Playing Without a Shoulder Rest Question

Edited: February 19, 2019, 7:32 PM · I have a shoulder rest that I use, but lately I've been finding it more comfortable to play without it, but i have a question.

It hurts when I play without a shoulder rest if I place the violin directly on top of my collarbone, but If I rest the violin just under my collarbone it feels fine.

What I mean specifically is that I rest the rear bottom of the violin so the bottom purfling near the button, just outside of the metal chinrest clamp, nestles underneath my collarbone and "fits" in there just right. The middle of the violin between the top and bottom purflings is butt up against my collarbone.

It's true that the violin sits slightly lower than it would if it were rested on top of my collarbone or with the shoulder rest, but it's very comfortable for me and I don't forsee any problems with it unless you folks can think of some.

So I guess my question is, is this okay? Is it going to torpedo my technique if I hold it this way, or am I fine to continue doing what I'm doing? I can always go back to my shoulder rest if I need to.

EDIT: Here is a video of me playing the way I described.

Replies (46)

Edited: February 19, 2019, 2:54 AM · Two questions that immediately popped into my mind reading this:

1. How does shifting up and down + vibrato feel in that position?

2.Are you raising your shoulder to compensate for the lower resting point? Check in a mirror and don't just go by feel. What about tilting your head at weird angles to brace the violin on the chin rest?

Are you playing standing or seated? I can't really picture this and imagine it working unless I was slouched backwards, but everyone's body is a little different and I don't have an instrument in front of me to try it.

February 19, 2019, 3:10 AM · Michael,

1. I haven't learned shifting or vibrato yet, so I don't know.
2. I don't think I'm raising my shoulder or tilting my head at a weird angle.
3. Playing standing AND seated
4. I can take a video tomorrow and show you if you want.

Edited: February 19, 2019, 3:49 AM · Sure - if you post it publicly there are more experienced people than I who will have commentary for you that will likely be very helpful.

The issue I am foreseeing is a potential lack of stability when you start shifting and playing with vibrato. Shifting up will likely be rather easy no matter how you hold the violin, but the real challenge is how you're going to get back down without throwing it across the room, dropping it, or some other awkward happenstance.

You can give it a try without thinking about intonation and see how it feels. Just shift up so your first finger is say, half way between the nut and the body and back to the original position and see how it feels, then try it in the 'regular' restless position and then with the rest.

The reason we usually place the violin (or for me viola!) on the collar bone is because it gives us something we can brace against when we need to shift about. When you add in the chinrest it gives you something you can almost 'hook' your jaw into in order to keep the instrument steady without applying very much pressure. When you change that lower point of contact to something less stable (the upper pectoral muscle or even sternum depending on how far center you are) you potentially lose that stability. I won't start the argument about baroque music and shifting, but..

The collar bone also acts as a ledge that you can rest the instrument on without having to press it into your body (which will create left arm tension).

February 19, 2019, 6:43 AM · @Russel, I can only tell you my experience. I noticed a few good players using a sponge with a rubber band instead of a shoulder rest.I believe I remember seeing sponges specifically for violin shoulder pads.The people using them I have observed just used a standard household round sponge. I decided to try this and went to practice like that. My teacher strongly discouraged it so I went back to using my kun. The violin does feel much more stable using a shoulder rest however I don't have a long neck so I could probably get away with the sponge.

My feeling is that most teachers are going to encourage a shoulder rest and discourage not using one.As Micheal above has said there are some good reasons for this.Also most players using this technique I have seen are playing seated.

Kun seems to be the most highly used rest around here. There are many other solutions though which I would love to investigate one day and have been mentioned here. I believe this is one area where there is room for customization according to a person's physical makeup.

February 19, 2019, 6:58 AM · I avoid chin rests with the common metal clamps for this reason. There are alternatives - e.g. side-mounted ones, or ones with two spaced feet "Hill style" and others like that from Wittner. A principle to follow is to make the gear fit the needs of your body, not the other way around.
February 19, 2019, 7:15 AM · If the CR clamp is giving you trouble, you can just drape a chamois cloth over your collarbone until you develop a little less sensitivity there. Moving your violin this way or that to avoid the direct contact of the clamp hardware with your collarbone isn't going to work in the long run. Your violin needs to be in a natural playing position or the more advanced stuff like shifting will become frustrated.
Edited: February 19, 2019, 7:45 AM · I suggest you spend 30 seconds every time you practice to feel the balance of the instrument on your hand on a lower position, and then bring it back up to your normal position (with or without shoulder rest). It's most likely hurting because you're squeezing somewhere. I would practice playing twinkle or something easy without your head involved, and get used to the feeling of the instrument in your left hand.

