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Viola or Violin Without a Shoulder Rest
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Mouse
November 1, 2020 - 8:11 am
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I, quite often, grab a viola or violin, and bow off the wall rack and play. I really much prefer the feel of both without a shoulder rest. I like the just “grab n play”. When I do this, the chin rest is not really used, either, but it is connected to the viola or violin. I do not leave my shoulder rest on the instruments, even though there is room between the instrument back and wall. Therefore, they are not on the instrument when I “grab n play”, and they are not attached before the “play” part. 

I know vibrato would be impossible or almost impossible, this way for most people. I do not see myself ever doing vibrato on either the viola or violin. The position of the left hand and arm angle just is not conducive for me to ever be able to do that. It really weakens my fingers. On the cello, I am fine, but the angle of the arm and fingers is completely different. Not easy, but is promising and does improve as I continue doing it.

Now, before I get replies about my stating vibrato on my violas and violins will not happen. Not everyone wants to do vibrato or can do vibrato. I am good with that. I am just being honest with myself and know what I can do. So, please no replies stating it is negative or tips on how to do it. If I ever decide to try it again, I certainly will request tips. There is always a member here dealing with the same issues another member is dealing with. Right now, I am not thinking about vibrato. The grab n play will not allow for vibrato, maybe some people can. Not a problem. Not really interested in vibrato, especially with my grab n play.

I was wondering if anyone here plays either the violin or viola without a shoulder rest. I like the feel. I am not sure if shifting would be able to be done that way. The security of the shoulder rest is missing. I would like to think shifting could be done without using a shoulder rest.

Let me explain my thinking. When you sew, there are two, in some cases it is just one to the side, grooved plates that move back and forth. They are called feed dogs. They grab the material and feed it under the needle and then keeps the material moving. When you freemotion quilt, those feed dogs are dropped (dropping the feed dogs) and the material is moved by you as the needle goes up and down. This allows you to move the material in any direction. You have to keep your speed of moving the material timed properly with the up and down needle speed for proper tension. Having the needle in the down position, piercing the material, when you stop keeps the material in place and not slipping out from under the needle area. Like the shoulder rest keepong the instrument in place.

That freemotion quilting is what I think of with my grab n play viola and violin. The instrument has the freedom to move on the shoulder. That shoulder rest is like the needle. It keeps the instrument in place, or assists in that act. The movement of the instrument has to be right to allow proper fingering. You have to control it.

I really like the freedom of not using a shoulder rest. I am thinking of being a little more serious about not using one and actually not using one when doing serious practicing when I actually have time to sit and play seriously. The grab and play happens when I am in between tasks or just waiting to be able to do something, I grab it off the wall and play. Sometimes I will run the wall and play the same song on each instrument. It always fascinates me how it sounds so different on two different violas, or two different violins.

Do any of you play without a shoulder rest? Are you able to shift? I am thinking there is too much freedom for the instrument to move back and forth when shifting up and down. If that is the case, I will keep the grab n play for “off the wall playing”, and continue to use the shoulder rest for serious playing times.

Cello and Viola Time! 

(Former Username - cid)

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ELCB
Michigan, USA
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November 1, 2020 - 9:27 am
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Hi! @Mouse -

Confused Head Scratching Emoticons I'm a little confused.  So, you have or haven't tried shifting without a shoulder rest?  Think if you did try and you were comfortable with doing it, that would answer your question. 

I've tried (several times) playing without a rest, but find myself trying to compensate with extra pressure from my neck/chin.  This, occasional extra effort, is strain on my neck I'm trying to avoid.

I started with the "Suretone" Rest, switched to several regular shoulder rests and I'm back to the "Suretone" (which, by itself, is next to nothing), now that I'm starting to get a better handle on vibrato, etc...

For some reason, probably my issues with pain in general, I'm really sensitive to the edge of the violin/that metal from the chin rest on my bony collarbone - even when using a folded cloth. 

This may change over time as my skill level (or health?) progresses. 

If you decide you need a little something to help keep your violin/viola from slipping, maybe look into "Suretone".  It only touches the rim (unlike a sponge), can allow you more freedom of movement than a traditional rest and also protects your collarbone - infinitely adjustable, too. 

