Violin balance without a shoulder rest

February 9, 2020, 1:40 PM · 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?

Replies (91)

February 9, 2020, 1:52 PM · 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?
Edited: February 9, 2020, 1:56 PM · 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.
February 9, 2020, 2:00 PM · 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!
Edited: February 9, 2020, 2:02 PM · @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.

I'll look into more videos :)

February 9, 2020, 2:40 PM · 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.
February 9, 2020, 3:05 PM · I'm impressed that after two and a half years of violin you're playing in 9th position with vibrato!
Edited: February 9, 2020, 6:06 PM · 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, unless there is force being applied elsewhere, and that would be at your shoulder (in addition to the downward force of your bow on the string). The point is that you can use chin-and-shoulder forces to get away with having left-hand thumb and finger that are not exactly opposite one another. So in addition to adjustments in your left-hand position, you may also want to consider adjustments in the force that is applied by your chin. You likely have already worked out a set of such adjustments for the shifting process, and it's easy to forget you're doing them because they become second-nature very quickly.
February 10, 2020, 5:53 AM · 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.

Vibrato with or without an SR, but even more so without it because you have to learn more nuances, requires a very relaxed contact with the neck. But the critical comment is 'I have to detach the index finger from the fingerboard". YES! If you are supporting the violin using the thumb and the side of your index finger then you will have more problems than just vibrato because that the hand will be cramped during fast passages. Try playing an up-down two octave scale (say Bb, always the taxing one) in first position of 16th notes up to a metronome count of 120. I bet you struggle with the downward string shanges (1st to 4th finger). This can be solved by rotating, or rather pronating, the hand while letting the thumb go backwards to make contact with more of the underside of the neck. Its hard at first but the increased mobility and greatly increased vibrato is more than worth it.

Also, work on vibrato first in third position. As others have said, go through the slow movement practises - take the time, it may take weeks of months even, but its worth it.

And there is nothing like playing restless. I totally understand, please don't get discouraged by those that prefer not to or have not been able to take the time to find out.

Edited: February 10, 2020, 6:04 AM · 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!
Edited: February 11, 2020, 7:08 AM · 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 door swings both ways. Someone will write that they're trying to find the right kind of SR. Someone else will say "I use the Invisirest," and eventually it will devolve into a spitefest in which folks will make some kind of deprecatory analogy ("training wheels" for example) or references to Heifetz.

February 10, 2020, 10:53 AM · That's what you say Paul. But can you find me an example? I have not seen one here for months, if not years.
February 10, 2020, 10:57 AM · 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.
Edited: February 10, 2020, 5:04 PM · 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.
It's just how it is, it may be good for Baroque performers because they don't play in high positions neither vibrate too much.
Also, raising your lef sholder is wrong, and many who play without sholder rest do that (I didn't).
But all isn't for nothing, playing without a sholder rest for some time, really teaches you to play with a sholder rest. You learn not to press the violin too much with your head and to have a better contact on the left hand.
Edited: February 10, 2020, 2:08 PM · 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.

There are some players I deeply respect who play without a shoulder rest, and many more whom I also deeply respect who use one.

A quick look around both violin sections of my orchestra, the violin sections of any professional orchestra you might see on Youtube, violin soloists who play with my orchestra, and violin soloists one can see on Youtube reveals that the great majority use shoulder rests.


February 10, 2020, 2:28 PM · "Why is it that everytime anyone posts about playing with out an SR they are challenged for doing so?"

Because they are usually saying "I've been trying this for two years now and can't get comfortable and can't vibrate or downshift well."

People generally seem to do fine without a rest if they started as a child without one. It's very difficult to make the transition as you get older.

It's like an adult with a one-handed backhand see a tennis pro with a two-handed backhand and suddenly want to imitate them.

If you're doing ok with a shoulder rest or a one-handed backhand, don't step into the trap of suddenly wanting to change.

And trust me, it is a trap.

Edited: February 10, 2020, 5:35 PM · "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.
It's just how it is, it may be good for Baroque performers because they don't play in high positions neither vibrate too much.
Also, raising your lef sholder is wrong, and many who play without sholder rest do that (I didn't)."

Sheesh. No, no and no. I see you persisted but did you actually get lessons on how to play without an SR, how to develop it?

I have a medium neck and I have no problem shifting, vibrating and I don't raise my left shoulder. Nor did Heifetz, Menuhin, Oistrach, Kogan etc etc.