February 19, 2019, 8:10 AM · Good advice above. Make sure you’re not squeezing anywhere, but if the chinrest clanp is what’s bothering you, I second the suggestion to put something over your collarbone or chinrest clamp for comfort. I think most teachers encourage their students too use a shoulder rest, but this is an issue that teachers should determine on an individual basis. After all, each player is unique, and not everyone is comfortable with a shoulder rest.
February 19, 2019, 8:49 AM · I don't think a shoulder rest (SR) is intended to be the support between the instrument and the collar bone - most of the SRs do not fit instruments securely enough. I think the chinrest (CR) is intended to fit the chin/jaw sufficiently for comfort and the SR to provide a second region of support (not on the collarbone). At least that's how I have used these devices. I played without a SR for the first 30 years - at which time I finally tried experimenting and removed the original CR from my violin. I finally found a CR that was the perfect fit for my jaw and then tried a SR that stabilized my fiddle enough to improve my vibrato. For the last 50 years I have been through a number of other SR designs as I have aged further, but basically stayed with the same CR design. (Personally my neck cannot tolerate the Hill CR hardware design.)

There are many variables affecting how the wide range of human physiques can adapt to the fixed geometry of the violin. Almost anything placed between your body and any side of the instrument that works for you is OK. The big question, and the one you, Russell, have asked is how will what you do now affect your future on the instrument. The answer can really only given to you in person by an experienced violinist, with a reasonable sense of your body characteristics - preferably a professional violinist who is a teacher - preferably your teacher - a person with lots of experience with the instrument and a large number of other violinists.

Edited: February 19, 2019, 9:43 AM · I glued a little strip of rubber to my CR clamp. It adds a touch of cushion, and also prevent slippage.


Kreddle also makes a cushion that fulfills a similar role. I haven't tried one though.

http://www.kreddle.com/cushion.php

Edited: February 19, 2019, 10:24 AM · My CR-SR setup means that my viola only touched my collarbone when I want it to.
Edited: February 19, 2019, 10:52 AM · Hi Russell, ideally the violin should rest on the collarbone without you having to prop up the instrument with your left hand. The violin should be flat and more or less parallel to the ground. Later on, as you delve into repertoire that requires a bit more facility, I think it might be more challenging to hold the violin in the area you describe.

I think the discomfort you are experiencing might be with your chinrest. The Guarneri style chinrest (with the flap over the tailpiece) causes irritation in that area for some of my friends with a certain build. So maybe try a side saddle chin rest like a Hill or Kaufman if that’s the case.

The violin should fit into the area between your collarbone and chin as you position your head slightly to the left (so your nose is pointing at the scroll). You shouldn’t have to lift your shoulder or clamp down your head to hold the instrument in place. If you’re not able to do this, try a bit of foam rubber under your instrument, or find a higher chin rest that will fill the gap.

February 19, 2019, 10:53 AM · @Nate:

“...ideally the violin should rest on the collarbone without you having to prop up the instrument with your left hand”

This assumes using a SR, doesn’t it? I agree that finding the correct chinrest style and height is key with or without a SR in addition.

Edited: February 19, 2019, 12:00 PM · Hi Craig, I know there are many schools of thought on this topic but I do believe the left hand should be free and not have to prop up the violin when playing without a shoulder rest. It’s hard enough for me to play passages, shift, and vibrate! With the proper build or setup, I believe this is possible.
Edited: February 19, 2019, 8:17 PM · OP here, I updated my post with a quick video of me playing the way I described.

Forgive my sloppy playing. I've only been playing for 2 and a half weeks.

February 21, 2019, 2:27 PM · Good video example.

What Nate said,

Beside the issues dealing with how comfortable and accessible the violin is for all strings to be played correctly, the other concern seems to be how you support the violin with only your neck and shoulder.From what my teachers have told me, you should be able to let the violin go with your left arm and support it with only your neck and shoulder. This is crucial because you can't be supporting the violin and playing with the left hand well at the same time.
Can you let the violin go in this posture and hold it between shoulder and jaw ok? It should not feel painful or uncomfortable to do so.

