Sunday, April 6, 2014



Many violinists these days use a little aid that is called violin shoulder rest. The reason why this little device has become so popular in such a short time is that it takes away some of the muscle strain from the player. It also helps the performer to have a better grip of the instrument and thus allowing the player to achieve smoother shifting motion on the fingerboard leading to a better performance.

Sure, many people, especially the “traditionalists” would not agree with that. They claim that the shoulder rest causes loss of vibration and that its use decreases natural volume of the instrument. Even though both of those claims might be correct, most violin musicians still prefer using the aid. It is not only because they like the benefit of a better grip, but also and probably primarily because of comfort. Holding your violin between your chin and shoulder without the shoulder rest creates tension in different groups of muscles and that tension can eventually lead to spasms. In the long run, you can develop some type of muscle disorder - something very common for people who do repetitive jobs in awkward positions. Obviously, you still have to hold your violin in almost the same position even when you are using the shoulder rest, but it does help to alleviate the problem to some extent.

There are basically two types of shoulder rests depending on the material used in their manufacturing - soft and rigid. I am assuming that most people use the rigid pieces, but I would not place a bet on it. In any case, most rigid shoulder rests are made from wood, plastic, carbon fiber, or aluminum. Soft ones are made of various foams and spongy materials. Most shoulder rests are attached to the edge of the back of the violin and have adjustable little feet that allow the performer to adjust the height, hence allowing to play in the most comfortable position.

Violin shoulder rests are available in variety of shapes, colors, and in several sizes. The usual sizes range from 1/16 - 4/4 (1/8-1/16, ½-1/4, 4/4-3/4). Buying on the Internet is great and usually cheaper, but it is always the best to try a particular brand you are interested in and see which size fits you best. Remember, you are getting it for your comfort and not for its look!

Some of the most popular brands include Kun, Wolf, VLM Diamond,
Bon Musica, Viva, Resonans, Meridian, Karacha, Lark, and Comford. The first three mentioned offer the best quality
craftsmanship, but also the highest cost, which can climb up to $100 for the most luxurious models. On the other hand we have Lark, which can cost you less than ten bucks.

It is obviously your choice whether you want to use violin shoulder rest or not. I would recommend trying it out and than decide what is most important for you. Is it the comfort or is it the “purity” of sound?
Violinists are very concerned 
about shoulder rests....

Anne-Sophie Mutter:
This is a very interesting, and almost crucial moment in life, when you decide with what shoulder rest, or if at all. I remember I went through a phase of almost seven or eight years. First of all, when I started at five and a half, I was still growing, and therefore I frequently changed shoulder rests. I started with the Menuhin thing, and somehow it wasn't comfortable. A few years later I started to use a little pillow, which felt way more comfortable -- I didn't like the metal thing on the violin. But then when I was 11 or 12 and had nearly reached my final height, (the pillow) felt uncomfortable. So I changed from a relatively high pillow to a low rubber thing, which was extremely uncomfortable but the height was good. From that very uncomfortable but otherwise comfortable set-up, I went to a piece of deer leather, deerskin, because I needed something in between the clothing and the violin because the violin didn't feel secure. So the deerskin was kind of giving traction to the shoulder and violin. And then, when I started to play with Karajan, around that time, I discovered that playing without anything was actually the ideal solution. Then the next step was playing with sleeveless dresses -- that gave the ideal traction. So it took me about seven or eight years to finally settle down and find the solution. But there is no real rule one can apply, because it all depends on the neck length and the position of your shoulder.

Most important is that you don't squeeze your shoulder up, that you don't pressure your chin down, because you'll get terrible muscle pains in your neck area. Basically the instrument has to just lie there and you put your head on the chinrest and that's it. There's no force involved. According to the particular needs of the body, everyone has to play as relaxed as you can.

Choosing the Right Shoulder Rest 
Can be a Tricky Task
by Richard Ward
Show of Support
I won't tell you how long ago I started violin lessons, but let's just say that those were the days before synthetic-core strings and almost no one used a shoulder rest. I don't think there were more than two on the market, the Resonans and the old Kolitsch (no longer available). You were expected to learn to live with the discomfort of learning to play. It was the price you paid for being a violinist. Today, most violinists and violists use shoulder rests.

