Chin/shoulder rest height and vibrato

August 9, 2019, 10:49 AM · Hi! I'm sure this topic is hashed to death, so if there's another thread on this, post it and I'll read to my heart's content.

Lately (like the past year), my vibrato went from being really lovely to basically nothing. Can't sustain it, it's not consistent, and I can't slow it down. I look in the mirror and do it, and my arm and wrist are moving nicely and nothing LOOKS wrong, but it sounds terrible most of the time. Sometimes I can get a few good ones. I can record a video and post it if it helps.

I'm wondering if the chin rest height and shoulder rest height have anything to do with it? I use a Kun Bravo, with a normal Guarneri style chin rest. It's a comfy set up, but I'm wondering if I need to lower the shoulder rest and get a taller chin rest. I don't think I crane my neck at all to fit in the chin rest, so I wonder if it's a matter of lowering the actual instrument closer to my shoulder by messing with the height of the two rests.

I've looked at the Wave and another big one (sorry, the name escapes me at the moment). I'm not tall, and my violin is a bit on the fat end in terms of length/body height.

Any advice or insight is appreciated!

Replies (39)

August 10, 2019, 7:24 AM · Remove the shoulder rest completely and see how it changes things
August 10, 2019, 10:03 AM · Hi Jeffery, I can't play without a shoulder rest, I've tried that. It digs into my collar bone and instead of sitting nicely on my shoulder, the violin slides down and sits more or less right in front of me. :( It's extremely uncomfortable.
August 10, 2019, 10:06 AM · First of all, the length of your neck, which determines the height of your chinrest and shoulder rest, is the main deciding factor. A short person can have a long neck and a tall person can have a short neck. Second, raising the shoulder rest, rather than the chinrest to accommodate a long neck raises the whole violin higher, requiring you to reach higher with both arms to find the instrument, which is not healthy in the long run and can cause strain. The first thing I would do is lower the shoulder side on your shoulder rest to lowest setting while leaving the chest leg unchanged. This may allow you more movement in the shoulder joint, which is essential for good left hand technique. To test this, with the violin in playing position and left hand on the neck, try swinging your left arm from side to side. If you can't do that with ease, this is a sign your shoulder joint is blocked by the shoulder rest.
August 10, 2019, 10:09 AM · If you can post videos shot from your front, your left side where the scroll points to the camera, and from your back, that would be very helpful in figuring out where the problem lies and what solutions to apply.
August 10, 2019, 10:18 AM · Thank you Ella and Lorenzo! I'll experiment with your suggestion Ella, and I'll do a video and post it later. Should I do a scale with vibrato or something?
August 10, 2019, 11:40 AM · but Kristen, you say you had a lovely vibrato, but you have lost it, something must have changed that caused that loss, can't you try to identify that and try to undo it? sorry if this sounds simplistic but it is not so common that someone just loses their vibrato.
August 10, 2019, 12:14 PM · A 3-octave scale would be fine, but also, any piece that you think you play well would be good.
August 10, 2019, 2:21 PM · Jean, it's really weird, but my vibrato went completely haywire after my Grandma died last year. It was fine when I played at her funeral (the violin belonged to my Grandpa, so we thought it fitting to play her favorite hymn with it) and then all of a sudden, after the funeral, it was terrible. It's been bad ever since.

I tried to follow Nicola Benedetti's beginner vibrato course to try from scratch, but to no avail. The only thing I can think of is there's tension somewhere in my left arm or a mental block.