Edited: February 10, 2020, 6:25 PM · Elise, I could have personally written the final paragraph of your response!

I think that possibly the two reasons I haven't had any problems with playing restless are that I took up the violin quite late in life and so didn't have the usual childhood experience of a shoulder rest being treated as a necessary part of the instrument and for playing it. The second reason is that I had a very good teacher who, although she used a SR herself, helped me to play S/R-less by addressing the fundamentals of posture and tension-free playing.

More recently, using the analytical methods for problem solving that my teacher taught me (by example rather than formally), I taught myself to play C/R-less with no problems regarding shifting, vibrato and stability. I don't make a habit of playing C/R-less, but the ability to do so if required (e.g. if the C/R should break) is a useful addition to my tool box.

February 10, 2020, 10:06 PM · 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:

But if you search "invisirest" in the search box above, you'll get plenty of hits.

February 10, 2020, 10:25 PM · 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.
February 10, 2020, 10:25 PM · 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.
Edited: February 10, 2020, 10:29 PM · 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.
February 11, 2020, 12:52 AM · 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.
Edited: February 11, 2020, 7:11 AM · 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.

To give my try answering Catalina's question (if she is still here): don't worry about the thumb too much, just have it where you think it can be most useful supporting the instrument. Before downshifting, already lower your thumb, for example, so there is more support down below. The more you feel comfortable keeping your violin steady just supported by thumb, some light support from base of 1st finger, and collarbone (with light pressure from the chin when needed), you can do slow Rivarde-like vibrato exercises, even without the bow, just silent exercises, to increase confidence. Many such exercises in Simon Fischer's book "Basics". Even with vibrato on the 1st finger actually, it should be possible to still have some light touching of the neck by base of 1st finger. That is because the vibrato rolling should be mostly done by the top part of the finger. Study slowly. Having a nice vibrato after only two years of playing is quite ambitious by itself, with or without shoulder rest.

February 11, 2020, 7:11 AM · 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.

You may want to take some lessons with either a Alexander teacher or even a viola teacher who studied with Karen Tuttle (she was the expert of comfort in string playing)

February 11, 2020, 10:19 AM · "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."

Simply because people write nonsense about it being impossible. Its not about their physique - at that time EVERYONE played without one.

Scott - perhaps the fine art of playing SR less has been lost - indeed, it may require learning that way from the beginning (I actually did, at least for the first three years, and maybe also why you did not take to it). Indeed, maybe that is why it is actually never comfortable for players to play with one. For me it feels as if someone strapped the instrument to my shoulder. Bit like wearing a tooth brace I guess...

February 11, 2020, 10:24 AM · 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".

Yes a tiresome canard. My current feeling is really what I wrote to Scott and Trevor illuminated. If you started without one you may never be truly comfortable with. If you started with one, you may never be truly comfortable without. Can you switch? Of course, but it might be difficult.

February 11, 2020, 10:29 AM · 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'm not sure if that was meant as a putdown, it sure reads like it. And if so, its to me elitist - and I'd love to see you say that to Aaron Rosand (who apparently will not teach you unless you get rid of the SR) or Itazk Perlman too. Just let me get my popcorn...

February 11, 2020, 12:06 PM · I guess I don't consider playing without a shoulder rest to be a fine art.

It's a trap in the same way that becoming neurotic about strings or bows or instruments is:

When to stop? The problem is that people often get stuck making these decisions, especially with using a shoulder rest and/or feeling like they have to use plain gut strings or this or that combination because the this or that person did. They get stuck in an endless loop, and as a result, the actual playing of the instrument suffers. They can't go back, and they can't go forward. Like a donkey between two bales of hay.
Play without the rest for a day, and suddenly the rest is huge and cumbersome, yet it's painful to play without.

I would just say to know when to say when. There are a certain percentage of people who try to go rest-less and succeed, and a certain percentage that will fail. It would be interesting to know the figures.

Edited: February 11, 2020, 12:54 PM · I read all the replies, thanks for the tips :)

I've been thinking about this subject and I think I have never learned well vibrato.

To clarify I started playing restless, I never had a huge amount of tension while playing this way. My teacher at that time told me to buy a SR, I did and problems started to appear. I had tension on my left shoulder and on my neck, I never felt comfortable and during this time I learned vibrato. I think that I produced my vibrato with tension that's why I can't do it without one. The response from Mark Kliesen got me thinking, if I can't do vibrato well with or without maybe I never learned it correctly.

