shoulder rest Q from a complete beginner

February 3, 2021, 2:24 PM · Hi everyone
I've read tons about shoulder rests and wow it seems complicated! I'm having tremendous difficulty, at first this was really disheartening but now I'm not surprised. I have an annoyingly skinny and bony shoulder/chest area (my lower half is quite plump though!!) and my Kun shoulder rest is no help at all.

My question really is: if a shoulder rest is doing its job, should you be able to lift your head off the chin rest without the instrument falling down? - supporting lightly with left hand and shoulder/collarbone? The page https://www.violinist.com/violin/how-to-hold-a-violin/ seems to suggest so. At the moment this feels utterly hopeless - I can't imagine ever being able to support the instrument with only shoulder and L.H. It's very painful, in different ways - either with the Kun rest fitted or not using it at all and just using a towel.

I have a long way to go with finding the right set-up (there is still about six inches of air between my Kun rest and my chest!) but I'm not 100% sure what I'm aiming for.

Also - is it normal to feel this level of frustration with shoulder rests? I do feel very lost, as a complete beginner. I wish I could ask a helpful expert to fit one for me but of course I won't be able to enter a violin shop for some months I should think.

Many thanks!

Replies (16)

February 3, 2021, 2:36 PM · This topic is one of great controversy and divided opinions, so just a heads up. I think what's more important is how the shoulder rest (and chinrest) feels when you play. Does your violin unintentionally slide around on you when playing? Do you feel like you have to overtighten your shoulders to hold your violin, for example? Many people do want to be able to move their violin a little while playing, however, this is something you should have control over.
February 3, 2021, 3:54 PM · no reason to make it complicated. can you find your collarbone? If so, take your rest (no violin), and place it along the collarbone, with the curve following your body. Adjust it a little here and there until it feels solid and comfortable. Then, put it on your violin so it's in the same place on your body, and your violin is in a good playing position relative to both arms. Raise or lower the rest as needed to get the height correct. Your teacher should be able to help with this- and practice instead of reading shoulder rest debates online!!! haha

I don't see how the rest alone would support the violin if you lifted your chin off! Would be a good time to have a throwaway VSO! It's cantilevered. You shouldn't need 'pressure' from your chin, though, to keep it up, but the chin needs to be there to keep the chinrest from rising and the violin from falling.

Edited: February 3, 2021, 4:05 PM · Anita, often the solution for discomfort is rather in the chin rest (height, position, angle) than in the shoulder rest. SRs aren't that different, in reality - this is rather about nuances.
Another important issue is posture. We cannot change our physiognomy, but we can use it to our advantage. Many people with SSRAS (Severe Shoulder Rest Acumulation Syndrome) really suffer from sloppy posture. Believe me, I've been there. For a very long and very uncomfortable time.

Before you start tinkering with your hardware, make sure you're standing upright, high breast, shoulders relaxed. Next step, find the balance point of your instrument above your collarbone. Then decide for a CR model that helps you support the instrument at this point. If indecisive, an adjustable model (like a Kreddle) might become a good investment, you can experiment with this. If you're stuck, always restart with point one, posture. Watch the Kreddle tutorials if you're not sure what to look after. (There's no obligation to buy an expensive Kreddle if something else does the trick as well, or even better.)
The SR (or an alternative) comes in as last component, if needed for some extra stabilisation. It's only needed to fill the last gap between your chest and the instruments back, and should not raise the instrument from your collarbone. Often a tiny foam pad is sufficient, like in my case (owner of 7 different SR models...)

Edited: February 3, 2021, 4:16 PM · I think that there is something inherently at fault in a system if it takes so much time, effort, and money to find and fit a shoulder rest that does the job effectively. It shouldn't be like that. I went down that road, as did many others, when I started on the violin. It was about four years and several abortive shoulder rests later, and observing good violinists who play very efficiently without one, and a good teacher (see the final paragraph below) that induced me to ditch mine. It only took a week to get used to the absence of a shoulder rest, and I haven't used one since.

I apologise for the above rant, for I realise that there is room in this world for the shoulder rest provided it is selected and fitted wisely - easier said than done!