Lorenzo, I'll see what I can do! :)

August 10, 2019, 2:50 PM · my sincerest condolences, indeed, one of the few things we unfortunately cannot undo... I myself played at my own mother's funeral just a week ago... I wish you all the best.
August 10, 2019, 2:53 PM · Aw Jean I'm so sorry! I took it really hard, even though we were expecting it, so I wonder if that has something to do with my current predicament?
August 10, 2019, 4:16 PM · I can't play without a shoulder rest either, I was curious if the height change would change anything
August 10, 2019, 4:35 PM · Jeffery, it was a good suggestion! I've been lazy and tuned without one, and have forgotten to swap my shoulder rest between cases (I've got a double case to house my viola and single violin case) so I've had to deal with a couple rehearsals without it. Let's just say the lack of support makes everything 10000x worse LOL! It makes me wonder if I'm just a short girl with a longer neck.
Edited: August 10, 2019, 5:53 PM · As for playing without a shoulder rest, neck length is NOT the only factor. In fact, I would say other factors like shoulder, collarbone and chest structure are an even more important factor, as well as playing style (playing restless generally requires the left arm and hand to support the violin more). To accommodate longer necks, higher chinrests, including adjustable ones, are becoming more common. I've concluded from reading a variety of posts on this topic that most violinists and violists benefit from something to stop the instrument from slipping; even a small cloth or sponge counts. Aside from experimenting with the height of the shoulder rest, you can also try putting it on at a diagonal, rather than putting it straight across the back of the violin which is common practice. I would also check the site Violinist in Balance which talks a lot about finding the ideal chin and shoulder rest; plus, it explains a lot of my ideas very clearly.
August 10, 2019, 6:08 PM · Are you clenching your hand / locking the finger joints? I wonder if practicing vibrato with the thumb off the neck would help.
August 10, 2019, 11:35 PM · Thank you Ella! That's really insightful, I'll check out that article! I think part of my issue with going without a shoulder rest is that my violin is pretty heavy (it's just a big guy in general. Thick neck, thick ribs, slightly longer body length (14.25in), but confirmed by three different and locally well-known luthiers in two cities near me that it's not a viola), so using my shoulder and arm to support the weight while trying to have good posture and technique is really difficult.

Hmm Irene, I'll have to experiment; that's also pretty insightful, and not something I'd have thought to do! My friend suggested (without seeing me play) that I might not have my arm at exactly the right angle underneath the instrument, so it's possible that I could have tension in the joints in my hand.

August 11, 2019, 1:24 PM · Hey guys, here's the video! I hope I did okay! Read the description, because I made some comments. Constructive criticism is appreciated, but please be kind about it. I'm at a loss for what to do, and it's extremely frustrating because I SHOULD be able to vibrate no problem.

Also, excuse my rambling haha, I am a bit camera shy!

https://youtu.be/YSjs9BbHKMU

Edited: August 11, 2019, 2:26 PM · Here's my observations and guesses based on what I could hear and what you said (I can't see anything because of a visual impairment):

You seem to vibrate a note for a while and then the vibrato motion stops. Is continuous vibrato a problem for you?

Does the scroll of the violin point more to the left or more in front of you? Does your left arm feel tight or twisted? Is reaching the tip of the bow difficult for you, as in, can you easily reach the tip without straightening your right arm completely and locking the elbow joint? I'm just really curious because these may be signs that the violin is pointing too much to the left, which can be problematic for small people unless you have proportionally long arms.

I know you say your setup feels pretty good, but I'd like to ask some things to think about. Is your neck generally straight and not pulled to the left? Are your shoulders in a relatively neutral position; not raised or pulled forward or pulled down? Does the violin feel far from you? Does the violin feel like it's going to slip away and you have to clench it in place?

I know you'll probably have positive answers to most of these questions, but it's still worth thinking about, right? I just made a bunch of guesses, which probably wasn't a good idea, but anyways... Hope it helps.

August 11, 2019, 4:24 PM · Ella, I have a huge problem with continuous vibrato. That's something I've never mastered.

• the violin sits right around the middle, so not way to the left, but also not right in front. I do turn my head to the left slightly, but I don't tilt it, and I *think* my neck is pretty straight, and shoulders neutral.

These are great questions and it gets me thinking!
• as I play normally, with no vibrato, my left arm feels okay, not tight. Something just feels tense when I (attempt to) vibrate.
• I do have to extend my arm all the way to get to the tip of the bow, but it's not super uncomfortable.
•violin feels okay, not too far away, and doesn't seem like it'll run away from me.

