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To Rest or Not to Rest: The Shoulder Rest Dilemma in Violin Playing

In the world of violin playing, one question that frequently arises is whether to use a shoulder rest or not. In this video we delve into the nitty-gritty of shoulder rests, how to properly attach them to your violin, and the age-old debate of whether they are a necessity or a mere convenience. We'll also explore the pros and cons of using a shoulder rest to help you make an informed decision.

What is a Shoulder Rest and How to Use It:

Before diving into the great debate, let's get a clear picture of what a shoulder rest is and how to properly attach it to your violin.

A shoulder rest typically consists of two feet and a contoured section designed to rest on your shoulder blade. The wider part of the shoulder rest, often featuring a dip that is closest to the back of the violin, should be placed on the side of the violin where the chin rest is located. The simple steps to attach a shoulder rest are as follows:

  1. Identify the wider or contoured part of the shoulder rest.
  2. Place the wider part on the side of the violin with the chin rest.
  3. Slide/place the shoulder rest on the widest part of your violin.

Adjust the height of your shoulder rest to bridge the gap between your shoulder and the back of the violin. You can typically adjust the height by turning the feet clockwise to make the gap smaller or counterclockwise to make it taller. Proper adjustment ensures that your violin stays securely in place without causing discomfort or tension.

Do You Really Need a Shoulder Rest?

The million-dollar question: do you need a shoulder rest to play the violin or viola effectively? The short answer is no. However, there are compelling reasons why many violinists choose to use them. Let's explore the primary motivations behind using shoulder rests:

Promoting Good Posture:

While it's possible to play the violin without a shoulder rest, using one can significantly enhance your posture. Correct posture is essential to avoid issues like holding the violin in front of you or allowing it to droop down. A shoulder rest can serve as a valuable tool for learning and maintaining proper posture.

Fostering Better Left Hand Technique:

A shoulder rest can aid in developing solid left-hand technique. Without a shoulder rest, your left hand not only has to place the fingers on the violin but also support the instrument to some extent. This additional responsibility can lead to the development of poor habits or unnecessary tension. A shoulder rest simplifies the left hand's job, making it easier to focus on proper technique.

Reducing the Risk of Injury:

Playing the violin without a shoulder rest requires lifting your shoulder to bridge the gap between your shoulder blades and the violin's back. While it's possible to do this correctly, it can be more challenging and may increase the risk of tension and long-term injuries. Using a shoulder rest reduces this risk by providing additional support.

The Cons of Using a Shoulder Rest:

Now that we've discussed the benefits, it's essential to acknowledge the downsides of using a shoulder rest:

Sound Quality:

Shoulder rests can negatively impact the sound of your violin. They act like mufflers, inhibiting the instrument's natural vibrations. While some players prefer the darker, mellower sound produced with a shoulder rest, it may compromise the violin's projection, brightness, and tonal quality. Purchasing a wood shoulder rest can mitigate these potential sound issues.


Shoulder rests are an additional expense. While you can find affordable options, investing in a decent-quality shoulder rest is crucial to avoid problems like slipping off the instrument or damaging it. A good shoulder rest typically ranges from $20 to $60.

Storage and Maintenance:

Storing a shoulder rest can be challenging, especially in compact violin cases. Consider your case's storage capacity when deciding whether to use a shoulder rest. Leaving it outside the case could result in damage or loss. If you can get a rest that has folding feet, this is an advantage.

Risk of Instrument Damage:

Low-quality shoulder rests can damage your violin. Pieces with plastic components may break and scratch the instrument. It's essential to choose a reputable brand with a warranty to minimize this risk.


The decision to use a shoulder rest ultimately depends on your preferences and needs as a violinist. While it's possible to play without one, many players find that shoulder rests aid in posture, technique, and injury prevention. However, it's crucial to choose a quality shoulder rest to mitigate the potential downsides and enjoy the best of both worlds—comfortable playing and beautiful sound. Remember that the violin is a highly individualized instrument, and what works for one player may not work for another. Explore different options, seek advice from experienced players and teachers, and make a choice that aligns with your goals and comfort as a violinist. Whether you choose to rest or not to rest, the most important thing is your dedication to mastering this beautiful instrument.

Thank you for reading, and happy playing!

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