A proper shoulder rest gives support and security so that your left arm has less work to do and is freer. Not using one often forces you to lift your left shoulder to support the violin, causing muscle strain. But the use of a shoulder rest is by no means universal. Some string players feel that it restricts movement and flexibility. Bill Barbini, a well-known Northern California teacher and performer feels that "most shoulder rests are not designed properly. The violin is held at too steep an angle, not horizontal." He also says that "the shoulder pad can be deceiving because it doesn't really support the instrument. The violin still needs to be gripped between the jaw and the collarbone.

A number of performers share Barbini's feelings, but most accept the use of the shoulder rest as a necessity.

Get Your Rest

Bring your instrument to the shop and try out several types of rest to see which fits your anatomy and playing style. When testing them, check to be sure the shoulder-rest platform covers your shoulder (the curve of the rest should comfortably match the curve of your shoulder). Does your chin feel stretched? It shouldn't, nor should you need to raise your shoulder. The shoulder rest should help you remain relaxed while playing and shouldn't create discomfort or tension. Ask the person you're shopping with or a shop worker if you seem to be showing any signs of tension in the neck and shoulder.

Once you've purchased a rest that feels right, you can "fine tune" it at home, because most models have some degree of adjustability for height and shoulder position. Don't pick a rest just because someone said it was the best—the fit of the rest is a very personal thing. The best rest for you is the one that feels comfortable and natural—one that you aren't even aware of while you play.

The Shopping List
There are so many different models on the market, the search for the right one can be confusing. Some shoulder rests are classics that have been around for decades, such as the Kun and Resonans. Others are new, designed to address specific needs, and offer some variants on existing designs. The best-known models are outlined here.
Kun shoulder rests have been on the market for decades and are available anywhere, including many general-music stores. They offer a great degree of adjustability, allowing you to change the height and the position on your shoulder. There are four 4/4 models: Classic, Super, Collapsible (with folding feet), and the deluxe Bravo (made of maple with brass fittings; many musicians feel that a wood rest enhances the sound of the instrument). The Classic, Super, and Collapsible models are made from composite materials with brass fittings and latex-rubber feet. There's also a Junior model for 1/2 and 3/4 instruments and a Mini for sizes from 1/4 down to 1/10. For players with long necks, Kun makes longer replacement feet. At press time, Kun was preparing a lightweight carbon-fiber shoulder rest (a first), which will be available soon. It has a new, high-tech appearance, a big departure from the traditional Kun design. The feet are collapsible, with rubber molded on. Kun claims superior acoustic properties for this rest. Be very wary of the cheap Kun look-alikes. Classic $49.95, Super $50.95, Bravo $89.95 (
Wolf Products is another well-known old company. Its original rest, the Super Flexible, is still available (with many modifications over the years) but the Forte Primo and Forte Secundo models are by far the most popular sellers. Both models offer a tremendous degree of adjustability and are often chosen by players with long necks because of their height (they can be raised about three inches). The shoulder platform can even be bent by the player to fit the shoulder. Although the 4/4 models are supposed to fit a 3/4 instrument, I find that this rarely works. Forte Primo and Secundo $42. (
Viva and Viva La Musica are made by a craftsman in Slovenia. The feet sport a unique design that includes rubber grips to hold the instrument more securely, and the foam pad is thicker and softer. The Viva is made of plastic and is available in a variety of colors and in three sizes: large (4/4–3/4), medium (1/2–1/4) and small (1/4–1/16). You can get an extra-tall foot, and Viva provides replacement pads. Viva also can be purchased in a compact collapsible version. The deluxe Viva la Musica is of maple with metal fittings in either gold or black. Viva $34.95, Viva la Musica $64.9( Musica is an unusual rest from Germany with a longer metal platform that wraps over the shoulder. It offers a great deal of adjustability and the platform can be bent to a small degree to customize the shape. Some players really love it and others don't. Those who don't complain that it immobilizes the instrument too much. Others like the security and stability it offers. It is a bit large and won't fit in some violin cases. $54 [No website; contact your local dealer for information].