Edited: August 11, 2019, 5:37 PM · This collection of vibrato tips videos might be worth watching. It may cover things you are already familiar with, but I'm hoping that it might provide you with some exercises to try.
August 11, 2019, 5:51 PM · Thank you Ella! Looking forward to exploring it ^_^

Everyone, keep it coming with observations! :)

Edited: August 11, 2019, 5:55 PM · Try this:

- Rest the fleshy base of your index finger against the neck when you play
- Raise your thumb so it comes onto the side of the neck rather than the bottom
- Vibrate from the elbow instead of the wrist

This is more or less how I played for a long time until I started to rely more on a wrist vibrato.
It's by no means the definitive way to hold the violin, just a different method. It may help you find what works and what doesn't.

August 11, 2019, 11:20 PM · Thanks for posting the video, that was really helpful.

Before I write about vibrato, I’d like to first spend time laying some groundwork about left hand form and function, which hopefully would create the optimal conditions for your left hand to learn or re-learn vibrato.

First, I would aim to continue to improve your left hand frame and finger action by practicing Sevcik Op. 1 Bk. 1 (a few measures a day from Nos. 1-5 are great) or Schradieck, making sure that you pay attention to the following points:
a) shoulders remain relaxed;
b) forearm and elbow are at appropriate angle for the string and position - this is determined by the height of your fingers on the strings, e.g. the base knuckles should never dip below the fingerboard, otherwise you’re only moving two-thirds of your finger (more on this later);
c)wrist stays neutral and relaxed, while balancing the hand in the middle (i.e. 2nd and 3rd fingers);
d) thumb is at appropriate position for your hand type - mine happens to be touching the neck at the side of the second phalanx (the segment below the fingertip joint), so that the thumb rises above the neck, and is placed opposite the fingertip of the 1st finger - this might not be for you, but I encourage you to find your own optimal position, and when you do, remember that the thumb remains relaxed, applying only as much as necessary AND as little as possible counter-pressure;
e) you move your fingers from the base knuckle (move the whole finger, not just two-thirds of it), and that they drop onto the string following a relatively straight path, with as little sideways wobble as possible;
f) when you drop your fingers, your fingertip joints feel soft and don’t lock up, and when you lift your fingers, your fingers feel springy and active at the base joints, as though the strings are electrified.
g) explore whether you can have the base of your 1st finger lightly touch the neck of the violin, without squeezing - this will give you another point on which to rest the violin, another tactile indicator of position, as well as another determinant for finger height and arm angle. This happens to be the way I play, and might not work for you, but I think this is something worth experimenting with.

Points e) and f) above are particularly important in the development of vibrato; one good way to develop softness and flexibility in the fingertip joints is to practice Sevick or Schradieck slowly, and allowing your fingertip joints to collapse as the finger drops onto the string. Think of it as rolling the fingertip back as you apply just enough finger pressure to hold the string down. This can also be practiced away from the instrument by making an “OK sign” with the thumb and one of your four fingers, and wiggling the fingertip joint as you apply very gentle pressure against the thumb.

Another good thing to practice are trill exercises, and the ones from Kreutzer are very good (Nos. 15, 16, 17 and 20 are my favorites); these encourage you to develop fast finger action while the rest of the hand stays relaxed.

Finally, I encourage you to practice 2-octave scales in one position (Rhimaly has a very good section on this). As you go through the different keys and different positions, make sure that you are using good finger action, your thumb facilitates the movement of the fingers, and your hand and arms stay relaxed and are at the optimal angles for your fingers to work properly. Practice them slowly, starting with whole notes, 1 per bow, and progressing through 16th notes, slurred 16 per bow.

One word about the bow - make sure that no matter the finger, the string or the position your left hand is in, that you play the same amount of bow in the same part of the bow. Practicing with a metronome, with chalk marks at quarter points of your bow, would help you observe and control your bow speed.

