What is the proper placement (healthiest) of the jaw on the chinrest?

August 17, 2021, 6:44 PM · I am 22 years old and I have been playing the violin for about 11 years. This summer I had been practicing a lot (up to six hours on certain days) because I have my senior recital in the fall. About a month ago, I began hearing a sound in my left ear. It doesn't sound like a pitch so it feels strange to call it a ringing. The closest I can compare the sound to is quiet electricity. The sound is not so bad and I can generally go about my days with it. It only bothers me when I am alone in a quiet room or when I am about to sleep. Worried that it could be hearing loss, I scheduled an appointment with my general doctor three weeks ago so he could give me a hearing test and make sure that I did not have excess ear wax. Fortunately, my ears turned out to be clean and I had perfect hearing on my hearing test. However, that did not help in eliminating the sound in my left ear. :(

If my ears are fine, then I suspect that the issue has to do with my jaw since I read up online that jaw problems can also relate to ear problems. Perhaps I am not placing my jaw properly on the chinrest. Therefore, where do you guys mostly place violin? Is there supposed to be a gap between the violin and the neck? I realize that I might be placing the violin to far into my neck and jaw and maybe I have affected my left ear that way. Even if I somehow caused permanent damage, I want to prevent further trouble.

Does anyone share a similar story to mine? I would really, really appreciate any help because I feel like I am going crazy haha...

Replies (44)

August 17, 2021, 7:28 PM · Are you still using the chinrest that came with your violin?
Many people do in spite of the fact that one should find and use the design of chirest that that best fits their jaw.

I started playing violin when I was 4 years old but it was not until I had been playing for 30 years that I found the chinrest design that actually fits me. That was more than 50 years ago and I still use that design of chinrest.

August 17, 2021, 7:32 PM · Consider consulting an audiologist. It sounds like tinnitus, and might need a specialist to diagnose.
August 17, 2021, 8:27 PM · Do you wear an earplug during practice? Does your jaw hurt from playing, or do you feel that your chinrest is digging into your jaw in any way? I'd say that generally most of the left side can go in but again, it's hard to diagnose online.
August 17, 2021, 8:33 PM · Hello Ella! I do not wear an earplug during practice. Should I start doing that to prevent further damage? Sometimes my jaw feels sore after playing for a while but it's not too painful
August 17, 2021, 8:47 PM · It sounds like tinnitus which is almost always caused by high frequency hearing loss. However, given the possibility of a jaw problem, tinnitus can be caused by temporomandibular joint dysfunction. First, see an audiologist and tell him you play the violin. Then after he has checked your hearing mention the jaw problem.
August 17, 2021, 9:03 PM · Thanks for the replies. I'll consider going to an audiologist. In the meantime, should I be wearing an earplug in my left ear while practicing to prevent further damage?
August 17, 2021, 10:36 PM · Angelica, I started getting a similar problem at some point and temporarily protected myself by wearing a "musician's earplug" in my left ear.

However, this isn't a fantastic solution in the long run, as it will affect your perception of sound.

I wonder if it couldn't be helped by changing the relative position of your left ear to the violin? Could you either send a video directly to me or post it here, and I could try to see if I have any useful input?

While this is purely speculative because I haven't seen a video of you playing yet, I suspect that you may be leaning your left ear towards the violin in response to particularly difficult passages, as a way of getting a better "grip" on the violin. And this problem may be solvable by using a chinrest with a more substantial "lip" on it, as to encourage your head to remain more upright during playing.

But once again, that's just a guess and I can't say anything with certainty unless I see a video.

Edited: August 17, 2021, 11:28 PM · I had the same thought as Erik. The position of the instrument can have a huge effect because the intensity of sound drops off with the square of distance.

I've never had problems with the volume of my viola under my ear, but I think that's mainly because I naturally hold it more in front of me. At one point, when experimenting with posture, I tried holding my viola higher on my shoulder and more out to the side, and it seemed deafeningly loud.

