainly used a pad . Oistrakh is not so simple, I think. he came across those dolland (?) pads when he first visited the USA and took them back for his studnets as well. But in my later video recordings of him he has gone back to beign padless .I have an old video of him performing in Tokyo at the end of his career and he is not using anything.. I cannot se ehim using a pad on any DVD currnelty availble of him.

But what these guys did use us sewn in padding in the jackets plus the lapels. taht add up to an awful lot of support with these stocky people. it certainly isn`t the same as making a virtue out of wearing just a tee shirt and picking up the instrument.

Cheers,

Buri

October 24, 2006 at 12:01 AM · How do you know they shoved thick pads under their coats? There are videos of violinists playing without coats, just a button up shirt

For example, look at this video of Menuhin playing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2Er7DI28X8

You can see his shoulder is not up, he's not wearing a suit so there is no pad, and he looks relaxed so he's not clamping anywhere. It sure looks to me like he's holding the instrument up with his left hand.

October 24, 2006 at 12:17 AM · Greetings,

because it has been mentioned time and time again by their students. Nor did I say that they did not play minus suport. I simply pointed out it was differnet.

Cannot see the poiint of your slightly combative tone.

I am just making mild observations. These debates are utterly fruitless and whoever has an agenda to puish almost invariably strats trying to prove others wrong. I have consistently written with accuarcy and fainess on this issuue for the last five years. I don`t think I am goping to waste any more time on it.

October 24, 2006 at 12:21 AM · I'm sorry, I did not mean to sound defensive/antagonistic.

October 24, 2006 at 01:44 AM · Would not using a shoulder rest make me able to play this thing--at least a little? I've already stood on my head, barked at the moon, tapped my heels together three times, carried a toad across moving water, helped the elderly, encouraged the young, washed my hair in water filtered through mossy oaks, and Jeeez, I even practiced. Oh well. Don't ever expect videos of me on Itube or whatever you call it. ;) al

just kidding. Actually though, because I'm a short stocky person, with thick shoulders, and equally short arms and small hands, I've really thought about doing away with it after I get (God please!), a little better.

October 24, 2006 at 02:14 AM · I've got a long neck and don't use a shoulder rest, but a high chinrest, from http://www.viva-sas.com/chin_about.htm. They come in various heights and can also be tilted to your requirements. I'm not advertising, have no connection with the firm, I just think it's a great product.

It's been great - no pain, because the violin rests on the collarbone, and the chinrest fills the gap to my jaw.

So don't be misled by the 'long neck' myth: it's not the shoulder rest, but the chinrest that should fill the space.

I do also use a foam pad to tilt the violin towards the bow, as otherwise I'd have to lift my right arm too high for the G string. This can lead to a shoulder impingment (right shoulder) and be painful and damaging). I got some pain, and my Dr said it was because the right arm was being raised above the horizontal for long periods. With the tilting foam pad, I still get the benefit of no hard shoulder rest raising the violin and restricting left shoulder movement. I cut the pad from an old piece of foam and strap it on with some elastic. Not elegant, but works very well.

October 24, 2006 at 02:50 AM · Hi,

Buri, Oistrakh did use the Poehland model C pad for a long time. He was fond of it. It is visible in the videos out on the market. About the Tokyo concert, I don't know, but the pad is visible in the rehearsal sequence.

Cheers!

October 25, 2006 at 02:23 AM · All three of those violinists used shoulder rests...just not ones that clamped onto the violin. They shoved thick pads under their coats.

"The violin should be rested on the collar bone, and held between the index finger and thumb..."

Look very carefully at this sentence. Why would anyone ever want to give their left hand more to do? To distract the thumb and first finger from their jobs of shifting, playing in tune, and balancing the violin to HOLD it, is just not sound teaching. Of course there are proper ways of playing the violin without a shoulder rest, but this is not it.

Preston

No Preston, you are wrong. First of all, "that teacher" studied extensively with Erick Friedman, so she knows what she's talking about. Yes, you can shift beautifully while holding the violin between index finger and thumb provided you work extensively on finger gymnastics (ie-lots of scales and arpegios).

