Please help, I am not able to practice because of this problem

Edited: June 12, 2020, 2:25 PM · Hello everybody,
I haven't been able to practice as often as I'd like because of a problem. I have decided to go shoulder rest free, but I cannot support the violin like I used to. The painful edge doesn't bother me anymore -- I got used to it -- but it's extremely difficult to hold up the violin without the supporting left arm. For instance, I can't hold it up by just my chin/head/collarbone. I am adamant about wanting to ditch the shoulder rest, but this is a real problem.
Whenever I shift, I need to tense up everything to "hold on" to the violin. My head is drooping, clamped over the violin to secure it.
My left shoulder/arm is hurting badly because of all the tension.

I've heard that certain chinrests allow for someone to play without a shoulder rest. They provide more support. Does any of you know of any models of chinrests?
I think the Kaufmann is a nice choice. I don't have a particularly long neck, so it might help. Any other ideas?
How about the Hamburg? Or Varga?

Thanks very much for all your help!

Jamie

Replies (23)

Edited: June 12, 2020, 2:44 PM · I’m no longer playing restless, but when I was I found that chinrests with a cup positioned over the tailpiece made all the difference. Examples are various Flesch models, and Wittner Augsburg, which I used restless and still use with a shoulder rest.

Moving the instrument to the left on your shoulder, as these rests facilitate doing, puts the high spot of the back arch on top of your shoulder, so it’s easier and more natural to support the violin there. You can experiment with this by just moving your chin over and placing it on the tailpiece, to see how it works for you. Excellent posture is an important part of supporting your violin too.

Don’t make a religion out of playing restless. If it’s not working for you, keep looking until you find a system that does.

June 12, 2020, 2:52 PM · See if the Kréddle chinrest is what you need.
June 12, 2020, 3:04 PM · Practice without your chin on the violin. This way you learn to support the violin with your left hand. Let your left wrist flex in towards the violin, even allowing the palm of the hand contact the neck.
June 12, 2020, 3:17 PM · At some you point you have to ask yourself, if even Baroque violinists who play chin off can shift, then why isn't it working for you when you — and you even have a chin rest to help.

Your problem is exactly as you described: clamping. I would hazard to guess even if you find the perfect chin rest fit for your body, it would only mitigate some of your problems, but won't cure the root of your imbalance. Worse case scenario is that it gives you even more tension because you're replacing one place to clamp down (shoulder) with another (your head, and thus straining your neck).

Let go of the idea you have to hold on to the violin, and let the instrument balance on your collarbone and left hand. Isn't there another thread right now about Erick Friedman recounting how lightly Heifetz held his violin, as if a breath of air would blow it away?

There are great pros to chin rests and shoulder rests, but it seems they are being abused in your case and not helping you.

Transitioning away from a shoulder rest completely might take stages too, it's not a bad idea to try using a sponge or a cloth as an intermediary help.

Try some Yost shifting exercises and focus on how relaxed your body can be while shifting.

June 12, 2020, 3:46 PM · Jamie,

Any time you make a large bio-mechanical change with any activity - it is going to cause you pain if you overdo it.

You are now using the muscles in a very different way changing the amount of tension and degree of flexation by a large amount.

To be sure a much higher chin rest will help but you have to go slowly. In addition, you may want to put something under the violin to keep that back from slipping on your clavicle - I have found that a piece of the waffle-rubber that is used in restaurants (available at any restaurant supply store) to keep plates from slipping on the tray will work for you - it is cheap, cut it to shape and hold it in place with the clamp for the (new) chin rest.

June 12, 2020, 4:20 PM · Whatever gave you the idea of trying to hold the violin up with just the chin and the collarbone? We need the support of either the left hand, as Dr. Berg says, or the shoulder, with or without a shoulder-rest.

I too like a high chinrest, with enough "lip" to hook gently under my jawbone.

June 12, 2020, 5:32 PM · Mind over Matter!!!
Why have you "decided" to play without a shoulder rest? Sounds like it is not the best idea for you. Enough professional violinists play with shoulder rests that the only reasons not to do so is one of the following:
1. You don't need one - so it is just another annoying thing to carry, drop or lose.
2. It interferes with your playing rather than helps it.

Since there is nothing natural about playing a violin it should not matter whether one plays with or without a shoulder rest. Certainly there is no reason to chuck your shoulder rest because someone tries to intimidate you for using it. Also there is certainly no reason to play with the CHINREST that came on your fiddle if it is not comfortable; there are dozens more designs, some of which will certainly fit you better - and there are devices (the IMPRESSIONIST, for example) that can be used to reshape the top of your chinrest to fit your jaw perfectly without damaging you or your chinrest.

