Fiddle and Shoulder Rests

Fiddle and Shoulder Rests

Hi there.

Can someone please outline for me the main advantages in playing a fiddle with a shoulder rest/support piece. At the moment I do not use one, and am curious to know if there is a chance of my playing being better with one.


Re: Fiddle and Shoulder Rests

The key bit perhaps being "A shoulder rest or pad of some sort is necessary to prevent the instinctive upward shrugging of the player’s shoulder to increase support and friction." although the advantages and disadvantages are summed up at the end

Re: Fiddle and Shoulder Rests

smoke and mirrors. If you think it will help, it will.

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Re: Fiddle and Shoulder Rests

It frees you from having to support the fiddle with your left hand
all the time. Some use it and some don’t though. Anne Sophie
Mutter - a great classical violinist - does not. I don’t know how she
manages because those people are racing up and down the neck
constantly. Dezi Donnelly doesn’t seem to use one either, and he
has that collapsed wrist like Martin Hayes, and yet Donnelly freely
travels up and down the neck too. So go figger.

Re: Fiddle and Shoulder Rests

Having a collapsed wrist isn’t necessarily a problem, it becomes one if it causes you discomfort.

The same goes for holding the instrument in general. If you are comfortable holding it and can happily hold it in place for long periods of time then it shouldn’t be a problem, with or without a shoulder rest.

If, however, you find yourself bending your neck or raising your shoulder to keep it in place, or have a "death grip" on the neck of your fiddle, then a rest might be necessary as otherwise you can have problems later on.

Are you able to comfortably hold the fiddle without your left hand?

Re: Fiddle and Shoulder Rests

A few people don’t use them, Aly Bain and Iain MacFarlane instantly spring to mind (in fact, most of Blazin’ Fiddles) and it hasn’t harmed their playing at all. But you need to be relaxed (Aly Bain is a prime example) as tensing up can cause discomfort.

I’ve always thought Dezi Donnelly looks "squashed" when he plays. Perhaps he learnt to play in really crowded pubs.

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It depends a lot on your anatomy. Particularly if you’re coming from using a rest it’s important to get the fiddle well tucked into your neck. No rest works best if you can get the fiddle tucked well in and resting on your collar bone, the fiddle back shouldn’t touch your shoulder, so when it works well, the fiddle is much less damped than with the weight of a rest clamped to it.

BUT if your collar bone angle ain’t right, and your neck is too long and graceful "no rest" may be no good for you.

I tend to think there are right arm benefits in no rest. Using a rest makes it easy to tip the fiddle too far over and restrict the right wrist. (Though it’s not a problem for most people.) Look at Aly Bain’s wonderful right wrist movement without a rest.

My left shoulder used to ache until I gave up a shoulder rest, never since.

But it mostly depends on anantomy AFAICT.

(Don’t forget all the amazing violinists wheo never used rests, because they weren’t invented!)

Re: Fiddle and Shoulder Rests

"It depends a lot on your anatomy"

If your hip bone is connected to your thigh bone and all that, use a shoulder rest. If not, don’t.


Re: Fiddle and Shoulder Rests

With or without:

If you have discomfort or pain, SEEK HELP.

Like the old comedy gag. Man sees the doctor and says, "my arm always seems to hurt when I do this" Doctor says, "well then stop doing it!"

Re: Fiddle and Shoulder Rests is a great site. But one has to know that the matter of using a shoulder rest or not has raised a lot of fuss. There are a lot of dogmatic shoulder rest haters there. The other side (those who use one) is more reasonable and tolerant and accepts both ways, if it serves you.

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As a "restless-player" I’m going to put the alternative point of view. It’s an important decision and you should make an informed choice.

I started with a shoulder rest for no better reason than everyone else seems to use one. But I always disliked the feeling of constriction and rigidity. And as someone who has studied Yoga, it struck me that anatomically arms are made to hold things up but necks are not made to press things down - playing restless seemed safer to me.

Many people say it’s a question of anatomy, but almost everyone has a collar bone in pretty much the same place, and the fiddle should be resting on the collar bone no matter which way you play (using the shoulder rest to lever the fiddle up off the collar bone is often done, but it’s a bad habit - you don’t want the fiddle as low as possible for ease of playing and for the good of your health).