October 25, 2006 at 03:05 AM · So, Thierry, you're saying that if you do a lot of extra work, you can compensate for dispensing with a piece of equipment that would have made that work unnecessary, yes? Sounds logical. I think you'll also find that if you dispense with the internal combustion engine, you can get around the resulting inconveniences using horses. After all, all the great people of the past used them - George Washington and Caesar, Shakespeare and Sir Isaac Newton. And walking is also a possibility. Let's all go dismantle engines, ok?

Oh, let's not forget that since "lifting the shoulder" is wrong, it therefore logically follows that making the height of the violin LESS will result in the shoulder being lifted...less? hmm. Something not quite right there, isn't there.

Here's a thought: perhaps the folks crippling themselves with shoulder rests are using them incorrectly? After all, a great many people play with shoulder rests and no injuries. And rather well.

October 25, 2006 at 02:16 PM · I don't know maybe it's me, but this seems very simple. If you feel comfortable playing without a shoulder rest, why would you need to switch to a shoulder rest?. On the other hand, if your uncomfortable playing without a shoulder rest [me], and then in the process you feel comfortable after trying a shoulder rest, why would you ever want to take it off and go back to being uncomfortabe again? Well here is a thought. Every once in a while I say, why do I need to have this shoulder rest to be able to play. So I take it off, and try experimenting a little. You know what I mean. I put the violin this way, then that way, then the collar bone routine. After 10 minutes, I'm almost ready to through the fiddle out the window. Guess what I do next, I put the shoulder rest back on. In my opinion, don't stress yourself out, do what works best for you.

October 25, 2006 at 01:13 PM · Juan,

Many of those "great violinists" used pads under their jackets. I have had classes with some of them like Stern and Perlman and seen them using pads or thick folded handkerchiefs. The only one that gave me a hard time about it was Pinchas Zukerman, he really chewed me up about them…

"And 50 - 60 years from now there will be a list just as long of performers who will be considered "great masters" who did use shoulder rests."

Amen to that! Progress is a great thing or else we would still be leaving in the dark ages and people would still be getting their brains bleed for the cure to migraines or using leaches for circulation!

I USE A KUN SR and LOVE IT.

I can play without one if I want... but I play for many hours every single day 7 days per week and find that the use of the SR has been saving me from future problems with my neck, etc... I also get a better sound from my violin when I have a shoulder rest on.

When teaching, I tend not to make to many changes to the age old question,

To SR or NOT to SR!

I have students that use them and others that do not. If a student plays with no SR and has no problems, why make him use one??? Leave it alone!!!

If they use one, properly, and are doing fine, I leave it alone and just make sure that he/she are using it correctly and teach them how to set it up properly. Sometimes I do com across students who do much better without a SR and others who definitely benefit from the use of a properly adjusted SR.

The violin is a very difficult instrument to learn, why make it complicated? If the SR works for you, leave it alone.

Just my 2 cents,

Regards,

Peter

PS: If I may, I will also include a bit of the contents of my book for beginners on the topic of SR:

__________________________________

When teaching or learning how to hold a violin properly, one should look for relaxation when determining if the violin hold is good. It is very important to first and foremost make sure the violin is comfortable! A slight inclination of the head to the left is all that is needed to keep it in place. Shoulders and back should remain relaxed at all times while you are in playing position and the neck and jaw should also be relaxed not strained or clenched. Place the violin carefully under your chin and rest it on your left shoulder - making sure your chin is resting on the chin rest.

Your violin teacher should spend a lot of time positioning the shoulder rest (use a shoulder rest only if needed) and the chin rest until the you can turn your head to the left a tiny bit and relax onto the chin rest without feeling any pain from pressure points such as the bars holding the chin rest onto the lower bout of the instrument.

Take your time! Do not let pressure or impatience, or your own frustration get in the way of the violin being comfortable and in the right position. Your posture should be upright and relaxed keeping in mind the “center line” (head to shoulder down to the hips and left leg and foot). Standing up straight is important for presentation reasons as well as health reasons. Proper posture will save you from future back and neck problems. When standing, your feet should be approximately shoulder width apart with your weight distributed evenly between them. It is important to keep your body in perfect balance! Once the student knows how to hold the violin properly, they can learn about fingering the notes.

