Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Best Position for a Violin Shoulder Rest

by Lora on February 05, 2011

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Update: I just published a video on YouTube that demonstrates the position and adjustments I discuss in this post.
Take a look.

I have written before about the debate around whether to use a shoulder rest. Today I am going to share with you my magic shoulder rest position. No, seriously. Magic!

Why magic, you ask? Because this position is the best position for a violin shoulder rest. It works for 92.789% of my students, give or take a hundredth. While most teachers shrug and say you have a weird body type or you just have to live with your shoulder aching, not Red Desert Violin! We’re all about making you feel better (and without substances of any kind).

And we help you play better, too. But really, you have to feel good first because if it hurts, you’ll quit like any sane human would.

This post is inspired by recent requests from blog readers. For example:

I am having some shoulder rest issues. Mine seems to slide forward a lot. I know my posture is correct because I use a mirror, maybe I just have droopy shoulders? If I hold the violin higher, I can’t get my hand far enough to use the tip of the bow.

My left shoulder and neck both ache after playing a short time. I am a beginner, and a former guitar player, in case those are clues. I feel sure I am holding the instrument incorrectly or something like that–

(As far as your struggle to go to the TIP of the bow: It’s not always necessary to go to the tip on every bow. If your arm length is making this difficult, then consider 4 inches from the tip your tip. Also, when I need to get the VERY TIP, my pinky comes off the bow, and my bow hand pronates pinky up and thumb down. This usually gives my arm the extra length it needs without strain.)

Does Your Shoulder Rest Slip?

Here is one quick fix for your shoulder rest problem. You can put something on your shoulder rest that will cling to your clothing on top of your shoulder. Hair ties made from terri cloth work well, if you put it around the shoulder rest, and double it up to make it snug, or put several on.

I’ve seen people use “scrunchy ties” (ask any girlie-girl what these are….she’ll tell you). I personally glued “cork” onto the wood of my Mach1. Anything to prevent “slippage”. Try to figure out where the slippage occurs, and put the scrunchy tie there.

Now here comes the magic position. Adjust your shoulder rest so that the side that is nearest the G STRING is extended as far out past the G string as possible (in other words, adjust it so that it hangs and curves over your shoulder as much as possible) Then you will have to adjust the other side so that it will clamp onto your violin snugly. Here are some pictures to help you. Click on the small ones to see a bigger version.

Also, adjust the portion nearest the G String SHORTER, and adjust the portion toward the E string TALLER. Most shoulder rests have a longer screw for the E string foot than the G string foot.

Finally, play with the “swivel” function of your shoulder rest. If you have it swiveled the wrong way, it won’t cradle and cling to your shoulder.

I put EVERY shoulder rest I ever touch into this position, and it works for most of my students. (This adjustment mostly pertains to the Kun and Mach 1, which have the adjustable screw holes. You can get the Kun Original shoulder rest, which I really like, from Musician’s Friend by clicking the image below.
Kun ORIGINAL Violin Shoulder Rest 4/4 Size Black

How is your chin rest? Sometimes chin rests create shoulder rest problems. It should cup your jaw, and your violin should be snugged up to your neck.

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{ 31 comments... read them below or add one}

  1. Roy

    Hi Lora,
    Love what you do. Very nice of you to help us.
    I was needing to ask, does it harm the violin to leave the shoulder rest on the violin for long periods of time, or even all of the time?

    1. Lora Post author

      I sit my violin in its case on top of a 4-foot bookcase. I leave my case open, with the shoulder rest on. Of course, I loosen the bow, and I cover the violin with a little blanket to shield it from dust. I do not think it hurts at all.
      If you are CLOSING the case with the shoulder rest on, it is not a good idea. Some shoulder rests are small enough that you can close the case, but it adds pressure, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.

      I like having my violin ready to go at a moment’s notice! Just make sure kids or animals cannot get to it!

  2. Vanessa

    Hi, i use kun bravo and teka chinrest. My problem is i dont know how to position my jaw/chin on my chinrest. Teka has that weird edge that goes higher in the area near by tailpiece while it’s so low on the left side. It seems that whatever i try doesnt work, the chinrest makes the E string goes lower while if i set my kun feet (on the chest side) a bit higher, then it is too high for me. At the time i’m typing this comment i think to buy another chinrest because this teka chinrest makes me feel like a fool. It also makes me feel like i almost drop my violin.

