Helping a student find the right shoulder rest
First post on here so bare with me if I'm doing this wrong :)
Basically, I have a student (beginner, but middle school age) who has the wrong shoulder rest/chin rest set up. The tricky thing is, based on my knowledge the reason she is experiencing uncomfortableness is because she has to put her shoulder up and lean her head to the side to keep the violin in place, aka she needs a taller setup. HOWEVER, any attempts to heighten her shoulder rest, using foam or cloth as a temporary fix, she claims makes the problem worse because it makes her "clench her jaw," even though her posture looks perfect with these fixes. Instead, she's been going restless, which she still complains about, but is apparently the best of two bad options for her. I'd be totally fine with this if her scroll wasn't pointing at the floor now. What should I do? I can't make her get a taller rest if she feels it's uncomfortable, but I also feel like I can't step aside and let her suffer through bad posture. Any suggestions?
Taller chin rest?
Well you're going to need to do some experimenting, and unless you have your own personal fleet of CRs and SRs to let her try, there will be some expense involved. It sounds like your student has tension issues. Therefore until you have the comfort and posture issues settled with the CR/SR setup, probably it's a good idea not to move too fast in her repertoire sequence. My teacher has found that a LOT of his students are able to get comfortable with the Wittner CR and either a Kun or Everest SR. And make sure the violin is back far enough on her shoulder. The farther forward it is, the more distance you have to make up between the front side of the SR and the top of your student's chest. The clenching issue is probably just because the temporary padding and so forth doesn't feel secure.
It's not just the shoulder rest, it's the shoulder/chin rest combination. I hate trying to find the right solution. I'm currently using a basic curved maple rest and a Hill style Guarneri after trying a Teka, which was comfortable, but not right for the G string. I've got a Bon Musica but I hate it. I still harbour the suspicion that a car sponge is the best option.
I agree that it sounds like the student has lots of tension. I think if as of right now the better option is for her to not use a shoulder rest then maybe it could be beneficial to explore that path since adding height to the shoulder rest makes her feel worse despite it "looking perfect." This happens a lot where just because the setup looks good to the teacher then it's perfectly fine and the student doesn't need to change despite them feeling pain. You aren't one of those teachers so that's good. Ann's suggestion of a taller chin rest is a good one. The chin rest is often a highly overlooked aspect of a setup to the point where you could have the perfect shoulder rest for you (or lack of) but you'll still feel pain because the chin rest isn't right for your or your student's jaw. I think with the no shoulder rest option there could be two reasons she is still complaining. Either the violin is slipping due to there not being a shoulder rest to provide grip or as of right now the total height of the violin and chin rest is too low due to the absence of the shoulder rest. For the former, you can just have her place a microfiber cloth or piece of leather/shelf liner to provide grip on her clothes. For the latter, you can still use some shelf liner or one of the other materials I mentioned for grip and then explore different combinations of taller chin rests and add some small makeup sponges under the violin wrapped up in the shelf liner to add some height under the violin. Essentially, you have to find her ideal amount of height above and below the violin.
Makeup sponges are very good for friction, which I need, but they are a bit difficult to attach. It depends - if you can find a glue that is easy to remove, then all is fine (although it's probably best to get no glue on your violin). I also have some under-carpet anti-slip stuff, but I'm finding chamois best. Oh, and gel pads. I use thin ones sometimes for adhesive purposes, but Fiddlerman uses a fat gel pad under his violin and a very high chin rest.
just a small suggestion, let her try to hold the violin really up with her left hand. do some exercises on this without the bow, just lifting up the violin and keeping it up with the left hand, so without shoulder or jaw involved. in this way she learns this feeling.
what is 'wrong' with the scroll of the violin pointing more downwards? if you go and search on youtube 'Dylana Jenson' you can see an example of someone (there is many more) playing this way.
My daughter is middle school aged and has a tall neck. Her violin teacher has an amazing kit from Frisch and Denig (https://www.chinrests.com/) to design a custom fit chin rest. Elevating shoulder rest can cause additional stress and fatigue as the arm has to reach higher, so a properly fitted chin rest works better in those with long necks. Once she was fitted, we sent the measurements to the shop and received the chin rest in a week. It has made a huge difference in her posture and comfort. Please check out the website.
Jean brought up another good point of having her hold the violin up with her left hand. With the absence of the shoulder rest, she's going to have to get used to holding the violin up herself which takes time for the muscles that were previously not doing much to develop to the point where she can hold the violin up with ease.
Sounds like many important points are already made, I just resonate the pain and uncomfortable frustration your student is suffering right now, feeling very sorry for her and sympathetic.
Wow, thanks for so many great responses!! Every comment is much appreciated! This all gives me much more to go off than just the circles I was going in trying to research different brands and styles of shoulder rests. I realize now that I know embarrassingly little about playing restless (I've always found it to be torture, personally) so I'll need to do more research into that to help guide her in that direction, should that be what ends up working best. We've tried shelf liner as suggested, but I hadn't tried wrapping it around sponges, so I think I'll give that a go first to help with comfort, since she's also mentioned the wood and chinrest brace digging into her neck.
The wood and chin rest bracket digging into my skin was another huge reason I started using shelf liner and sponges. The makeup sponges I find work better because you can use them to add as much height as you want rather than using one of the generic foam shoulder rests.
This is just a thought . . .
I found this thread extremely interesting, some great replies.
I guess my neck is short. I'm contemplating a gelrest and a Berber now that I have found a British supplier of gelrests (Bridgewood and Neitzert, unexpectedly).
Paul Deck, I’m curious which Wittner chinrest your teacher feels works best for a lot of his students? Personally, I’ve found the “Augsburg” over the tailpiece model to be best for me, and I have one on both of my acoustics and my Yamaha YEV electric. That and Bon Musica shoulder rests, but that’s just for me. Wittner chinrests are very lightweight, but unfortunately Bon Musica shoulder rests aren’t.
I agree 100% with Perlman's advice on the chinrest. First find the chinrest that fits your jaw perfectly. If you cannot find a comfortable fit, consider buying a "The Impressionist" that you can contour to the exact shape of your jaw or even a more comfortable contour.
My teacher had a custom-made chin-rest for her viola, long before she bought a Korfker. I don't know who made it.
Hi Gracie, I haven't read any of the other responses yet so I apologize if I'm repeating advice.
I don't have these issues and I'm pretty sure I would crush the chips.
It's more of an exercise to develop kinesthetic awareness, Paul. I would crush the chips too, but the chips being there would certainly help me to be more aware of how much pressure I tend to add.
Actually if someone handed me a sack of chips I'd probably just eat them. LOL! Sorry! What they need is a device that fits into the cup of a chin rest to measure the total force that's being applied between chin and shoulder. Some kind of strain gauge or such. It would be interesting to compare SR vs restless players, what their force profile would look like playing some kind of short but relatively demanding piece.
Probably easier to measure at the collarbone.
Sounds a bit like me - in my case (YMMV) going restless was the solution (there are both costs and benefits). However, there is a process to follow to become comfortable rest-less AND you have to give the thumb time to figure it all out since it now has to both counter the fingers and hole the instrument up. Or I should say act as a pivot on which the neck of the violin rests.
The chips are cheaper than a gauge, Paul ;)
I play without a shoulder rest, and it was a really fun process getting the most out of it. Your student will have to learn different techniques when it comes to playing without a shoulder rest. How to hold the violin with stability, being able to be tension free enough through the shoulder to thumb/fingers for vibrato, and being able to comfortably shift positions up and especially down, without yanking the violin out of place.
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