There should be no aches or pains felt anywhere when playing the violin, whether or not a shoulder rest is used. So my advice to the OP is to first get in-depth tuition on posture, hold and the art of being relaxed when playing. That tuition alone should sort out the problems mentioned above. Be aware that a good teacher will likely take the pupil back to Square One for this. The pupil will then be in a much better position to select and fit an effective shoulder rest, or even opt not to have one. Remember, it is not compulsory to use a shoulder rest, or to do without!

February 4, 2021, 9:54 AM · to give OP some perspective, the shoulder rest controversy seems to only exist on the internet. Never in real life have I seen it come up as a 'controversy' or even a discussion. People play all sorts of different ways, and nobody ever seems to bring it up in any context in orchestras or other playing. Most people use shoulder rests, some don't, some have elaborate other systems with pads and rubber bands, etc. People just consider it each person's choice and not worthy of any further discussion.
Edited: February 4, 2021, 9:59 AM · If you notice that it's there at all then it's doing you a disservice. After my shoulder rest kept bruising my shoulder and sliding off and falling away during rests and just being a general nuisance, I ditched mine in the middle of a recording session and never put it back on. Personally I like a tall chinrest with no SR. Something to consider.
February 4, 2021, 1:49 PM · Shoulder rests just weren't around before the 1950s (I'm old enough to remember this from when I was a beginner cellist in my school orchestra in 1951. In 1952 two of the first violins turned up with what the school's head of music called "contraptions" attached to their instruments. It caught on quickly - thanks to a few enterprising violin teachers I guess - until a few months later every violinist and violist was using one.

So how did violinists play successfully without shoulder rests for hundreds of years up to 1950? For clues it's worth looking at old pictures and films, and videos of today's Baroque violinists in action.

February 4, 2021, 2:53 PM · Hi all
This is extremely interesting - I'm very grateful for everyone taking the time to reply with your thoughts and insights. It has certainly given me a lot to think about and to experiment with - not least the suggestion about posture (I know mine is not always great!) and v interesting that shoulder rests we not a thing until mid-20th century.
Thank you all, so much - I will re-read these posts many times I think, while I continue to grapple with the issue!
Best wishes all and happy music-making :-)
Edited: February 4, 2021, 10:57 PM · As has already been pointed out, the correct chinrest is very important. You should try a few different shapes and sizes including a centre-mounted chinrest. These seem to solve a lot of problems for some people.
February 5, 2021, 2:26 AM · Anita just holding up the violin, resting it against your collarbone area on the one end, and simply keeping it up with your left hand at the other end, without actually playing the violin with the bow, just holding it up, should be absolutely effortless for everybody. Actually the same even holds for playing open strings. A violin does not weigh much! So there seems to be something really really strange going on there. Sorry for being not very constructive, I am just totally puzzled.
Edited: February 6, 2021, 8:25 AM · "So how did violinists play successfully without shoulder rests for hundreds of years up to 1950?"

I would ask "How did those violinists who played successfully without shoulder rests up to 1950 manage?" Support from the left hand, prominent collarbones, square or raised shoulders, hidden pads..

Nowadays, even I can play successfully!! with a nice space under the fiddle (a lot of tone comes from its back plate..)

February 5, 2021, 9:44 AM · It takes time and experience to learn to hold a violin and finger the notes. My opinion is - use your chin/jaw to hold the violin as needed. Learn how to finger the notes. As you continue to play, the fingering will become much easier and you will be able to use your left hand to hold/balance the violin without stress.

As far as balancing the violin without using your chin/jaw, this is not easy. Using a hooked shoulder rest makes it much easier because it stops the violin from sliding down your chest. Many people don't like the lack of freedom of movement of hooked shoulder rests. But it's useful even if just a crutch to let your left hand learn one task at a time.

