Switching to playing without a shoulder rest

Edited: April 11, 2020, 9:11 AM · Hello!

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!)

Replies (52)

April 11, 2020, 9:11 AM · 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.
April 11, 2020, 9:17 AM · 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.
Edited: April 11, 2020, 9:39 AM · All I can say is there has to be a reason why so many prominent violin virtuosos in the modern era use shoulder rests!!!!!

I've been playing the violin for 81 years both with and without shoulder rests - almost half-and-half. There has always been a reason for shifting from restless to rest to restless to rest, etc. as well as a reason for shifting between different brands and shapes of rest.

It was vibrato problems in my mid 30s that led me to first try a shoulder rest - and when I found the right design for me I stuck with that for the next 40 years (until about 10 years ago). It's been back and forth since then.

You say he "prefers" his students to lay restless, but does he insist?
Have you seen these other students play?
Do they have physical similarities?
Do they all play restless?

April 11, 2020, 9:53 AM · 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.

I would recommend approaching playing your modern repertoire without a shoulder rest by thinking about the amount of pressure you’re putting into the chinrest when you use it. High chinrests and shoulder rests encourage a lot of pressure in the hold, so when the shoulder rest is eliminated, there’s a tendency to overcorrect for its absence by pressing down harder with the chin to replicate the locked position that the shoulder rest provides. Believe it or not, it might be worth switching out your chinrest for a lower model as well.

You could practice by playing something easy or familiar but putting no pressure into the chinrest (effectively playing without it), then gradually adding pressure from your chin until you reach the point where you’re able to shift comfortably. I suspect it will take far less pressure than you expect to play.

Another thing to keep in mind is that making a switch will likely make you feel uncomfortable for a while because it’s a difference that you’ll feel every time you play. However, just like when you started, it’ll feel less awkward with practice, and it may end up making you more comfortable in the long run. If in the end you still feel that it doesn’t work for you, at least you’ll know that you’ve been thorough in your trial.

April 11, 2020, 10:30 AM · 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've been playing with no shoulder rest for a few years now. A tall chinrest definitely makes it far easier to control the violin—it's ok to use the weight of your head for support when you need it. (A lot of old violins have wear in the spot where a chinrest would sit, from players holding the instrument there.)

April 11, 2020, 12:33 PM · 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.
April 11, 2020, 1:42 PM · 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.
Edited: April 11, 2020, 3:34 PM · 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.
Also, a few specific etudes that might be helpful: Dont Op. 35 Nos. 1, 8 and 14. Finally, the Vamos double stop exercise book is a great workout.
In my opinion, playing without a shoulder rest is a very personal way of experiencing the instrument, and while there are shared, universal principles, there are as many approaches to them as there are teachers and performers. I hope your teacher will be able to guide you as you find the solutions that work best for your physical makeup.
Personally, I started playing without a shoulder rest in earnest about seven years ago, and have now found a particular instrument setup that works for me. While I feel so much better and happier about it now, it was definitely a slow transition in the beginning and there are certain things that I still haven’t quite figured out, but I’m optimistic that I’m chipping away at them steadily!
April 11, 2020, 6:02 PM · 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.)
April 11, 2020, 6:52 PM · Hi Liz,
The Vamos book is published by Carl Fischer. I think Shar has it.
April 11, 2020, 10:46 PM · 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.
Edited: April 12, 2020, 1:08 AM · 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.

IMHO, playing without shoulder rest should be an advantage, if you have a short neck, if you started playing restless from the beginning as a child, if it makes you feel more comfortable... But if it's hard, uncomfortable and feels like a handicap that puts you in disadvantage, it's not worth it as a permanent choice, what's the sense or logic in doing that?
Violin playing must be as natural as possible, you must feel as natural as possible, your shoulders must be down and relaxed, as if you were resting on an armchair.

April 12, 2020, 12:39 AM · 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.

I've certainly thought about using a sponge on viola, for instance, because of the thickness of the instrument. I do have enough room for a low-set Kun so I haven't needed a sponge, but who knows? Maybe someday I'll switch. For me personally, I find life very difficult without some form of shoulder rest or sponge, but many people do play successfully without it.

