shoulder rest Q from a complete beginner
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"So how did violinists play successfully without shoulder rests for hundreds of years up to 1950?"
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.
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.
First, an inappropriate CR/SR combination is a lot worse than nothing.
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."
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