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Holding This Darn Thing
Questions about my chin, shoulder, etc.
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (2 votes) 
New member
July 30, 2013 - 8:31 pm
Member Since: July 30, 2013
Forum Posts: 1
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Hi folks, I'm brand new at this (got the fiddle 2 days ago) . . . so bear with me.

I've read and re-read everything about how to hold the fiddle -- and looked at every video I can find.  But for the life of me, I cannot get the fiddle to rest on my collar bone so that my left arm is free to move about blah, blah, blah.

(I'm sure my right arm is free to throw this thing against a wall.)

Further, there just isn't anyone locally I can take this to without getting a "if you didn't buy it from us lecture" or a "it's Chinese, what did you expect" talk . . . If I could stomach that, I probably wouldn't be trying to learn fiddle on line . . .

I say all that, just to politely ask:  "Please don't tell me to do these things."

What I'd like is guidance on assessing my chin and shoulder vis-a-vis the instrument I now have . . . what if I'm one of those don't-need-a-chin-rest people?  How do I know?  Maybe I don't need a shoulder rest . . . but maybe I need an appliance that looks like I was in a bad car wreck a few weeks ago . . .

I know this:  if I try to hold (squeeze) this thing between my jaw bone and collar bone . . . my bones hurt -- quickly.  I'm basically holding it with my left hand -- which leaves me struggling to play.  (I should mention, I do play fretted instruments, so I'm not totally lost . . . I even have a fretless banjo!)

I really don't think it's a positional thing . . . it's physical:  between the shape of my jaw-neck-collar and this wooden contraption called a fiddle.  How can I assess what I need.




King for a Day, Peasant for many

July 30, 2013 - 9:11 pm
Member Since: February 13, 2012
Forum Posts: 1814
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Well--- Welcome to the family my fiddler friend! You're gonna love it here, lots of opinions and most are correct although different! We all were in your shoes at one time or another and love to help the new players so you don't get all discourgaged and stop. We need you, so jump in with both fingers and a bow and lewts see and here how things go for you in the future. I have a few friends who play fretted instruments and playing the violin is nothing like that so don't expect a rapid progression, it'll take a while to develop that muscle memory. But if you stick with it, it's a heavenly instrument to play and hear.

A lot of players require a shoulder rest to get that "in the groove" feeling where everything works perfectly and fits right, I tried one way back and for a few weeks struggled with it, then took it off. I now have a piece of soft 'baby blanket' flannel folded in half so it's about 7-8" wide and 12-14" long. I lay it right at the edge of the fine tuners on the tail piece and wrap it under the violin body, goin gover the chin rest, so it has a cushion effect on my collar bone. Perfect. Works on all 4 of my instruments and I still have the original shoulder rest I bought but still don't use it at all. Guess I'm a lucky one.

You could try that first with a dish towel or wash cloth to see if it even will help the position and holding issues, and if it helps then graduate to a proper sized soft flannel violin towel. Make your own from a piece of flannel you can easily buy at a seemstress shop or fabric supply or even WalMart. If the cloth thing doesn't go far enough, there's a lot of various shoulder rests out there from a few dollars to well over a hundred bucks!

Just my 2c worth. Hope it helps.

"If you practice with your hands you must practice all day. Practice with your mind and you can accomplish the same amount in minutes." Nathan Milstein

Merritt Island, Fla
Pro advisor

July 30, 2013 - 9:15 pm
Member Since: June 25, 2012
Forum Posts: 1281
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stop trying to hold the danged thing and just put it up there and play! you will find with familiarity with the instrument a hold that suits you. The chinrest is primarily used to steady the instrument, particularly helpful when shifting down so you dont throw the thing across the room but you arent at that level yet. When you play you must be completely relaxed so clamping down with your chin or jaw isnt going to do it for you. I sent you a private message. Have fun.

"Please play some wrong notes, so that we know that you are human" - said to Jascha Heifetz.


July 30, 2013 - 10:00 pm
Member Since: January 14, 2013
Forum Posts: 888
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I hear ya Ken > I went though a lot of crap with the collar bone thing and the jaw thing, etc > I still have some issues but seems I pick it up now and it just finds its place. Feels real comfortable. I use an old fiddle pillow to rid of the wood on bone thing. > Yep it feels pretty good right now. > It took a lot of crap to get it there. Keep watching vids, listen to the members on this site for ideas, etc and you will just pick it up some day and it won't even be an issue, so much. 