Shoulder Rests______________________________________

Should I use a shoulder rest?

The use of shoulder rests, can sometimes be a controversial topic!

Violinists have, for the last century, been divided over the use of the shoulder rest. Some are against the use of shoulder rests because the placing of padding against the violin dampens the resonance of the instrument. Other violinists believe that it promotes incorrect left hand technique, limits the freedom of motion available to the left hand and arm, and causes the bow to contact the strings at the wrong angle.

However, today's shoulder rests touch the instrument only at the edges and actually let the instrument ring more freely than it does when pressed directly against the player's body. I believe the shoulder rest is an important invention that helps prevent injury. The height that you should setup your shoulder rest is determined by the length of your neck and height of the shin rest. The shoulder rest should fill the amount of space between your chin rest and jaw when the violin is placed on your shoulder.

I have a small neck, should I still use a shoulder rest?

If there is little or no space between your jaw and the chin rest when you have no shoulder rest, you may only need to use a thin sponge to help keep the violin from slipping off your shoulder. Sponges can be held against the back of the violin with an elastic.

What kind of shoulder rest do you recommend?

There are many brands in the market for you to choose from… I personally recommend KUN Shoulder Rests. I have been using KUN shoulder rests for many years! They are very sturdy and adjustable to the student's needs. When purchasing a shoulder rest you must get the correct size for the instrument (Ex: a 4/4 size violin requires a 4/4 size shoulder rest).

I can’t buy a shoulder rest at this time, what should I do?

You can simply get a sponge and a rubber-band and attach it to the violin. If you want to get a little nicer sponge rest, you can find very inexpensive ones at your local music store. A sponge or cushion is a big help for little violinists who will find the instrument uncomfortable to hold under their chin.

__________________________________________________

October 25, 2006 at 01:20 PM · "The only one that gave me a hard time about it was Pinchas Zukerman, he really chewed me up about them"

did you take your shoes off and make him try them and chew him up when they do not fit:)

October 25, 2006 at 01:25 PM · LOL, no, but you got a point! I should have...

Peter

October 25, 2006 at 02:12 PM · Good one Al Ku... Zukerman is a fine violinist, no doubt. However, I always detected he needs an attitude adjustment.

October 25, 2006 at 02:12 PM · Hi,

Peter - very nice post.

"Here's a thought: perhaps the folks crippling themselves with shoulder rests are using them incorrectly? After all, a great many people play with shoulder rests and no injuries. And rather well."

Emil - that is an excellent point.

Here's an analogy. A chainsaw is a very useful tool that can work very well. By itself, it can do nothing. In the right hands, it can do great things. In the wrong ones and used incorrectly it can cause trememdous damage. Is the chainsaw to blame? No. Just how it is used. I think the same can be said of the SR. I think that it can be helpful. It should not take away from holding the violin correctly, balancing it in the hand and finding the right geometry. But, for me, it helps in removing some stress from the hand and shoulder during shifts. I can play without and have, but like Oistrakh find that the little gadget helps.

However, that said, I can see why many people might believe that the SR could cause injury. I see it more often misplaced and misused then the other way around. But perhaps that has more to do with the user than the tool... Just a thought.

Cheers!

October 25, 2006 at 02:14 PM · thanks for the warm reception to a silly suggestion:) not trying to be disrespectful to zukerman, or giving bad influence to future master class victims, ops, did i say that:)

if you people are going to practice 10 hours a day for 10 years, be comfortable-- put a king size pilliow there if you have to.

the placebo effect has long been established at 30%. that is not small change. put the shoulder rest on, think of some positive thoughts and you will be fine.

heifeitz et al did not use rests because they did not know better. ops, did i say that?

if you want to play like heifeitz, try do take care of the other 99 things:) ouch.

October 25, 2006 at 07:43 PM · Thanks Emil. Well put.