February 21, 2019, 3:26 PM · Timothy, I absolutely do not mean to disagree with you, but I am just warning you that some people are going to disagree with your last post. What I have heard is that it is possible to support the violin with the left hand/arm a bit while shifting freely up and down the fingerboard. I think that in this type of hold, the left arm muscles do most of the supporting work.

Here's my opinion: You may support the violin with your left hand as long as you can shift, vibrate and do everything else without difficulty, which is a learning curve. You may exclusively (or almost) support the violin with chin and shoulder only, as long as you keep the neck muscles relaxed and that you avoid any other undesirable tension.

February 21, 2019, 3:36 PM · Ella is right, someone is going to disagree with you. Someone MUST, as this is a shoulder rest thread, and thus conflict is required.

;^)

Many have seen this unscientific video I made previously, but I think the OP may not have as a new member, so I will post it again.

The "look no hands" concept is excellent for freeing up the left hand from any and all support duties. But pesky physics and gravity mean that nothing is ever "free", and you will pay for that left hand freedom via the force being transmitted elsewhere in the system (i.e.-your head&neck)


A balance needs to be found between left hand, chinrest, collar bone, jaw, and optionally a SR.

February 21, 2019, 6:54 PM · Mr. Evans, a very nice video! I honestly think you are a natural at the violin and your hold without a shoulder rest looks perfect to me. As time goes on and you put in the hours you will gradually figure out where to try adding some padding or experimenting with different chinrests that might feel yet more comfortable.
February 21, 2019, 7:00 PM · "What Nate said"

Another 'Nate' once wrote:

"playing without a rest simply means that you support the instrument exclusively with the left hand"

here:
https://www.natesviolin.com/ditched-shoulder-rest-30-years/

February 22, 2019, 11:17 AM · @Ella Yu, I would hope to be disagreed with if I am wrong and I appreciate your response. In this case I'm not convinced there is a one answer fits all.

The main reason I jumped into this conversation is because I am now trying to unlearn a few bad habits I acquired by relying too much on my left arm for support of the violin. The violin isn't heavy for the average person and most of the weight is on the shoulder.The less weight on the left hand the more freedom it has, the better it can play. If a beginner relies on the left hand early as a main support for the instrument instead of carrying the weight ideally between the shoulder and the jaw they might have issues playing more advanced technique later on.
People are free to play the instrument the way that works best for them. Some people find some techniques easier because they might have larger hands or a little more dexterity.I think it's a common problem to see people fighting to support the instrument because they don't have the proper distances accounted for between shoulder and jaw. They account for this by using too much of the left hand.

Edited: February 22, 2019, 12:44 PM · J Ray, the other 'Nate' described what I did for a while but I gradually switched over the years to more of an approach I posted about earlier. He obviously is a superb player and his way works as well. A few players such as Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman, and Aaron Rosand, haven't used a whole lot of left hand support when playing. Milstein, on the other hand, was able to somehow balance the violin with the left hand and play incredibly. One of my friends witnessed Milstein once place the violin on his chest and play something very difficult (I believe it was a Paganini caprice) as good as he played it with his violin in the 'correct' position. He also apparently once witnessed Milstein backstage after a concert perform the Bach Preludio for a group of people standing around, starting with an *upbow. He proceeded to play the entire piece with reverse bowing, at full tempo, as good as he did with the normal bowing. When Milstein finished, he said, 'I challenge Jascha to do that!'
Edited: February 22, 2019, 12:48 PM ·
Edited: February 22, 2019, 1:19 PM · Hi Craig, Mr. Rosand, like Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman, uses a little bit of foam rubber under his jacket when he plays. It’s very different from a rigid shoulder rest that clamps the ribs of the violin and raises the instrument 1”- 4”. A player using a shoulder rest will usually hold the instrument tilted at a fixed angle. Also the shoulder rest with feet clamped to the ribs do make a violin sound very different.

A few of my friends did a blind sound test in a hall on their 2 G.B. Guadagninis playing with and without shoulder rests. The difference to everyone was immense comparing the two ways. Everyone there unanimously preferred how it sounded when the 2 players played without a shoulder rest - their tones were both much larger with greater colors and vibrancy. When they were using the shoulder rests, a few people described the sounds they were getting as ‘muted’, ‘less clear’, and ‘thin.’

