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Why Was The Violin Shoulder Rest Invented?

Hi, I'm Joel Kennedy from Kennedy Violins. In today's blog, we delve into the intricacies of the violin shoulder rest, exploring its history, function, and the ongoing debate surrounding its usage among violinists.

Let's first delve into the history...

When was the violin shoulder rest invented?

The violin shoulder rest was born out of necessity to make playing the instrument more comfortable and efficient.

This essential accessory bridges the gap between the chin and the shoulder, alleviating the need for the left hand to support the violin's weight. This support allows the hand to focus solely on fingering, enhancing ease of play.

The first notable iteration of a shoulder rest appeared around 1936. However, it wasn't until the early 1970s that the shoulder rest began to resemble what we know today. The KUN rest, introduced to the market in 1972, revolutionized the design with its rubber feet and synthetic body that comfortably contoured the shoulder. This design set a new standard for comfort and functionality, paving the way for future innovations and variations.

Famous Violinists and Shoulder Rest Preferences

anne sophia mutter

Historically, renowned violinists like Zukerman, Perlman, Anne Sophia Mutter and others often opted out of using modern shoulder rests, favoring makeshift solutions like sponges or cloths.

Their ability to play without standardized rests was facilitated by factors like heavy attire, which provided natural cushioning. It's also interesting to note that many of these modern renowned violinists made a very conscientious choice to not use the shoulder rest, and many even forbid their students from doing so!

The Modern Shoulder Rest

The modern shoulder rest, predominantly based on the Kun design introduced in 1972, features rubber feet and a contoured synthetic body.

These rests come in various materials, including foam, plastic, and premium woods, catering to a wide range of preferences and ergonomic needs.

Other brands in the modern era include the student level Everest Shoulder Rests up to the professional Pirastro Korkfer Shoulder Rests. Our own Portland Gold Shoulder Rest bridges the gap by offering players a solid-carved maple shoulder rest that accentuates the acoustics of your instrument in a way no plastic shoulder rest can.

How to Use a Shoulder Rest?

Using a violin shoulder rest correctly is crucial for comfort and optimal performance. Here's a brief guide on how to properly use a shoulder rest:

  1. Positioning the Rest: Attach the shoulder rest to the lower bout of the violin. Ensure that the taller/wider end of the rest aligns with the chinrest side, providing ample support for your shoulder and neck.

  2. Adjusting for Comfort: Most shoulder rests are adjustable. Experiment with the height and width settings to find the most comfortable fit for your physique. The goal is to bridge the gap between your jaw and the violin without straining your neck or shoulder.

  3. Securing the Violin: Once the rest is adjusted, place the violin on your shoulder. The rest should sit snugly against your collarbone and shoulder, allowing your head to hold the instrument in place gently. Avoid clamping down with your jaw or straining your neck.

  4. Checking Alignment: Ensure that the violin is parallel to the floor, and the shoulder rest provides stability without excessive pressure. Your left hand should move freely without supporting the weight of the violin.

  5. Personal Adjustments: Remember, each violinist's physique is unique. Pay attention to your body's cues and make necessary adjustments to avoid tension or discomfort.

Using the shoulder rest properly not only enhances playing comfort but also promotes better posture and technique. Take your time to understand and adjust your shoulder rest, making it a valuable ally in your musical journey.

The Dual Benefits of Using a Shoulder Rest

1. Physical Support and Comfort

A shoulder rest significantly reduces the physical strain involved in playing the violin. By filling the space between the chin and shoulder, it prevents overextension and discomfort, allowing for a more natural and relaxed posture.

2. Reduced Tension and Injury Risk

The absence of a shoulder rest can lead to increased tension and a higher risk of injury.

Musicians might adopt harmful postures to compensate for the lack of support, leading to long-term physical issues. Remember, tension is the primary adversary in string instrument play, and a shoulder rest is a formidable ally in combating it.

To Rest or Not to Rest: That Is the Question

Deciding whether to use a shoulder rest is a subjective choice influenced by individual physical attributes.

Factors like neck length, shoulder width, and body shape play significant roles in determining the necessity of a shoulder rest.

The Sound Quality Trade-off

Another thing to consider is that anything you add or attach to the violin will affect its resonance in kind, and this includes a shoulder rest. However, resting the back of the instrument on your shoulder without a shoulder rest could also dampen its resonance.

So, even though using a shoulder rest can slightly affect the natural vibration and sound quality of the violin, most players find this compromise negligible compared to the ergonomic benefits it offers.

The choice ultimately hinges on personal preference, physical comfort, and playing style.

So... should you use a shoulder rest?

In closing, whether to use a shoulder rest is a personal decision heavily influenced by an individual's physical attributes and playing style. While it's undeniable that a shoulder rest can alter the sound of the violin, the trade-off is often worth the enhanced comfort and reduced risk of injury.

As musicians, our goal should always be to harmonize our physical comfort with the pursuit of musical excellence.

Remember to engage with our content by liking and subscribing to our YouTube channel for more insights. Your support helps us reach and educate more aspiring musicians. Until next time, happy playing!