I hope you find all of this helpful. I’m sorry for writing such a long post and not even a word about vibrato, but I felt it was important to address these issues before even discussing vibrato. This will be a long process, but don’t be discouraged, a little bit of thoughtful, goal-oriented practice everyday will add up to considerable progress over time. I’ll post again tomorrow and will finally discuss vibrato then.

August 12, 2019, 1:47 AM · It's great that such a knowledgeable violin teacher like Lorenzo is giving you all this, so definitely listen to him. However, my 2 cents worth is that there seems nothing really fundamentally problematic and you just have to move through the stages of vibrato exercises. For the mere mortals among us, developing a nice vibrato requires a lot of practice, even if in the past you apparently could do it "just like that", well, let's just live with it that this is no longer the case and work on it! For starters there is an entire chapter on vibrato in Simon Fischer's Basics. Or you could take occasional lessons from a good teacher. All the best and thanks for posting the video, it was nice to meet you :-)
August 12, 2019, 7:32 AM · I forgot to mention that if you want to look for a violinist who models good left hand form and finger action, watch Hilary Hahn. Any video of her will do, really, but her recent performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto is outstanding. But even more revelatory, if you check out her #100daysofpractice videos on Instagram, you can see her practicing finger exercises from the Carl Flesch Urstudien book, and she films her left hand from up close, as well as from different angles. Incredibly inspiring!
August 12, 2019, 8:54 AM · I've been focused on improving my often absent vib for the last year.
One thing I have been trying to improve is what I want to have happen between the the tip of my finger and the string.
I want my finger tip to land perpendicular or a little less and then roll flatter then roll up to pitch. For this I need the finger joint next to the nail to be relaxed.
Lorenzo and Jean have covered everything.
Best of luck.
August 12, 2019, 10:40 AM · Wow, thank you guys so much! I really appreciate that you took the time to really break things down for me! I'll take a look at those books (though, not sure I'm quite ready for Kreutzer... Maybe I would be able to do them really slowly) and really focus on those points you give me!

Lorenzo, I wonder if the thickness of my violin's neck would be affecting my hand position and where my thumb ends up sitting? I would absolutely hate to do this, but if it's part of the issue, I might think of getting the neck shaved down. I have another violin with a more standard neck thickness, so I might experiment and see if there are any changes. The violin in the video has pretty much the same thickness as my 15" viola, but maybe just a little thinner.

Cotton, can you weigh in on the previous paragraph at all? Not sure if thinning the neck would be beneficial or if it would ruin my instrument.

Hilary Hahn is one of my favorites, and I love her antics with TwoSet (I know TwoSet has a bit of a reputation on here, but I think they're goofy and I appreciate their humor and how they aim to make classical music/violin relevant to young people). I'll have to follow her YouTube channel and Instagram! I also love watching Nicola Benedetti. She explains things really well!

For the books that were mentioned, if there are specific editions that are better than others (which I had realized with the Bach suites for viola...), would you mind posting links to the good ones? I haven't heard of a couple of the ones that were mentioned.

Thank you all SOOO much, this has been incredibly helpful! I'll be contacting my friend's dad (the friend I mentioned in the video) and see if he can give me a few lessons and check up on my progress.