After that, it’s a question of filling the gap between your fiddle and your chin. Many people who say they need shoulder rests seem to have given little thought to the chin rest. Looking at it egonomically I feel that most people are using chin rests which are too low, and often too far to the left. Check out the website - the University of Utrecht did some serious work on this and you’ll find advice there. Also on

Once I had a good fitting chin rest, ditching the shoulder rest become relatively easy. You will have to experiment a fair bit to find a good balanced position, but these days I feel more secure *without* the rest, and have no problem zipping up and down the neck with my left hand. The advantages? A sense of balance and freedom, and a greater intimacy with the instrument. And one less bit of kit to faff around with. Nowadays when I try out fiddles with rests on in feels like I’m in a straight-jacket.

Will a shoulder rest damage your playing? Of course not, provided you understand how to use it right. Hilary Hahn seems to manage OK 🙂 But many, many people misuse it as a prop to cover up basic weaknesses in their playing position, and this can’t be good in the long run. Playing restless pretty much forces you to find a good, balanced position - otherwise you can’t play at all!

So don’t feel you’re missing out by not using a shoulder rest. I’d suggest that you start by sorting out a rational, ergonomic setup for your chinrest. Experiment to see if you can get a comfortable, balanced position without the shoulder rest. It does take a bit more work, but I found it was very much worth it.

If it turns out you have an unusual shoulder anatomy and you really need a rest, then learn how to use it properly. But do it because you need to, not because it’s the current fashion…

Bottom line - this is one of these open-ended discussions and you’re going to have to make up your own mind!

Re: Fiddle and Shoulder Rests

Oops - major typo! When I said "you don’t want the fiddle as low as possible" I meant you *do* want it as low as possible!

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^This is a good post. As someone who has always used a rest, it’s nice to see the view of someone without one.

What you could do, before you buy an expensive shoulder rest and realise you don’t like it, is get some bits of kitchen sponge and shove them between your fiddle and your shoulder/collarbone, then hold the fiddle as you would do so normally (might need a bit of tweaking). Then ask yourself "Is this more comfortable?".

If you do get a rest, try and get one you can adjust the height of.

Re: Fiddle and Shoulder Rests

I’ve just dug out my copy of a book my old violin teacher gave to me as a gift after 11 years of lessons through school. It’s called "The Integrated Violinist" by Whone.

It’s a lovely little book, taking a holistic approach to the instrument and its owner working together. Much of the 128 pages concern posture and technique and so on, and nowhere does it mention shoulder rests. The point being, the rest itself won’t necessarily improve your playing, but the way you interact with your instrument will.

My old teacher once said "treat your violin as you would treat a baby, except never hold a baby by the neck."

You can find copies here

Re: Fiddle and Shoulder Rests

I’ve played both without a rest with with one, and there are pros and cons to both. I use a different posture without a rest than with one, and over the years have found that playing with a rest allows me a more natural, centered head and neck position. But I have a taller than average neck, and significant neck spine issues due to injuries unrelated to music. So my needs are somewhat unusual.

A good teacher can help explore the options and suggest ways to reach an optimum set up for you.

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I started playing without a rest after taking a workshop from a well-known fiddler who recommended that we try playing that way. It takes some getting used to, but I much prefer playing without one now. I find the best 2 benefits have been: a) my intonation has improved (I can feel the vibrations right through my collarbone now, especially in a loud environment), and b) I can adjust my position—-lift my left shoulder to tilt the fiddle more to my right, to help play the lower strings more easily. This last point is very bad practice if you’re a classical violinist, but very handy if you’re playing in a crowded session with very little room around you. Also agree with gcaplan that it’s one less thing to worry about—-nice to just take the fiddle & bow out of the case, tune up, and play, and not have to mess with getting the rest on just right.

Re: Fiddle and Shoulder Rests

If you play Irish it is unlikely you’ll ever need to shift out of the first position up the finger board, but being able to do so can sometimes be a useful addition to technique, so it’s worth thinking about for the technical toolbox.. If someone learning the classical violin is unable to do an easy shift up from the first position without using a shoulder rest then that is a sure sign there is something wrong with their left hand positioning and hold - usually stiffness and tightness, which hinders finger control, speed and vibrato, and is likely to have long-term physical effects.