Thierry,

No I'm not wrong. Sorry, but I'm not. One SHOULD NOT "hold" the violin between the thumb and first finger. It's common sense. It doesn't matter with whom this person who told you this studied. I knew Friedman's methods (and was aquainted with him myself) and I know many of his former students. And although I don't subscribe to much of his teaching/ideas, I can't imagine he would advocate someone HOLDING the violin between the thumb and first finger. One balances the violin there but does not hold it. Holding the violin with your left hand only causes increased tension (the violin isn't weightless after all) and adds more for the left hand to do. Imagine trying to play the Brahms violin concerto while "holding" the instrument.

Preston

October 25, 2006 at 09:00 PM · Erick Friedman did not advocate "holding" the violin with the left hand, he very much talked about being very confortable and "free" to move around the fingerboard, so the left hand just helped balace or promote very minor support as Preston mentions.

Professor Friedman had a great ability to express, without preparation, essential musical ideas into wonderful analogies.

Preston take a look at our "young" professor with Mr. "H" : http://youtube.com/watch?v=uXRlnO3K3hk

Regards,

Peter

October 25, 2006 at 09:32 PM · Here's another good link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PP3xfi1eHnY&NR

October 26, 2006 at 12:38 AM · My daughter has started to move away from using a shoulder rest, with the guidance of her teacher. She isn't having any trouble adjusting in regard to the left hand, and she reports how much better it makes her bow arm feel.

Her teacher wanted to her to try playing without a shoulder rest in order to relax her right shoulder. She has a tendency to tense and raise her right shoulder and it seems without the shoulder rest -- because of the lowered height of the strings relative to her bow arm -- it is easier for her to keep her right shoulder relaxed.

This returns me back to a point others have made, which is the most apparent physical difference in playing with or without a shoulder rest: the height of the strings relative to the bow arm.

October 26, 2006 at 12:57 AM · I strongly advocate the use of a shoulder rest, but I don't know everything, and I can't play with other people's bodies, so I can't speak definitively. When I become omnicient, I will tell you the correct answer for sure.

October 26, 2006 at 03:46 AM · Hold the violin? Not really. The thing weighs about 200g, most of which is held by the collarbone. The thumb and root of the first finger simple touch the neck of the violin, which also helps me find positions etc. Also: the higher the violin is held, the less weight is held by the hand and the more by the collarbone. Very much easier for shifting.

Another point: without a shoulder rest, I find it easier to keep the violin high (i.e. strings horizontal to ground). When I need a left arm rest, I just bring the violin down for a few seconds. When I used a shoulder rest, the rest (rather than I) determined how high the violin was.

October 26, 2006 at 09:35 AM · It's wonderful that we don't get tired of posting on this subject. This summer I became enchanted by the idea of playing without a SR, having played with one for 20 years. I posted here for some advice and asked some of my collegues "in the know", shut my eyes and.... made the leap.... Took the SR out of the case. after several weeks of perpetual change of objects under the shirt/jacket/coat,etc... my setup was: a sponge under the jacket + piece of non slippery material under the fiddle. I became fairly confortable and could play on the stage within 2 months. The feeling I had was similar to swimming naked. Freedom.

Then I had to perform under competition conditions in the end of September and just as a matter of precaution I took the SR with me... Now I play with one again.

Having had this experiece made me realize that there are clear benefits in both with and without. And probably being able to hold the fiddle in the "authentic" style would clarify a few things concerning bow/string angle, amount of left hand finger pressure on the string and ultimately make you a more aware violinist. As a result of this little experiment I realized for myself that there is no definite answer to this age-old question and the choice in the end of the day is upon our humble violinists' shoulders (literally).

October 27, 2006 at 12:37 AM · I've read every post and suggest the following:

Whether using a rest or not, the principals don't change. It's called a shoulder rest, not a "shoulder work" If freedom is better served with one, use it- if not don't. Otherwise, shut up and play- your points will either vindicate themselves or not, fairly simple. I personally like almost nothing, but when I'm out of shape, NOTHING is comfortable and when I'm in shape, it doesn't really matter. Can we agree on this?

October 27, 2006 at 03:06 PM · While in school, I tried not using a rest for a semester. It was horrible and, although I got pretty good at dealing with the inconvenience and "handicap" of not having it, I eventually went back to using the rest. When I started using the rest again though, I realized two things. One, I'm really glad I got a chance to play around with balance, left hand issues etc without the rest because I really did understand those things better after that experience. Two, it's a shame that nobody mentioned (at that time... I know it's been mentioned here) that many "restless" people stuff foam into their shirts, jackets etc.