Edited: August 12, 2019, 12:24 PM · I am someone who has smallish hands (long fingers but narrow palms), and I play both violin and viola. A narrower neck can help a lot with smaller-handed players. When you do cope with a wide neck with small hands or short fingers, you will probably be more comfortable placing your thumb more on the underside of the neck rather than on the side of the neck. If you have larger hands, the hand is generally more comfortable with the thumb more on the side of the neck as Lorenzo describes, which creates more space larger-handed people to move their fingers. For smaller handed players, putting the thumb more on the underside allows for greater reach and flexibility and ensures that the base knuckles don't dip below the fingerboard, as Lorenzo above has stated. As someone who plays both violin and viola, I tend to put my thumb more on the side of the neck on violin but on viola my thumb is almost directly on the underside of the neck. My instruments have typical dimensions as far as I can tell. My viola is 15.75".
Edited: August 12, 2019, 1:14 PM · Re.: Continuous Vibrato.
It is natural to stop the vibrato when we change notes or change bow direction. The back of the brain says "stop what you are doing, we are going to change to something else". You can train the connected vibrato by doing slow scales, with vibrato, with slurs. Watch your left hand, and time the change of fingers to match the direction of the vibrato motion. When changing from a lower to higher finger number, drop that finger when the vibrato is going up, towards you, then immediately raise the lower finger. Going down the scale, reverse the motions. The lower finger is prepared slightly early, then the upper finger lifts when the the vibrato is going down, away from you.
Connected vibrato with a bow change; Again, slow scales with vibrato, change of bow direction for each note. Put rests between the notes. Start the vibrato before the note sounds, and continue the vibrato, follow-through, after releasing the bow stroke. Gradually make the rests between the notes shorter.
Hope that all makes sense. Like many techniques on the violin it seems impossible at first, with practice it becomes automatic.
August 12, 2019, 5:06 PM · Ella, my hands are somewhat small too. I tend to have a lot of trouble on the G string up past third position. I had a heck of a time doing 2 octave scales, all starting on the G string from G3 to G4. My pinky is pretty small, so I'm at a bit of a disadvantage. But, I'll never be good enough to play any REAL music that calls for anything above 3rd on the G string or anything past 5th or 6th on the other strings, so I don't worry too much about it.

That being said, my thumb does tend to sit more like halfway between the side and the back of the neck, especially on the lower strings (applies to viola too), and it feels like I'm grasping the neck too much if I were to bring the thumb up the side of the neck, which I feel results in limited mobility in my hand. I'll see what the difference is between this violin and my more standard one when it comes back from the shop. Who knows, maybe switching for awhile will be beneficial.

August 12, 2019, 5:07 PM · Also, thank you Joel! Those are some great tips! Continuous vibrato has been something that I always felt was somewhat unattainable, but I'll explore it again once my vibrato fundamentals are back from whatever extended vacation they went on!
Edited: August 12, 2019, 7:35 PM · The shape and thickness of your violin’s neck would definitely affect your left hand’s position and comfort. From what I know, even the New York or MENC standard instrument measurements need to be adjusted somewhat in order to truly feel comfortable. A good luthier will know how to shape your violin’s neck to best fit your needs.

As for the left thumb, the guiding principle should be that it allow good finger action. Its place is determined by first finding the fingers’ optimal positions. According to Galamian, (if memory serves me, and I would welcome correction on this attribution) the minimal counter-pressure that the thumb applies should not be directed horizontally sideways - which would result in clutching the neck between the thumb and 1st finger - but instead on an upwards diagonal from the bottom left to the top right. And, again, the counter-pressure should only be as much as necessary AND as little as possible. On his Instagram videos, Chin Kim talks about the center line of the neck, and the need for the thumb to make contact with it in order to accommodate certain fingering patterns and hand shapes, such as playing on the G-string, certain double and triple stops, and playing in the higher positions.

Finally, the ideal is to get to a point where one no longer thinks about the thumb as much, but instead the thumb is relaxed and mobile enough to facilitate and adjust to whatever the fingers need to function best.

More on vibrato later...

August 13, 2019, 2:02 PM · Lorenzo, that's really interesting that they have to modify even standard instruments. I'd never really thought of that before! As much as I'd like to keep the integrity of the instrument (though, it has been fully restored and has all new hardware, and it's not a super expensive instrument, just sentimentally priceless), I think getting it modified might not be a bad idea. There are a couple luthiers in the area who would be able to help. I'm sure it would be expensive, so I'd have to wait on it until I've got my full time teaching job.

I bet there's some hidden tension in my thumb and fingers. I'll have to see about someone taking a look in person and see what's going on.

I lowered the shoulder side of my shoulder rest, and it brought the violin down, but now I definitely feel my head tilting into the shoulder rest to secure it.