Mach One
is the ultimate in simplicity and elegance. It's very light and compact, which is an advantage; but it offers almost no adjustability (except for height). There is also very little padding. If it fits you "out of the box" and you don't mind the padding issue, the Mach One could work for you. It is available in plastic and wood versions. Small sizes (1/2 to 1/4) are also available in the plastic model. Wood $89.95, plastic $39.95.
( is a different kind of rest: an inflatable (hence the name) pad that fits flat against the back of the instrument, and is held on with elastic bands. It is fairly thin, even fully inflated, so it isn't a good choice for someone with even a moderately long neck. It is quite comfortable, but it has a tendency to move around and sometimes it falls off. It is available in several sizes (including the Deluxe, Deluxe Jumbo, Crescent, Junior, and Junior Jumbo). $21.95 to $27.95 [No website; contact your local dealer for information].

was one of the first shoulder rests on the market and is unchanged after many decades. It's simple and one of the least expensive, but because of the way the foot is designed, the rest has a tendency to damage the instrument if you're not very careful. Be sure to change the rubber tubing on the foot at the least sign of wear to avoid damage. The Resonans is available in 1/4-, 1/2-, 3/4-, and full-size models, and in Medium (2), Low (1), and High (3) heights. (High is available only for 4/4 size.) $13 [No website; contact your local dealer for information].
Comford Shoulder Cradle is a new shoulder rest and an entirely new concept, featuring a resonating chamber said by the manufacturer to enhance the sound of the instrument. It's very comfortable on the shoulder, but it's heavier (7 oz.) and larger than other rests and offers no adjustability. In fact, the Comford Rest is so large it won't fit in most cases. It's quite secure on the instrument, but takes a bit longer to install because of the size and the way you need to 'spring' one of the legs. It is available in three models (gold, silver, and plastic, which is slightly lighter) and two heights (medium and high). Each model is said by the designer to provide slightly different tonal characteristics. It also is available in a junior model (3/4 and 1/2) and for viola. $29.95 to $59.95, depending on the model

Foam Pads are another option. Most shoulder rests, even those designed for the smallest-size violins, may be too big and tall for very young students. For those players, a simple foam pad held onto the instrument with a rubber band may be sufficient. You can go to a drug store and get a bag of cosmetic sponges or to a foam store for foam scraps. There are also commercial foam shoulder rests available, such as Fiddle Friends shoulder rests (manufactured by the Enterprising Rabbit, based in Canada), the "We-Bad," and some brands from Zaret. $5.95 (

When you choose your shoulder rest, take time to get used to it. Experiment with height and position. A few players make their own custom adaptations to their shoulder rests with foam and rubber tubing. You can add more foam to the rests' foam pad to make it more comfortable or to add support where it's needed. (See "Ahead on Your Shoulder" below for an example.) If you're like me and many other players, you'll develop a collection of shoulder rests over the years, switching from time to time as your physical needs or playing style change.

Ahead on Your Shoulder
Thinking about modifying a shoulder rest to better suit your needs? Take a tip from Strings contributor Tom Heimberg, who successfully created his own hybrid shoulder rest.

Heimberg uses a patented
Menuhin Pad (a broad-footed pad, with feet about four inches apart) that he bought at Cremona Violin Dealers and Makers in San Francisco. "Although I liked the support, I found it a little too hard. So I cut off the pad and got down to the metal structure," says Heimberg. "Then I replaced that hard material with a high-tech, pressure-absorbent material used in knee pads—I bought it in a store selling workman's clothing."

Heimberg says his rest is firm yet soft and yielding, thanks to the added foam padding. "I cut it to form, and put it on the metal frame and it doesn't fall off. I also wrap the pad with a nonskid material—like the type put under carpets—and I use sections of an old bicycle inner tube as rubber bands to hold the material in place. They look reasonably professional, are just the right size, and they hold up well," Heimberg adds.