Just so glad you're back to playing everything (whew)!

https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2017/07/25/00/38/quartet-2536555_960_720.png

 

- Emily

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Mouse
November 1, 2020 - 9:44 am
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I did try it, but so far I have not gotten into a lot of shifting with those two instruments. There hasn’t really been as much shifting as the shifting with the cello has been. I am learning in steps. I don’t really want to skip a lot of what I think I need to learn before I jump up and do shifting like I do on cello just to find out if no shoulder rest hinders shifting. That will set me back. I am very methodical when I learn things and I can’t skip to check something out. So, before I get used to no shoulder rest, I am just wondering if anyone else has experience with it, and how it affects shifting, and what they did.

I don’t have an issue with it against my neck or anything. I just like the feel the violas and violins with no shoulder rest. I don’t lower my chin down. There is actually less neck stress this way for me. It is somewhat free on my shoulder and is actually quite comfortable that way. 

Cello and Viola Time! 

(Former Username - cid)

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ELCB
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November 1, 2020 - 11:06 am
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Just Being Contented Smiley

Sounds like you'll do just fine without one!  And the more you do not use a rest, just seems it should become even more natural for you. 

I'm all on board, with whatever it takes, for making all your instruments ready to be picked up/played on a whim!

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/15/53/c6/1553c689d99e8de550821b208917b8fc.jpg

 

- Emily

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Mark
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November 1, 2020 - 3:57 pm
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The shoulder rest is a fairly new invention,

People played for hundreds of years with out a shoulder rest and a chin rest.

Yes shifting is easy with out a shoulder rest, watch youtube for all the old great player who did not use a shoulder rest, watch Anne-Sophie Mutter,  Pinchas Zukerman, Fiddlerman, Michel Giblin for some modern examples.

And yes I do not use a shoulder rest, it aggravates an old shoulder injury I have to the point I thought I would have to quite playing the fiddle, I removed the shoulder rest and I'm pain free now.

Master the Frog and you have mastered the bow.

Albert Sammons

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Ripton
Vermont, Massachusetts or somewhere in between
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November 1, 2020 - 7:23 pm
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When I started in grade school back in the early 70s there was no such thing as a shoulder rest. When I picked back up in the last few years the rest was a joy. My camp in Vermont has my old student viola but no shoulder rest. too much effort to bring my favorite rest back and forth. Maybe someday I'll buy a second one. 

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Mouse
November 1, 2020 - 7:37 pm
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So, not having a shoulder rest did not hinder your progress and you did not have to relearn holding and plying the viola with a shoulder rest? It is really difficult for me to relearn something to break a bad way of doing it. That is what I am concerned about. 

Cello and Viola Time! 

(Former Username - cid)

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stringy
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November 2, 2020 - 8:10 am
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Paganini didn’t have a shoulder or chin rest, if you watch anyone play one of his caprices you will see that shifting should be no problem at all. I am trying to learn vibrato myself as I think it adds an extra dimension to the violin, baroque players virtually never used vibrato it was unheard of, but I definitely couldn’t do it without a chin rest, I would be crippled with neck and shoulder pain, which I get already sometimes. 

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Mouse
November 2, 2020 - 8:24 am
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Thanks. I do have a chinrest. I noticed this morning that I do lower my chin every once in a while, but mostly I am able to have my neck and head free. I am going to try to remember the circumstances under which I lower the chin to the chinrest, out of curiosity, if nothing else. I do not notice any pushing of the instrument into my neck, which I do watch for. I can’t imagine that would be good.

I do find that it is easier without a shoulderest using my 15 1/2 inch Fiddlerman Concert viola than it is with the 15 3/4 inch viola by another maker. That quarter of an inch seems makes the difference. 

Who knows, I may find that I go back to a shoulder rest. It may be that it it because I can visually check my finger placement better when I need to, to get back on track. Once I am not having to do that, it might be that I prefer the shoulder rest again. We will see. 

But, as long as it should not hinder my ability to switch back to a shoulder rest, if I want or need to, that is what I needed to know.

Thanks for your thoughts, everyone.