Fort Lauderdale
July 30, 2013 - 10:37 pm
Member Since: September 26, 2010
Forum Posts: 14466

The hardest thing to do at first is to play without a shoulder rest. Depending on your build you may not be able to accomplish this at all. Begin by determining if your chinrest makes any sense to match against your jawbone in any way. You may need to do something similar to what Dennis mentioned above. Try with a sponge big enough to fill the gap and a rubber band to hold it in place. If this simplifies the holding process you may want to order an inexpensive SR such as the Everest Easy Shoulder Rest:
If your chinrest has no chance of resting comfortably against your jawbone, you may want to get a totally different one or perhaps "The Impressionist", which you can warm up and form with your own jaw to insure a good fit.
In any case, don't fret, learning to hold the instrument comfortably is one of the hardest things you can do.
You definitely want to avoid squeezing the instrument and exerting unnecessary pressure and tension.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

Regular advisor

July 30, 2013 - 10:48 pm
Member Since: December 14, 2011
Forum Posts: 196
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Almost everyone starts out with a shoulder reset for security so they don't feel like they'll drop it. Kinda like training wheels.

Personally with my build I'll probably always have a shoulder rest and that is OK!

You have to try things to see what is right for you. If it works for me good I should use it,  that does NOT mean everyone should use the same type as me. We are not built the same we all have to find our comfort zone.

I really do think it will be more comfortable for until you find what will work best for as your skill develops if you start with a shoulder rest.

Most shoulder rest are adjustable for height on either side so you can try several positions to find one that will get you playing so you can then zero in on this is where it needs to be for you to play your BEST! 

As for a starting rest a KUN, I personally suggest a folding rest it fits in your carrying case better. Most advice I've seen say start with something like this as it is not terribly expensive. Its not my absolute favorite rest of all time but I still keep it for my 2nd violin and it is for me FAR BETTER than nothing at all.


Russia, Tatarstan rep. Kazan city

August 2, 2013 - 5:11 pm
Member Since: October 7, 2011
Forum Posts: 2849
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Hi, Ken! Welcome to the forum!

What I'd like is guidance on assessing my chin and shoulder vis-a-vis the instrument I now have . . .


Unfortunatelly there is no magic formula to fit anybody. This is the thing that depends only of yourself. I'd recommend You to go to the nearest shop and try as much chin and shoulder rests combinations as possible and find the one that will fit You best. Best doesn't mean ideal it means make it work for You. Getting that "ideal" might take some time.

Good Luck!


August 2, 2013 - 8:23 pm
Member Since: May 4, 2012
Forum Posts: 2379
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Hi Ken.

Any shop that gives you that kind of grief, don't go there again.  Brick and mortar places with attitudes like that deserve to lose biz to competitors or online biz.

A violin (acoustic) is about a pound of wood and while there are some slight differences in shape, it really isn't going to matter what country it was made in, so far as finding a comfortable way to hold it and play.

Now, as far as it being a bit uncomfortable at first on the collarbone.. Well, it is a hard object on your collarbone.  I had some interesting bruises the first week or so, myself, and the collarbone got a bit tender.  You have to give yourself some time to get used to it and to find a comfortable spot on the collarbone for it to rest.  You also might need just a little padding of some sort, especially if the metal part of the chinrest's clamp is digging into your collarbone.  That padding might be as light as just a handkerchief draped over the chinrest and bottom of the violin before you bring it up into playing position or it might be a sponge like Fiddlerman uses.  Nobody can tell you that for sure, since nobody has your exact combination of physical structure like collarbone and shoulder.

It is possible to play without a shoulder rest.  I don't use one for acoustic violin.  But one thing that hasn't been mentioned that you should consider is that most of the instructions and playing tips you find online are going to be for people using shoulder rests.  And a chin rest, for that matter.  So if you decide not to use one or both of those items and you need to ask for advice, you are probably going to get advice by and intended for someone who is using both of the rests.  It may be good advice, but if may not work for you.