I played without a shoulder rest for my first 30 or so years and with whatever chinrest came on my fiddle. THEN I changed to a chinrest that was a perfect fit for me and decided to try some shoulder rests and after several tries found that a WOLF SECUNDO STANDARD was perfect for me. It is a low rest and I did not need extra height, my violin fit perfectly between my jaw and my collar bone, but that shoulder rest gave me just the extra grip and tilt I need for improved arm vibrato, easier down shifting, fingering and bowing the G string.

Another 30 or so years of playing with the WOLF SR and it just didn't fit me exactly right any longer so I experimented some more and played with and without my new various experimental SRs for another 15 years. Less than a year ago I finally settled on the new wooden PERFORMA shoulder rest because it is a perfect fit for me and actually enhances the sound I hear as a player as well as the sound that "shoots out" in front of the violin.

While I was playing without a SR I was the only violinist (or violist, for that matter) in any ensemble I played in who was not using a SR.

June 12, 2020, 5:55 PM · If you're going to go without a shoulder rest, don't try to hold the violin without your left hand. That idea only came about after the shoulder rest became commonplace, and for the vast majority of people it is only possible because of the shoulder rest.
June 12, 2020, 6:21 PM · A lot of people were walking around holding their violins under their "chins" in the 1940s - "Look Ma, no hands!"

I remember it well, even if I was not much taller than a grand piano, I was so proud that I could do it.

Edited: June 12, 2020, 6:36 PM · I'm presently enrolled in Nathan Cole's "Violympics" summer course. Nathan plays restless, and much of his content features him in videos, so naturally there is a lot of discussion among the enrolled students (somewhere around 350, I estimate) about whether they, too, should try to play without shoulder rests. Lots of them are trying, and as you might expect, there are discussions about the various discomforts that are being experienced. (Of course, many of these people do not have teachers to guide them through this process.) Nathan makes it clear that it's really up to the individual, but he just as clearly tells you that if you ditch your shoulder rest, you will be holding up your violin with your left hand basically all the time and it just has to become part of everything you do -- shifting, vibrato, double stops, everything. Lots of people describe the "freedom" that they feel when they get rid of their shoulder rests, but I felt just the opposite. When I started to use a shoulder rest, I felt that my left hand was "free at last." Another possibility for you would be to hire a couple of lessons with Raphael Klayman in New York. I don't know if he teaches at all by Skype, but he has claimed that he can show anyone how to ditch the rest. As he is a fine violinist and an experienced teacher, his tutelage could save you a lot of grief and pain. Bruce Berg's advice (above) sounds very solid to me. The idea is that you really need to feel how much work your left hand has to do because it's going to be doing it ALL THE TIME. When I was young I played restless (my teacher did not allow his male students to use shoulder rests), and I learned that I could "hitch" my chin rest quickly with my jawbone to gain a little traction for downshifts. Whether this is "correct" restless technique or not, I have no idea, but it worked okay.
June 12, 2020, 8:22 PM · If you switch to playing restless, you will need a chinrest that fills the gap between the violin and your chin without you needing to dip your head down, or worse still, clamp down with your chin. This is not just a matter of shape/placement; there's a height component.

Try Fritsch & Denig at chinrests.com. They make custom chinrests, and have guidance on choosing a shape and measuring the correct height.

We all have slightly different anatomy, and the prominence of your collarbones will affect stability of the instrument. However, note that the technique of holding up the violin is different without a shoulder-rest!

When I have been taught by rest-less players, they have advocated supporting the violin with the left hand; indeed, it has been argued that the push of the violin upwards with the left hand facilitates a firmer contact between bow and strings.

We should all, in my opinion, pick the equipment that works the best for our body configurations and physical approach to the instrument, preferably in a way that is sustainable -- i.e. that allows us to play in a relaxed way with minimal effort that will "age well" as our bodies gradually become less flexible and more prone to injury.

I think that anybody who intends to make major changes in their physical set-up should carefully what they hope to gain out of the change. If a set-up change results in more pain (or even just more fatigue) we should seriously consider rethinking the change.

Step 1 in set-up should always be to start with the proper chinrest, though, followed by figuring out what to use at the shoulder. (Rare is the violinist who doesn't use a cloth or padding in the jacket or something.)