Edited: August 13, 2019, 6:04 PM · The good news is that shaping the neck of a violin involves taking off a relatively miniscule amount of wood that, in the hands of a good luthier, should put the integrity and value of an instrument nowhere near any sort of risk. One wouldn’t even consider this a modification, in the sense that any part of the instrument is fundamentally changed, but as a setup optimization, meant to improve an instrument’s playability and, in turn, the musician‘s experience.

As for vibrato - Jean is right, the chapter on vibrato at the end of Simon Fischer’s Basics book is a treasure trove. The first ten or so exercises of the chapter will directly address your needs, as far as acquiring and developing the mechanics of your vibrato; the exercises after that are designed to bring about greater control of the finer nuances of vibrato. I use Simon Fischer’s works quite a bit in my own practice, and in my teaching - and I encourage you invest in this book and apply the exercises in it.

When I practice vibrato using the classic Rivarde exercise (or some variation of it that I’ve concocted in my head), I usually start in 4th position, so that the bottom of the palm of my hand makes contact with the shoulder of the violin. I find that this tactile feedback is helpful in the beginning. When I practice arm vibrato, the backward swing of the arm pulls the palm away from the violin’s shoulder, and the forward swing causes the palm to tap the violin’s shoulder. When practicing hand vibrato, I make sure that the bottom of the palm of my hand remains in contact with the violin’s shoulder as I swing my hand back and forward. All the while, my finger tip joints and my base knuckles remain soft and flexible as I apply just enough finger pressure to hold down the strings. From there I move my hand into other positions, applying the same principles.

As you practice your vibrato, you’ll begin to find that you may be naturally more predisposed to either an arm or a hand vibrato. However, it’s always a good idea to continue improving the other kind, since the arm or the hand never truly work in isolation from the other, and they both contain elements of each. Gidon Kremer said that he believes the best, most beautiful vibrato is some combination of both arm and hand vibrato.

In my own practice, I set the metronome to qtr=60 (even slower if necessary), and have my bow marked at the quarter points. I make sure that my vibrato remains consistent when playing with the whole bow, playing at the different parts of the bow, and at the bow changes, especially at the frog and tip.

I hope you find all of this helpful. As a final word, I encourage you to take a look at the video that you posted, and see if you can identify any aspects of your playing that you can apply solutions to. Good luck.

Edited: August 14, 2019, 12:15 PM · I wasn’t going to write about your chinrest and shoulder rest setup since in your earlier posts you said you were comfortable with it. But since you mentioned you adjusted your shoulder rest, I feel I should share some guiding principles that I work with in my own practice and my own students, and I hope you find this useful.

I’m a big believer in aiming to achieve balance and freedom in one’s playing. This applies not just in the playing posture, but also in one’s setup choices. For that reason, I removed my shoulder rest, and have been playing without one for the past six years. I found that resting the violin on the level of the collarbone (and a little bit of the shoulder, as necessary) allows me to balance the instrument between my left hand on one end, and my collarbone, shoulder and jaw on the other end. I do have a Kreddle Cushion attached to my violin, which helps me establish a good collarbone connection, and adds a good amount of traction so that the violin doesn’t slip or rotate away from me. I’m also a believer in filling in space from the top of the violin to the jaw, instead of from the shoulder to the back of the violin, which is why I use a Zitsman chinrest - it’s a few millimeters higher than a Guarneri chinrest, which allows me to rest my jaw on the violin without craning my neck excessively. It also mounts on the center, but the plate is wide enough that it reaches to the left side of the instrument still. This setup allows me the freedom in my left arm to move my violin up and down, side to side, and tilting.

