William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Should you or shouldn't you use a shoulder rest?

A more advanced approach to the use of shoulder rests

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick talks about shoulder rests in a more "advanced" way by giving you unique tips and useful advice for choosing the right "support" for your violin playing.

Released on April 5, 2017

  
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

All right. So why don't we talk a little bit about, shoulder rests or not using a shoulder rest? I mean if you don't use a shoulder rest, are you holding the violin with your hand? Doesn't this make it difficult to shift if you aren't holding the violin from the chin? I mean isn't your hand then truly grounded, you know your thumb and your hand to the side of the violin? And if you use the shoulder rest, doesn't this change the angle of the violin? I mean it's great for the G string but what about the E?

Well, this brings on a story. As you see, before I started with Miss DeLay at Juilliard, I did not use a shoulder rest. Well, during my first year of studying with her, she kept insisting, nagging if you wish, on me to use a shoulder rest saying that this would help me with my shifting, help me with my ease of play. True to form, I resisted her and after a year or so of hearing her again and again and again speak about getting a shoulder rest, finally I caved. I gave in. And I looked at Miss DeLay and I said, "I can't afford one." Miss DeLay then looked at me and took her shoulder rest off the violin and said, "Oh, I see. Here then, take mine." Yes, she was giving me her shoulder rest which of course, I couldn't refuse and so from then on, I used the shoulder rest. By the way, the one she gave me was a Resonant. Looks like that.

So should everyone use a shoulder rest? Well, personally, I think this is a decision which should be based on your anatomy. For example, do you have sloping shoulders or do you have flat shoulders? As you can see, the distance between my collarbone and my chin is very small. So having a shoulder rest isn't really a necessity for me so I choose not to use one. But you know, you must be asking me, why am I talking so much about the collarbone? Well, I mean it's a shoulder rest. Right? So if I'm gonna put the shoulder rest up, it should fit where? On my shoulder. That's what a shoulder rest does.

When I was in high school and attending the Sewanee Summer Music Program, which was in Sewanee, Tennessee up in the mountains, my summer teacher told me the following. "You place the violin between your collarbone and your chin like this." He did not say to put it on my shoulder, and this is how I played until I met Miss DeLay as I said that I was recounting my little story before.

So do I ask my students to hold the violin this way? Well, as I've said, it really, really, really depends on my student's anatomy. So, having been a person who's done it both ways, perhaps now would be a good time to talk about the possibilities, the good, the bad sides, or simply putting it, should you or shouldn't you use a shoulder rest? Well, first of all, if you have short to moderate length arms, holding it between the collarbone and the chin can have the advantage of making it easier to go to the tip with the bow. You see, I'm here so going to the tip would be easier than if I were here because I have to push out. Well, on the other hand, if you have long arms, the opposite would be true because it would be much easier to push out. As well, placing it on your shoulder means you wouldn't have to squint in like this. But if you had short arms, this would not be an issue.

Now, an advantage to placing it between your chin and your collarbone, well another advantage, is that you can see the placement of your bow quite easily. It's right there. Obviously, because I am not turning my neck so much, it would reduce the amount of stress. So if you do use a shoulder rest you should pay particular attention to the amount of stress that you put on your neck by turning it to see what goes on with your point of contact or your fingers. And you should find ways to reduce that stress, if not simply eliminate it.

Another of the advantages of not using the shoulder rest is that it keeps the violin flatter. You see the advantage of doing this is that the distance between the G and the E string isn't that far with regard to your elbow because if it's this way, you've got to go all the way down and it's harder to get the same kind of weight into the string because you're at this angle. But if you are here, much easier, the distance makes the difference.

One of my French students had a great idea that being to elevate this side of the violin with the shoulder rest by putting a cloth wrapped....wrapping a cloth around the shoulder rest which would pick with at height to it and turn it on this way. Now, of course, you can simply buy an extension which pushes the shoulder rest higher on that side.

So as you can see in these examples, so much of the decision to use or not use a shoulder rest depends on your particular anatomy. I guess, in other words, there is no right or wrong way to do it. There is only a right or wrong way for you to do it depending on your body. And as for the question, I asked at the beginning. Well, I'm sure there are a hundred people who would agree that using a shoulder rest is better. I'm also sure there are a hundred of people who would say the opposite that using the shoulder rest isn't this good.

So with all of that, I don't know if I've really helped in your decision making, but again, I think the most important thing to remember is to do things that work with your body, things that respect your body.

My name is William Fitzpatrick, and I am the Temianka Professor of Violin at the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music which is located on the campus of Chapman University. And I am as well the artistic director of the MusiShare Young Artist program which is located in Costa Mesa, California.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Mary Pipkin * VSM MEMBER * on April 19, 2017 @9:43 am PST
Thank you this has really helped.
reply
William - host, on June 7, 2017 @11:22 am PST
Thanks for looking!
Cheryl * VSM MEMBER * on April 5, 2017 @11:13 am PST
Am enjoying reading your excellent discussion of this issue. My main training is as modern viola & violin, however I have extensive training and perform with a leading Baroque ensemble--where we use neither shoulder nor chin rests.
One point that might be important to consider is "slippage" -- I feel many people use a shoulder rest purely to prevent the slick violin from sliding around. In Baroque performance we either use a small suede or chamois, or wear shirts that expose enough skin across the collarbone to facilitate some skin contact. Mostly we just use the chamois! Vegans among us use the synthetic shelf liner.
For my students, I have them start with a kitchen sponge (very inexpensive), or chamois, unless they really have long necks.
reply
William - host, on May 10, 2017 @12:28 pm PST
Hi and thanks for the comment! Have used both and prefer the chamois!
PHIL * VSM MEMBER * on April 5, 2017 @8:06 am PST
Excellent presentation. Love the strong emphasis on considering the violinist's personal anatomy in arriving at a decision to use or not use a shoulder rest.
reply
William - host, on May 10, 2017 @12:27 pm PST
Thanks!
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