October 28, 2006 at 04:17 AM · "It's not a Shoulder Work..."

Haha! I like that.

February 14, 2007 at 12:51 AM · Please don't shoot me for resurrecting this thread!

I have a different problem from the original poster. I have never played without a shoulder rest before, but I'm wondering if becoming "restless" could help me. When I try to play legato pieces with a lot of vibrato, I end up clamping down on the instrument too hard with my neck and chin in order to hold the instrument up without using my left hand to do so. This gives me tension in my head, neck, and back after 20-30 minutes of playing. And it screws up my vibrato. It's even worse with viola, which is bigger and heavier.

But I try taking the shoulder rest off and I can't seem to hold it up at all with just my collarbone. Most of the weight of the instrument then falls on my left hand/arm, and then I can't use vibrato, or shift.

February 14, 2007 at 12:51 AM · Please don't shoot me for resurrecting this thread!

I have a different problem from the original poster. I have never played without a shoulder rest before, but I'm wondering if becoming "restless" could help me. When I try to play legato pieces with a lot of vibrato, I end up clamping down on the instrument too hard with my neck and chin in order to hold the instrument up without using my left hand to do so. This gives me tension in my head, neck, and back after 20-30 minutes of playing. And it screws up my vibrato. It's even worse with viola, which is bigger and heavier.

But I try taking the shoulder rest off and I can't seem to hold it up at all with just my collarbone. Most of the weight of the instrument then falls on my left hand/arm, and then I can't use vibrato, or shift.

February 14, 2007 at 02:01 AM · OK..the quick answer again: You probably need something, foam, some kind of padding, perhaps a shoulder rest would be best for you.

Let the violin rest on your collarbone, relax your shoulder and with the violin held in playing position with your left hand have someone check to see how much space is between the back of the violin and the top of your shoulder; the lower place between your collarbone and the deltoid muscle itself.

This little space should be filled with something; i use a piece of foam.

You have to get used to helping support the violin with your left hand while keeping your left shoulder absolutely relzxed. The violin should rest on the base joint of your left index finger. Now just walk around and get used to holding it like this. Then just bow open strings. Then just play first position scales without vibrato. Only after you are comfortable with all of this setup should you try shifting and vibrato. Your left hand has to play a more active role in supporting the violin but it does work together with your jaw and shoulder. Support shifts between your left hand, your shoulder (pad) and your jaw. The collarbone always supports the violin.

I am working on a more detailed draft of all this and if you want to look at it why don't you email me.

February 14, 2007 at 03:08 AM · Greetings,

I`ve always been in complete agreement with Michael on this issue.

The only point I would add is in the realms of the way we think about shoulder rests. There is a marked trend these days for rests to be marketed as `ergonomically designed to fit the shoulder blah blah` . This is nonsense since everybody`s physique is different. But what makes me think this is unhelpful is that it encourages for some reason the belief that since the rest is `correct` the palyer adapts to the rest. The only effective way of getting a rest to work for you is to have corretc use of the body, eveyrthing beuatifully balanced and aligned. Then everything relse has to adapt to that. I have often found that less -ergonmic- rest sthen seem to work best because they are a constant reminder to the player they are just an aid, not somehting that fits like a glove and keeps eevrything in the -correct- place.

Cheers,

Buri

February 14, 2007 at 03:02 AM · Karen,

Check and see if you have a TINY bit of space between the violin and your neck. Being able to fit a finger between your neck and the violin should be enough, just enough that you're not cramming it into your neck. A commom problem I see, (and that I had back in high school - it caused a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders at the time) is to push the violin too far into the neck. This actually might cause the scroll to droop and the violin feels less secure even though the intended effect is to have a better hold on the instrument.

Also, on some passages, take your head off the chinrest for a bit while you're playing to release the tension. (Careful not to do this when making big shifts, etc!) I think it was Oistrahk who used to do this and he looked pretty relaxed. I've found it helps me relax too.