February 5, 2021, 5:53 PM · An important secret is to hold the violin horizontal. This kills the tendency of gravity to pull the instrument downwards and away from you, which you instinctively compensate for by tension-causing downward pressure of the jaw, perhaps backed by the weight of the head. Keeping the violin horizontal also helps to keep the bow in the right place on the string, and here gravity is working for you.
Edited: February 6, 2021, 10:09 AM · First, an inappropriate CR/SR combination is a lot worse than nothing.
Second, a shoulder rest should provide comfort and support, and liberate the left arm and hand. It can even avoid uncomfortable pressure and vibration on the collarbone. (And vibrato should not shake the instrument!)

A Poehland pad will provide some shoulder support for the violin, and tilt it along its axis for better access to the lower strings. It has a slightly incurved underside and is wedge-shaped.

Complete shoulder rest?
The left end can sit on the extremity of the collarbone, without restricting arm movement.
The right end leans on the chest, preferably just below the collarbone, allowing more left-to-right stability.

The chinrest?
It can have enough "lip" to hook gently under the chin and jaw, but if the edge is painful don't hesitate to file a dip in this lip (often the left half).

Edited: February 6, 2021, 1:53 PM · Trevor wrote, "I think that there is something inherently at fault in a system if it takes so much time, effort, and money to find and fit a shoulder rest that does the job effectively."

I'm wondering whether he's ever been fitted for any type of prosthetic like a dental bridge or crown.

All of this crap about whether shoulder rests were around before 1950 is NOT helpful to Anita. Do you have to trot out this nonsense every single time? There's a lot of things we didn't have before 1950. (Does Trevor have a PC or a cell phone?) Anita just wants to understand how it's supposed to work.

(1) The shoulder rest functions as a kind of fulcrum. The idea is that the relaxed, downward weight of your head, conveyed through your jaw (not your chinny-chin-chin) will compensate for the weight of the violin on the other side of the fulcrum. As you play there will be occasions when you momentarily provide a little assistance with your left hand. You should not have to "bear down" with your head. If you feel strain in your neck, then it's not right.

(2) Make sure you're putting your SR on your violin properly. There might be some YouTube videos on this that you can check out.

(3) The chin rest matters too -- and what kind of CR your have will influence the SR and vice versa. In this respect, Trevor is correct that sometimes a fair amount of trial and error is involved -- which is justified because comfort and security will reflect themselves in your playing and in your enjoyment thereof, as long as you can afford it. What kind of chin rest do you have? Short or tall? Side or middle? Brand name? Knowing that MIGHT help us provide you a LITTLE guidance, but of course a picture of you standing and holding your violin would be best.

(4) If you decide to try playing without a shoulder rest, then your violin will rest directly on your collarbone (possibly cushioned by something thin and soft, which might range from a chamois to a thin sponge). The button should be on your neck with the long axis of the violin pointing directly through the middle of your neck (as a starting point, this too is negotiable). The violin will have more "freedom" to move around if you don't use an SR, and that's a feeling you might like or you might not like. (I don't like it, but others really adore that feeling. It's up to you.) And of course your left hand will have to compensate for the weight of the violin because, without the SR, the fulcrum is your collarbone and there is at best an inch of the violin inside it. So playing without the SR is very very different in how it feels and how you play (I played without SR my whole childhood, and now I play with SR).

(5) The Everest SR is a little bigger and more cushy than the Kun. The suggestion to try playing without SR but choosing a tall chin rest is fine in principle. I just find that getting an CR to really feel comfortable is a lot harder than getting an SR to work for me. I bought a Kaufmann CR but then I carved it to meet my own needs. And CRs are expensive too. If you go to good violin shop like Potter's Violins in Maryland, or Shar Music in Ann Arbor, they can help you get fitted for an SR and CR. The Wittner CR is very popular and for good reason. It's jaw-shaped.

February 7, 2021, 8:49 AM · Hi all
Many, many thanks again for all your advice and ideas which sound like they are coming from some very experienced violinists.
There's a lot to digest there - I will try to figure out what's best for me although no doubt this will take a long time and a lot of experimentation. I do think thought that it will be enormously beneficial to be able to see someone in person (grr stupid virus) so when the shops open up again I'll be able to see someone who can help, I hope. For now though I'll try all your suggestions and might invest in some of the extra long screws for the Kun rest if they are not too expensive just to try it out.
Thanks all so much!

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