Switching to playing without a shoulder rest
I will be beginning studies at the college level next year with a wonderful professor that I admire very much as both a soloist and pedagogue. The only 'issue'- he strongly prefers that all of his students play without a shoulder rest. He firmly believes that it offers greater freedom of motion for the left hand, variety of position between the bow and violin, etc.
I have some experience playing baroque violin, so I am not a complete stranger to playing without a shoulder rest, and even play 'chin off' when I am performing on baroque violin (no shoulder rest, no chin rest, no resting the head on the violin the entire time... in other words, literally 'chin off!) However, the repertoire I play on baroque violin is very different from the repertoire he would like me to work on in my degree program- stuff like Ysäye, Elliott Carter, Bartok Concerto no. 2, etc.
My question: I have just started fooling around playing with no shoulder rest in Carl Flesch scales in thirds, octaves, tenths as well as some Ysäye, just to push myself and see how bad it really feels without a shoulder rest. The main difference I notice is that when I try to vibrate chords, especially thirds, my vibrato seems quite restricted when I play without a shoulder rest.
I have experimented with using a non-slip carpet pad on my shoulder, which seems to help.
Are there any exercises people can suggest that might help me adjust to playing without a shoulder rest and feel greater security?
Also, for the record: I tried switching to playing with no shoulder rest about 1.5 years ago and massively screwed up my neck in the process (strained trapezius.) This time I am taking it slow and trying to introduce the new position slowly, not all at once, so my muscles have time to adjust!
Of course I'm sure this is something we could work on together during the year, but I would prefer to get a head start on it, especially because I will be in a graduate program. I don't want to waste valuable lesson time working on adjusting to the new style, if possible (especially because I have LOADS of time on my hands now, haha!)
Not a complete expert, as I still use an Acoustifoam pad. But do make sure that your chin rest is high enough and in the right position. I ended up swapping the standard Guarneri for a Flesch, and that has made a nice difference.
I have a VERY high chin rest- one of those adjustable SAS chin rests, which I love. I got it after the strained trapezius incident, and it has seemed to help a lot.
All I can say is there has to be a reason why so many prominent violin virtuosos in the modern era use shoulder rests!!!!!
If you’ve already done some playing sans shoulder rest and chinrest, you’ve had the experience of playing without the violin rigidly locked into your shoulder; that’s a great start.
If a shoulder rest is what works for you and you playing without one is totally uncomfortable, then tell your professor that you'll be keeping it on. After giving shoulder-rest-less-ness a good try for a while, of course.
I think it is absolutely crucial to find what works for your body. In my opinion, no one should force you to go restless just because they think it's "better". Everyone is different, and trust me, while many people have no problems without a shoulder rest, some of us have a very hard time without one, so it's absolutely crucial to do whatever makes you more comfortable, whether it's using a high chinrest to accommodate your long neck, a sponge, or a shoulder rest.
Thanks everybody! While I don't think the professor will "force" me to go rest-less if it really doesn't work, especially because I will be a graduate student, he does want me to give it an honest try. I'm certainly not against it, and have actually really wanted to learn how to play without a shoulder rest for a long time. I don't have a very long neck, pretty average actually, so at least that is not an issue. Are there any specific exercises any of you have used to become more comfortable? Shifting is not even the problem- I actually feel a good amount of freedom in shifting without a rest. The problem is more with vibrato and chords. Somehow my hand feels tighter because I am 'supporting' the instrument a bit more with my L hand without a rest.
I would look at the left hand section of Carl Flesch Urstudien (a great warmup) and Dounis Op. 12, The Artist’s Technique. Specifically, the octave slides on one string, the two-octave arpeggios on one string, the exercises for shifting in scales, and the double stop exercises. I would do these exercises with vibrato, but without fixating so much on the beauty of sound, but focusing on releasing tension and relaxing the hand, particularly at the fingertip joints, the base knuckles and the wrist.
Thanks, Lorenzo! I will try those. I love Dounis and Dont. Where can I find the Vamos double stop exercise book? I have never seen that for sale. So far the SAS chinrest plus the non-slip carpet pad seem to be working pretty well together. I might play around with a center chin rest that I have, too (I think it's Gewa.)
Look up Raphael Klayman and see if he will give you a Skype lesson. He claims to be able to convert anyone to restless playing, and he's quite a fine violinist so he knows what he's talking about.
Another one bites the dust. Good luck... If you decide to come back to shoulder rest (you most likely will, from what I've just read), at least you'll feel much more free. It's a good and worthy experience that improves your playing, probably for the rest of your life.
I agree, David. It never hurts to try playing without a shoulder rest. In fact, I think it's kind of a fun experiment to do just for a few minutes at a time. But it's certainly not a long-term solution for everyone.
Because everyone is different. Playing successfully without shoulder rest shouldn't be a goal, that mindset doesn't make any sense. It must be just an ordinary option for some people that actually benefit from it.
A poor CR/SR setup is worse than nothing, but a fine-tuned arrangement gives more freedom, not less.
You should, of course, only use natural sponge because that is what was available in the days of Stradivari.
I think you should follow your teacher’s recommendations. Looking for reasons to argue with the teacher will just lead to frustration on both sides. If you’re not comfortable with the requests made of you, you can find a teacher who doesn’t mind shoulder rests (there are plenty).
Just don't start practicing five hours a day the moment you toss your Kun in the trash.
+1 for the Raphael Klayman suggestion!
I recommend that you approach learning to play without a shoulder rest as a process, not something you can jump into. This is especially true considering the advanced repertoire you are playing.