I'll practice instead being relaxed while practicing vibrato and look into exercises.

(I'm learning with a different teacher now. Here in my country is difficult to find good teachers but I think I'm in good hands now, hopefully).

February 11, 2020, 1:05 PM · 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 :-)
February 11, 2020, 1:06 PM · 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.

Good luck with the studies! Er, with or without an SR :D

February 11, 2020, 1:11 PM · Thanks for the clarification Jean. And I learned on a wooden racket too - but play badminton with a carbonfiber ;)

Raymond wrote: I think an analogy could be made with the shoulder rest: a lot of people found they could shift with less effort and perhaps greater comfort. Is there a trade off? I suppose but that trade off may vary depending on the individual. My advice would be to go with whatever is feels simpler and requires less effort.

Definitely. But really playing with an SR makes it easier to get started and easier to reach technical highs. Whether the satisfying or sufficient is really up to each player. Baroque players obviously do not think so.

I should also add that SRs make it generally easier on the teacher - most of whom have no idea how to play without (personal experience). I am lucky to have recently found a top-rate teacher and performer who also plays without and understands the nuances.

February 11, 2020, 1:15 PM · Scott wrote: "I guess I don't consider playing without a shoulder rest to be a fine art."

I think the number of people who fail to do so even after a substantial effort in itself proves it to be something of an art. I did not mean it to be finer than any other way to play - but, from my experience, it brings in nuances that are not necessary for playing with.

Perhaps its just a difference in the definition of 'fine art'?

The other, and most important question is whether playing with or without really changes the musical output? To that I have no idea. For me its more about my relationship with the instrument.

February 11, 2020, 1:40 PM · 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.
February 11, 2020, 1:49 PM · 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.

Or maybe that playing restless means you don't project so well? Tell that to Itzak too. I'm sure he would be fascinated (not).

February 11, 2020, 2:33 PM · Now, lets be fair!
- Elise is right that we haven't seen "invisirest" or "Heifetz didn't use one" for a long time;
- I have found that a bad CR-SR setup is worse than no SR, but that a fine-tuned CR-SR setup gives me less tension and more freedom;
- every single Restless player I know, or have watched, raises his/her shoulder some of the time (including Heifetz, Perlman and Mutter) even those who hotly deny doing so!

Some time ago Elise was looking for a "collar-bone rest", not to hold the violin, but tilt it for easier access to the lower strings; this is one of the functions of my SRs: 30° tilt on violin, 45° on viola. A warm vibrato on the lowest string.

On viola, I (and many of my students) cannot even reach the highest notes without the thumb leaving the instrument's neck, let alone play them beautifully..

Either way we must be practical, not dogmatic.

February 11, 2020, 2:46 PM · 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.

After all, the reason we examine various chin/shoulder rest possibilities is:
1. to find the most relaxed, energy-efficient way of playing the violin
2. to make sure the violin doesn't slip unexpectedly and
3. to feel comfortable with the violin.

Whatever equipment, or lack of, that will help you reach those three goals is the answer.

Edited: February 11, 2020, 3:30 PM · 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.
Answering your question, yes, during those 8 months I had calsses with that same teacher who convinced me to ditch the sholder rest, he kept giving me some general tips on how to do it, but of course we couldn't give uourselves the luxury of focusing our classes on that, I had a final recital to prepare to, in which I actually palyed without the sholder rest. But in all those months, I always had to practice a lot more, warm up a lot more to be able to play in tune when shifting, everything took twice or triple longer and was twice as hard, for what?
What matters is that you feel confortable, playing violin should be as natural as possible. Later when I was no longer having any classes, I had to think for myself and I did the best thing I could do, which was to use SR again. Definitely not for me. I now use the Diamond, it's very low, almost like not having SR, but of course gives you all the security of a SR, so I can relax when palying.
However, I believe playing without a sholder rest should be a mandatory temporary step because, if done properly, it really forces you to improve a lot on the things I said on my first comment.
February 11, 2020, 3:31 PM · Glad its worked out for you. And I agree, playing a bit without, even if you go back is very instructive.

February 11, 2020, 3:35 PM · 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.
Edited: February 11, 2020, 6:20 PM · 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...
Edited: February 11, 2020, 7:15 PM · 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.

