Practical Violin

Violin Shoulder Rests Can Be Hazardous to Your Playing

It’s fine if you really need to use a shoulder rest for your violin or viola. But, are you really, really sure you need you need that shoulder rest? Or did you simply dismiss the idea of going without it, based on a five minute “I don’t like the way it feels?”

At a recent orchestra performance, I had the pleasant surprise of being stand partner with a wonderful professional violinist who just weeks before, ended a lifelong shoulder rest habit. By evaluating her violin setup in my studio, and fitting her with a custom chin rest, the shoulder rest became an unnecessary impedance. She was ecstatic, to say the least.

To make the switch, you’ll need to rethink your approach to supporting the violin. No longer is it rigidly fixed into a single position. Instead, it is dynamically supported at three points.

Your violin and head should easily move as you play. The amount of effort used to support the instrument should be situational: add only a minimum support only as needed. This Nathan Milstein video exemplifies the kind of setup that will support a stellar career into your 80s. Notice how Mr. Milstein’s head and violin are free to move at will. Notice the great efficiency in his playing.

Here’s your transformation: release the tension in your violin as a starting point. Where else in your life are you locked into rigid, inflexible positions? Where can you produce greater results with far less effort.

Getting Started on Violin Practical Violin

Is your Violin Chin Rest a Good Fit?

Analyzing Violin Chin Rest Setup - Artist Kyung-Wha-Chung

First of all, enjoy this video of Kyung-Wha-Chung, one of the great violin artists of our time. It’s a fabulous, world class and heartfelt performance by any standard.

Viewed from the perspective of a violin teacher, I feel obligated to point out that from a setup standpoint, the violin and the violinist may not be set up to best advantage, though I would be the last to suggest that Ms. Chung change anything about her playing.

On the other hand, when I see a fit or setup problem in a young student, I would always try to make things more comfortable and practical.

In this case notice that the player’s jaw bone isn’t aligned in the “groove” of the chin rest. Often in a case such as this, a chin rest that floats over the tailpiece of the violin might be more comfortable for the player. It won’t work for everyone as factors such as length of neck and arms also come into play. All of this can (and should) be analyzed by someone experienced in optimizing the violin/chin rest/shoulder rest combination.

So why does this work so well for Ms. Chung? Simply because her approach to the violin is dynamic, not rigid. The instrument isn’t locked into place. Rather, it floats, moves and adjusts along with the needs of the musical passage. The weight of the violin is balanced between multiple points, keeping the head and neck free of excess tension. It’s a great lesson for every player.

Why make things difficult when they can be simple?

For our younger Invincible Violinists and their families, know this: Never accept your instrument setup at face value. The size, lift and type of chin rest, the presence (or absence of) a shoulder rest, the way your instrument relates to your body and its movements, all of this, shouldn’t be left to chance.

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