Edited: April 12, 2020, 10:22 AM · 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.
If you like sponges and short shoulder rests, you will probably benefit from the Viva La Musica Diamond.
April 12, 2020, 4:06 AM · A poor CR/SR setup is worse than nothing, but a fine-tuned arrangement gives more freedom, not less.

Assuming we want the violin on or collarbones (which I find can be excruciating) the high CR suits a long neck, and a high SR suits sloping shoulders (I have both, plus stubby fingers and a viola..) And every restless player I know or have seen raises their shoulder some of the time, even those who hotly deny it!

A small sponge on the collarbone can tilt the violin for better access to the low strings as well as some shoulder contact for shifts, vibrato etc.
Holding up the violin only with the left hand is a bit like trying to lift the chair we are sitting on!

Hands (especially thumbs), shoulders etc, are as varied as noses!

April 12, 2020, 9:36 AM · You should, of course, only use natural sponge because that is what was available in the days of Stradivari.
April 12, 2020, 12:12 PM · 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).

You mentioned that you chose your current teacher because you admire his playing style and freedom of expression. Finding the right teacher for you is not an easy task, so if you feel that this teacher is your best fit, give it a serious try. If it just doesn’t work for you, you’ll have the reassurance that you did everything you could before switching.

April 12, 2020, 2:04 PM · Just don't start practicing five hours a day the moment you toss your Kun in the trash.
April 12, 2020, 4:30 PM · +1 for the Raphael Klayman suggestion!
April 13, 2020, 8:37 AM · 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.

A good way to start is to go on YouTube and view Kim Kashkashian's video called "Viola Visions: The Karen Tuttle Healthy Body Mechanics". Here you will see how the chinrest, and anything you choose to put under the instrument, has to be integrated with proper body alignment; a free neck; and the light use of the weight of the head to balance and secure the instrument without clenching. This will help lead to the free movement required for meeting technical challenges and for expressive playing.

April 13, 2020, 11:18 AM · Andrew wrote
"All I can say is there has to be a reason why so many prominent violin virtuosos in the modern era use shoulder rests!!!!!"
And why so many great players in the 20th century played WITHOUT one.
I used one when I was young, then my teacher suggested I was gripping the violin, and should try playing without.
So I was playing in an orchestra WITH a rest (which was what I knew) and practising WITHOUT in the evenings.
My moment of change - I remember it vividly. We were playing Roman Carnival, and I was having trouble. I thought - let's try it without the rest, and it was so much easier. That was the last time I used one.
April 13, 2020, 8:24 PM · 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).

Try playing your violin on your arm or chest and play some Suzuki book 1 level pieces without shifting for one minute a day and then go back to your normal set-up.

April 14, 2020, 9:48 AM · 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 ; )

Thanks for all the suggestions, everyone! I have been working on some Carl Flesch, Dont and Beethoven Concerto without a shoulder rest and it is going well. I'm being careful to take lots of breaks and do gentle head rolls every now and then to make sure the change isn't too much of a shock for my neck and shoulders. I go back and forth between using a shoulder rest (Mach One) and no rest. So far, so good!

Edited: April 14, 2020, 4:32 PM · 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.
Edited: April 14, 2020, 1:50 PM · "High chinrests and shoulder rests encourage a lot of pressure in the hold".

Not for a long neck and sloping shoulders, nor if the rests are the right shape and in the right place...

I spent a few years "restless" on my own initative, but with a much re-carved chinrest and a well-adjusted shoulder rest I balance my viola with the weight of my head: a relaxed shoulder, no hicky, and more freedom to make those gorgeous sounds going round in my head!

However, I can still re-awaken forgotten sensations by playing restless..in private!

April 14, 2020, 9:38 PM · Here’s a little video of Eugene Fodor talking about shoulder rests: https://youtu.be/aF5cw-DJ0xs
April 15, 2020, 12:39 AM · 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.
April 15, 2020, 1:59 AM · @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.

As Primrose says, “You should be able to teach a swan how to play.”