Even when using a shoulder rest, I believe one can still find a setup that manages to operate within a system of balance and freedom. The first step would be to find the optimum chinrest for your body type. The height of the chinrest, added with the thickness of the ribs at the bottom bout of the violin, will add up to fill a certain amount of space between your jaw and your collarbone. Whether or not additional space needs to be filled in from the bottom of the instrument can be determined later. The shape of the chinrest, in addition to its mounting, will determine the orientation of the violin relative to your body. First, experiment with how far left you prefer to swing your violin’s scroll in relation to your sternum. In my own practice and teaching, I refer to the hours on a clock; my own scroll mostly points to between 10:00 and 10:30. Secondly, experiment with your preferred orientation along the bottom bout of the violin, and whether the chinrest should be positioned to the left of the violin or in the middle. Chinrests of different heights, shapes, and mountings will feel markedly different from one another; they will affect how your violin sits on your collarbone and shoulder, how your left arm is angled, how your left hand feels the neck of the violin, and how you sight down the fingerboard. Equally important, they will affect the angles of your bow arm.

From here one can decide on the type of shoulder rest to use, and how to adjust it. In my own teaching I advocate for the use of pads such as the ones from Artino and Xeros, instead of shoulder rests, but if one chooses to use a shoulder rest, then the search for balance and freedom should be the guiding principles behind one’s selection and adjustment. One problem that a shoulder rest causes is that it raises the instrument above the collarbone, which in turn forces the player to hold their arms at a greater height. For this reason I advocate for setting the near end of the shoulder rest as low as possible, and placing it as close to the collarbone as possible. The far end of the shoulder rest could be placed farther out and raised as necessary to set the tilt of the violin to an optimum angle for the bow arm. Using a Kun, this would result in the shoulder rest, seen from the back of the instrument, set on a downward diagonal from left to right. Ultimately, I believe that the combination of chinrest and shoulder rest need not result in a tight, snug fit from the collarbone to the jaw which locks the instrument in place, but should allow for dynamic movements of the violin as it balances between the collarbone and the left hand. This in turn will facilitate greater freedom in the head, shoulders and back, which leads to greater freedom and facility in the arms and hands.

I hope you find this useful in exploring your own setup. Keep in mind that I’m in no way pushing you to use any of the products that I mentioned or personally use. I recognize that finding one’s optimum violin setup is highly personal, but I hope the guiding principles that I shared with you above will be helpful towards giving you greater comfort in your playing, and opening the door towards improving your vibrato.

August 14, 2019, 6:23 PM · Lorenzo, you're awesome! You did not have to do so much, and I am SO appreciative that you did!

I've lowered my shoulder rests on both violin and viola (both Kun Bravos) all the way on the left side, and almost all the way on the right. Much lower than they were! I think they're definitely a bit more comfortable for my left hand, though I felt my neck and lat muscle cramp up a bit after several hours of viola today. So, I think in the meantime, with what little income I've got, I'll stick my Strad pad back on (I used it to help get rid of the violin hickey before my sister's wedding while still being able to practice... I didn't want people wondering what the maid of honor had on her neck! Lol!)

I've looked at the Kreddle chin rest and it's just so darn expensive that I can't even think of getting one yet, but I'm not crossing it off for the future. I'll also experiment with some center ones and see what happens. I'm worried that it'll push the violin towards the left even more, and I will have trouble at the tip of the bow on my G string. But, it's worth a try! I'll look at the Zitsman; I've never heard of that one before, and I think all I need is a few millimeters of extra height. The extra tall Guarneris look way too tall for what I need.

My violin likes to sit right around 10:30 as well, and sometimes nearer to 10:45. I like that analogy, and I think I'll steal (borrow?) it for my students!

I took a couple days to process your last comment, and really look at what my left hand is doing. I recorded another video that I sent to my friend who is an incredible violinist, and I noticed that my fingers are extremely tense, especially when I try to vibrate. My forefinger almost curls, and extends backwards from the third knuckle. On viola today, I tried to just isolate movement in my hand and fingers, and I actually got a slower vibrato out of it, if just for a moment. I think I need to work on freeing up the first joint on each of my fingers so they can actually bend the pitch properly before I add my arm into the mix. I picked viola today because I can hear better with the lower pitches, while still being in a hand-friendly position (I was on my D string).