Just be aware that if you go those routes, you'd need to find someone with more than just a year or two of experience that doesn't mind answering a few questions or listening to problems you run into and giving you some ideas to try.  That may or may not be a complication you want to work with in your first few months.  Not trying to push you in one direction or the other, just telling you that you'll want to think that through.

But even the basic instructions for how to manage the hold without a shoulder rest are a bit different.  The series of 6 videos starting with this one cover a lot of the same points I was told when I was asking around.


With the chin rest, I do use one of those.  The one I have now is comfortable, but the one I got with another violin was miserable to try and play with.  If the chin rest isn't comfortable, pretty much the only option is find one that does feel good for you or maybe try that "Impressionist" that Fiddlerman mentioned.  It is not something where your jawbone will adapt to it, it isn't something you'll just get used to.  If it isn't comfortable, you can try padding it a little with a washcloth or etc as some have already mentioned, but if that doesn't do it, you'll need to try some others.

One thing that you mentioned is holding the violin with your left hand.  You don't really want to do that.  Even if you are playing without a shoulder rest, you don't hold the violin neck, it just rests on your thumb.  Holding on to the neck would make it hard to play and make some things you need to learn to do later like shifting up and down the neck difficult or maybe impossible. 

So anyway, there's another 2 cents worth of gasoline on the fire for ya. LOL

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

Tennessee, USA

August 2, 2013 - 9:47 pm
Member Since: May 17, 2013
Forum Posts: 277
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@DanielB Did you watch video 4?  What he said about finger pressure?  BLEW MY MIND!

There is no failure, only results.


August 2, 2013 - 10:28 pm
Member Since: May 4, 2012
Forum Posts: 2379
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You mean the part about the string not having to touch the fingerboard and the finger maybe not even touching the fingerboard?  I had to review #4 after you asked, but I'd actually been told that before finding this set of videos. 

You *can* press the string down hard to the fingerboard when you want the harsher more "direct" sound.  But using a lighter touch gives a sound that is a little softer and more complex.  That is two distinctly different timbres/sounds you can get, and which one you use for any particular note should be a matter of choice.  It also makes the slight adjustments for intonation and doing things like vibrato easier to use a softer touch on the strings. 

You also might learn that on guitar, if you ever take classes or lessons for playing "lead".  If you want your playing to be fast and smooth, you keep your hands relaxed.  "Tense hands are slow hands" as one of my guitar teachers used to say.  Fingering the strings on a guitar too hard can also actually make the note slightly out of tune, by stretching the string against that metal fret.

But back to violin/fiddle, it doesn't take much pressure on the string at all to get a good sounding note.  I was told an exercise to do right after one does open string bowing exercises, where you start with just the first finger on the string, and you sort of experiment with light fingering to remind yourself just how little pressure it actually takes.  Alternate between open and first finger on long slow bow strokes.  Then go through again with each of the other fingers.  It's not a bad warm-up.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

Honorary tenured advisor

August 3, 2013 - 3:11 am
Member Since: September 7, 2012
Forum Posts: 985
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As people have said, whether and what kind of rests you need is going to depend on you and your anatomy.

I think I can name a couple of foolish approaches that could harm your health:

1) that playing without a shoulder rest or without a chin rest ought to be some kind of goal in itself.  Your goal should be to use whatever configuration allows you to play best and maintain your health.

2) that the problem will somehow solve itself or go away on its own, or that you will somehow learn to play using a setup that immediately feels wrong.

I think it best to give attention to the problem early and often, learning from the experiences of others, but also from your own experience and common-sense analysis. 

Certainly some people's health and their development as players are ruined by chronically-bad holds.

Fort Lauderdale
August 3, 2013 - 2:08 pm
Member Since: September 26, 2010
Forum Posts: 14466
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Once again, I want to reiterate that you need to find the balance point and learn to relax. Squeezing the violin to hold it could cause great harm in the long run and even a possibility of having to quit playing for a while or in the worse case, forever.

It's different for everyone but please take the time to feel how much pressure you are giving to holding the violin and evaluate whether you really need all that energy. If you make a conscious note of this every time you begin your practices you will probably end up relaxing more and enjoying your practice more as well.

I have had to work with a lot of violinist that had done a lot of damage to their necks and shoulders from holding the violin too tightly as well as in the wrong position (for their bodies). The path to recovery can be slow especially when your hold becomes a habit.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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