Playing Without a Shoulder Rest Question
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.
Two questions that immediately popped into my mind reading this:
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.
@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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
I glued a little strip of rubber to my CR clamp. It adds a touch of cushion, and also prevent slippage.
My CR-SR setup means that my viola only touched my collarbone when I want it to.
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.
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.
OP here, I updated my post with a quick video of me playing the way I described.
Good video example.
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.
Ella is right, someone is going to disagree with you. Someone MUST, as this is a shoulder rest thread, and thus conflict is required.
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.
@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.
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!'
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.
Thanks, Nate for the clarification.
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 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.
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.
Henry: are you sure you maybe should be looking for a taller chinrest first, maybe?
This video is one of the reasons I thought I would try playing without a shoulder rest. What do you folks think of this?
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.
Great video by Christiaan, but he has NO neck either....!
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.
Craig: I found one, I just ordered the Guarneri 50mm high CR from fiddlerman.com. So I hope I wont need a SR....
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.
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".
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.
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.
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".
Timothy, are you asking if there is a support to help position the thumb?
Yes Craig. Thanks. The hand? lol.
Timothy, check my profile.
OK will do. Thanks.
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?