June 12, 2020, 8:47 PM · Thanks everybody for your ideas and comments! I realise now that the ability to hold the violin without the left hand is mainly the result of the shoulder rest.
Before I stopped using the shoulder rest, I had a very natural grip and posture. I've been playing for a long time after all (I'm in my teens now). However, I felt that I was using too much left shoulder in supporting the violin. In his masterclass, Menuhin stressed this point: the contact point of the violin to body should be at the collarbone. It allows a light posture and more mobility.
Hence the ditching of the shoulder rest. I felt that it was clunky and got in the way of more freedom.
I guess I will need to experiment with different models of chinrests to bridge my neck gap.

Thanks everyone, again!

June 13, 2020, 12:35 AM · I stopped using my shoulder rest recently and the most important thing for me to remember was that you are building new muscles, especially in your left arm to hold the thing up. You will feel tired at first.

I tried lots of different shoulder rest/chinrest combinations and nothing never worked perfectly. After an hour or so of practice I would always have to stop from tension or some other issue. I even stopped a couple times from lack of focus.

I first tried playing without a shoulder rest in orchestra (when that was still a thing!) a few months ago and I felt really relaxed. As long as my left arm and neck didn't tense up nothing felt bad. So for me, a shoulder rest was not right, though I am sure there is one out there that could work for me.

Though I stopped using the shoulder rest, my chinrest was not quite right. It was uncomfortable and insecure. After a few fails at creating my own chinrest I eventually read this on this website (https://www.violinist.com/blog/PeterKaman/20178/21370/) and so I decided to look into the product. I went to thechinrestlip.com and read some of the instructions and ordered one. The idea of this making you be able to hold up the violin without left hand for me did not work. It could be because I used a low size. This is not a big deal, because it still really helped me in comfort and security. At first it was too tall, so I cut it down and rounded it out. Attached to my chinrest it acts as an extension of the wood and fits me perfectly. I use a chinrest that is mounted on the side, with parts poking over the tailpiece like the kaufmann or hamburg. I put the foam as far to the right as it could go, and I chopped off parts of the chinrest and sandpapered it flat to make the seal tighter and to lower it. It might be worth it to try this, it is not too expensive and it really helped me. Also the customer service is really good. Any questions I had were answered quickly. (thechinrestlip@gmail.com)

In summary, I used this piece of foam as a way to make the chinrest fit me better, as I did not have access to a chinrest that fit me perfectly. I believe I could use any chinrest now, as long as I can add this foam to it. Oh, and one more thing. It sticks up so it hooks into my jaw. Though not too far.. That way on downshifts my violin doesn't fly away.
The violin touching my collar bone hurts me so I actually sandpapered down some leather to make suede and poked it into the metal that screws into the chinrest, then I bent it back so it folds over the end of the violin and protects my collarbone. I added a hole in it that the button sticks into. I like suede leather as it is thick enough to add comfort but not so thick that it pushes the violin from you. Keep in mind that it looks stupid when it flaps in the wind.

Though the first few weeks were a bummer, playing violin has never felt better for me now and I am definitely more advanced than I would be if I still used the shoulder rest. Shifting and vibrato get much easier over time, just remember to avoid tension. Practicing scales were a major help, as was the yost shifting method. With this I've even made it to third position a few times!
no haha just kidding. good luck!

Edited: June 13, 2020, 4:58 AM · Jamie,

You wrote: "In his masterclass, Menuhin stressed this point: the contact point of the violin to body should be at the collarbone."

Is that the reason you stopped using a SR? I understand that you started young, are now in your teens and I have the feeling you are impressed by Menuhin. The problem is that all of us listen to "The Greats" as if they are superior human beings - they aren't.

Yes, Menuhin plays without a SR - that is what works for him. I didn't use a SR until after I broke and dislocated my clavicle. After I recovered all the dimensions as well as the way the neck muscles worked changed and I needed a SR to avoid cramping muscles.

There is no shame in playing with a SR and there is no superiority in playing without one. In simple bio-mechanical terms: what works for you is what is best.

All of the CR's, SR's and other devices are made for a reason: because some humans need them.

Menuhin's Master Class tells you how he approaches the violin and what works for him. You may well want to emulate him but read "Unfinished Journey" before you decide because he has a lot of faults and made a lot of mistakes (noted only a few in his book).

My clavicle issue made me change the way I play and like all major changes it was a big setback and I had a long road back to where I had been before the broken bone and healing process.

What works for you, makes your playing most comfortable, is what is best.

June 13, 2020, 8:55 AM · I have been a professional violinist for 33 years. For my entire career, I have used a shoulder rest, the great majority of my colleagues have used shoulder rests, and the majority of the soloists playing with my orchestra have used shoulder rests.

