Using a shoulder rest for your violin is not obligatory and is usually down to your personal preference. There are many examples of famous violinists who are using a shoulder rest (e.g. David Garrett) and ones who do not (e.g. Itzhak Perlman). However, at some point when learning or performing the violin you may find yourself in a situation where you do need to use a shoulder rest, therefore, I have listed some helpful tips on choosing a shoulder rest that will give you that extra comfort and support.
Why you may need a shoulder rest: the pros and cons
Normally using a shoulder rest is recommended for beginners as it helps you develop the correct violin posture. It prevents you from hunching your shoulder or stretching your neck, therefore, eliminating potentially bad and painful habits right from the start. A shoulder rest also removes the pressure of the violin on your collarbone which some people find uncomfortable. Additionally, if you are doing rigid pieces and practices such as scales or are having to play for a long period of time, a shoulder rest can ensure comfort all the way through. Some violinists find that using a shoulder rest can limit their movement and expression during a performance. There are some who would pass up on a shoulder rest as they prefer to feel the vibration coming from the body of the violin as part of listening to the sound. Either way, this is entirely up to you or what your teacher recommends if you are just starting out.
What type of shoulder rest fits you best?
The first thing you need to do is identify what type of shoulder rest meets your requirements. Perhaps you are looking for a softer-touch shoulder rest that offers you more comfort for your shoulder. Or maybe you are looking for a shoulder rest that is less soft and holds the instrument firmly in place. You would also need to take your body into consideration. Aspects such as your shoulder breadth, and neck height are crucial in choosing a shoulder rest that provides comfort and matches your body. Most shoulder rests, however, will be adjustable and also provide a curve where your shoulder is supposed to fit for extra comfort. You can also slide the shoulder rest further down your violin or adjust its position to find what works for you.
Don't be afraid to experiment
If you don't feel ready to invest money into a good quality shoulder rest and want to experiment with what feels comfortable, there are a couple of other options to choose from. You can use a folded tea towel or any piece of cloth really that is secured by elastic band on to your violin. This can be easily adjusted and feels soft to touch. You can also use a sponge for another cost-effective, adjustable alternative for a shoulder rest. Whether you use a self-made or shop-bought shoulder rest, it's important to consider which materials feel better and more comfortable than others.
Will the shoulder rest affect the sound of my violin?
Previously mentioned 'sponge' and 'cloth' shoulder rests that are pressed directly on to the back of the instrument may cause some muting on the sound of your instrument as it will resonate slightly less. Bar-style rests will have fewer touch-points, therefore, would not affect the tone of your instrument as much. Furthermore, while most shoulder rests are made from foam or plastic, there are some wooden models on the market that will provide more resonance.
There is a wide range of shoulder rests available in today's market, that range in size, shape, materials and, of course, price. If you are a beginner, we would recommend Forenza Shoulder Rest which is great quality, yet will not break the bank if you are still just experimenting. These are available in full and 3/4 size. Antoni shoulder rests are great, ergonomic and comfortable models that are also available at a friendly price. Antoni shoulder rests are available in half to 1/4 size and full to 3/4 size, therefore, will last you even as you progress to a bigger size violin. Finally, we have the Wolf brand, often recommended by experienced violinists and teachers due to their extremely comfortable, easy to use design and rubber protectors that will not bring damage to your instrument.