Shoulder rest problems
I promise I do not want this to be a SR vs. No-SR battle. I also assure you all that the problem I am about to describe is one that I have worked on already with three teachers and two violin shops.
I cannot find a way to play with a shoulder rest. I have tried a total 15 different models with the assistance of one instructor and one very experienced violinist who runs her own violin store. Between those people, I have also tried three different chin rests, including trying to custom modify one of them.
The problems I have are these: every shoulder rest tilts the violin forward on such an angle that it drives the back edge of the chin rest up into the rearmost corner of my jaw (ramus), causing pain because that's the only part of my jaw then in contact with the chin rest to hold the violin with the weight of my head. If I try sliding the G-string side of the shoulder rest further out on my shoulder to reduce the height at my neck, it just slides of the end of my shoulder and makes the violin rotate away or slide down my arm.
Also, even ignoring that problem, every shoulder rest causes the violin to rotate forward (spinning clockwise if viewed from above), when I move my arm, causing my chest muscles to push the bottom end of the shoulder rest away. For instance, I read that you should be able to hold your violin comfortably with just chin and collarbone, and reach over with your left hand to touch your right shoulder. If I do that, the violin rotates the scroll to the right, causing it to slip down my chest.
I currently have mounted the Flesch chin rest (I believe, completely covers tailpiece, center mounted), and have been trying to use the Mach One shoulder rest. That set-up is the most recent one given to me by the last violin shop. She said my overall violin hold was good, and swore this was the right combination for me.
I later showed my own private teacher, who noticed the problems I described above, but who had no ideas what to do about it. She even said she'd have to go ask her own teacher for thoughts or suggestions.
All that said, I've spent a lot of time playing without a shoulder rest at all, and I do best like that, because at least the violin isn't trying to fall out of my hand constantly. However, I've gotten to the point that I just can't seem to progress any further because of the excessive tension in my left side, all the way from shoulder to fingers. My teacher believes a shoulder rest would help this, and since I've spent a lot of time trying to consciously relax my shoulder while I play, without any progress, I tend to agree with her.
For what it's worth, I have narrow shoulders (3" narrower than average for adult males), and a short neck (about 1" shorter than the adult male average). My clavicle is not "well-padded," but instead the violin bout sits right on it, wood to bone with just the thinnest layer of skin. The height and fit of my chin rest are such that without a shoulder rest, the angle of my jaw matches the cut of the chin rest perfectly with my violin resting directly on my collarbone, and all of the angles seem perfect. And I barely have to nod my head down at all to make the match.
In fact, it's an extremely comfortable fit as long as I don't have the shoulder rest on there. But it leaves a very large gap out toward the end of the shoulder and edge of the chest, and there's no way I can hold the violin in place for even a passing moment without my left hand supporting it.
As I'm feeling now, I can't find a way to play with a shoulder rest, nor can I find a way to play without one. If I'm happy where I'm at, playing simplified versions of traditional Christmas carols, I could just give up on progressing, but I'm not satisfied with that. I'm currently on exercise 4 in Suzuki Book 2, and have been at this 6 months. I'm a 40 y/o beginner, with some musical background, but no other string instruments.
Yes, I mentioned three teachers. The first one couldn't figure out how to get me fitted with shoulder rest/chin rest combo, conceded that maybe I would do better without a SR, but wasn't willing to try to teach me that way because she had no idea how to play that way herself. On to teacher 2. He was willing to try to teach me without, but just really didn't seem like a very good teacher, and kept moving me on to two new Suzuki exercises each week no matter how poorly I felt I'd played my current assignment.
My current teacher is awesome, and she's willing to try to help me learn without a SR, but I know she thinks I need one. Every time I run into a hurdle, she tries to figure out everything ELSE it could before she finally says she thinks it's the lack of a shoulder rest. And even then, when she finally says it, she seems to feel apologetic. She knows how frustrating it is for me, and is trying to work with it, but I think she's at a loss, too.
Can some people just not play the violin? Are some bodies just so poorly adapted that it just can't work? I really would find tat hard to believe, but I honestly don't know what more to try.
Okay, that was seriously long, but it covers six-months' worth of experimenting, so there's a lot to say. I hope someone out there might read this and have some miraculous idea. I'm not holding out too much hope, because as I said, 3 teachers, 2 violin shops, 15 shoulder rests and 4 chin rests...
I am no expert, but I seem to see at least one avenue that is unexplored. That would be using a sponge either under your shirt or attached to the violin with a rubber band. Others on this site may be able to advise concerning similar possibilities. We all feel your frustration; good luck coming to a happy resolution of this issue.
Oh, sorry. I forgot to mention I've tried that too. The "sponge" consisted of the foam part of a dry erase board eraser. I also tried small sheets of rubber used as jar openers, suede pads, microfiber cloths and various combinations of those things, to get both different thicknesses and textures.