Violin Shoulder Rest - Must Or Just a Luxury
By Vladimir Dolezal
Violin shoulder rest is a little tool that is used in conjunction with violin in order to provide a better grip of the instrument and hence allow smoother shifting of the fingers on the fingerboard. It offers a better stability and also more comfort to the artist playing the instrument.

It can be made out of many different materials, such as wood, plastic, carbon fiber, and light metals such as aluminum and titanium (although I have not seen one for sale yet). Some people are very inventive, hence other materials could be found in homemade shoulder rests. We can divide them into two distinct groups - soft and rigid depending on what material is used for making them. Most shoulder rests are attached to the edge of the back of the violin and have adjustable legs, which are used to set the height for the best comfort of the performer.

Since this little helper is a fairly new invention, there is a controversy regarding its use. Some people love using it, as it prevents slipping of the instrument and hence can lead to a better performance. Yet, the comfort is probably the major motivation for its use. Playing violin for extended periods of time and holding the instrument only with your chin and hand can lead to a muscle tension. Obviously, the longer your play and the more often you practice, the higher are your chances that this muscle tension transforms into a serious injury. As with any repetitive activity the consequences could be disastrous. Although using the tool helps to alleviate this problem, it is not a miracle cure and the proper position and technique should be always the number one priority for anyone dealing with the issue.

The use of the tool has its opposition as well. Those who are against its use could be called traditionalists, as they stand for traditional use of the instrument that has been in place for centuries, long before the shoulder rest was invented. Their main concern is that the sound of the instrument is affected by its use. Some say that almost half of the natural volume could be lost when using the shoulder rest. Still others claim that the player is loosing the touch with the instrument because the vibration that is normally transmitted via the chin to the whole body is lost almost

Shoulder rests come in different shapes, materials, and sizes. The usual sizes are 1/8-1/16, 1/2-1/4 and 4/4-3/4. The price can easily range from $7.95 -$95 depending on the brand and model. Some popular brands include:
Kun, Resonans, Viva, Wolf, Karacha, Meridian, VLM Diamond (probably the most expensive), Bon Musica, Lark (one of the cheapest ones), Comford, etc.
Whether a violin shoulder rest is a great invention or not is not a real question here. Many people love using it and they can still perform fantastically without most of the crowd ever realizing something is lost from the sound. It is great that we have options and if the comfort is the most important thing for you than look for well fitting piece for you. However, if you are a traditionalist, than you can save yourself a few bucks, tune with your violin, and enjoy the music to its fullest.

Fitting a Shoulder Rest

By Ryan Thomson

A letter I received:
Hi Captain Fiddle,
What kind of shoulder rests do you buy? I have just bought a
Wolf Secundo for my fiddle and a Wolf Primo for my viola. It seems so odd to me that they arrive with almost no instructions on how to tailor the fit. I have adjusted the height and width and the things still don't feel comfortable. I have figured out, based on a photo in a catalogue where they should fit on the violin, but where on your body, exactly are they supposed to fit? Maybe my neck is just too short or something.

Hi J,
I use a
Forte Primo for my violin. I like it. I used to use a "Resonans" which I still have as a back up. I actually spent time over a few weeks bending the metal bit by bit until it fit the contour of my collar bone exactly. It fits better than the Forte Primo, but isn't as secure in the way that it attaches to the violin.
Everybody has a different shaped body. Its common for someone(me too) to take a month or so fiddling with a new shoulder rest until they get it adjusted right for them. Also, some chin rests stick up higher than others so if it seems you've lowered the adjustments all the way down and your neck still seems too short, maybe you might consider a different chin rest.

The shoulder rests also come in 3 different heights, although most stores only carry "medium height." Turn the shoulder rest around, try each end up or down. Also try it diagonally, in all the possible positions short of having it fall off your fiddle. It doesn't have to just go on perpendicular as shown in the diagram.

All of the pad on the bottom of the rest should be touching your body, not just the top, or bottom, or just one edge of it. Put it on and have someone look at you and see whether the pad is in complete contact with your body, with no open space showing. Adjust accordingly. I hope this helps!