    I almost forgot: in case it’s important, i have an almost pointy chin, slim body ( i weigh no more than 110 lbs and i am 5′ 4″).

    1. Lora Post author

      Hi Vannessa
      Your Teka is very much like my Stuber, and I rarely run into someone who is currently UNHAPPY with their chinrest who doesn’t LOVE my Stuber.
      So, with that said, I am at a loss to help you.
      But you might try the plain old standard Guarneri chinrest!
      Here’s another suggestion for you: find a violinist online who reminds you of your body type (chin, arm length, tall, neck length, anything relevant) and see what they use. Spend a couple hours on YouTube searching for professional violinists with your body type, and you will get some fabulous ideas!

      Ugh….there was a Korean violinist who played with Wichita Symphony when I was there, and I was struck by her slender fingers, and she was very thin, maybe about 5’5 of 5’6. I cannot remember her name. But you will be able to find someone whose body type is similar to yours. Check out their chinrest, and you will be able to google chinrests and find a picture of the one you saw them using. That’s how you’ll find your chin rest.

      good luck! When you find the chinrest that fits you, I would LOVE to know what it was.

    2. Vanessa

      Hi lora, thanks for the reply.

      Today i tried Strobel chinrest. It amazes me that i now can play with several Sr (wolf, bonmusica, kun bravo) using this chinrest! And i tried your kun position setting, it’s like…magic! Hehe! Thanks for this post!



    3. Lora Post author

      SO happy to hear of your success, Vanessa! Now you are free to play to your heart’s delight!

    4. Lora Post author

      Aha. I looked up the Strobel to see a picture of it, and it is very VERY similar to my Stuber. Awesome. Glad to know that design is readily available!

  3. Lauren Teneriello

    I have a problem with my shoulder rest: after i play and take the violin off my shoulder, and hold it in my hand vertically- the shoulder rest falls to the floor. This has been going on for years and is very frustrating. I always thought KUN was the best- mine is a collapsible KUN. My violin teacher said to me it’s because we have cheap shoulder rests…but i thought kun was one of the best. Any advice or new recommendations for a shoulder rest that is better than KUN and wont fall off my instrument?
    (It happens every time I practice)

    1. Lora Post author

      Hi Lauren!
      I have the SAME PROBLEM!!! But, never fear…..I have some ways to fix it, I just haven’t bothered to fix mine yet, since I only use my Kun on my second fiddle….but it drives me batty too….every time I take the violin from my shoulder…plop….it goes on the floor.

      So, here are your options:
      1) Buy a KUN SUPER. These shoulder rests adjust on a SLIDE mechanism, not in predetermined screw holes….giving it much FINER adjustment options. Normally, the regular KUN works, unless you have an odd-sized violin. Many of the older instruments are just off by a millimeter, because their edges have worn down with wear and tear. This is the case for my old fiddle. One size is too tight, the other size makes it fall off. If I bought a KUN SUPER, I could adjust slightly smaller, and it would stay on.

      2) Buy some surgical tubing, from a pharmacy, or at a hardware store. Just any rubber tubing, preferably the thinner-walled kind, as it will “mate” to your current Kun Foot better……then, cut an inch or so, and work it right OVER your old rubber foot. This will tak up the slack. (This is the option I’m going to use, so I don’t have to buy a whole ‘nuther shoulder rest.

      3) Dip your Kun foot in that “PLASTI-DIP” stuff. You can get it at hardware stores too, and its thickness depends on how many coats you put on. You can get any color. However, I am not sure how it would hold up to wear and tear, let alone if there is a bad chemical in it that might damage your varnish, so honestly, I wouldn’t do this unless I had a real cheapie violin to experiment on.

      I think 1 and 2 are your best options.

      Don’t continue to suffer! Venture into a hardware store! —Lora

  4. John Scalici

    Looking for some unusual information/guidance. I have a neurological problem which has effected both my hands. I have been playing the violin about 10 years when this problem surfaced. I still want to continue to play but can only use fingers 1-2 of my left hand and and not the pinky of my right hand. My bow hand is “ok”. My age is also a factor, I am 77.