Edited: April 15, 2020, 4:19 AM · 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.
So, I changed to no SR. The biggest challenge for me is shifting upwards around the body of the violin. I used to pull my shoulder up, but then I realized, it doesn’t hurt me to move the shoulder every once in a while even though this might not be the complete puristic way. I work full time in an orchestra, so plus practicing, this is a lot of playing. I haven’t had any issues during these 13+ years without SR.

So, how was the process? I used to use the Playonair rest, and when it started losing air I decided not to inflate it, again. Instead, I deliberately deflated it, gradually, until it was completely flat. I then used a leather cloth that I folded and put on my shoulder. This was a solution that I had observed other students do whose teacher didn’t allow SR. The leather keeps the violin from gliding around too much. You can fold it if you’re not there yet to completely rely on holding the violin with your arm, alone. Still, this option leaves the device on your shoulder rather than attached on the instrument, so that’s as close as you can get.

Once I got used to that, I threw away that aid, too. What is currently left is one layer of leather on the back of my violin to add some grip in case of big shifts.

I would highly recommend this to you, and talk about it with the teacher. You must also take into account that the period of studying with a teacher is precious and relatively short. If I had spent that time to relearn all the basics with some extremely new technique, then I might have not have had the time to work on so much advanced repertoire. Or, I would have played that with an insecure feeling. Such a folded cloth can help you while you are developing, further, without hurting you.

Playing without SR is something very different. You hold the violin with your arm, and if you do this, consequently, the length of your neck is irrelevant.

I personally use the Berber chin rest, by the way. I hold my violin relatively far to the left side. This, however, is not suitable for everyone. I happen to have very bendable arms and can reach very far around the violin from beneath it.

Edited: April 15, 2020, 4:11 AM · 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!”

I think this might lead to the assumption that holding the violin with your arm is something that cannot really be done. At this point of the discussion, I’d like to a add some thoughts on what I find a general potential problem of SRs.:
The ideal SR is said to fill out the space between you and your violin. You just rest your head on the violin without any pressure, and your arms are totally free.
I understand that concept, whereas for a long time, I didn’t quite understood why it didn’t work for me.
I can also take my violin, find some perfect fitting SR, and lay my head on the violin. Voila- the violin is suspended, I can walk around with the violin and use my hands for whatever. That is, whatever EXCEPT for playing the violin! What’s the difference? It is the downward pressure of the bow. You must compensate that. So, either you press against it with your shoulder (as I always used to do), or you hold against it with your left arm. And back you are. Why not incorporate using your arm in the basic concept of how to hold your violin, in the first place?
As I said, if you are trained to do this, then it won’t hurt you to raise your shoulder for a few seconds, sometimes. This is less than a permanently tense shoulder because you are playing with the belief that your arms must be totally free at any moment of your playing.

Edited: April 15, 2020, 4:47 AM · Rich, the Dalton-Primrose discussions are invaluable.
But.. Primrose was a stocky laddie, with good farmer's hands which could reach the high notes without the thumb leaving the crook of the neck.

He also favours the same placement technique as Raphael Klayman,
i.e. placing the left hand on the right shoulder to raise the left shoulder a suitable amount before placing the instrument and keeping it raised thereafter. Permanent tension..
My SR setup means I don't raise my shoulder at all, except in occasional dynamic contexts as Emily describes. My left thumb can take the slight extra weight of the bow-strokes.

And BTW Cotton, I appreciate your not using the words "crutch" or "brace" in this thread. Seriously!