The Importance of Setup
by Julie Lyonn Lieberman
Published by STRINGS Magazine May/June 2000 Issue
Imagine finding a way to hold your violin or viola that favors both your left- and right-hand activity, feels secure, doesn't make a mark on your neck, and provides the option of several head positions so that your body isn't locked into one position for hours and hours. It's available to you if you're willing to take the time to experiment with equipment until you create the optimum setup for your individual needs.

When we play, the left and right sides are actually creating a structural frame, much the way two dancers must maintain an interrelated stance in order to move across the dance floor as a couple with grace and fluidity. We are all constructed differently. Yet the pieces of equipment that help determine upper-body position and degree of muscular comfort are manufactured as if we're all cookies from only a few cutters.
The efficiency of your setup will determine how much freedom of motion you have when you play. An optimum setup won't cause a mark on your neck or collarbone. It also won't require a lift in the left shoulder, or the tightening -- and eventual injury-- of the neck. In fact, if the appropriate chin and shoulder rests are chosen, you should be able to move your chin and shoulders freely, experiencing total freedom of motion in the left hand while feeling secure.

Many players search for one "correct" position and then faithfully maintain it for thousands of hours each year. I prefer to take a tai-chi approach, searching for a frame and support system in which the body has the flexibility to breathe by making constant, minute changes in position. Objects that are static become heavy. Once you've created a balanced and stabilized relationship to your instrument, you'll be free to shift the position of your head and neck constantly, as well as vary the levels of responsibility for the security of the instrument between left thumb, inner wall of the index finger, shoulder, collarbone, and chin. This, in turn, will reduce the perceived weight of the instrument.

I've noticed that a number of teachers tend to recommend the products they themselves use. This doesn't work! We're all different sizes and shapes, have varying levels of muscle tone, and differ tremendously in posture. I keep an arsenal of chin and shoulder rests in my music studio, along with a wood file and sandpaper, so that when I meet with students for the first time, we can try as many options as is necessary to make them comfortable on their instruments.

Depending upon body type, this may take a few minutes or a whole lesson, and it usually requires modification once they've had a chance to practice for a week using the new setup. I have yet to meet with someone for the first time and not have to make changes. In fact,

The old argument that using any kind of support will reduce resonance isn't true, and besides, today's equipment has been designed to make contact only with the purfling and edges of the instrument. In fact, lacing the violin directly on your shoulder -- if you're lucky enough to have a stub for a neck -- actually dampens resonance more than using a rest. But let's say, for argument's sake, that resonance is dampened by seven percent. What good is a slight more resonant violin or viola to a player who's too injured or in too much pain to play well?

The first step is to place the shoulder rest properly. The frame must favor ease of rotation of the left forearm, as well as the perpendicular placement of the bow to the bridge. How you angle the shoulder rest on the back of the instrument will swivel the fingerboard either away from or toward your fingering hand. As you tilt the violin to the left, you make it easier to rotate your forearm and bring your fingers perpendicular to the fingerboard. But if you go too far, you will have difficulty bowing between the fingerboard and bridge in a perpendicular motion while maintaining a relaxed right shoulder. On the other hand, if you swivel the instrument directly in front of you, it is harder to rotate the left forearm, which places an increased burden on the chin, jaw, and neck. In this position the instrument leans down, making you fight gravity to keep it up; at the same time, it forces your right arm back by your side. The rotator cuff, located where the arm attaches to the torso, wasn't designed to allow much freedom of motion when the elbow falls back by the side of the body, so chances are good that you'll develop tenderness or injury in the front of your right shoulder or rotator cuff, or compensate by breaking at the wrist while bowing at the frog in order to avoid excessive shoulder strain.

The shoulder rest can be placed straight across the back of the instrument, or high on the left and low on the right, or low on the left and high on the right (or numerous increments in between). Experiment with placement to avoid the problems mentioned above. It takes time to set up a shoulder rest correctly, so don't get frustrated. Many of the shoulder rests available today offer a number of options for height and placement, but the directions that come in the package are usually pretty lousy. There are often two screws underneath; the longer screw should go over the shoulder, enabling you to raise the rest to its maximum height and fill in the gap between your chin and shoulder. The shorter screw goes over the chest, allowing you to tilt the face of the instrument toward the bow arm, so that you don't have to lift your arm too high to reach your lowest string.