When my daughter started taking lessons, her teacher asked me to get a Kun rest for her 1/4 violin and then he dressed it all up with green foam and scotch tape -- it looked like the Michelin Man dressed for St. Patrick's Day! But I thought, maybe I'll try one of those things after all. So I bought a Kun rest and discovered that several things were immediately easier, and they all had to do with the "double duty" that your left hand must serve when playing restless: finding the notes and holding up the violin. Think shifting, vibrato, high register passages, and, in my experience, overall volume (probably the result of increased confidence that my violin will not fall to the floor).

Sure, there are obviously a number of stellar restless violinists whose playing didn't seem to suffer in those areas. Mostly they learned from very young ages and that's a big difference. A lot of people say they like the freedom of movement that restless playing gives them. I know a local pro who plays (and teaches) restless. His violin is flopping all over the place when he plays, and I have no idea how he tolerates that, but he plays beautifully. For me, I feel more free when my violin is NOT flopping around. Freedom is maybe not the right word -- more like security. And don't go quoting Franklin on me now. LOL

February 11, 2020, 10:13 PM · 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.
Edited: February 12, 2020, 2:29 PM · 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.

To answer Catalina’s question about the left hand, ideally, in my opinion, when playing without a shoulder rest, you do not want to prop the instrument up with the left hand because you are already doing many tasks with the left hand (articulating, shifting, and vibrating). In addition, you do not want to lift the shoulder to prop up the violin. If you’re having issues securing the instrument, I’d recommend measuring your instrument from the back plate to the top of the chinrest. Then I would measure the distance from your collarbone to your chin. Make sure the measurements match. If the gap between your collarbone and chin is larger than the distance between your instrument’s back plate to the top of the chinrest, you might consider trying a higher chinrest or using a little sponge on the back to fill the gap.

Experiment with different thumb positions. No matter what position you choose, the thumb should be extremely light on the neck without any squeezing.

February 12, 2020, 3:01 PM · 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.
Edited: February 12, 2020, 5:49 PM · 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.
Edited: February 12, 2020, 7:35 PM · 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.
Then in their mind it's like "I want to be cool and play like this, because it's considered harder", appreciated for some kind of elite and will make them feel superior. And not because it's actually better for them, their playing or the sound. That's the sad truth in most cases.
Today's idols play with sholder rests. If you want to play or sound similar to Heifetz and Oistrakh, you shuld look at a lot of other things they did, their playing style, bow strokes, their technique, their musicality, maybe their violin type, dark or bright and string set. Not if they had sholder rest, what kind of underware they used, if they used to sleep on their back, side or stomach and their pillow height.
February 12, 2020, 9:35 PM · @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.
At the end of the day we learned something about the experience and we can always put the shoulder rest back on.

I'm sorry for my english, not my first language.

February 12, 2020, 11:02 PM · 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!]

Well said.

Edited: February 12, 2020, 11:07 PM · "I really see all this usual shoulder rest debates as people wanting to imitate their old idols."

Well, if by idols you mean the teachers we had when we were in the most productive phases of our tutelage, then that's a pretty natural and even reasonable objective. Because the teacher I had as a child was not a pedagogue at all (imagine going 12 years without being taught what "ring tones" are), when I returned to the violin I wanted to be taught ... differently.

And maybe the SR *is* a crutch -- but it sure does help me get around on the violin.

Edited: February 13, 2020, 7:45 AM · @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.
February 13, 2020, 8:53 AM · Will do Nate - I'll re-measure and go from there.
Edited: February 13, 2020, 10:54 AM · 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.)

While many people are fine with a shoulder rest, others find it somewhat confining; they're looking for a way to enjoy more the *physicality of playing*.

I think some here are reading too many alterior motives into this, such as 'imitating idols'. You're not going to turn into a Primrose or Milstein by ditching the rest, but as they both stated they found it more comfortable to play without.... might be worth at least investigating.

February 13, 2020, 12:00 PM · 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 ….
Edited: February 13, 2020, 2:58 PM · 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.
February 13, 2020, 4:40 PM · 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.
Edited: February 13, 2020, 5:11 PM · 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!
After many trials carving up chinrests, my current CR-SR setup is such that I don't neven feel it's there: no cramps or tension, no hickey. But I'only 71 yo so time will tell.

Just for the record, Oistrakh used a PlayonAir_type pad; Stern and Zukerman had/has a pad inside their tuxedos.