February 22, 2019, 1:15 PM · Thanks, Nate for the clarification.

I was only trying to illustrate that there is a difference between "playing without a SR", and "playing without any additional support" that may not be clear to the OP, or others new to the discussion.

I prefer my "little bit of foam rubber" in my left hand instead of under my jacket, but that's a different story altogether...

;^)

.

February 22, 2019, 1:22 PM · I completely agree Craig. You made a good point! Lots of people say they play without anything, but they have something hiding inside their jacket. One of those individuals was Jascha Heifetz. :)

I enjoyed your video by the way!

February 22, 2019, 3:02 PM · I use a very low shoulder rest which allows a sort of "hybrid" between a restless feel and the corresponding freedom whilst not making me worry about occasional shoulder contact dampening my vibrations. It gives me some security without the "clamped on" feel that many associate with a typical shoulder rest setup, but definitely allows me to change my angles as necessary.
Edited: February 22, 2019, 3:50 PM · The OP is lucky he can play without an SR because he has NO neck. I used to play with SR and it took many years of practice to play without, but after more than a decade I am going out to buy the 'Bon Muisca' today because my long neck can't take it any more.
February 22, 2019, 4:13 PM · Henry: are you sure you maybe should be looking for a taller chinrest first, maybe?

Just a suggestion.

Edited: February 22, 2019, 5:01 PM · This video is one of the reasons I thought I would try playing without a shoulder rest. What do you folks think of this?

February 22, 2019, 5:11 PM · With all due respect, I totally disagree with the characterization that the left hand should not hold the violin up. When you get used to playing without an SR the left hand adopts a new role as the pivot of the violin. The violin balances between the collarbone and the left hand and gives you incredible freedom to move the violin as you see fit and to rotate it along its long axis. You do NOT clamp on the violin with your chin to stop it slipping and you do not have to rest it on the shoulder - however, on occasion you may raise the shoulder (or nmore accurately rotate the shoulder infront of you along the same plane (look at Mutter) so that the violin can rest on it. There are basically no hard rules to playing restless other than you must be relaxed.

The OP has a very different body build to me so he really has to find his own way with the guide that if it feels like strain or pain, it is wrong.

February 22, 2019, 5:39 PM · Great video by Christiaan, but he has NO neck either....!

Craig: Yes, good suggestion, but I've been searching and can not find a high CR in the design I prefer. Mine is quit high at 25mm, but should be higher. Of course I will see what they have at the shop today.

February 22, 2019, 5:50 PM · Henry: I will suggest the Wittner Augsburg. It is height and angle adjustable. It’s marketed as a center mount, but I side mount mine just fine. They are like $26.
February 22, 2019, 6:53 PM · Craig: I found one, I just ordered the Guarneri 50mm high CR from fiddlerman.com. So I hope I wont need a SR....
Edited: February 22, 2019, 7:39 PM · Wittner also has a Guarneri-style chin rest which is otherwise just like the Augsburg - Zuerich. This week I'm using a Zuerich; last week it was the Augsburg; don't know about next week - maybe side-mounted Augsburg. Both of these models are height adjustable to a degree, and tiltable, and have a superior mounting system compared to many others, in that they tighten with a simple Phillips screwdriver and leave space between the legs leaving the contact with the body metal and mount-free.
February 22, 2019, 7:59 PM · "the other 'Nate' described what I did for a while but I gradually switched over the years to more of an approach I posted about earlier"

I think you're right to some extent, and I think my earlier quotation overstates its point. But I included that quote because I think that it makes an important point -- that one should not attempt to have the left hand avoid all responsibility for support, as that places too great a burden (and likely pressure, contortion and limits to the range of motion) on the rest of the body. I'd argue that it's likely that you're using the hand for support even though not entirely. If you weren't, then, without any additional pressure or contortions, you should be able to use the left hand freely during say long open strings, to do page turns or scratch your head, etc. I doubt that anyone holds the violin that securely otherwise, and if/when they are, they're probably using excessive head/neck pressure which might be fine for short duration, but not sustained and immobile.

February 22, 2019, 10:46 PM · I have a similar situation as Mr. Williams-I use a SR, but in a very low setting, with the purpose of it being as unobtrusive as possible, as if it wasn't there. The instrument has solid contact with my collarbone, and is very flexible-even "loose".