    Currently I have continued with my violin lessons but have learned I do a LOT of shifting and have discovered I have to relearn much since I must shift so often and use 2 fingers to do the work of 4. The earlier visual conditioning to notes/fingers have to be “retuned”.

    My questions: are there any “special” music exercises you could recommend or any music system that could help me at this time?


    John Scalici

    1. Lora Post author

      Hi John!
      I believe you can accomplish ALOT if you train your 2 fingers to play as efficiently and RELAXED as possible.

      The best exercise I can think of to help your fingers re-learn their job, is to practice in RHYTHMS with your 2 fingers.
      So, take a simple A scale, starting with 1st finger on the G string.
      You would play the scale as if it were dotted 8th, 16th, dotted 8th, 16th etc. So 1st finger gets the long note each time, and 2nd finger has to move quickly.
      Then you’d play the scale in the reversed rhythm, starting with 16th, dotted 8th, 16th, dotted 8th…..so this time your 1st finger gets the short note, and 2nd finger gets the long note.
      This gives you time to evaluate and process during the long note….and to prepare for the next pair.
      This gives you a chance to listen to the shift you just did, and figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.
      Ask your teacher about practicing in “rhythms”…..every player I know of uses this technique, and I REALLY REALLY think it will help you to utilize your 2 fingers to their maximum.

      Also, I would consider changing repertoire from challenging classical repertoire to enjoyable waltzes, fiddle tunes, Irish tunes, and national folk music. Have you explored any of these genres?? I mean, pick ANY COUNTRY, and explore their folk tunes…..I find it so satisfying to delve into different national music styles. Just pick one, and the sky’s the limit!

      Please let me know if you understand what I mean by practicing in rhythms. You may already know about this practice technique…..but have you tried it since you were limited to 2 fingers? I find that this exercise is one of the most POWERFUL SIMPLE TOOLS in existence.

      Let me know if you need something further! You are a tough cookie! Keep it up! —-Lora

  5. Donny


    Regarding you post about how to keep the shoulder rest from slipping on your clothes (terri-cloth hair ties, scrunchy ties, etc.); I discovered a great way that works better than anything I’ve tried…I can’t imagine anything working better. It’s velcro…at least one part of the velcro. As everyone knows, velcro comes in 2 peices…one part is a spongy fabric feeling material that’s made of tiny loops, and the other part is a plastic feeling material that forms a barb (hook). The back of both pieces are peel & stick. When the 2 surfaces meet the barb (hook) part sticks to the loop material. The part that I use is the plastic barb (hook) material and is 3/4″ wide. I cut small pieces and stick each piece “across” the padded side of the shoulder rest until they cover the entire padded surface (about 8 pieces). Objects that stick with glue usually eventually come apart and lift at the ends. So to keep each piece stuck at the ends, I went to Hobby Lobby and bought some small fabric eyelets and punched a hole in each end of each piece of the velcro using a leather hole-punch.. Then I inserted the eyelets and snugged up the ends of the velcro using electrical zip-ties (found at Home Depot or Lowes in the electrical dept.) inserted through the eyelets. Of course all the velcro pieces are cut, eyelets installed and zip-ties attached from the top side of the shoulder rest…it looks very neat and there’s no way for the ends of the pieces of velcro to ever come unstuck or lift up. Now the shoulder rest actually sticks so well that sometimes I have to hold down on my shirt to take the fiddle down from my shoulder. The only possible problem (and I’ve not tried it yet) would be for ladies who wear delicate fabric, like satin or silk. Over a period of time the velcro might scuff up the material. One admonition; there’s velcro and then there’s velcro…I have 3 different types and none are the same. The heavy industrial type does not work well. I use the VELCRO brand…it’s 3/4″ wide and mine is on a 15 ft. roll. It’s called “Velcro brand-self-adhesive hook & loop for smooth surfaces”. There are 2 numbers on the box; 90083 and 202182…don’t know what they mean. I’m sure you can find it in a hardware store or go to the Velcro USA Industries website.