August 17, 2021, 11:35 PM · Since your left ear is closer to a violin f-hole than the right ear it will probably be bombarded with between 12 and 18 db greater sound pressure. Years ago I found that using a inexpensive wax ear plug (really cheap in any drug store) loosely fitted in my left ear, eliminated some undesirable sounds and improved my intonation.

It is worth a try. However tinnitus is something else that you would hear when there is no external sound source. A chinrest that is incompatible with your jaw might well be causing muscle tension that affects your hearing.

I did have tinnitus from time to time in the years I became aware that my hearing was going bad in my 50s. The tinnitus went away as my hearing got even worse and does not bother me now with or without my hearing aids installed - unfortunately I am now essentially functionally deaf without the aids.

August 18, 2021, 2:41 AM · I measured the sound level of my viola, played loudly, with my daughter holding the device just next to my left ear: 100dB, all concentrated in one frequency at a time, and for many hours! Damage to th cochlea's hair-cells is assured, even if we enjoy it.. The violin is less powerful.

A second advantage of musician's earplugs is that I hear the instrument as if from farther away, and am less hesitant to "project".

August 18, 2021, 3:39 AM · Hi, I agree, this sounds like tinnitus. While luckily never having had such issues, myself, I know plenty of musicians who have to deal with this.
I play with earplugs, myself, when there are loud pieces, in the orchestra. It is VERY weird, and I would dread playing any solo with them, but, after all, this is a matter of getting used to. There are different kinds, and it’s not always the most specialized “musicians’” plugs that work best for everyone. No violinistic ambition is worth ruining your ears for, in my opinion. You may live with this, well, now, but you don’t know where this is leading to, if you don’t keep your ears safe, from now on. Hope you find a good specialist!
What really drives me nuts is using only one earplug. I completely loose my acoustic orientation. Therefore, I would go for getting used to the strange sound of playing with both ears plugged. After all, if you have sensitive ears, this should pamper them when playing in an orchestra.

I have never heard of tinnitus-like issues due to the chin rest. Therefore, I would consider this a lower probability explanation than simply stressed ears. If you also keep in mind the danger of serious hearing damage then this should be your first concern unless ruled out.
Best wishes !

August 18, 2021, 4:49 AM · You should at least do the long practice sessions with earplugs. There are "musician" earplugs (for example I use the brand Alpine) which still give you a good idea of the sound you produce, it is simply less loud. It actually has advantages to practice like that, because you are much more aware of any sloppy noises or bumps that you produce, and you work better on your sound as well. Then during lessons with your teacher, during performances, during orchestra rehearsals, you don't really have to wear them. That's how I do it and I seem to manage. it's mostly those long practice sessions where you absolutely must wear them!
August 18, 2021, 7:02 AM · Thanks for the replies everyone! I am surprised to know that so many of you use earplugs! I have some musicians earplugs on hand so I'll try to practice with them from now on to avoid further damage. Erik, I'll try to send you a video but how can I send you a video directly?
August 18, 2021, 7:05 AM · This really does sound like tinnitus - I've had tinnitus in both ears for 24/7 since the winter of 1997 (un-related to the violin). This ranges from a steady hissing to, more commonly, multiple sounds at different pitches that rotate). Interestingly enough, that in itself didn't effect my hearing once I adjusted and I still have quite a good ear. The nerve damage has increased since them and I've moderate hearing loss but I can still play by ear quite well. While I'm, at the very least, on hiatus from the violin due to health issues, it's not related to my hearing.

The advice here is good, "get thee to an audiologist" and you may want to research to find the best in your area. Lots of things can cause this and not all are permanent - I think nerve-damage related tinnitus is really the only type that is permanent.

Edited: August 18, 2021, 7:35 AM · I started violin when I was 5. I quit when I was 17 and returned when I was 42. Throughout my adulthood I have had constant ringing in my left ear. The volume in my right ear is so much less that I can only hear it if I really try to.