-Laura

February 14, 2007 at 03:13 AM · Oh, and maybe you need a diffferent chinrest. I switched to the Whittner?? Hypo-allergenic chinrest several months ago and it is the most AMAZINGLY comfortable chinrest ever!!!!! I can play with or without a shoulder rest with it.

-Laura

February 14, 2007 at 03:54 AM · I'm glad Karen asked this question again because this is my burning question as well but just didn't have the guts to raise it. I've been trying playing without rest for the last a few weeks after read all the posttings on this matter. I definitely need a foam so I made myself a half-moon shaped foam covered with fine lamb skin with elastic bands on both sides so that one attaches to chinrest and the other attaches to the left corner of the violin body. I know this sounds like I'm just using a different rest, softer and lower than the Kun, but I call this a transitional period rest and eventually, I'll probably only use a piece of lamb skin to prevent slippery. I do notice that my neck and jaw are more relaxed now, maybe because I don't depend on my head to keep the violin stable all the time. My vibrato and shift are not as easy as used to be, but I'm working on that.

Michael, I'd love to read more what you've written on this matter. I'm really looking forward to playing well and rest free.

Oh yes, I've got a higher chinrest, which is definitely a plus.

Thanks you all who have brought me to this new adventure.

February 14, 2007 at 04:27 AM · Greetings,

Yixi, in his book `Violin and Viola ` (with Primrose, Menuhin discusses an aspetc of tehcnique in a way I have never sen anywhere else. He talks about how every action has an opposite action. Thus to shift upwards the forarm moves towards the nose and the upper towards the forarm away from the nose. So far so good.

However, in order for the upper arm to make this small movemnt it is necessray to prepare the space between the shoudler and the instrument by dropping the shoulder back and down a little. When shifting down the rverse is necessray. IE the forarm moves away from the nose and the upper arm, shoulde rmoves ack towards the nose. In order to do this a slight prepartion is necessray prior to the shift of moving the shoulde rforward. This sounds terribly elaborate but in his lesson in the back of the book Menuhin tells a student that whenever he hears a bad shift (in this case in the mendelssohn) it is because of this slight lack of shoulder preparation, making space for the shift. That is a remarkably strong claim . I have found it to be true in virtually every case i have explored in my own playign and in my students. The tehcnique is probably not necessray if you use a rest which is why I suspect it is not discusse dso much. It is well worth getting the book and exploring this.

Cheers,

Buri

February 14, 2007 at 04:51 AM · Thank you so much Buri. I just checked at the library of our local university which has a copy of the book. I'll take a look at it.

February 14, 2007 at 09:08 AM · Michael, I'll have to show you the huge space I have between my violin and my shoulder there, and how I'm set up so that it works just fine that way. It can work very well, but there are a couple of other things that factor into the equation, which I am not at liberty to discuss on the internet. ( Okay, no. :) Really, I just can't find enough words right now, and a simple demo would be easier.)

See you at rehearsal!

February 14, 2007 at 08:07 AM · To add to what Buri wrote, Menuhin used neither a shoulder rest NOR a hankerchief or pad. He did not want there to be any tension at the chin.

Also, he held the neck of his violin higher than the butt, so shifting upwards was helped slightly by gravity.

February 14, 2007 at 08:37 AM · Just want to say hi to a fellow Jasper. :)

February 14, 2007 at 08:52 AM · You two related?

February 15, 2007 at 12:20 AM · Not that I know of... but according to my Grandpa Jasper, it's an uncommon name; in our case, an Ellis-Islandism from Polish or Yiddish or something.

February 16, 2007 at 07:55 AM · Well Ive decided to speak up:

I used to be a strong advocate for a shoulder rest. I was able to convince and convert many of my friends from no shoulder rest to shoulder rest. I thought that it was stupid not to use it since it made everything so much easier......so I thought. Recently I have been going to many college auditions and have completely changed my opinion on this subject. Every professor that I have taken a lesson from told me that the shoulder rest was a uselss contraption. In different words they all expressed how the use of a shoulder rest tilts the violin and does not allow you to use the same ammount of arm weight when you don't use one. Also they all told me of how, for many, it causes uneeded tension and bad habbits (since sometimes it allows you to get away with much much more that without it when you are lazy).

