So many violin and fiddle players struggle with finding the right chin and shoulder rest combination, some even searching for years! Unlike many other instruments, the violin needs to be sized to fit the players specific body height, weight, and shape. No easy task since we are all built differently. An ill-fitted combination of chin and shoulder rests can result in difficulty playing and/or aches, pains and sores causing personal injury. Let’s face it, the violin is not a body-friendly instrument.
The chin rest is a rather new accessory, only thought of and invented 200 years ago in 1820 by Louis Spohr, a German composer, virtuoso violinist and conductor who was highly regarded during his lifetime. What was unheard of at the time has become a standard accessory for almost all violinists and fiddlers today. Initially very small and fitted over the tailpiece, it allowed more freedom of movement and mobility for the left hand. It was a huge hit with violinists at the time since up until this invention the violin was not tucked under the neck, but supported against the collarbone, making it more difficult to play.
The shoulder rest is even a newer invention of the middle-to-late 20th century. It facilitates balance and support of the violin against the body and increases the mobility of the left thumb. The shoulder rest can lighten the task of the left hand, enabling smoother and lighter shifting technique. The should rest, while a popular accessory today, is used much less than the chin rest.
In reading and watching much about these two accessories over the past weeks, almost every article or video stresses the correct fitting of one or both of them, if chosen, to achieve proper posture and hold. Every source discusses getting the “right” combination. However, the “right” combination is always referred to as a “personal choice”. Not only do you need to account for your body’s size and shape, you must also consider your own style of playing and comfort. There is no is no scientific method, mathematical calculation or computer application devised just yet which will yield the right rests for a particular player.
Comfort with lack of pressure and tension while being able to smoothly move is key. If this is a constant struggle, perhaps it’s time to experiment. If any of these problem occur occasionally, it may only be a shift in posture and form causing a problem. In this case, it is recommended to first have a teacher observe these two aspects before considering a change in chin or shoulder rests.
In choosing a chin rest, it is important to match your face and playing style. Are you more comfortable with a side or center mounted chin rest? What shape feels most comfortable to you? Are you allergic to any materials? For shoulder rests, the length of your neck and width, shape and slope of your shoulders are important factors to consider. Many popular brands offer adjustable feet and some even have additional adjustments. Softness versus firmness against your body, and how your choice can also affect your instrument’s resonance, needs to be considered as well.
For many players, it is an open joke about the box full of chin and shoulder rests they have collecting dust somewhere in their house. For me, I am on my third chin rest, hoping this one is the charm. I started with the one that came with my fiddle, a Guarneri Model Chinrest. Finding that too high, I switched to a low side mounted Gotz Model Chinrest. Right now, since I always find my chin moving over the tailpiece, I have started using a center mounted Flat Flesch Violin Chinrest. And, since I am am always adjusting and moving the Fiddleman wood shoulder rest, and it still doesn’t feel quite right, I have a new Bonmusica style shoulder rest arriving today I want to try out.
Unfortunately, the only way to find the “right” combination is to try a number of different kinds to see which feels best for you. But, before buying blindly, speak with your teacher if you have one or to a local violin dealer to see which models are more popular with most players. It is a trial and error situation, but finding the best combination for you is worth the search.
Changing chin and shoulder rests will not make you a better player, but the “right” ones will allow you to play better. What you choose will have a big impact on how well you are able to play and may just help prevent injury for you as well.
So, how about you? Are you one of the lucky ones who was comfortable with you first rests, or have you tried others, perhaps many others. Leave a comment below.