Violin balance without a shoulder rest
I've read a lot of discussions about this subject but I still have questions.
I've been playing for almost 2 years and a half and trying to play restless for about a year. I can shift comfortably up to 9th position but my problem comes with vibrato and balance in the left hand.
Vibrating with the first finger is the main problem, to free the vibrato I have to detach the index finger from the fingerboard but if I do my thumb is doing all the work to support the violin up.
Where should my thumb go? Any other options to do vibrato?
I do use a shoulder rest, but there are a number of YouTube videos you can watch. Just search for "playing without a shoulder rest" on YT and you'll see a whole bunch of videos on the subject. Some of them are quite lengthy and packed with detail. Do you find playing without a shoulder rest more comfortable than playing with one? Have you ever thought about how the type of chinrest might affect your comfort level? And have you ever considered using a small non-slip cloth or something similar?
Just curious as to why you are trying to play without a shoulder rest. Was the shoulder rest uncomfortable for you? The answer to that question might provide a clue as to the answer to your question now.
Here's one way: Without vibrato, the two points of contact are on the sides of the neck. With vibrato, they shift more toward a top-to-bottom hold with the two points of contact being the finger being used at the moment pushing the fingerboard downward onto the lower part of the thumb. It's complicated to put into words. This month and last I've been artist in residence at the American Viola Society, and I just made a video recently (accompanying a blog post) demonstrating this at YouTube. If you're interested, it probably could easily be found by a search with my name and "no shoulder contact". Best of luck!
@Ella yu Yes, I've used different type of shoulder rest, sponges, chinrest and clothes. I didn't feel comfortable with most of them so I just took of the shoulder rest and left a guarneri chinrest. I feel really comfortable with this setup, I also use a little cloth over my collarbone to protect my self and the violin.
My vibrato is the same with and without shoulder rest. You’re likely suffering from tension in the left hand or shoulder. I recommend the videos of carol Rodland even though she uses a shoulder rest.
I'm impressed that after two and a half years of violin you're playing in 9th position with vibrato!
What Scott describes is essentially how I achieved vibrato as a young student -- many years ago -- when I learned "restless." Newton's Law states that an object at rest is experiencing no net force. So the finger and the thumb will have to apply essentially opposing forces to prevent the violin from going up or down,
Why is it that everytime anyone posts about playing with out an SR they are challenged for doing so? If we did the same about playing with one it would become very tiresome.
Catalina, are the joints nearest to your fingertips flexible? This is essential for vibrato without shoulder rest. (It is also essential with a shoulder rest, but certainly beginners may make the error to "force" their vibrato with stiff joints, immobilizing their violin by clinging firmly to it, using the shoulder rest. Such a forced vibrato is wrong, but also simply not possible without shoulder rest.) Look up "Rivarde exercise". And anyway, as you surely know by now, on the violin, things need practice and getting used to. So keep practicing!
Elise wrote, "Why is it that every time anyone posts about playing with out an SR they are challenged for doing so? If we did the same about playing with one it would become very tiresome."
That's what you say Paul. But can you find me an example? I have not seen one here for months, if not years.
What I have noticed from watching other players, both my peers and superiors, is that those that play without the shoulder rest are more likely to use the wrist-motion vibrato than the arm vibrato, because the base of the first finger needs to stay in contact with the neck, to prevent the violin from slipping forward and down. For shifting positions, they are more likely to use the crawl-shifts and have the thumb moving independent of the hand, before or after the shift. I also think that the claimed improved sound from not using the SR is probably an illusion. If the back of the violin is in contact with your clavicle, some of the sound will be transmitted through your bones to the ear. If you can play without the SR, without raising your left shoulder or bending your neck too much, that's great. Anyone who plays better than me can't be wrong.
Unless you have a really short neck, it's not worth it... I've played without sholder rest for like 8 months, my last teacher convinced me. During that time, I always had issues shifting, intonation feeling unsecure, I eventually decided to use it again, but I bought a lower one.