April 15, 2020, 9:52 AM · 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?
April 15, 2020, 11:35 AM · 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.
April 15, 2020, 12:58 PM · 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.
Edited: April 15, 2020, 6:58 PM · Liz,
I switched to no shoulder rest 3 years ago after trying out maybe $1000 in shoulder rests over a few years. Two things really helped me switch over this website/workshop by Jonathan Swartz, Professor at Arizona State http://stringpedagogy.com/members/volumes/articles/rest_no_more.htm , and the "Taming Posture" video by Grigory Kalinovsky, Professor at Indiana/student of Pinchas Zukerman (this video can be found on Youtube).
For me personally, one of the most important things I found was that the left shoulder LOVES to creep up and grip. So I would record myself from behind doing repetitions of putting the instrument in playing position. Also I would raise my left shoulder purposefully then release it and focus on what that released feeling feels like. Now oftentimes when I play for people they often note just how incredible it is that my instrument's back never touches my shoulder and the fiddle is rested completely on the collarbone. I tried for a while using things under my shirt, acoustagrip, make up pads and rubber bands. The whole sum. For me now, I use absolutely nothing. I will admit it's not for everyone, but it has worked for me and worked wonders for my posture and my attention to my own posture.
For the record, I'm no pro or anything. Im another college student preparing for grad school. So hopefully from someone around your age, I can give you some encouragement!
April 15, 2020, 7:00 PM · 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.
April 15, 2020, 8:12 PM · 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.

If using a shoulder rest makes playing the instrument manageable for you, it’s better to be able to play than to struggle. Anyone who is weighing the options would do well to do some research and make a determination of one’s own. But that’s not the subject of this thread. The OP began the discussion to ask specifically for advice about playing without one. There have already been some good suggestions.

April 15, 2020, 9:25 PM · 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?

How many players 100 years ago simply gave up and figured that violin was not for them, leaving the entire field to be made up of players that could succeed under that condition, and thereby biasing the data to look like everyone used to be able to play that way? I think Liz got some solid answers here for her need, and the debate keeps the thread going so that even more people can chime in with great suggestions for Liz on her journey.

April 15, 2020, 9:37 PM · 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.

One of the "benefits" touted by proponents of playing restless is that the instrument tends to sit flatter without a shoulder rest. But that's precisely the thing that makes playing restless impossible for me. I've experimented a little with playing restless, and can play on the upper strings quite comfortably. But if I play restless, my fingers are too short to stop the C string at all unless I swing my elbow so far to the right that my whole shoulder swings backwards and tilts the viola away from me.

Also, I have the headache of both having hands best suited for a center mounted chinrest and having too short a neck to use one. So far the only solution that works for me is an ultra-low side mount chinrest cut to allow me to place it closer to center, and a low, tilted shoulder rest.

Edited: April 16, 2020, 9:17 AM · "Greatness is something that is timeless, something that survives the ever-changing whimsy of the present."
Different times.... different people, different public...different education, tastes, culture, music, art...
Look at the trash music that 90%+ of people listen today, look at the even worse trash that the so called "Contemporary classical music" is, that no one actually likes. Look at the today's world. Do you really think today's classical violinists have a chance to achieve the same "timeless greatness" and mystic as some before?

Actually timeless is the myth that playing without a shoulder rest improves the sound, or even worse, make you a better violinist. Create a shoulder rest thread and people shall comment and argue for days...
Shoulder rest is like chin rest, it didn't use to exist, then it was invented and now everyone uses it. If you think of it this way, problem solved. Move on. If it doesn't help you, leave it.

April 15, 2020, 10:05 PM · 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.

Like Andrew said above, I'm sure many of us need our violins and violas on a certain tilt because having the instrument too flat can be uncomfortable for many of us (not all, however).

I do find having my instrument on a tilt does help with reach. Reach is not a major issue for me on violin, but on viola I do have to do some slightly unusual things to manage the large size because I'm a short lady. For example, my chin is almost on the right side of the tailpiece, so I must use a center-mounted chinrest to be comfortable. Unlike Andrew, my neck is long enough for a centtered chinrest so it works for me. For a shoulder rest, a Kun-type rest on low setting works for me. I have seriously considered using a sponge just because I need something very low (restless is not an option due to the lack of stability), and it might be something I'll do down the line if I undergo any physical changes or maybe I get a new viola with different dimensions or whatnot. Thanks to this setup and a generally tension-minimizing approach, I've avoided straining myself with the viola.

It just shows how unique we are physically. It's okay to do things a little differently if you need to, so long as you play with physical ease and beauty.

