When you purchase a violin you will want to purchase all of the accessories that go along with it. One of the most popular accessories that you can buy to go with your new instrument is a shoulder rest. A shoulder rest will help you to take better care of your violin and can actually be using to improve your playing.
Although many violinists discuss the fact that they won’t use a shoulder rest or a chin rest, in reality this accessory is in use my three-quarters of players in the US. Some people will choose not to use a shoulder rest because they don’t know how to attach it to the violin. And for these people, we have this guide for you.
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Why Do I Need a Shoulder Rest?
You will get so many different answers to this question depending on what violinist you ask. There are those who will see a shoulder or chin rest as an absolutely essential accessory for their instrument. Others may reject the idea of it altogether. The real answer is that the need for a shoulder rest will depend on the distance from your jawline to your collarbone. If that space is quite small then you probably won’t need to use a rest but otherwise, we would recommend getting one.
A great violin or viola player will want to have as much freedom for the left hand as possible. You will also need to have a perfect and consistent playing posture while you are practicing and performing. To do this you will have to learn to play with your shoulder rest with your head straight and not tilted. Your back should also be relaxed but straight as well.
Many new violinists make the mistake of raising their left shoulder which lifts up the violin. This is a big mistake which is common amongst beginners. If you think you do that too often then make sure to get a should rest because it will improve the way you play. Having a good playing posture frees up your shoulder, allowing you to move your hand back and forth more smoothly and also provides great support for the instrument.
Regardless of whether you want to get a rest or not you should always be as relaxed as possible while you are playing your violin or viola. Some players have a natural aptitude for the instrument which means they can play without the help of any additional accessories. However, the way they play can be very difficult for beginners and it takes a lot of work to hold the violin without the help of a shoulder rests.
A big thing that will change when you start using shoulder rests is the overall tone and sound of the instrument. Resting the violin on your body without the help of a rest means it comes into close contact with a lot of surfaces like your clothes. This in turn goes on to affect the overall sound of the violin, slightly muffling it.
Having a shoulder rest will raise the violin off your body so the instrument comes into less contact with surfaces, therefore making the sound a lot clearer. This is something that may violinists also debate as some prefer the sound with a rest and others without. It’s all down to personal taste and how you like your violin to sound.
How To Choose a Shoulder Rest
- Maximum comfort – Choose the best place where the violin feels the most comfortable. If you have been playing the violin for a while you may already be accustomed to where it feels the best. Holding your violin too close to your ear can strain your muscles so try and look in the mirror and place the instrument in the best position for you.
- Comfortable shape – Everyone is a different size and shape and it’s these details that will help you to choose the best rest. Place your instrument on your shoulder and see how it feels in relation to your jawline and collarbone. A shorter neck will only need a thinly padded rest whereas those with a longer neck will want something more custom.
- Materials – There are a lot of different rests available out there on the market that are made from different materials and have a range of finishes. Cost can be a big factor in your decision to purchase a rest made from a certain material. A plastic rest are generally cheap and easier to clean but they tend to become slippery when you use them and can also cause skin rashes from where you swear. A wooden shoulder rest will be more expensive but will absorb sweat more easily and can be customized to fit your shape perfectly.
- Use your natural playing state – Using a rest just because it came as part of your violin outfit doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right one for you. A shoulder rest is absolutely an individual choice and it’s one you have to make for yourself. Purchasing one from a reliable music retailer will mean you get a quality product and they may also offer you a warranty in case of damage.
Finding Good Shoulder Rests
A shoulder rest should give you two things – give you the support you need to hold the violin correctly on your left shoulder and to provide comfort while you are playing the instrument. When you go to find a rest you will want to choose the right size and shape that fits in with these two factors. There are brands and models that have a lot of padding using air cushions or foam.
Another thing you may want to look out for are shoulder rests that are custom made to fit to your body. Think about how high you need the shoulder rest to be. If your neck is on the longer side you will need a taller should rest. For those with shorter necks, only a little padding is necessary.
