The best string players echo the importance of feeling connected to the instrument: one should feel the instrument as an extension of their own body. Perhaps the least natural in feel, string instruments, whether violin, viola, or cello, require extensive experimentation and adjustment in order to find the sweet spot that allows the best playing possible. To achieve that, most violin and viola players today use shoulder rests.
A proper shoulder rest gives support and security so that the left arm can move freely and has less work to do. Without a shoulder rest, most players are forced to lift the left shoulder to support the instrument, causing not only poor technique, but muscle strain as well. Although a select few performers do not rely on the shoulder rest, the vast majority, especially for beginning players, view the rest as a necessity.
When searching for the correct shoulder rest, it’s advisable to go to the shop and try out several types to see which fits your personal anatomy and playing style. A couple points to keep in mind:
* Does the shoulder rest platform cover the shoulder? The curve should match that of your own shoulder.
* Does the chin feel stretched? The chin should be level and comfortable, not stretched nor raised.
* Does the shoulder rest help you remain relaxed while playing? Any signs of tension in the neck and shoulder are clues that the rest is creating discomfort and strain.
There are several different models on the market, and the search for the right one can be confusing. Some rests are classics that have been around for years, while others are newer and designed to address specific needs. Following is a brief guide to the best known models:
- One of the first rests on the market, remains unchanged
- Simple and one of the least expensive
- Have to be cautious about rest damaging instrument due to different foot design
- Available in low, medium, and high heights
- Available in most general music stores, considered a step-up rest
- Offers a great degree of adjustability, allowing you to change the height and position on the shoulder
- Comes in four 4/4 models: Original, Super, Collapsible (with folding feet), and the Bravo (wood material)
- Offers tremendous degree of adjustability
- Often chosen by players with long necks because of their height
- Platform can be bent by player to fit the shoulder
- Best sellers include the Forte Primo and Forte Secundo
Comford Shoulder Cradle
- Unique design features resonating chamber purported to enhance sound of instrument
- Very comfortable on shoulder, but heavier and larger than other rests and is not adjustable
- Does not fit most cases and takes longer to install, but is very secure on instrument
- Available in gold, silver, and plastic and two heights, medium and high
- Longer metal platform wraps over shoulder
- Offers high degree of adjustability and platform can be bent to customize shape
- Mixed reception: some like the security and stability it offers, others complain that it immobilizes the instrument
- Large and won’t fit most violin cases
With such a wide variety of shoulder rests available, it is crucial to take the time to try out several models in store and experiment with height and position. It is not uncommon for players to even make their own custom adaptations. We encourage you to stop in at Music and Arts Itasca any time if you have any questions or would like to try out our own selection of shoulder rests. Check back in with us for February’s post, until then, Happy Playing!
Angeline De Leon
Music and Arts Itasca