Sound familiar? Except mine is loud. Did I mention it's constant? Somehow I am able to ignore it most of the time (unless I'm writing about it)! When I have a cold or other congestion from allergies or whatever, then it's usually a little worse.

People will always tell violinists, "Oh it was probably because you took antibiotics as a child for ear infections" or some other new-age kind of explanation -- but they cannot explain why violinists always have it in their LEFT ear.

For heaven's sake, protect your hearing, and don't apologize to anyone for doing so. Etymotic ear plugs are cheap and they work great. Of course you have to find the one that fits your ear the best and works the best for you. Trust me: You don't want your hearing to end up like mine.

August 18, 2021, 8:05 AM · I had tinnitus since childhood due to a beach incident where waves crashed my head on the sand. After only some days of decreasing hearing, I have had tinnitus since. However, my right ear is the one with less hearing, not my violin (left) ear. Still can hear up to 15khz. Hearing is surely not 100% at my age, but I honestly believe that it's not the violins frequencies/loudness problem, as my left ear has never stopped being a better ear than the right. They have never balanced out either (perhaps scientifically that cannot happen anyway?)

All that I wanted to share is that a)it is not a requirement for all violinists to use ear plugs and b)tinnitus can be a perfectly OK condition when you are able to acclimatize yourself to it. Easier for me since it's all I've known for most of my life. It doesn't always mean you are losing hearing, though it is not rare for that to be the case. But if using earplugs will make you happier while not impeding your music, then of course go ahead.

As long as you do not press down on your instrument, most combinations of SR and chinrest that are comfortable/do not hurt you are ok. Be careful to play with utmost relaxation, as if you were playing on air. Besides hearing problems, nerve issues can ensue if you press too hard+plus making music will be more difficult regardless. (Apologies for stating the obvious.)

But again, please do not fear tinnitus, and if you happen to have it, know that you are not alone and it needs not impede your enjoyment of life.

August 18, 2021, 8:14 AM · Adalberto, your comment means so much to me. Thank you!
Edited: August 18, 2021, 10:14 AM · While tinnitus is something that one can train oneself to accept, and it becomes not even really noticeable, I would avoid it if at all possible, because in my case, at least, the onset (and there have been a few new onsets) is very psychologically disturbing. I practice with musicians earplugs, and spent a few hundred dollars last year getting some molded to my ears.

The future looks promising for treating hearing loss, but there is nothing here yet, so given the amount of practice you do, I would do as much practice as possible with earplugs, and then only take them out to perform, and to prepare for performing. I think that for someone practicing more than an hour or two per day, it's almost unavoidable at the violin volumes to not do damage, although some people are going to be more susceptible than others.

I believe you are describing this kind of feedback noise that can occur - I'm not totally familiar with what it means, but I get it, and it's unpleasant. Wearing the earplugs totally eliminates it for me. I use the 9dB filter for violin, and 25dB whenever I go out somewhere that has any kind of amplified music. Go easy on the drum n bass music.

I'm 33 and have been dealing with this for probably about 8 years, and I really wish I could take back just a few times where I went to concerts at your age and just blasted myself next to some speakers, but it's also something that I'm at peace with, so I don't want to scare you that it's totally insurmountable.

Lastly, go easy on the volume you listen to music, and I would just totally stay away from in-ear headphones, although I'm sure they can be used in a responsible way. Our whole culture is built on an absurd disregard for ear health.

August 18, 2021, 10:27 AM · But is the answer to practise with an earplug or a mute or both?
Edited: August 18, 2021, 2:55 PM · Any headphones can be damaging to hearing, it depends entirely on the volume. Tinnitus can be so severe as to cause people to commit suicide because of the resulting insomnia. Some people become completely deaf except for a loud tinnitus. I have a perceived tinnitus of about 45 dB. That's about the loudness of a quiet conversation. Tuning it out becomes more difficult as it becomes louder of course.