So I decided it was time to try not using a shoulder rest. After a couple of minutes of trying to find the right way to hold the violin it became completely comfortable. I think that this will be how I play from now on. My left hand has, out of need, stopped curving the wrong way and I now hold the violin much more relaxed. Also I have reduced the ammount of strenght I use in my left hand and I don't clutch anymore. This has helped many aspects of my playin: speed, shifts, and overall cleanliness of passages. Also there is something about having the vibrations of the string and wood run through your body that cannot be equal. It is as if you and the violin begin to breathe together.

Now, I also belive that it strongly relies on the player. As I said before I have been able to convert many of my friends to using shoulder rest. In their case their playing was improved with the shoulder rest. They are able to relax a lot more.

In the end it comes to personal preference not neck lenght since I have a fairly high neck and it doesn't bother me not to have a shouder rest or overall superiority of one or the other. I know many great violinist who both use and ignore the soulder rest and it all comes down to the player. Just like strings teachers or even violins what is right for one violinist is almost never right for the next.

Well thats about all I have to say here so Im off to practice a bit before I lay down to sleep. Still have a couple of auditons to go!!

February 16, 2007 at 08:28 AM · Glad to hear that Mario. I wonder, did you by any chance play for Aaron Rosand? He is a strong opponent to the shoulder rest. As you will discover, by playing without a rest you will be able to generate much more volume - volume which was lost with a shoulder rest if you do not hold the violin up with your shoulder. The shoulder can dampen the natural ring of the instrument if there's too much contact or clenching. The players I’ve heard with the greatest tonal projection do not use rests. Also there are more overtones in the sound when no shoulder rest is used. This can perhaps explain why players of the past like Heifetz, Rabin, Kreisler, and Elman all had such recognizable tones. Auer wrote in his book that at least 50% of the violin’s natural volume is lost when a shoulder rest is used. I remember reading a study written in either Strings Magazine or Strad showing how the violin actually resonates off of the lungs when no shoulder rest is used. I found that bit quite interesting.

February 16, 2007 at 02:55 PM · ANY chance that the monitors could put a six-month (or six-year) moritorium on this topic? Just send everyone who starts a shoulder rest question a polite blanket reply stating that respondents willingly agree to disagree on this. Sue

February 18, 2007 at 05:50 AM · Actually the teachers that I have plaid for, all who have told me to get rid of my shoulder rest, were Hourotine Bedelian form UCI Yuval Yaron from UCSB Ilya Kaler from DePaul and my own violin teacher who didn't really tell me to get rid of it but suggested I try going without one for a while. So after hearing it so many times I thought "You know, there must be something to this 'No shoulder rest' thing"

February 19, 2007 at 01:39 AM · I will add my two cents worth.

I really think that how you use one is more important than if you use one.

February 19, 2007 at 09:08 PM · I would certainly go with what Kaler and Yaron said.

February 21, 2007 at 05:20 AM · I am still alternating between the two (mainly because I need to find a good, convenient pad). The problem with shoulder rests is that they do not sit on your collar bone (where the distance to the chin is smallest), but they sit further out along the violin and actually rest on your shoulder. This is why they have to be set up like scaffolding to give the same support as a smaller pad. And then you can't move your shoulder as freely, tending to "lock up", and your position changing and difficult double stops become harder.

An ideal pad would be one which gives the right height, and which hangs off the pin so you don't drop it every time you turn a page or something. A rest is more convenient that way. If the pad is too big, and sits more on the back than on the "corner" of the back plate / ribs, then you will damped the sound a little.

February 21, 2007 at 07:24 AM · Have you ever heard of the "Play On Air"......well they call it a shoulder rest but its just basically an air pouch that attaches to the violin. Its actually very comfortable and doesn't fall off or cause any inconvinience. You should check it out. They sell them at sharmusic......i think.