I just think that people should make a fully informed decision about a shoulder rest and *if* they're going to play without one, to do so because it improves their playing and not because someone online said they should get rid of it. I think the blanket advice to lose the shoulder rest can be harmful to a student or amateur who has the wrong body type, and/or who does not have in-person professional guidance to make sure that the violin is being held without tension.
"Why is it that everytime anyone posts about playing with out an SR they are challenged for doing so?"
"Unless you have a really short neck, it's not worth it... I've played without sholder rest for like 8 months, my last teacher convinced me. During that time, I always had issues shifting, intonation feeling unsecure, I eventually decided to use it again, but I bought a lower one.
Elise, I could have personally written the final paragraph of your response!
Elise, I didn't do a detailed search but here's an example of a thread that got kind of bogged down in the "training wheels" argument:
Why do people always trot out Heifetz, Menuhin, and others when trying to advocate for playing without a shoulder rest? Their physique and development has nothing to do with anyone else's.
Why do people always trot out Heifetz, Menuhin, and others when trying to advocate for playing without a shoulder rest? Their physique and development has nothing to do with anyone else's.
Moreover it's possible that some of those legendary 20th century violinists might have played even *better* (or enjoyed longer careers) if they used SRs.
My general impression is that, whenever anyone asks for shoulder rest advice in any strings forum on the internet (this one or others), there are ALWAYS people barging in with the unsolicited advice to ditch the shoulder rest. Much more reliably than the other way around.
Both directions are wrong of course. People who ask questions here about playing w/o shoulder rest are usually amateurs. Let them have their fun, let them explore, and, if you can and feel like it, try to help them by answering their question. On the other hand, I agree with Paul that when someone asks for a good shoulder rest, they should again simply receive tips on that question. Of course it could broaden someone's horizon to learn that you can actually play without one. That is how I learned about the possibility some 10 years ago, here on this very forum.
I use a shoulder rest but on my 17 inch viola I can play all of the notes up top and down low with a strong vibrato. This I likely because I’m tall and have large hands. However I think much of it is also likely because I developed a freedom and flexibility in my holding of my rather challenging instrument. I think no shoulder rest playing can be hugely beneficial for playing with shoulder rest as it was for me.
"Why do people always trot out Heifetz, Menuhin, and others when trying to advocate for playing without a shoulder rest? Their physique and development has nothing to do with anyone else's."
Paul: "Elise, I didn't do a detailed search but here's an example of a thread that got kind of bogged down in the "training wheels" argument".
Jean wrote: "People who ask questions here about playing w/o shoulder rest are usually amateurs. Let them have their fun, let them explore, and, if you can and feel like it, try to help them by answering their question."
I guess I don't consider playing without a shoulder rest to be a fine art.
I read all the replies, thanks for the tips :)
hi Elise, it was not meant as a putdown, sorry if it sounded like that. actually I am myself an amateur who plays without shoulder rest. but then I am one of those people who finds challenge in playing tennis with an ancient wooden racquet :-)
Catalina - glad to hear you got something useful out of the topic! Don't worry if it 'goes off subject'. That's pretty normal here, a topic is really an intro to a discussion that ranges. While much of the focus should be on the OP, IMO it really does not have to stay there especially when interesting questions are raised.
Thanks for the clarification Jean. And I learned on a wooden racket too - but play badminton with a carbonfiber ;)
Scott wrote: "I guess I don't consider playing without a shoulder rest to be a fine art."
Baroque players aren't spending as much time on the top half of the fingerboard, and also they don't need to generate as much projection (although certainly the best ones can), because their pieces aren't accompanied by full orchestras the way romantic concertos are.
No. But so what? Are you saying that playing restless stops you playing high on the fingerboard? Actually, it can be easier because that slab of wood is not in the way of your arm flexion.
Now, lets be fair!