Cello and Viola Time! 

(Former Username - cid)

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BillyG
Brora, North-east Scotland
November 2, 2020 - 10:57 am
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I did away with the shoulder rest, oh some 18 months, maybe more, ago.  The only instrument still using a shoulder rest is my solid-body EV (it's just too "thin" to be comfortable).  I should add - dispensing with the shoulder-rest came at the same time as changing to a center-mount chin-rest.  It works for me - and for what little vibrato and shifting I do, it doesn't appear to be a problem.  I keep the back of the neck really clean and smooth and it's easy to let the left hand glide forwards or backwards without pulling the fiddle away from me !  Works well enough for me, but, sure, we're all different.

There is one slight down-side - I do have to be careful about the material my shirt is made of (or whatever the fiddle is resting on).  There can be a slight tendency to slip - but - equally - once aware of that - immediate correction is quite possible, even while playing.  I'm not certain about this, but I suspect it was Pierre who mentioned it somewhere, a thin foam pad or sponge-type thing, held on with a band generally stops the slipping I referred to (haven't bothered trying this yet - it hasn't been irksome enough)

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes. D'oh - guntohead.JPG

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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Mouse
November 2, 2020 - 2:36 pm
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Thanks, Billy G. 

Cello and Viola Time! 

(Former Username - cid)

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JohnBAngel
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November 2, 2020 - 7:43 pm
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The shoulder rest dilemma is a monkey on my back.

I have 3 different shoulder rests and have tried several chin rests.

I am currently switching back and forth and have improved just because I am doing so.

I am learning vibrato and trying it with different rests has helped me to come along faster than with only one rest.

Theory? I thought I was BS'ing myself when I first started playing around with it.

That is the extent of my experience with shoulder rests.

Keep experimenting......

Great info on your part Mouse!

JohnBAngel

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Mouse
November 2, 2020 - 8:11 pm
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Thanks, @JohnBAngel. Your information is very helpful, also. I thought I was about the only one who kept changing. I am finding no a SR works now, but I bet it changes again somewhere along the line. At least I am confident bow that I can go without a SR without too much concern about messing up my playing. It is just so different.

Great support here.

Cello and Viola Time! 

(Former Username - cid)

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Gordon Shumway
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November 15, 2020 - 5:30 am
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I was lucky. I started with Amazon's cheapest plastic Chinese shoulder rest, which was awful, but it was enough to tell me exactly what I wanted, that and looking at my teacher's. The next one I bought was a Hidersine Maesbury, curvy wood, $25 and perfect, except that the foam that touches the shoulder could have more friction. Then I bought a Chinese copy of it, half price, which is probably as good, with the same foam.

I then bought a Bon Musica when I felt flush, because I liked its curvature, but I hate it. Loathe it, detest it. It is violin unfriendly and is for people with really long necks.

Then my GF said I needed to keep a violin at her place permanently, so I took the Stentor and forgot a shoulder rest. I realised I can't play a violin without a shoulder rest, so I ordered another Maesbury because the Chinese copies have gone up in price.

I am happy with most chinrests. I've got 7 or 8, not bought separately - the one that was on the electric is now on the Gewa, and whenever I bin a VSO, I keep the accessories, but I have bought 2 or 3.

I just ordered a couple of Carnatic violin CDs. I am puzzled about why they keep the chinrests on their violins when they never use them.

The fact that Pag never used anything doesn't worry me much. Same way I wouldn't go parachuting with a WWII era parachute.

BillyG said
The only instrument still using a shoulder rest is my solid-body EV (it's just too "thin" to be comfortable). 

True. My favourite shoulder rest for those is a small cushion. And sometimes it's because they don't have the beading for a normal shoulder rest.

This  my favourite one.

Andrew

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wtw
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November 15, 2020 - 6:05 am
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I used to play my viola without a shoulder rest, for the first few years. It was fine, and I liked that I could feel so much the vibrations through my body. Shifting or vibrato etc, weren't a problem.