People need to do what works for them.

Edited: June 13, 2020, 9:15 AM · Jamie I am late to the party and people have already said it, but I cannot resist pointing again at the basic flaw in your reasoning: "I cannot support the violin like I used to. [...] it's extremely difficult to hold up the violin without the supporting left arm." You do NOT hold up the violin without the left arm when playing without a shoulder rest. This holds regardless of the chin rest, by the way. Indeed (as Bruce Berg already said) chin-off practice is very important to gain that feeling of holding up the violin with the left hand.
June 13, 2020, 9:38 AM · Josef Gingold did not use a shoulder rest. However, in my lessons with him, he always stuffed a big sponge underneath his coat jacket to help support the violin. When I decided not to use a rest, I similarly stuffed a rolled up sock under my shirt. It really helped a lot.

Edited: June 13, 2020, 9:30 PM · Lots of good advice above...most important, learn how to use your left arm/hand skillfully to hold the violin. I would compare restless playing to riding a horse bareback-- you need to develop a different set of muscle skills to a higher level than when riding with a saddle (shoulder rest). And, don't get too hung up on Menuhin; he is just one expert among many. The Goal is playing with ease (or with the Heifetz appearance of ease, which may be a little illusory), with or without a SR. Do what finally works for YOU!
June 13, 2020, 7:39 PM · From old photographs; A gentleman wears a waist-coat/vest and a jacket. If you add a small cushion, or rolled-up sock under the lapel, that is enough extra thickness for most players. I won't comment on the women's single layer, or their modern trend for bare skin at the shoulder. Practicing in a single tee-shirt will feel quite different from concert dress.
June 13, 2020, 8:19 PM · Thanks again, everybody. I'll try to build up my left arm strength. At first, I thought I was too tense, but I think (like you all said), it is because my arm is not used to utilising that set of muscles.
George, haha, yes I admire Menuhin, Heifetz (especially), and the greats. However, the main reason for going restless is more freedom and less tension.
You've all been a great help!
June 13, 2020, 10:43 PM · The OP wrote, "Before I stopped using the shoulder rest, I had a very natural grip and posture."

In that case, you should preserve what worked. You might consider use of a different shoulder-rest, though.

For me, I want the freedom to easily tilt the violin, and I do effectively rest the violin on my collarbone, but it's the shoulder-rest that keeps it in that position. For that, you want a shoulder-rest that doesn't "lock" the instrument into place (avoid something like an Everest, for instance). I've found that the Pirastro Korfker works very well for me -- it's extremely light and it offers a fair amount of freedom. (It seems to have gotten quite a lot of traction amongst professionals, from what I've seen.)

Menuhin was a pretty unique individual, and he would certainly have been the first to admit that what worked for him wasn't necessarily right for everyone or even right for him through his whole life.

June 14, 2020, 9:47 AM · Jamie, I play without a shoulder rest, and alarm bells are going off in my thoughts from what you've written.

I had a neck injury more than a month ago, for which I couldn't clearly identify the cause. Was it because of a previous shoulder injury combined with bad posture lying on the couch watching tv? Combined with violin playing? Bad posture at the desk? Something else? I didn't know, just that it was really hard to move my neck and that it interfered with daily activity and I had to stop playing until it recovered. It would even have been unsafe to drive or cycle, etc., at times due to problems with head turns. And due to COVID, I couldn't get medical attention without risk and difficulty (including that I couldn't drive or wouldn't want to risk contact with someone else driving).

After a couple of weeks off, I felt better and tried playing again, and quickly discovered that I had not entirely recovered, and that it was strongly related to violin playing if not its single cause. And then I took a couple of more weeks off playing to recover more before risking further injury, having learned from previous experience that additional injury during recovery can be much much worse.

A contributing factor to this was that I'd changed the chin rest position from the side to the center, in order to gain what I thought at the time was better handling, with a higher support position. After the second experience, and a couple of additional weeks off, I've reverted to the previous offset position of chin rest (which is lower), and started paying a lot more attention to neck pressure and also elbow and shoulder positions - avoiding strain and pressure through leverage.

Bottom line is that you are right to look for help and advice to address the pain and discomfort you've been having, but should take it as a very serious warning sign, and do whatever it takes to address and avoid the problem, even if it means giving up on preconceptions or wants with respect to supporting devices.

Edited: June 14, 2020, 3:37 PM · It's a problem that you've created, for any particular reason?
Going restless should add freedom. If it works as a handicap, then it doesn't suit you. Go back to using shoulder rest, problem solved.


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