This debate can get very, very heated, but it all comes down to individual preferences in all honesty. I believe that you should do whatever is most comfortable and suitable for you, whether it is playing with or without a shoulder rest. That said, shoulder rests and shoulder pads were invented for a very good reason because most violinists and violists do find benefit in using something to step the instrument from slipping, even if it's just a small cloth or sponge. Playing without a shoulder rest can deepen your understanding of the physicality of playing violin/viola, but it also challenges you to get your left hand more involved in supporting the violin, which is not something everyone wants to deal with. If you do want to go restless but have a long neck, the other option is to explore raised chinrests, and even those long-neckers who do use a shoulder rest may prefer a raised chinrest as well.
Elise, people used to play without a chin rest too, maybe you should do it? "Everyone used to play without one" because it had not yet been invented. There was a time when everyone lived without the violin too.
Glad its worked out for you. And I agree, playing a bit without, even if you go back is very instructive.
There are lot more shoulder rest options today then there were say 30 years ago. Manufacturers have learned more about the ergonomic aspects of playing the violin over time too. I wonder if some companies have designed custom rests for players.
elise, yup. I'm glad I had the experience. Sometimes I still like to play Bach without SR, as long as it doesn't go higher than 4th position. I really like the feeling on the bow when the violin is at a lower level, makes playing detaché more pleasing. But other than that...
As far as projection and access to the upper end of the fingerboard, that's a matter of personal experience for me. I grew up using the Invisirest (there!) and I faithfully cleaved to my teacher's dogmatic insistence that it was the only way serious violinists operated. He was a charter member of the "Heifetz didn't use one" crowd. So I'll cheerfully concede a degree of defensiveness in that area. I dealt with it from age 5-17, and I have a nice bone spur on my clavicle to show for it.
I am with you, Paul, at least for me. I just cannot tolerate the lack of stability that results from playing restless. That's why most violinists and violists find benefit in using some form of shoulder pad/rest. When I try violins in a store, I usually go restless because I am way too lazy to be moving a shoulder rest between violins every two minutes. Plus, the chinrest isn't optimal either, so I think "whatever, my posture will never be perfect, screw the shoulder rest." Perhaps those who play restless like the feeling of being able to move their violin around while they play, which is totally fine, but I'm never going to get used to that, plus the shape of my collarbone does not allow a violin to lay nicely on it. If my collarbone was shaped to allow the violin to lay nicely on it, I think I would have a much easier time playing restless, although I would still probably use a non-slip cloth, but given my body type, I really need something to stop the violin from sliding unexpectedly, even a sponge will do.
Folks, not using a shoulder rest is a completely legitimate way of playing the violin and so is using a shoulder rest for some people. Let’s not question Catalina’s choice to play restless please. According to Josef Gingold, Mr. Ysaye was 6’5”, and he did not use a shoulder rest. So it is completely possible to play without a rest if you’re large.
Nathan - I have an additional question, because I tried playing with a small pad for several months last year and ended up giving up because my left hand did not feel free enough for a nice vibrato... what do you do when that space is correct (violin/chinrest/pad and distance between chin and collarbone), yet that feeling of insecurity remains? I noticed that I was bearing down with jaw on the chinrest to provide more security, which was of course not ideal for a number of reasons. As a result of this insecurity, with my vibrato being rather stuck and pleasant, I went back to a shoulder rest.
Hi Pamela, it is very hard for me to know exactly how to advise you without seeing you play in person, or knowing what your build is. With that said, if you are squeezing your jaw down or lifting your shoulder up in order to compensate and fill the gap, I suspect this could mean that your setup is slightly off maybe by even a 1/2” and that could certainly impede your vibrato and other left hand functions when playing without a shoulder rest. I would really re-examine the measurements once again. If you want to play without a shoulder rest, you might consider experimenting with a higher chinrest that will help keep your neck straight and jaw more relaxed.
I really see all this usual sholder rest debates as people wanting to imitate their old idols. They used to play without it because it didn't exist.