The problem came when a bought a brand new viola (instead of the chinese basic one I had), with a rather soft varnish, and playing without a rest (wood-to-skin ! especially in summer…) completely ruined it and the luthier had to redo the back of the instrument all over again 😉 After that I tried having always some cloth between my shoulder and the instrument, but 1) it does dampen the nice vibrations, and 2) after a few months I noticed the friction was still starting to tarnish the varnish (… it rhymes ! 😛 ).

So I resigned myself to playing with a rest. I had tried with a Kun rest at some point, but it hadn't worked at all for me : the thing was too large, and always slipping from my viola. However I found one that I'm very happy with (the Viva la musica Diamond rest), and I'm sticking with it now. I'm not sure if I could still play without ; I guess I could, but it would take some getting used to, the position is very different. In a way the rest helps me tilt the viola forward (instead of having it sit "horizontally" on my shoulder) and reach the C string more easily.

But I think habit is a big factor, and anything's possible, maybe with a few adjustments if needed (higher chin rest, etc). I'm just sharing my own (very limited) experience.

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Mouse
November 15, 2020 - 7:40 am
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Yeah, the rub on the back is an issue that concerns me, and cloth or pads make me think it would be muffled. I decided keep the shoulder rests, violin and viola, on top of the piano. It is right under the wall instrument rack. I can still just grab and play.

I think liked playing without the shoulder rest because it was a different experience. It did cause issues with any speed. I liked the freedom, but, with further playing, it caused issues with some songs that were not the simple first songs. My set up is not perfect  but I also put on a new chinrest I bought from Fiddlershop and that was a great improvement. 

So, back to a shoulder rest that is right there for grab and play. I love to do that. Waiting for water to boil, just grab and play simple short songs I know, or run some scales. Waiting for a card to finish cutting, just grab and play. Sometimes I grab the cello, if there will be a longer wait. They are all right there along or on the same wall. 

Thanks for thoughts and experiences. It was interesting to me.

Cello and Viola Time! 

(Former Username - cid)

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AndrewH
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I know at least one professional violinist who doesn't use a shoulder rest -- she's principal 2nd violin in my semipro orchestra, and also plays in other orchestras, in a quartet, and in a rock band. Instead of a pad, she uses a piece of shelf liner, which she places on her shoulder before playing. (No attachment to the violin, it's secured by friction alone.) That adds friction and keeps the violin from moving around, without a lot of contact on the back of the violin.

I've tried playing without a shoulder rest, and can sort of manage it on violin, but on viola it's absolutely impossible for me because my hands are too small. Balancing without a shoulder rest means holding the instrument flatter; proponents of playing restless say that is an advantage, but if I were to play viola with no shoulder rest I would have extreme difficulty playing on the C string at all. (Sometimes I wonder why I'm playing viola at all, seeing as I have literally never met another adult with smaller hands than mine.) I use an ultra-low shoulder rest (Mach One with Everest feet) whose main purpose is to tilt the viola.

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BillyG
Brora, North-east Scotland
November 16, 2020 - 4:14 am
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Gordon Shumway said
......

BillyG said

The only instrument still using a shoulder rest is my solid-body EV (it's just too "thin" to be comfortable). 

True. My favourite shoulder rest for those is a small cushion. And sometimes it's because they don't have the beading for a normal shoulder rest.

This  my favourite one.

Thanks for the link to that @Gordon Shumway !

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes. D'oh - guntohead.JPG

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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Gordon Shumway
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November 16, 2020 - 5:54 am
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BillyG said

Gordon Shumway said

......

BillyG said

The only instrument still using a shoulder rest is my solid-body EV (it's just too "thin" to be comfortable). 

True. My favourite shoulder rest for those is a small cushion. And sometimes it's because they don't have the beading for a normal shoulder rest.

This  my favourite one.

Thanks for the link to that @Gordon Shumway !

  

I've reviewed it, but they haven't OK'd the review yet. I'll add that it may be a little over-priced, and if you have needlework skills, it might be cheaper and better for you to custom-make your own.

My mother made a shoe-buffing cushion in the 40s or 50s, and we were still using it in 1980. I even recently asked her if she still had it, as I thought it would make a good shoulder rest, lol! But I think it went west some time ago.

My needlework skills are in fact excellent. Pity! I'd rather have woodworking skills.

Andrew

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