When buying an expensive violin you need to make sure you know how to take good care of it, including having some knowledge about the violin rest position and what kind of shoulder rests to use to make it sound great.
Although many musicians discuss this idea on forums and they say they don’t use a shoulder rest, this accessory is used by three-quarters of the violinists. Some of them, however, don’t know how to attach the shoulder rest. We wrote this guide to help those people.
Why should you use a shoulder rest?
This is a question that draws wildly different answers depending on the player. There are people that see a shoulder rest as a must, while others reject it altogether. It all depends on the distance between your jawline and your collarbone. Essentially, if that space is tiny you might not need a shoulder rest, otherwise, you do.
A violin player needs as much freedom of the left hand as possible. Meanwhile, the playing posture must be perfect and constant throughout the performance. For this to be true you need your body to do certain things. Firstly, your head needs to be straight, not tilted. Then, your back should be straight and relaxed too.
Most importantly your left shoulder shouldn’t be raised to lift the violin. This is one mistake that beginners make. If you see that you do that, a shoulder rest is a must. When you have a good playing posture you can also move your hand freely and provide the best support to your violin.
Regardless if you want a shoulder rest or not, you should be relaxed while playing the violin. Some players manage to do that without the help of additional accessories, but the way they play the violin can be considered difficult and putting so much work into holding the violin is not worth it.
Another thing that changes when you use a shoulder rest is the tone of the violin. You will see that when you rest the violin on your body because it is in contact with so many surfaces, including your clothes, the violin will produce a slightly muffled sound.
Because the shoulder rest raises the violin, the instrument will come into contact with fewer surfaces and the sound it will produce will be a clearer one. But this is something that is also up for debate. Some prefer the true sound of the violin that can be achieved with the help of the shoulder rest, while others like the muffled tone and their personal styles rely on that.
Finding a good shoulder rest
The shoulder rest should serve two purposes – to provide the support needed to hold the violin correctly under the chin and to be comfortable while playing. Depending on these two factors a player will choose the size and shape of the shoulder rest. There are models that offer lots of padding in the form of foam or air cushions.
You can find shoulder rests that offer great support and are custom made to ergonomically fit your body. It’s also important to consider the height of the shoulder rest. Of course, if you have a longer neck, you will need something taller. A thin pad will be enough for those with short necks.
The clip-on models are usually preferred because they can be adjusted in height. These rests can also be found in a wide variety of colors, and they can come with designs that resemble wood. Most importantly, clip-on shoulder rests are easy to attach to the instrument.
The shape and placement of the shoulder rest are important too, and clip-on designs don’t excel at that. Stick-on rests are better at being adjustable in shape, although you can bend or angle a clip-on rest a bit to fit you better.
When buying and attaching a shoulder rest make sure that you sense any change in the tonality of the instrument. Some argue that when you add a shoulder rest, especially one that has a lot of contact with the surface of the violin, the sound of the instrument changes. Others say that because the shoulder rest clamps the instrument, the violin will vibrate less.
Anyway, make sure that when you add a shoulder rest you get the sound and feel you want. The essential thing is to find an accessory that offers proper support and comfort. Because the other details depend on personal preferences, you will have to try more than one rest to see how they work for you.
How to attach the shoulder rest
Shoulder rests come in different forms and sizes, and they don’t all set up the same. However, most of them have a rest piece and 2 feet that will need to be attached. You will see that sometimes one foot is longer than the other. If that’s the case it means the longer foot will be placed on the thinner side of the rest piece.
After you figure out where you need to put the 2 feet, start screwing them to the rest piece. The rest piece also comes with 2 placeholders, one for each foot. When you first get the shoulder rest they will probably be screwed to the max, as to minimize the space needed for packaging the accessory.
You need to experiment with the placeholders and adjust them slightly depending on how well the shoulder rest fits on the violin. Then comes the part where you have to attach the shoulder rest to your violin. To do that sit at the edge of your seat with your knees in front of you.
After that, put your violin up on your knee, holding it vertically. Turn it around so the backside faces you. Never press its face against an object. Then turn it around, meaning that the neck faces down and the lower part of the violin, the place where you’re going to put the shoulder rest upwards.
Hold the violin between your knees while applying gentle pressure on its neck. You do this in order to have better control over it and to be able to use both of your hands. Take the shoulder rest and hold it as if it was smiling at you. If you have a clip-on shoulder rest, slide its feet gently onto the sides of the instrument. Make sure everything is secured.
What about fitting it?
After you do that try to practice with the shoulder rest in place and see if it fits you well. Make the necessary adjustments and experiment, change the angle of the shoulder rest as you like. Too many people skip the step of adapting the shoulder rest to their body shape and end up playing in an awkward position.
Making sure that the shoulder rest fits perfectly is a must and if you don’t manage to do that, your playing time will be uncomfortable and will cause injury in the long term. Keeping the head straight, in a natural position is probably the most important part. When playing the violin you should be looking forward, not with your head tilted to one side or turned.
Adjust the height of the shoulder rest so you can keep an appropriate chin level. Look in the mirror and see if the rest holds your chin too high or too low. Your violin needs to be at a slight angle, so adjust the shoulder rest to allow that. The shoulder rest shouldn’t be too close to the side of the violin neither right in front of you.
Looking in the mirror is a great way of seeing if your shoulder rest fits you well or not. You can also ask another person to give you their impression of how you look. Asking a teacher would be the best choice.
Once you know how your shoulder rest sits best, leave some marks on the violin so you know where to place it the next time. Don’t leave permanent marks on the instrument, of course. Never forget to remove the shoulder rest when you place the violin in its case.