April 16, 2020, 2:22 AM · Jeewon, I agree, my definition of the perfect SR wasn’t very accurate, but I rather meant it like you described it.

Of course, a SR is never meant to make you clench the violin tightly. The latter is just the result in many cases. It is a physically misunderstood way of its purpose. For me, it thus triggers the clenching.

Every once in a while, I experiment with a SR, thereby trying to maintain my basic violin hold with the arm, while searching for potential profits from the SR wherever it might be technically helpful. This always adds new personal insights, although I haven’t made use of it outside the practice room. Even after so many years without one, I still fall back into a tense shoulder whenever I try.

April 16, 2020, 7:41 PM · Hi Liz,

Glad you like the video. To clarify (fault is my own for being unclear), I suggested it as an exercise — Simon Fischer suggests something similar with taking the head off instrument on shifting, but I don't remember where exactly — and certainly it would be insane to play Beethoven concerto in a low 17th-century hold. But since you've done it already you're already get my point.

Overall my experience in modern playing was realizing the shoulder rest created more tension for my body (emphasize: my experience) because I want to clamp down for stability. While I found more freedom without a shoulder rest, my thumb and index finger joint have to be more active in supporting the instrument. My found over time my left hand became more intelligent in shifting, and in the grand scheme of things compared with shifting chin off or even below the collarbone playing, shifting with only the chin-rest is piece of cake in comparison.

April 16, 2020, 8:00 PM · 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.
Edited: April 17, 2020, 11:21 AM · Jeewon,

I'm glad you are finding the Tuttle videos (both Kim Kashkashian's and Carol Rodland's) to be useful. They serve as excellent Etudes for the Middle of the Body. I like how they systematically approach balance literally from the feet upwards to the head.

I also highly recommend Paul Rolland and Marla Mutchler's book and film The Teaching of Action in String Playing for learning how to use of a chinrest as a bridge that connects the middle of the body to the two hands. Also, it offers another approach to using the light weight of the head, in combination the weight of the instrument into the neck (not pressed into the neck); the collarbone; the left hand; and the bow to balance the instrument and keep it secured when necessary.

The importance of having a free neck to use the LIGHT WEIGHT of the head (like a bobble head nodding "Yes" from atop the spine), not just support from the collarbone and left hand, is critical if you want to avoid discomfort and pain while playing. One must be patient to learn to perform this gentle movement, but the rewards are lifelong, and not just for string playing. This can only be achieved by keeping the body aligned, especially the hips so that the head is balanced on top of the spine.

Finally, collarbone issues such as downward slope and insufficient depth for supporting the instrument can come from a shoulder blade either turned or pulled out of balance. In these instances the collarbone is dragged downwards or pulled into the torso. One needs the help of a qualified body work professional to identify and correct thees problems.

Edited: April 20, 2020, 2:23 PM · Jeewon,

The description of the chinrest as a bridge connecting the middle of the body to the two hands is mine, not Mr. Rolland's. The bones of the hand, arm, and shoulder blade connect to the torso via the collarbone. The instrument and player's jaw meet at this connection (at least in modern string playing), hence the bridge analogy.

It's important to know that Mr. Rolland advocated two methods of supporting the instrument. One, he called "The Diving Board," which involves using the jaw and shoulder alone to free up the left hand. This was to be used briefly, primarily for awkward shifts and hand/finger positions, etc. The other, he did call "The Bridge," but he was referring to using a combination of the left hand, collarbone, weight of the instrument going into the neck, and the light weight of the head like a bridge structure. This was meant to be the primary method of supporting the instrument.

Mr. Rolland felt that students could be successfully taught starting at an older age if the teacher focused on developing balance and free movement, not just "teaching the notes." All of the "Actions" in the book and film stress this. You can see some examples in video "Paul Rolland Legacy" found on YouTube. Note that not all of the students perform the actions perfectly, but one should expect this since learning string technique is a process.

Of particular interest to Liz are the second and third sections in the video since they focus on freeing up the left shoulder, arm, and hand to facilitate shifting and vibrato. The middle of the body must be aligned to do these movements freely. Most of the students are using soft pads, not rigid shoulder rests.