The issue is not really Rest or No-Rest: it is more if, how and when to allow oneself to use the shoulder for support.

February 13, 2020, 5:29 PM · I did try the PolyPad extensively. It almost worked for violin, I might reprise it for the viola. That's a good suggestion Ella.
February 14, 2020, 10:24 AM · "According to Josef Gingold, Mr. Ysaye was 6’5”, and he did not use a shoulder rest"

I don't think shoulder rests were being manufactured in the early 20th century. It's not clear if the materials, such as plastics, existed to manufacture them, or if the market for them was big enough to mass produce them.

So I find it plausible that violinists who couldn't play well without them back then simply dropped out and quit playing, whereas they might have been successful had they had the benefit of today's shoulder rests.

We do know that many violinists--I think Mr. Gingold included--actually had pads sewn into their clothing.

Edited: February 14, 2020, 10:42 AM · I think this (archived) discussion is relevant:

It seems that discussions on this topic have hardly changed in a decade, corny jokes and all!

February 14, 2020, 11:18 AM · Scott wrote: "We do know that many violinists--I think Mr. Gingold included--actually had pads sewn into their clothing."

I keep reading this - but is it really that relevant? An SR is attached to the violin, it becomes a part of the violin and as such it prevents its free movement. A pad in the clothing does facilitates contact of the shoulder with the violin (by lowering the gap) but it does not have the same (and to me much more important) effect of restricting violin movement. That is not the same as a pad attached to teh violin whitch really is a 'SR-lite'.

I hope my distinction is clear - its not one usually made but I think it very important. Let me put it a somewhat another way. Playing with a pad attached to the violin (which means the violin can not be moved relatively to the shoulder because the pads are (as far as I have seen) invariably finished in a non-slip material vs the clothing) are using a minimal SR. However, a pad under the clothing DOES permit the violin to slide (since its surface is varnished) and this is much more akin to playing SR-less.

If you need convincing, try it.

Edited: February 14, 2020, 1:08 PM · 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.
February 14, 2020, 1:49 PM · 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?
February 14, 2020, 7:43 PM · the muting doesn’t seem to be a problem for People like Hilary Hahn or kavakos.
February 14, 2020, 10:45 PM · 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.

In the case of vibrato, you have to really exagerate Simon Fischer's notion o the Vibrato being "one motion" where the 'out of pitch' position is a relaxed position, and the 'on the note' position is in fact the motion itself, when done effectively (without a SR) you'll feel the oposite, instead of losing balance and falling, you'll feel like you're pushing the violin towards yourself.

I cannot recommend enough Nathan Cole's(stupendously good teacher) video on it 'How to develop a flexible, effortless violin vibrato' on youtube

Hope this helps!


February 14, 2020, 10:50 PM · 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.
February 15, 2020, 4:01 AM · 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.

Re shoulder rests and tone?
On my violas, the lateral clamping of my Kun Bravo rests has no effect on my narrow bodied JTL, but causes a noticeable reduction in depth of tone on my wide-bottomed "lyra-viola" by B.Sabatier. I avoid this by not putting the SR on the widest part of the lower bouts, but nearer the tail button; two nice brown cotton shoelaces looped from the screw "legs" to the corners of the viola, avoid the risk of slipping or collapse.

I have a long neck (high CR), broad but sloping shoulders (high SR), and a small pinky (45° tilt). But folks seem to ask me back!

February 15, 2020, 6:18 AM · " 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."

IMO the only truly useless comment in this topic thus far was that one.

Did you read through? First, I think every topic here ranges into areas that were not raised by the OP. This one is remarkably focused in that we are still talking about playing wo an SR. Indeed, that is for me one of the delights of this forum, the interesting side issues. Second, as noted by Adrian the change in how we are discussing w/wo SRs is remarkable - so much more of a vive la difference than it used to be. Admittedly, this change has been more on the part of the SRless (who were inclined do be elitist). Also, there have been quite a few novel comments that I think both sides would be very interested in. For example I have never previously seen a discussion on V.Com about the differences in a shoulder pad vs a violin pad [its probably somewhere but obviously its novel enough that nobody here seems to remember it!

If it didn't go anywhere for you then too bad but I think you are in a very small minority.