My vote is also on experiment with a sponge...
I suppose one can "jerry-rig" these things, but my suggestions below are based on my own violin experience over many. many years and observations of others.
Ted, ideally, you should be able to turn your head to the left ever so slightly, and the violin should fit snuggly into the area between your collarbone and chin, without lifting the shoulder or bending your neck down to meet the instrument. If you can do that, you have a proper setup. If you cannot, I would recommend looking into a higher chinrest, or using a bit of foam rubber like Isaac Stern demonstrates here in this video. Many others like Zimbalist, Rosand, Gingold, and Zukerman also have used a bit of foam rubber under the instrument, shirt or jacket, instead of a shoulder rest bar like a Kun, which in my opinion is absolute crap for your body due to their rigidity:
First of all, the chinrest.
What level are you playing at, OP, and how long have you played?
Have you tried the Bon Musica? I had the twisting/spinning problem until I figured out exactly at what angle the SR should be on the violin. Once I did figure that out, bingo! Works great and I can't live without it!
You seem to have tried a bunch of options; have you tried the kreddle chinrest and the recently released kreddle cushion? The cushion is not exactly a cushion, and it’s definitely not a shoulder rest either — seems interesting. The chinrest is extremely customizable. Could be worth a look.
Erik Williams: 6 months. At the third exercise in Suzuki book 2.
I understand. My daughter owns more shoulder rests and chin rests than I can count. The kreddle chinrest isn’t exactly cheap, it’s true, and I don’t know if it’s readily available at shops (the folks I know who have it purchased it directly). Same for the kreddle cushion, which only became available in the past month or two. If you’re interested, and don’t want to shell out the bucks, the maker has some lengthy but informative videos you can watch. And there’s also a more just the facts setup video by a violin teacher on YouTube.
I second the recommendation for AcoustaGrip, which my son is using after a more standard rigid shoulder rest. And somewhat similar I am now using a Perfect Shoulder Rest, which is a shaped foamy thing that could be just the ticket for you - it's soft and flexible but gives support beyond no SR. And best of it's it's less than $10. I have tried different options over the years and I'm leaning away from the rigid shoulder rest approach, though it obviously works for some people.
This thread already looks like a "yes, but" game, but let me participate, just for fun of it...
My girl plays without a shoulder rest as she has a short neck and narrow shoulders. She is young but maybe the same solution would be something for you to explore.
Great suggestions above. This is a very complicated and sometimes difficult-to-solve issue. Perhaps you could try a sponge/pad thing that's extremely thin on the shoulder side and a little thicker on the chest side? Maybe you could try cutting something to toy with (a lot of work)?
Experts aren't always right. It's worth it to give the Bon Musica a try. It takes a little experimenting to find the sweet spot. Perhaps your expert just didn't have much experience with it.
Here's a fairly extreme configuration of my ex-Bonmusica. it is very adaptable! (Ignore the height of the Wave chinrest. I've since chopped it down to almost half that height and love it.)
P.S. If someone could point me in the right direction for instructions on how to set a hyperlink here, I'd be appreciative :-)
Ted - have you considered taking up the cello?
Gabriel Soloff, thanks. I'll look at that. And thanks for the confidence. I've been sitting here wondering how long until someone told me my solution is to just play cello!
Ted, I feel your pain because I too experienced that same pain. I came up with a different solution. See my profile for more info on that.
If you're planning to spend a fortune on these plastic violin jaw braces anyways, you may as well just buy a Kréddle and save yourself the pain of fiddling with shoulder rests.
Cotton, I've seen your praise for the Kreddle before. Can you elaborate on its qualities?
Another 2 centimes d'Euro..
You don't need a shoulder rest at all. The Kréddle can be set high enough to completely eliminate that need (I know, I have a very long neck). In fact, it's better overall to play without a shoulder rest, because it brings the violin closer to your body and makes it so your shoulders don't have to work as hard to get your hands up to the height of the violin. It also gives you a lot more mobility and freedom in how you hold the violin.
Cotton, I get your point and your logic. However, I don't want this to become a shoulder-rest war. The decision to use or not to use a shoulder rest is very personal and is based on the individual's body type and preferences as Rocky mentioned above. Some people need a little extra padding underneath even if their chin rest fills the entire space between collarbone and chin because there is not enough of a secure connection between the violin and their body. I believe that when looking for an ideal setup, one should keep all their options open, including playing restless. However, one should not be pushed in any direction by anyone other than someone who is good at evaluating setup (e.g a violin teacher or violin shop).
The thought I am having is to work on the left-side tension without the violin in place. Your body has a habit that involves the tension. You need to figure that out because when the tension is released your posture and measurements will change - and then all the setup work you have done will need to be changed again.