A mirror in which to watch your bow arm can help you determine instrument placement Individuals with broad shoulders do better with a straighter shoulder rest, such as the Kun or the Bon Musica, and a broad chin rest. Individuals with narrower shoulders may require a centered chin rest and a curved shoulder rest, such as the Wolf Forte Secondo. In your player's tool kit, a wood file and some #10 sandpaper can come in handy to tailor the chin rest to your jaw size and shape, thereby alleviating any pain caused by a hump or lip on the rest.

Always remember that you are trying to create a frame that will enable the bow arm to resonate the instrument without raising the right shoulder or placing the left arm too far forward. The final bargaining agreement between the two sides will depend upon upper-arm length in relationship to lower-arm length, body size, neck length, shoulder width, and, in some cases, increasing demands on the healthy side of the body if an injury is healing on the other side.

Once you've analyzed your needs and feel ready to revamp your shoulder- and chin-rest situation, your first step, if you are addressing your setup on your own, will be to go to a large, well-stocked string shop and try out everything there (or order a number of options from a string catalog and return the rejects) until you find a comfortable solution. Even then, you may need to build height on the chin rest by placing foam pads or a layer or two of cork under the rest's feet, or by wrapping a piece of foam around the shoulder rest.
You can spend anywhere from 15 minutes to several lessons on your setup, depending upon the personal physical issues you are dealing with, such as injuries or an unusual body type. Unfortunately, many teachers are not equipped to deal with this fully -- not because they don't care, but because they were trained in the "no pain, no gain" school and are simply lacking information in this area.

If, after trying to address these issues by yourself or with your teacher, you are still experiencing pain or extreme discomfort while playing, then you need to see a technique-rehabilitation specialist. Finding one can be tricky, though. You can ask a fellow string player or call a local music-medicine clinic. If you're lucky enough to live in or near Montreal, or have frequent-flier miles, you can go see Peter Purich, who will spend several hours with you and design and hand-carve a chin rest for your exact dimensions and needs. He will be led by the specifics of your body, unlike companies dedicated to fabricating prototypes suiting the largest common denominator rather than the individual.
I discovered Purich quite by accident. While leading a string improvisation workshop in Montreal, I noticed a violinist among the participants who looked as though her head were floating. I crossed the room, interrupting my own workshop, to find out how this was possible. It turned out that she was a customer of Purich's.

He is quite innovative in his approach to placement, breaking all stereotypes by sometimes centering the chin rest or even placing it to the right of the tailpiece. He doesn't accept the premise that the head must be turned all of the way to the left. He builds up the height of the chin rest using cork under the rest to support optimum head position, gets feedback from the client, and builds the final model. Local clients can have the luxury of trying out a preliminary solution for a week or so; Purich will then further modify the prototype and finalize the rest. Since needs can vary depending upon whether the musician primarily plays seated or standing, Purich is careful to factor both possibilities into the final design. When necessary, he will even design and build a complementary shoulder rest.

Whether you work on this on your own or with the guidance of a professional, after hours of sometimes frustrating experimentation you will finally arrive at the best solution for your body type. At last, you will feel extremely comfortable. Your playing won't create sores on your neck or collarbone. Your technique will feel freer, more fluid. You will be able to access several different head positions. And, most important, there will be a significant improvement in your tone. This is because you will have created the optimum positioning for both hands to work, and for the instrument itself to sing out. Keep in mind that if you gain or lose weight, change instruments, or dress for winter versus summer, your setup may require light modifications or even major changes.


If you've chosen the correct chin and shoulder rest for your body type, you can turn your head halfway to the left (or slightly less) and keep your chin level, or lower it one-half to one inch and the violin or viola will be there waiting for you. Your right shoulder can stay relaxed and in place when you bow on the bottom string or at the frog. Your left shoulder can stay centered and relaxed. The face of the instrument will be tilted slightly to the right to greet the bow and the fingering hand.