Finally, I recommend Jennifer Johnson's book "What Every Violinist Needs to Know About the Body," which explains the role of the middle of the body in facilitating technique, tone quality, and projection.

Edited: April 24, 2020, 6:31 AM · 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:


Edited: April 24, 2020, 12:19 PM · Forgive me if this has already been said:

I attended an Aaron Rosand masterclass once. He didn't use a shoulder rest, and had everyone in the MC try playing without. I don't play violin, but I did sample his method for holding later, and I think it's brilliant--it worked for me immediately.

1/ Hold your violin in your right hand. Fingers under, palm on the ribs, thumb on top, just below the f-hole. The violin pointing away from you, obviously, as if you were going to hand it to someone, neck first.
2/ Reach around with your left hand, across your front, over your right shoulder. Try to grab the bottom of your right shoulderblade with your left fingertips
3/ Maintaining that position, lift the violin up with your right hand and place it under your chin, on your shoulder.

Great instructions! Now the trick would be to play while keeping your left shoulder in that position. The violin will hold itself if you can manage it.

Rosand wanted them all to try it because, as he noted, many times it sounded better, and he wanted the students to know the difference and choose for themselves.

As someone pointed out to me, most of the great old violinists were rather small, including Rosand---they had shorter necks, and didn't have as much need for a shoulder rest.

Edited: April 24, 2020, 5:56 PM · 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.
April 25, 2020, 1:11 AM · 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.
April 25, 2020, 2:30 AM · And violins are much less varied than shoulders..
(or noses..)

Marcel Marceau did a marvelous mime of a virtuoso violinist whose left shoulder stayed hunched when bowing to the applause!

Chinrests, however, should be as varied as jawbones?

April 25, 2020, 1:11 PM · Hi everybody,

I´m under the impression that the whole discussion about playing with or without a shoulder rest has exploded a bit during the last weeks or months. Surely there shouldn’t be any rules because in the end everybody has a unique style and has to figure out what works and feels best for them. But since i recently started playing without i thought i might share my story as well. I initially did it because I felt that the shoulder rest was a “Fremdkörper” - something that is not supposed to be there (I know it is not rational because I do not feel that way about the chin rest.)
However I was also under the impression that the sound of the violin improved when i played without the rest. But as a matter of fact I´m not sure if it is really the shoulder rest that makes the difference or rather the change of technique. Because to cut a long story for me to play without a rest requires a huge adjustment in the left hand. I discovered that I could not just switch form playing with the rest to playing without. It’s just something completely different!
The way I see it now the thumb is absolutely crucial for playing without a shoulder rest. Especially in shifting. For example in the Vivaldi G major, which i´m sure everybody has played, there is a shift after the first phrase where you move from the g on the e string in first position the b in third position. Now “normally” with the rest i would move my entire hand to third position and in doing so letting go of the neck entirely for a very shote moment. That wasn’t a problem because the violin was clamped in between the chin and the shoulder (with support of the shoulder rest) and stayed in place. Doing that without the rest would result in dropping the instrument. So even while shifting i figured i had to stay in contact with the violin. After a while i found a very comfortable way of shifting which involves thinking of the thumb individually. I won’t go into detail since i’m already rambling...but I just must say that once this way of shifting and positioning the left hand in general works, it gives me a feeling of utter satisfaction and security because i never loose contact with the violin. Also my intonation has improved because the thumb is now a lot more of a reference point. At times my violin now rings and sings as it has never done before.
But - and this is a big but - it means that i pretty much have to go through everything i’v played in the past and adjust it to the new technique. That is because i stumble across those “Vivaldi-shifting moments” very frequently. So whenever i feel like i want to clamp the violin to let go of the instrument with the left hand, i stop and figure out what is happening and how i can adjust it. It’s just all about staying in contact with the instrument.
And by the way - the tension in the neck has almost completely disappeared. I should also mention that i sometimes use a rolled up little towel under the shirt. That helps in moments where you want to readjust but i never clamp so that the violin rests up without the support of the left hand.

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