Hope that helps,

Mario Arango

February 21, 2007 at 07:58 AM · I found an interesting point on Stephen Redrobe's website:

"contact of the back of the fiddle - even with a sponge - and the shoulder, will cause the air inside your lungs to amplify the sound. It has the opposite effect of the much-believed dampening. Indeed the shoulder rest stops this phenomenon from occurring"

February 21, 2007 at 11:39 AM · Kevin, that's really interesting. Surely it must be true that parts of the body would act as resonators.

One small correction- it wouldn't be the air inside the lungs. Rather, it would be the same parts as with singing: The bones (chest & head), and the cavities of the throat & sinuses.

Another related point: When singing, one must be extremely relaxed so that no muscles impede the bones from vibrating, or from transmitting vibration to the cavities. With the violin, surely the same would be true. Thus, this is another reason to be as relaxed as possible when playing, especially at the chin & neck.

This also raises the possibility that one can slightly modify the sound of one's playing by changing it's angle to the body, and the downward force of the chin, since these will slightly change the vibrational transmission.

This is really a whole new can of worms. Some experimentation is definitely in order!

February 21, 2007 at 01:16 PM · i agree that some experimentation is in order because the sound effect on the player may be more obvious to some players than others and we also need to acknowledge that the degree of player bias also varies from person to person. in addition, the difference to a listener 60 feet away is often more important than to the player if what matters is the outcome in solo concert hall performance.

i suspect most players who choose the shoulder rest-less route feel more comfortable with the setup and feel the violin sounds better to themselves. (is it possible that it sounds better because the setup feels better?) something as simple as this,,,i have yet to come across a study of decent size that explores the effects on the listeners in a scientific way.

as far as the body serving as a resonator,,,it is at best a theory at this juncture. it is a giant leap to associate what we feel under the chin with what people hear at the backseat of a hall.

February 21, 2007 at 04:14 PM · I don't think it's such a leap, Al. The human voice would be TINY if there were no sympathetic vibration from the body & head.

I just ran a small test, and the difference is indeed noticeable, though small:

I simply recorded open strings, with & without the violin touching my shoulder/chin. I used an omni mic, fairly close.

The sound is definitely slightly fuller when touching the shoulder. There's not much difference at all in the top end. One can also feel quite clearly that the chest bones vibrate quite a bit, while the head (surprisingly) does not.

Note: I use no rest, not even a pad nor sponge, so the coupling to my shoulder bone is quite solid. I suspect, despite Stephen Redrobe's opinion, that a foam pad would indeed diminish the vibration transmission a great deal.

Menuhin used no pad or sponge, and his sound was rather full and sweet. A coincidence? Hmmm .....

February 21, 2007 at 02:09 PM · Some people think that the clamping of the shoulder rest on the bottom bouts hinders the vibration of the instrument and affects the tone. I haven't heard any proof of that. When I see the proof I will make up my mind.

All I care about is that playing with a shoulder rests leaves the left hand free to finger and reduces fatigue in the left arm.

It's hard enough holding this little box at an awkward angle to your neck without having to keep it elevated as well as fingering it!

February 21, 2007 at 02:34 PM · allan, i think what you are describing is in the right direction, but not necessarily the right approach to test the theory.

first of all, in my opinion, any test that should be blinded and can be blinded but not blinded is essentially an observation without much power statistically. in other words, it is a conversation piece, not enough to extrapolate further, not reliable enough.

this topic of sr vs no sr is a very very complicated issue with so many confounding factors that can be easily overlooked. i will give you couple that come to mind:

1. everyone without shoulder rest contacts the violin from not exactly the same body part, and possibly not the similar area, or similar area in size. if we are to compare subtle sound differences, we need to control the variables.

2. some people have more cushion in the shoulder area, some don't, thus quality of the contact can be very different.

3. for all those not using sr, some use more chin contact, some don't. some use more chin pressure, some don't.

4. i can go on an on, but i think you got the point, that, it is very difficult to standardize the setup of the test. way too much inter-player variability.

also, you are an engineer i take,,,just because some great players sound great without sr really does not say much.

one very elementary test that i can think of is to think small and deal with one person at a time, by measuring the violin vibration, sr or not. answer the simple question: does the violin vibrate differently, not to our feel, but to machine probes? forget about the acoustic inference for now.

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