    I would love to send a picture of mine showing how it works but I couldn’t figure out how to get a pic into the comment box. If someone needs more explanation or a pic, just email me at donnybroughton@earthlink.net. It works GREAT!!!

    1. Lora Post author

      HOW INTRIGUING!!! Please email a photo to me, and I’ll distribute it far and wide in a post! (lora@reddesertviolin.com)
      Thank you for this very cool idea!

  6. Sylvia

    Hey Laura Don’t forget the OrAnge Blossom special I asked you for! and Lovers waltz you should also do Ashokin farewell! Also do Back up and push because of the hokum bow in the song!

    1. Lora Post author

      Hi Sylvia!
      I have the OBS ALL recorded, just waiting for the sound guy to make some finishing touches!
      I also filmed Lovers’ Waltz, but the editing has slowed me down considerably! I SWEAR they are all in the works!!! :-)

  7. jack mackin

    Thank you for this tip.I have come to the conclusion, that if I don,t get better playing the violin (there is so much help out there) it won,t be anyones fault but mine.

    1. Lora Post author

      Hey Sylvia!
      Ok. I’m going to publicly say that I will do the next installment of the Orange Blossom Special THIS WEEK. It will show all the introduction train sounds, and some REALLY cool tricks with the left hand, as well as my ending. There. I said it. Now I will get it DONE! ;)

  8. Cherry

    Dear Lora,

    I cannot thank you ENOUGH for this article! I swear, the past few months I have hardly been able to progress at all at violin due to my horrible problem with my shoulder rests! Reading this article has made my day, it’s like I finally found the panacea to my violin problem and I can play at ease now that I know where to properly put it! May God Bless!

    1. Lora Post author

      I am so thrilled that my article helped you. (I’m blushing…or is it the wine I just drank?) Anyway, believe me, I KNOW what you were going through, because I went through it for YEARS!!! Yet the solution is so simple! (although there are several solutions for several body types…) Thanks for your input! –Lora

  9. Mary McCall

    Would you believe I had no idea that the Kun swiveled? LOL! Thank you so much for the video. I was thinking that my chinrest needed some adjustment with a plane, but now I don’t think so…

    1. Lora Post author

      Most people don’t realize it swivels, or they don’t use it to their advantage. I’ve seen some students get the SLIDES on the WRONG SIDE of the KUN too, and that REALLY makes the Kun useless.

  10. Mary McCall

    I do use the Kun shoulder rest, and it was slipping forward and just not comfortable. Of course, I had it centered in the adjustment brackets. Moving it off center solved my slipping problem ;-)

    1. Lora Post author

      Hooray! Another Kun success story!
      If anyone STILL has slippage problems after using my “magical setting”, you can put scrunchy ties or leather shoelaces or any number of “rough” materials on the shoulder “scoop”, and it will assist by clinging to your clothing. I have glued “cork” to my Mach One shoulder rest, because I completely wore through the suede cover. Cork works well on the hard wood of the Mach One.

  11. Anne

    Laura, I just tried your tip about adjusting the shoulder rest so it extends farther back over my shoulder on my Kun. Marvellous! The violin is just a bit flatter, it comes around a bit to the right and my jaw is in the chin rest with the chin being above the tail piece. All naturally. This is just the position I have tried to bring the violin in artificially to accomodate my short bow arm. An now I do not have to work on that at all! Looking forward to my practice session this evening. Thank you!

  12. Julie

    Yeay for all your adjustment ideas! I love KUN. Have you ever tried the Michael Kimber “Polypad” for any of your students? http://m_kimber.tripod.com/mkpolypad.html
    It’s an ultra contoured sponge that a more experienced teacher recommended. At first I thought, “NO, KUN is the best shoulder pad EVER.” But then I bought some of these polypads in different sizes, and they have solved some of the worst posture problems among my students. Anyway, free testimonial here. But I love all your adjustment advice! Hope your online lessons are super successful!

    1. Lora Post author

      Hey Julie–I have never even HEARD of the “polypad”….but thanks for the link! I’m always willing to try the latest greatest thing for violin comfort! After all, my precious “Mach One” was once the new kid on the block…

      Thanks for the tip!

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