There are hearing aids with tinnitus masking built in which seem to be very helpful. But the best cure is prevention. I see so many people in their 20s saying, "Huh?" and lip reading. There is no awareness at all that deafness is a problem because everyone seems to feel free to joke about it when they would not joke about somebody's blindness or paraplegia.

Edited: August 18, 2021, 2:18 PM · Gordon, I wouldn't practice with the mute unless I was playing stuff that required a mute (performance mute) or in a place where a practice mute would make the difference in bothering the neighbors. A practice mute is bound to change the response of the instrument itself, while using earplugs changes your relationship with your perception of the instrument in a way that I think people can get used to and come to work with in a sensible way. In some ways, you can hear yourself more clearly, but I wouldn't totally kid myself that there are no drawbacks.

The Colorado Symphony had a truly world-class cello first chair (who has since moved on to greener pastures in Minnesota), Silver Ainomäe, who I noticed always playing with earplugs. He also soloed with the symphony, playing a really fantastic rendition of one of Shostakovich's cello concertos, but I can't recall if he had the earplugs in for that performance. Clearly, that goes to show that earplugs can be used effectively by pros and not just pluggers like me.

August 18, 2021, 1:51 PM · Dont know if its tinnitus or not, but I will say that you can have tinnitus without having any hearing loss, amd it doesnt mean that you will get hearing loss.
August 18, 2021, 2:01 PM · hi Gordon, practicing with a mute is a very different thing from practicing with earplugs. with a mute, your bridge is effectively immobilized (or very much so), and also the bow is muted so to speak: it doesn't bounce as much, and it gives a false feeling of safety. if you would only play, say for a month, with a heavy practice mute, and then suddenly play without one, your bow would jump all over the place.
August 18, 2021, 2:19 PM · Angelica, you can email me directly at SacramentoStrings@gmail.com
August 18, 2021, 2:24 PM · Perhaps, Ron, but depending on the tested frequency range, the hearing loss may not show up. I had a hearing test that didn't test above a certain frequency range, and no hearing loss showed up, and I walked away ignorant and happy. Later, after a new onset of tinnitus, when I mentioned being a musician, they said they would test in a higher frequency range, which ended up showing a steep decline in hearing at a certain frequency, which makes sense with the tinnitus.

Due to the audiologist's ignorance the first time, I walked away with a false sense of security. I haven't looked into all the studies, and I'm aware that there are different etiologies in tinnitus, but I think the far more likely cause for any musician, and really any younger person living in the world today, or anyone with any kind of history of going to amplified shows, would be tinnitus due to some hearing loss.

My hearing is probably still better than the hearing of most people my age, but that's kind of cold comfort.

August 18, 2021, 2:59 PM · As mentioned above, there are drugs that are ototoxic, Zoloft is famously so. The aminoglycoside antibiotics can cause hearing loss and tinnitus. Cipro is also ototoxic in some people. A musician who needs to take an antibiotic should discuss this with their doctor.
August 18, 2021, 2:59 PM · My question about mutes vs plugs was partly whimsy, based on my Yehudi Menuhin reference in this recent (indeed concurrent) thread.
https://www.violinist.com/discussion/thread.cfm?page=5297
Edited: August 18, 2021, 4:44 PM · That is called tinnitus and when I noticed it after practising in the tenth grade, I started using an earplug. To this day I still do when I play violin. Luckily it went away after a while because I'd not yet managed to do permanent damage.

By far the most comfortable and hi-fi option is those rubber earplugs with a hole through the middle, which are designed for sleeping / concerts.

Don't be stupid, and don't ignore that sound! Get proper protection.

August 18, 2021, 4:44 PM · christian , I dont dispute what you say, I am going off the specialist who looked into my hearing problems. I am one of the unfortunates whos ears were damaged at loud concerts as you mention, lol entirely my own fault as I laughed at what others said would happen, I have tinnitus and have had it for so long that most of the time I dont even notice it. But anyway, my specialist actually said I was unfortunate as you can have the tinnitus with or without hearing loss and in my case, I dipped out.