You've helped me so much, and I think I've got some great tools to get started! :) When I posted this thread, I was extremely frustrated at myself ("you should be able to just DO it, Kristen, what's wrong with you?!") and now I know that it's not necessarily strictly ME, but partially my setup. Who knows, maybe I wasn't actually taught the fundamentals properly and it just didn't stick. We'll never know!

Thanks SO much!! :) :)

Edited: August 14, 2019, 6:46 PM · I love Lorenzo's post above about setup and I agree with him on a lot of things. I use a Kun shoulder rest on both violin and viola and I like to have the shoulder side foot at lowest point so it's less obtrusive, and I raise the chest side leg to fill the space between violin and chest so the violin won't slip and I feel supported, and Lorenzo has already mentioned it. I would also pay attention to how you put the shoulder rest on. Many of us are taught to put it straight across the back of the violin, but this is not comfortable for many of us; I, and many others, like to put it on a diagonal angle. Of course the position of the chinrest will limit how I can put it on, especially side mounts, but it is worth experimenting with. In my experience, center-mounted chinrests are the ones that point the violin more in front (e.g at say, 10:30-11:00) with side-mounts pointing the violin more to the left (9-10:00). There are two main types of side-mounted chinrests, ones that sit entirely to the left of the tailpiece (e.g Kaufmann and Dresden) and ones that are side-mounted but actually reach over the tailpiece a little (e.g Wittner side mount version and Teka), so pay attention to this as well. Guarneris are an oddball because although they are technically center-mounted, the main chinrest is actually on the left side of the tailpiece. As far as the shape is concerned, you just really have to experiment. When deciding on the right shape, think about if you prefer a relatively flat chinrest or one with a scooped shape or something in between. If you want a height-adjustable chinrest that doesn't cost too much, Wittner offers two really good options. One is the Augsburg, which is a standard center mount, and the other is Zuerich, which looks like a Guarneri but is height-adjustable. Aside from the Zitsman which Lorenzo has already suggested, I would look at the following center and side mounted but reaches over the tailpiece chinrests and whatever else you can get your dirty little hands on: Teka, Wittner (the standard, non-height-adjustable versions in both side and center mount), Vermeer, Flesch (especially the flat one, since the original one has a strange bump in the middle which you may or may not like), Berber, and Priska. Also note that center-mount chinrests tend to be higher than many side mounts (especially the kind that sit entirely to the left of the tailpiece) because if a center mount is too low, it won't fit properly over the tailpiece.
August 15, 2019, 11:06 PM · Thanks Ella!

Yeah, I don't put mine straight across; it's not comfortable. I put the shoulder half lower on the bout than the other side.

When I have some disposable income, I'll buy a bunch of chin rests and see which one I like. Then I'll just return the other ones. You've given me a bunch of good ideas, and I'm really appreciative! I originally had a no name chin rest that had no height on it, so I got the Guarneri pretty early on. I like the feel of it; I think it fits my jaw nicely, but I'm excited to see what other shapes might fit even better.

August 16, 2019, 12:05 PM · Kristen,
If you have the option, I'd strongly suggest doing what you described with a luthier, it is way easier to find a good fit when the luthier can adjust the height as well.

I just got the Kreddle and it is really worth it, I think!
I feel most comfortable playing without a shoulder rest and it has enabled me to do so 100%. Also for me, having my head higher makes it easier to hear the intonation.

August 16, 2019, 12:40 PM · Hi J,

I think at some point I'm going to get the neck optimized, as Lorenzo had mentioned. For that, I'll have to wait a bit as I'm still at home and my dad is also really attached to the instrument even though he doesn't play (it was his father's) and he wouldn't understand that I'm not ruining the violin. The luthier we had hired to do the restoration work (who has since passed, unfortunately) mentioned that I might want to get the neck worked on, but my dad flatly refused, saying "it would ruin the historical aspects" or something to that nature.

So, I think I'll wait until I move out (hopefully in the next year or so...) and then get it done.

As for the Kreddle, I'd love to try it. Do you know if they do trials, or do you have to buy it?


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