I started learning the fiddle about 11 years ago, and within 6 months ditched the shoulder rest as being more fuss than it was worth. A while later I started having lessons in the classical violin (because there was a lot of music out there I wanted to play, and anyway I had been playing cello in an orchestra ever since my early teens). My violin teacher has spent a lot of time teaching me the deep details of posture, instrument hold, and bow control, all of which I’ve applied to my folk fiddle playing. She noticed I wasn’t using a shoulder rest, but was quite happy about that because I was supporting the violin on my collar bone and not by the shoulder. The only time now when I might use the shoulder rest that I keep in my orchestral violin case is for concerts (and then not always), and this is for the purely practical reason of being able to have a hand free for quick page turns in some types of music.

I’m not being at all prescriptive in saying someone should or should not use a shoulder rest (unlike one or two of my friends on!), but I would recommend learning to play fluently without one even if you prefer to use it for regular playing. In being able to do this there is the side advantage of being able to continue to play should that particular item of scaffolding fall apart when you’re in the middle of a gig!

A historical comment - the shoulder rest seems to have been invented shortly before or after WW2. I’m just about old enough to remember the first ones being used in orchestras in the mid 50s. Before then, no one used them; the most you would see would be a handkerchief or similar between the collar bone and the violin.

The main item on the agenda for the next meeting will be: "Do fiddle players really need to use chin rests?" 🙂 FYI, the chin rest was invented by the violinist/teacher Louis Spohr round about 1820, and before then nothing of that nature was used. I reckon he thought it was a good idea at the time. Players of baroque music, and a few fiddle players, even today do not use chin rests.

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" I would recommend learning to play fluently without one even if you prefer to use it for regular playing"

I think that’s an excellent suggestion - otherwise the shoulder rest can cover up a multitude of sins.

You say that shoulder rests were invented in the 40’s, but they seem to have taken some time to take off, because at my highly musical school (4 symphony orchestras!) in the early 70’s I remember someone being teased for using a new-fangled Menuhin style rest. It’s only more recently they have really taken off.

My own pet theory is that it’s related to the rise of group classes, which are a relatively recent development. If you are teaching a crowd of tiny tots I can understand that it’s easier to fit a rest than to tackle the more challenging issue of how to hold the fiddle properly - you simply wouldn’t have the time. But in my not-so-humble opinion it’s no substitute for learning how to hold the fiddle properly.

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Here is a photo of pages from a book published around 1908:

It comes from a discussion on, where it was suggested that the particular chinrest/shoulder rest combination was being punted in the 1890s. There are other models (purely shoulder rests) mentioned too, advertised quite early in the 20th century.

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I hope anyone reading this thread who finds a shoulder rest helpful isn’t cowed into playing without one.

I’ve played with and without a shoulder rest, and I’ve tried going commando—no chin rest either. It simply is not sustainable for me over the long haul. I too have had teachers who spent a lot of time and focus on a relaxed, natural posture when playing, and they all ended up recommending a shoulder rest in my case because without one, I had to tilt my head. That leads to muscle and joint facet issues. Now that I’ve also had my C3 and C4 fused (due to an old mountain bike injury), playing without a rest is just not realistic.

FWIW, the best option I found without a shoulder rest was to use an over-the-tailpiece Berber style chin rest.

In my experience, "shoulder" rest is a misnomer. Whether you use a rest or not, you should not be supporting the fiddle with your shoulder. Instead, the fiddle or the rest is supported by the collar bone, allowing the shoulder to remain in a neutral, fully relaxed position. It’s not unusual to see fiddlers hunching their left shoulder forward, but for most mortals, it leads to damage to the muscles, rotator cuff, etc.

Also, I don’t buy into the notion that a footed shoulder rest dampens the tone or volume of a fiddle. People may hear a difference, but that’s more likely due to their ear being at a different angle or height when they switch between a rest and going restless. (It’s worth noting that in the mandolin world, many people swear by using a "tone guard" that, similar to a shoulder rest, clamps around the back edges of the instrument so the back is supported away from any dampening effects of the body.)

That said, there’s still plenty of room to improve shoulder and chin rest design, and a number of researchers are after it. I customized my chin rest (with a belt sander), and dramatically improved fit and function.

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