There is actually a treatment which is going to become available quite soon to treat tinnitus, in which they give mild stimulation to the tongue with electricity, which does something to the neurons involved in the tinnitus,wont cure hearing loss but will reduce by a great deal the hissing.

August 18, 2021, 4:49 PM · Take a look
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-tinnitus-treatment-alleviates-annoying-ringing-in-the-ears1/
Edited: August 18, 2021, 4:56 PM · Sure Ron, and I wasn't intending to be argumentative.

I was trying to get across (to anyone not personally experienced in having tinnitus) the seriousness with which I think people should take this, and as you mention, and as has been my personal experience as well, this is an issue that can seem really abstract and one can downplay, until it happens, and then it's totally obvious and inescapable. Also, if possible, a musician should try and seek out an audiologist that has a musical background.

I've heard about the tongue thing, but I'm not particularly concerned for my own sake - I'm more waiting on the magical hearing loss cure, and I have the stock market losses to prove it (LOL).

Edited: August 18, 2021, 5:35 PM · Hope they get a cure christian, it would be incredible, didnt think you were being argumentative.;)

Personally I cant imagine now what it would be like without the hissing, and what it would be like to have great hearing, one can only hope.

Maybe I would become like Paganini. ha,ha,ha.

August 18, 2021, 7:03 PM · I've had this 24/7 for 25 years now, both ears make several sounds that differ at the same time...I adjusted long ago. It's just the background noise of my life. It's irritating if I get a cold or put noise canceling headphones on as it's more noticeable. I would love to see it gone but it certainly hasn't stopped me from doing anything. For me it's from nerve damage, I don't think I'll opt for the tongue treatment. Hopefully it turns out to be effective.
August 19, 2021, 4:49 PM · I'm a little older then Angelica (36M) and I played violin for a whole lot less time (2 years), but while reading your post it really felt like I was writing it. It's like, I'm having the exact same problem and went to the same kind of doctors and the same kind of exams you went through.
I really want to say some things in particular that happened to me that I managed to recall, maybe we can find something in common and try to fix our problem. Gonna list them by number so we can talk about them more easily. I tried very hard to recall every detail possible that could help to cure this condition it almost brought me mad in the beginning.

1. I'm having the same hiss as you at the moment and I too only really notice it in a quiet room or before sleeping, we got in this thread a lot of advocates of ear plugs and even before starting violin I was one of them, the funny thing is I've never went to any event where I would be exposed to loud noises without plugs. When I started I did not use on violin, but as a beginner didn't matter much, after noticing it could be dangerous, I've instructed myself and then I've always used the plugs, it was about after the six months or so that I started violin. I had a cheap yitamusic violin, while it's pretty decent to learn it is almost obnoxiously harsh on the highs, I've always used the plug and still got the hiss, so it might not have been damage through loud noises.

2. I made a dental procedure, more specifically, root canal on my left side one or two months before the hiss started. Maybe by any chance did you had something similar?

3. When I got the hiss, I visited an dentist first, got cleared of any problems then I went to an audiologist and a TMJ specialist, my audiology exams were normal for my age, TMJ didn't find anything he could identify as a problem.
They asked me if I could not play violin for a whole month to see if I had some kind of mild TMJ, have you been off the violin for some weeks and do you know if this improves the hiss or if it doesn't make any difference? I couldn't stay off the violin for that long.

4. I'm kind of obsessed with setup of my violin as well, I'm using a different chinrest and three layers of cork underneath it, with a bonmusica shoulder rest almost maxed out in height, I used a wolf secondo before. I'm 1.93cm with a tall neck, are you tall or have long neck as well?

5. I always had problem sleeping and I use pills to sleep, so it's very scary to develop a condition that can further my insomnia problem. I use zolpidem at the moment.

I kind of exhausted the options of local doctors that are not very specific to musicians and I don't know how to proceed from now on, I wish very much to make this go away. If you'd like I'd love to talk about it, you can find me on instagram @mattplaysviolin or reply to me here.