@David Duarte I think it depends. They are as many body types as there are people, now a days we have a variety of SR. Each one fits a type of body better, that's why we search for a perfect SR/CR setup. But we have to remember that some people feel better without one and there's nothing wrong in trying.
You 'speak' just fine Catalina. Please don't apologize - its way way better than most of our Spanish ;) [My guess at least - I've spent time in Burgos!]
"I really see all this usual shoulder rest debates as people wanting to imitate their old idols."
@Catarina, True, of course, thank for repeating what I've already said before :) For them it's better. But most people we see are complaining about many difficulties and playing with handicap without SR, but they still want to keep percisting... some will encourage and reinforce the idea that playing without SR is always better. I'm talking about those, they are the majority of cases.
Will do Nate - I'll re-measure and go from there.
I've heard the great doublebass player Gary Karr talk about how it's necessary not only to love the sound of the bass but also to enjoy the *physicality of playing* (the doublebass.)
For the record, and since this came a long way up, the only person who suggested on this topic that the SR is a crutch - is you Paul. It wasn't the SR-less ….
And I'm being absolutely candid in the sense that sometimes "crutch" is how I feel about it. And, the SR *is* one more thing to deal with. On the violin I'm good with it, but I'm not satisfied with my current SR setup on my viola. I might need a lower CR. The SR is already about as low as it can go. If anyone has a recommendation for a viola SR that's really low, I'll take it. I can't go restless because the CR hardware hits the bone spur on my clavicle (chamois is not secure enough). I've not been successful with pads or those little square stick-on things, but I won't say that I've ruled them out completely.
Paul, I would suggest to try the Viva la musica, which I believe can go lower than a Kun. You could also try something like a shaped sponge, the Poly-Pad, or perhaps the Artino or Zaret or something similar.
I enjoyed a few years "restless", but I couldn't produce all the beautiful sounds going round in my head.. 3-hour sessions with desk sharing brought me back in the SR fold!
I did try the PolyPad extensively. It almost worked for violin, I might reprise it for the viola. That's a good suggestion Ella.
"According to Josef Gingold, Mr. Ysaye was 6’5”, and he did not use a shoulder rest"
I think this (archived) discussion is relevant:
Scott wrote: "We do know that many violinists--I think Mr. Gingold included--actually had pads sewn into their clothing."
Elise, you’re exactly right for pointing out the differences between a piece of foam padding, and a shoulder rest. Foam rubber, such as what Mr. Stern or Mr. Zukerman have used, gives you maneuverability and doesn’t lock the instrument into one fixed (sloped) position. I think also shoulder rests with feet attached to the sides do change the sound of many violins. Two good friends of mine who play on G.B. Guadagnini violins (Piacenza and Turin periods), did a experiment in a concert hall playing musical excerpts with and without shoulder rests to see if there was a tonal difference. Everyone sitting in the audience, heard a huge difference. With the Kun shoulder rest, everyone observed how the tones were thinner, with less volume and colors. Without the shoulder rests, people there all agreed unanimously that the tones were fuller, with more body and overtones. One person observed, how it was like removing a mute from the instruments when the violinists took off the shoulder rests.
Ysaye playing without a shoulder rest is ‘anecdotal’? Are you for real?? I guess the fact I’m 6’2” and play without a shoulder rest in the ‘shoulder rest era’ is a fallacy?
the muting doesn’t seem to be a problem for People like Hilary Hahn or kavakos.
I've had the same problem too. When getting rid of the shoulder rest basically every technique has got to be changed, and in my opinion refined.
Gotta love when you go into a discussion thread and all the comments to date ignored the original question and instead went on to recycle the same old useless debates that don't go anywhere.
True Ivo, but like Elise, I've noticed that the arrogance I saw in such threads a few years ago have given way to more personal and thoughtful comparisons.
" Gotta love when you go into a discussion thread and all the comments to date ignored the original question and instead went on to recycle the same old useless debates that don't go anywhere."