In terms of models, a clip-on shoulder rest is usually the best choice because you can adjust the height of them. You can also buy them in a lot of different colors and there’s even some that are designed to match the wood of your instrument. What’s more important is that a clip-on shoulder rest is great for a beginner because they are very easy to attach to the violin.
The placement and shape of your rest are also important and this is where the clip-on models fall short. A stick-on rest is more adjustable where you can change the shape to bend to your body.
When you buy or attach a shoulder rest to your violin you should make sure that there are no changes to the tonality of the instrument. Some violinists say that adding a shoulder rest can vastly change the overall sound of the instrument, especially if it is in close contact with a lot of surfaces. Another argument for the shoulder rest is that it helps to clamp down the instrument, causing it to vibrate less.
The truth of the matter is if you want a shoulder rest and you think it will improve your playing when you use it then go for it. Make sure you try out a few models so you can get a feel for the sound you want. The most important thing here is to find the rest that offers up the most comfort and support for you. It will all depend on your personal preference so you want to ensure you use a few different shoulder rests before settling on one.
Attaching a Shoulder Rest
There are multiple different shapes and sizes of shoulder rest out there and they don’t all attach the same to the instrument. However, many of them have the standard rest piece and two feet that you will need to attach to the side of the instrument. Sometimes you may notice that one of the feet is longer than the other. In this instance, the longer foot is placed on the thinner side of the rest piece.
Once you have figured out where the two feet need to go on your violin then you can begin screwing them onto the rest piece. The rest piece will come with two placeholders which usually be attached to each of the feet. When you first buy a shoulder rest they will be screwed on really tightly to the feet so that they can minimize the space needed for packaging.
Placeholders are all about experimentation. You will need to keep trying and adjusting them in small increments to find the best fit for your violin. Then the part will come where you need to attach the shoulder rest onto the side of your violin. Below is how you do this.
- Sit on the edge of your seat and put your knees out in front of you.
- Hold your violin vertically and put it on your knee.
- Turn it so the back of the violin is facing you (never press the face side against anything).
- Turn the violin around so that the neck is facing down and the place where the shoulder rest is going is facing upwards.
- Keep the violin between your knees and apply gentle pressure to the neck so you have better control over the instrument and you have the use of both your hands.
- Take your new shoulder rest and hold it so that it looks like it’s smiling back at you.
- For clip-on rests slide the feet onto the side of the violin gently and make sure everything is secured in place.
Fitting the Shoulder Rest
Once the shoulder rest is in place you will want to try it out and see if it fits you properly. Keep experimenting and adjusting it so the angle is the way you want it. Many people forget to adjust their shoulder rest and if you do it won’t fit your body shape, causing you to play in an awkward and uncomfortable position.
Your shoulder rest should fit your violin and you like a dream. If it doesn’t you will find that playing the violin will become uncomfortable and can even cause you strain injuries in the long term. Keeping your head up and straight without cricking your neck and finding that natural position is a really important part of playing. Whenever you are using your violin you should be facing forward and you should never turn or tilt your head to the side.
Another adjustment you will need to make to your rest is to the height so that it’s appropriate for your chin level. A great way to do this is to look in the mirror and see if the rest is holding your chin up too low or too high. The violin should be at a slight angle and adjusting your shoulder rests is how you allow that. The rest shouldn’t be right in front of you either and shouldn’t be too close to the side of the violin.
Looking in a mirror can help you to find the best fit for your shoulder rest. You may also want to ask another violinist to give you their thoughts or ask your teacher if you are taking lessons. This feedback will be helpful and improve your playing in the long term.
Once you know where the rest sits the best on the violin you should place some removable marks so you know where to place it next time. Never forget to remove your rest when you have finished playing and store it in the case with your violin.
These are only the basic but essential instructions for those who are first starting out using shoulder rests. If you are in doubt then ask your teacher or another musician to help find the right fit for you. We hope you found our guide useful and that you get your shoulder rest in the perfect position. Happy playing!