August 19, 2021, 5:42 PM · you don't set the chinrest up in a vacuum...the violin has to be in a position relative to the body so both arms are in best position to do their job, then the violin has to be properly in between the collarbone and the chin, which depends on their positions and how long neck is, etc. When it's in the middle of chin and collarbone, and all the rest is ok, then the shoulder rest takes up the bottom space between violin and collarbone, and the chin rest takes up the top space between violin and chin. Then you get the chin rest you need that fills that space properly.

It's possible to have a very low grade infection after a root canal that causes a lot of inflammation and other problems, but doesn't get picked up by a dentist. Been there, done that. Several visits to dentist, and we thought it was violin related. It was very slow infection after root canal, which is more common than many think.

August 19, 2021, 6:06 PM · Hello, Matheus! I actually had a dental cleaning the day before I starting noticing the hiss. I took a week off when I noticed the hiss and I had the worst week ever because the hissing was at its loudest. I am assuming it was because I didn't have the violin to distract myself with.
August 20, 2021, 12:14 AM · Tom Bop, thanks for the reply. What can I do to check if I have this infection? How did you get diagnosed? As in, where should I look into
Angelica, that is kind of funny that we both had dental work done shortly before. Other thing that I forgot to mention, my left ear is very sensitive to loud noises now, I like to ride bikes, and if a motorcycle or a loud truck passes me on the street it hurts a little, I've been in the position in the past before the hiss and I didn't feel any pain. Is your ear sensitive too or not?
Edited: August 20, 2021, 6:33 AM · "I actually had a dental cleaning the day before I starting noticing the hiss."
That's pretty important information. I suppose a nerve may have been affected in your jaw or something. You should perhaps ask your dentist about it (although they might clam up if they become afraid you might sue). Ultrasonic cleaners, are they really safe?
August 20, 2021, 10:56 AM · Gordon, If you mean toothbrushes such as Sonicare, they are safe in the sense under discussion here. They can potentially cause a flare up of trigeminal neuralgia.
August 20, 2021, 2:49 PM · Matheus, I don't know how you can get diagnosed early. Eventually mine showed up in an x-ray, but that took a few years. It caused me trouble the whole time, and I had gone to the dentist about 5x with pain in that area before they caught it. My dentist said 90% of root canals work well, so he thinks is worth trying. Next step for the bad 10% removing the tooth, and get an implant.
August 20, 2021, 4:03 PM · I wouldn't jump straight to ear plugs. I did this for a while and found it hard to hear some nuances... What I do now is put a tiny bit of tissue/toilet paper in my left ear only, it's a cheap and easy way to protect your left ear while only slightly reducing volume.
August 20, 2021, 8:36 PM · @Ann Morrill, I think Gordon was referring to the Cavitron cleaner used to remove tartar buildup and clean stains. I had a Sonicare for a while. I didn't have any real problem with it, though I had to be careful just after a professional clean.

The jaw certainly can cause middle ear problems. I forget who gave the advice, but if you follow the put the violin up, turn your head, and lower your jaw to the chinrest rule it (for me, anyway) solves several problems at once.

It's not supposed to hurt. But it can be uncomfortable until you get used to it.

Edited: August 20, 2021, 10:21 PM · Marc, The Cavitron is safe in this sense too. Thank you for reminding me of this, I had forgotten about it.
August 24, 2021, 3:01 PM · To actually answer the title of this thread.....
I lean on my chinrest with left side of the jaw, tip of chin included.
As my jaw has a "corner" at its left end, I have carved a dip in the edge of my Teka-style chinrest. Thus the pressure between jaw and rest is spread over several inches. The instrument has a pronounced tilt (30° on violin, 45° on viola) to allow my stubby pinky free play on the lower strings.

If I have a cold, and my ears can't stand the vibrations, I put a Strad Pad, or other such rubber foam on the chinrest.

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