It's a slow process. The body will figure out how to balance your instrument. I took a year of going back and forth between a shoulder rest and a leather cloth. And then another year to let go of the cloth (which is the fear of the instrument slipping — but it won't slip because you still have a chin rest).
Beautiful video! I have actually played with that position of the violin low on the chest at some baroque/Renaissance music festivals, but I don't think that's the position my professor is going for ; )
Liz - the reasons he articulates do not appear to me to survive the retort of "well, if that were so crucial, why don't Joshua, Gil and Hilary realize that they could be better violinists and throw out their rests?" While there have been many (ugh!) threads on v.com debating the merits of whether or not it is better to go restless, I think it is really a personal choice based on comfort and such considerations.
"High chinrests and shoulder rests encourage a lot of pressure in the hold".
Here’s a little video of Eugene Fodor talking about shoulder rests: https://youtu.be/aF5cw-DJ0xs
Oh baby, do I have a neck like a swan, or some kind of other hideous waterfowl. Anyway, a thing of beauty. I'm really glad my teacher seems to be able to teach me without throwing out my shoulder rest, but props to people who figure it out.
@Jeewon Kim and @Christian Lesniak, I would recommend reading David Dalton’s book of conversations with Primrose. There’s a lot of great info there from a truly great player.
Hi, for me, it was a process. One bad habit of mine is that any SR triggers my left shoulder to press against it. If the SR is high enough, one cannot see the shoulder rising, but the tension is there, nonetheless.
Adrian, you said “ Holding up the violin only with the left hand is a bit like trying to lift the chair we are sitting on!”
Rich, the Dalton-Primrose discussions are invaluable.
My concern about playing restless with a long neck is that if you maintain contact with the chinrest the entire time and you use a standard height chinrest, you'd be very tempted to clench and hold tension and your neck would be bent down. A high chinrest solves this problem. Is it true that those who play restless with a long neck and a low chinrest keep their chin off much of the time?
I agree, and everyone has their own needs, and I'm sure there are way more factors that go into the decision to go restless than you might think, and I think factors like the shape and structure of the shoulder, collarbone and chest complex and movement patterns are sometimes overlooked. I suspect some people, myself included, have a collarbone structure that makes it difficult for the violin to sit nicely on it, so some sort of shoulder rest, even a sponge, will help a ton.
Rich, I'm actually pretty comfy with my setup. I was uncomfortable (years ago) for a while until I found a chinrest that was high enough and took Alexander lessons - When I play on someone else's violin with a low chinrest, I find it pretty uncomfortable, but luckily, I play on my own violin, so problem solved. I can't imagine a scenario where I would consider dropping my shoulder rest, even if I can acknowledge that it's a perfectly fine way to play violin if it works for someone.
Kim's articulate entry this morning says all that needs to be said. Think of all the bits (and pieces) and wasted electrons that could have been put to better use on this website and so many others over so many years.
I find it rather frustrating when I read comments made to denigrate the wisdom of great players and teachers. It’s a popular trend to insist that the greats are not so great and that the players of the moment have surpassed them in technique and musicality. Greatness is something that is timeless, something that survives the ever-changing whimsy of the present.
Who's denigrating? Eugene Fodor was a great player, and I'm sure full of wisdom, but he put out a big claim that clearly results from his bias, and he wasn't exactly known as someone that kept a big studio of students. Does it not follow that there would be far fewer teachers and soloists insisting on restless playing in an era where there was a wide variety of rests that had been on the market for a long time, as opposed to during an era where such a thing was quite rare?
In addition to the variables Ella mentioned, I use a shoulder rest for yet another reason: small hands. I believe another violist on this forum (Adrian Heath) uses a shoulder rest for the same reason.
"Greatness is something that is timeless, something that survives the ever-changing whimsy of the present."
I'm sure no one here is intentionally trying to put down the great violinists. The great masters of the violin were indeed excellent players. There are so many schools of violin playing, and many players have very different views on technique, which can be both confusing and interesting.
Jeewon, I agree, my definition of the perfect SR wasn’t very accurate, but I rather meant it like you described it.
Ruggiero Ricci made some very intriguing remarks about holding the violin with the left hand. He was interested in understanding how Paganini would most likely have held the instrument in a time before chinrests that allowed for all the shifting. Like Primrose, he made the case for a hold that made more use of the left hand than is typical currently.
I am not a professional violinist. I started to play violin about 2 years ago. And I play very simple tunes just for fun, mostly in first position. I tried to use the shoulder rest that came with the violin (a very cheap one). And it was very uncomfortable for me. So I decided to play without SR. But playing without SR introduced 2 other issues for me: 1. the feel that the violin will slip out 2. the metal parts holding the chin rest hurt the skin over my collarbone. So here is the solution I ended up with. I bought a napkin made of natural chamois leather from the car supply shop, and sewed a covering that go over the chin rest and also over the bottom part of the violin, creating a very thin padding between the violin and the collarbone. I am very happy with the results. 1. It softens the feel on the collarbone but doesn't add wobbling effect as the thicker pads sponges add. 2. It add good amount of additional friction between violin and collarbone and also between chin and chin rest. It is not a ver aesthetic solution but as I only play at home, I don't care. Here is how the covering look:
Forgive me if this has already been said:
Well, I'll just point out that Rosand and many others did it for decades successfully, so it's hard to claim it can't be done. Perhaps there's a trick to it.
I recall that the instructions that Michael wrote up were also in Primrose's Playing the Viola book according to some old threads. Works really well for positioning the instrument (i.e finding the right angle) but it does not determine whether or not you need a shoulder rest. Shoulder rest choice is of course based on the individual's needs.
And violins are much less varied than shoulders..
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