February 15, 2020, 8:08 AM · 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.
Edited: February 15, 2020, 8:23 AM · 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. :)

As for shoulder pad vs. violin pad, that would be a great new thread, but my own preference is for the shaped violin pad that keeps my violin more or less in the same place. I just find -- within my own set of skills and limitations -- that when I try to use a shoulder pad, the movement of my violin is not within my control, causing my left hand to do additional work. Also the pads that go under your suit jacket tend to be convex and for me this is a recipe for total disaster.

Edited: February 15, 2020, 11:14 AM · @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.
Edited: February 15, 2020, 1:27 PM · 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.

The 2 people with the Guadagninis are pretty well known violinists (one is a former Juilliard faculty member). They have both used shoulder rests or padding of some kind and also have played without them throughout their careers. The people sitting in the audience, were not just (opinionated) violinists, it included a few pianists, and a bass player as well. Everyone there heard a stark contrast in the sound. As I noted earlier, one of the pianists there commented on how it was like comparing con sordino (when shoulder rests were used) to senza sordino (when they took off the shoulder rests). Interestingly the players did not hear as much of a difference under their ears.

February 15, 2020, 2:27 PM · 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.

The problem arises when you want to hang your left arm off the end of the fingerboard. Then there is a net force on your finger.

I have found that the only time you need to clamp down on the chinrest is when you want to shift to a lower position, especially if you are going directly from one double stop to another.

February 15, 2020, 2:41 PM · 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.

(I cannot do this.)

Edited: February 16, 2020, 12:05 AM · 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.

“Jeewon” is a Korean woman’s name.

February 16, 2020, 5:26 AM · 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".
February 16, 2020, 8:42 AM · 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.

I just think it is courteous to take a moment to figure out how to properly refer to another poster.

Edited: February 16, 2020, 8:45 AM · Mary Ellen. So much for the Google gender solution...

[You are wrong.]

February 16, 2020, 8:49 AM · 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.

Many (SR-less) violinists do this when they want a particularly large amplitude vibrato.

February 16, 2020, 9:29 AM · I checked "Jeewon Kim violin" in Google and came up with a girl and a boy...
Edited: February 16, 2020, 9:46 AM · 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.

My middle initial is "A" so I only had trouble once at the airport because my middle initial was printed right at the end of my first name on my ticket, which created "PAULA" which is a female name in English speaking countries. Everything was fine, of course, when I showed my ID. But until then I had never really bothered to look very closely at an airline ticket to see how my name was rendered.

My recollection is that OUR Jeewon Kim lives in the greater Toronto area. Perhaps this person?

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this person:

I've been stung by the google-search fail too.

February 16, 2020, 10:56 AM · Adrian - I did one better. I checked with my old friend Jeewon.

Why are you still debating this??

February 16, 2020, 12:17 PM · "Why are you still debating this??"

Because that's what the internet is for.

February 16, 2020, 3:08 PM · OK. Lets discuss if you are a girl Paul. Even better if you have already clarified that you are not.
February 16, 2020, 5:37 PM · Calm down, now. I was only kidding around.
February 17, 2020, 8:01 AM · "Calm down"? Sorry, not when it comes to affronts to my friends.
February 17, 2020, 9:17 AM · Er, when someone thinks Adrian is a girl's name, I'm not "affronted"..
I had a boy student called Robin; in 19th century France one could meet a boy called Anne; in UK, Courtney is a boy, etc, etc..

I always assumed "our" Jeewon is a man, probably because his comments are referred to as "his" by other posters.

All somewhat off topic, n'est-ce pas?

Edited: February 17, 2020, 10:55 AM · 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.

It's also easier here than it is in real life. Because if someone is standing in front of you, and you don't know whether they're male or female, then just asking that question can be upsetting to them when perhaps they thought it should be obvious. Of course it happens more frequently with children but with adults it can happen also.

On the other hand, if someone were to use the wrong pronoun for me in an internet forum, and they went the extra step of looking up "Paul" on Google and still got it wrong, I think I would not characterize that as an affront. At least I hope I wouldn't. If they kept saying "she" intentionally after being educated, then that would be an affront.

The problem with affronts is that they put you in arrears.

I just invented that joke and I'm rather proud of it.

February 17, 2020, 10:55 AM · 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?

And with that I put this to rest. Which brings us back to SRs... :)

February 17, 2020, 10:56 AM · Ha! Nice one. Except you don't rest, do you? LOL
February 17, 2020, 10:58 AM · 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.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

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