I think Laura's suggestion is a good one, and that stance and overall posture could be the problem. Practice good standing and sitting posture, and go from there.
As Ella said, I do have a set-up that fills the entire space comfortably between the chin and collarbone. My current chin rest already is very comfortable and seems to fit my jaw well. With my violin resting on my collarbone right up against my neck, I don't have to do anything more than turn my head slightly to the left to have my jaw slide smoothly into the cup of the chin rest. So filling the space there isn't the issue, because there is no excess space.
What it gives you over your current chinrest is complete customizability on every axis. You can adjust height, horizontal position, pitch, roll, and yaw, and you can set the joints more loose so that the plate is free to move somewhat while you play.
As I understand it (admittedly, again, a beginner), the chin rest is supposed to fill the space from collarbone to jaw, while the shoulder rest is supposed to fill the space between shoulder and violin when it's held with the strings parallel to the floor.
Ted, you are right that the chin rest and shoulder rest serve different purposes. That said, Cotton is right about the kreddle's capabilities. However, since it sounds like your current chinrest is working for you, I would not advise buying the kreddle in your shoes unless you want to try. The kreddle is surely the world's most adjustable chinrest, but even then, not every single person is going to like it. It just provides a lot of customization, which is an advantage. Does your violin rotate forward like you describe without a shoulder rest? Maybe you could try something that sits firmly on your chest in the region just below your collarbone that doesn't really cover your shoulder? For me personally, my shoulder rest sits firmly on my chest just below the collarbone and goes up over it. The left end of the shoulder rest basically just hangs over my shoulder and doesn't even touch it. This could hold true for you, but I can't be certain without seeing you playing, of course.
My suspicion is that if anything needs customising, it's the shoulder-rest, not the chin-rest.
Cotton I'm not sure about your "coffin" analogy. I've played viola & violin with stubby fingers, sloping shoulders, and various SRs for half a century and no-one has described my playing as "dead"!
Shoulder rests can be stiffling, but usually only when used improperly. Holding the violin "restless", while theoretically ideal, can also be done inappropriately and lead to pain and discomfort. Both can be proven to be right or wrong depending on the player and usage.
Ted, why do you feel the need to be able to have your violin supported without any help from the left hand? If you are using a SR, the amount of effort required by the left hand as an assist is quite minimal. Even without a SR, the weight supported by the left hand would be roughly only half of the weight of the violin.
- Every single restless player I know, or have seen, uses his-or-her shoulder to hold up the instrument part of the time (even those in videos chosen a while back by Alex Marcus to prove the contrary!)
In case you haven't tried this already in your homemade pad experiments - I made mine out of shelf/drawer liner like this (sorry, I haven't figured out how to post a clickable link):
I didn't have time to read all the foregoing right now, or even Mr. Lemerande's entire OP. But one phrase grabbed me: "Every shoulder rest tilts the violin forward on such an angle that it drives the back edge of the chin rest up into the rearmost corner of my jaw."
Oh how familiar. I went through the same thing and, yes, eventually ditched the stupid contraption. There followed a period of groping more than playing but now I can't imagine putting that straight-jacket back on. Note, this is only for me -if you can play with an SR power to you, it IS easier and good luck to you but the post above is all too familiar.
Like many violists I have the axis of the viola pointing to the little hollow at the centre of my neck; that, plus The Tilt, means my right eye looks right down the C-string. So instead of a central chinrest I use a much-filed Teka . No discomfort, no hickey, no tension.
I had ditched my SR after about 1 year of playing because I noticed none of the great violin masters used it. haha
Bravo to Zile Ran for a succinct summary! Baroque players who play with the chin off also figured out the use of the left-hand thumb in instrument support and shifting. And that's pretty much how people have played the violin up to the high-Baroque era and beyond.
Use what works best for you. There are many excellent soloists who don't use a SR...and many who do.
Sorry if it sounded like I was projecting moral superiority, I honestly don't care whether people use SRs or not. I was just sharing my experience because the OP said every SR he tried didn't work for him.
Also about the kreddle products:
Following up on Tom's post about the Kaufman chinrest - my violin sits flatter with my current Kaufman chinrest than with my previous chinrest, which was about the same height but a different shape.
"I wonder if the ability to play without a shoulder rest or pad has to do with the size and prominence of the collarbone."
So, for anyone still reading and interested, here's the latest from my last lesson. I suggested to my teacher that I was willing to spend the entire lesson just sorting this out, even if we didn't get to play anything. She agreed that was probably a good idea... no point continuing to fret over constant experiments any more than necessary. Understand that some experimentation is necessary, but not blindly.
That's great the you have been able to figure out what you need (or rather, what you don't need!) Sounds like you have a very helpful teacher.
I think I do. She was stumped for a few weeks, but after she thought a bit and I got some suggestions to consider from all of you on here, it kind of clicked.
We learn a lot from our students!
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