While I do use a SR (and while respecting each player's needs), I am not a fan of using a very inflexible shoulder rest, as in my opinion they should not have you stuck in a position, or stress your neck/shoulder towards injury. Always be wary about tension, or pressing up or down, SR or not.

February 23, 2019, 1:31 AM · Like Erik and Adalberto, I use a SR modified to make it as low as a rigid SR can possibly get. At its lowest point, just inside from the shoulder-end foot, my shoulder is just 12 mm from the back of my viola. I have almost no neck, so I was only able to get contact with my collarbone at all by using a custom-made, ultra-low CR. The other purpose of the SR is to tilt my viola so that my short fingers can reach the C string more comfortably.

What I end up with is as close as I can get to playing restless, while still getting enough of a tilt to play on the low strings.

February 23, 2019, 7:18 AM · Maybe I'm wrong here (again), but it seems to me the reason to be able to support the violin only with shoulder and neck is because we want minimal pressure on the left hand. This isn't necessarily a squeeze as in almost collapse the violin kind of thing but more of a gentle way to hold the violin.

A few things that look like they fell through the cracks here to me.
-In addition to support a SR acts like a traction device to keep the violin from sliding as many violins have a very smooth slipper finish in them.
-The video although an interesting way to present the subject, doesn't show the baking soda lined up exactly with the opposite pivot of the fulcrum. A more accurate representation would have been weight further away from the SR more toward the end of the violin.In addition a SR can be moved further toward the neck. I can't believe people are applauding boxes of baking soda stacked up on a violin. That's about as unscientific as it gets. Also, The forces at work in the jaw and neck are nothing short of amazing. There is a lot more strength there than most people realize . I think the video was a slight over reach and didn't show other possibilities.

-The reason we are told to hold the violin mostly on the shoulder probably isn't to say that no weight ever goes on the left hand, but to encourage weight distribution for optimal playing.I'm guessing something like a 10%/90% distribution with 90% at the shoulder.If you are only playing the higher strings on lower positions then maybe you can put almost all of the weight on the neck and get away with that, but remember this changes with the places you need to go on the neck. If you put too much pressure on the left hand the violin will have the tendency to slide between the thumb and forefinger.When it comes time to move around the neck you are at a disadvantage.

Anyways, I see two subjects that have over lapped here. SR or no SR is a personal/physical preference. It does affect how your left hand moves so in that respect it is important. If you have arms like Russel that violin isn't going anywhere regardless. Reaching all of the positions well though is another matter.

February 23, 2019, 8:10 AM · "Maybe I'm wrong here (again), but it seems to me the reason to be able to support the violin only with shoulder and neck is because we want minimal pressure on the left hand. This isn't necessarily a squeeze as in almost collapse the violin kind of thing but more of a gentle way to hold the violin."

Yes, I'd say that you're wrong if you're assuming that supporting the violin with your hand means some sort of squeeze of death. The amount of force needed to support the violin with your hand (thumb) is minimal. The additional force would be to counterbalance the pressure of the fingers on the strings, which need only be proportional to that force used.

February 23, 2019, 8:29 AM · That's a good way of putting it that makes this more understandable. People seem to think in terms of extremes or an "all or nothing solution".

And this is one of the most difficult things for me to try and conquer..
in using the thumb as a minor dainty kind of support to a lightweight instrument when the thumb's primary purpose has always been a way to grasp things. Naturally our tendency when the violin falls into the hand is the neck wants to go into that grasp position, especially if we let more of the violin weight go there. I'm surprised they haven't made an instrument with detents or supports in the neck to at least guide the thumb. I guess a nun with a stick works wonders too.

February 23, 2019, 9:49 AM · Timothy, are you asking if there is a support to help position the thumb?
Edited: February 23, 2019, 9:55 AM · Yes Craig. Thanks. The hand? lol.
Do you know of something? I had thought maybe cutting the thumb out of a rubber glove might help with the slippage some.
February 23, 2019, 12:26 PM · Timothy, check my profile.

A rubber glove tip would prevent slippage, but would also therefore hinder sliding up and down for shifting.

February 23, 2019, 1:32 PM · OK will do. Thanks.
February 23, 2019, 1:50 PM · Hey Craig I like that! You are way ahead of me here. I will likely end up ordering one! Just need to try the sizing chart. Is blue the only color?
I wondered what your avatar was. Now I know:)Thanks.


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