That experiment with the Guadagnini violins is interesting. I could be wrong but I thought there was one shoulder rest manufacturer that was claiming their rest could enhance tone through by way of its gold plating. The name escapes me.
Threads such as these, that have dozens of replies, take on their own lives. How long does it take you to read the whole thread? If you were standing with as many people in a room having the discussion "IRL" for the same amount of time, the conversation would be just as divergent -- especially if the person who started the conversation escaped for a time, perhaps to refresh his or her beverage. It's all totally fine. The original question ("where should my thumb go") has long been answered. Now we are just enjoying one another's company. :)
@Jeewon Kim Not meaningless, makes perfect sense. The sholder, neck and collarbone area can damp the sound, the friction on clohtes can also damage varnish. I had an inscription down on the back ov my violin that completely disappeared after I palyed restless for some time.
Let’s be fair, Jeewon’s VLM Diamond story about his ‘colleague’ who came to his senses after playing with no shoulder rest for ‘30 years’ was highly anecdotal - he even went back and edited his original comment to say it was anecdotal. As many of you know, what might sound good under the ear, sometimes appears totally different to listeners. Anything you add that comes into contact with the instrument will alter the sound. A chinrest, shoulder rest, or yes, even a shoulder can do that and be a hindrance to the sound. As many who play without a shoulder rest know, it is imperative to not lift or squeeze the instrument with the shoulder. Leopold Auer even stated this in his book about how the shoulder could dampen the sound if it’s pressed into the backplate.
For what it is worth I have played my entire life with no shoulder rest. You have to hold up the instrument with your left arm, which puts no net force on your finger. If you can do first finger vibrato while you are playing "air violin" which I am sure you can do, notice that at that moment you are holding up your left arm.
To answer Catalina's original question (!!!), some of us (e.g. Perlman) can hold our thumbs horizontally (opposite the middle finger) to support the violin, allowing complete freedom for the fingers.
Here’s a helpful hint for those Anglophones who may find it difficult to determine the gender of a poster based on a possibly unfamiliar name. Do a Google search on the first name only. It takes perhaps 10 seconds and the results inevitably make it clear which pronouns to use when referring to the poster, assuming, of course, that the poster is cisgender.
Mary Ellen, a useful hint, but there is the occasional exception. An example: "Jean" is a woman's name in English-speaking countries, but in French-speaking countries it means "John".
Yes and there’s a book called “A Boy Named Sue;” so what? Most people are familiar with names like “Jean;” evidently some people struggle with Asian names however.
Mary Ellen. So much for the Google gender solution...
Adrian. This does not require a horizontal thumb, just excellent positioning. I didn't think I could do it either - but it really liberates the index finger, shifting and vibrato.
I checked "Jeewon Kim violin" in Google and came up with a girl and a boy...
These days people are putting their pronouns into their emails. We could include those in our bio-sketches here if think there might be any ambiguity -- presuming we care.
Adrian - I did one better. I checked with my old friend Jeewon.
"Why are you still debating this??"
OK. Lets discuss if you are a girl Paul. Even better if you have already clarified that you are not.
Calm down, now. I was only kidding around.
"Calm down"? Sorry, not when it comes to affronts to my friends.
Er, when someone thinks Adrian is a girl's name, I'm not "affronted"..
Elise, I am on your side! I agree that knowing the correct form of address for a guest, colleague, etc., is important. And actually your comment "I just asked" is really the best answer. If you do not know which pronouns to use, it's easy to say, "Which pronouns do you use?" Modern "political correctness" has actually made this easier for us.
Totally off. But sometimes that happens. OTOH I would be happy to delete all mine... But how would you react if someone made the error, was corrected but continued to call you a girl?
Ha! Nice one. Except you don't rest, do you? LOL
We need a new rule. After 50 posts, or after the question has been effectively answered or there is not any fresh soil to be plowed, then anything goes. If it gets too raucous Laurie can archive it.
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