“A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?” - Albert Einstein
The violin is one of the smallest stringed instruments. This means that you need to adopt a position that isn’t very natural in order to play it and since playing it is quite an intense activity, especially if you’re playing in an orchestra, you’re likely to end up with aches and pains.
To avoid these pains and enjoy playing the instrument, we recommend two really useful accessories: the chinrest and the shoulder rest.
There are tonnes of schools around the UK offering violin lessons to children and adults alike, not to mention all the private tutors there are.
Nowadays, learning the violin is for everyone. While this string instrument was once reserved for the upper classes (because you needed a dedicated luthier to make you one), thanks to modern manufacturing techniques that have rendered making parts like the fingerboard, tailpiece, and scroll easier, there are violins available for every budget.
In fact, the same is true for the violin family of instruments and other string instruments such as the viola, cello, mandolin, double bass, and guitar.
In this article, we’re going to focus on the two accessories we mentioned earlier: the chinrest and the shoulder rest.
Why Use a Chinrest or a Shoulder Rest?
A violin rests on the musician’s collarbone. While the wood used in making violins is often of a high quality, the constant rubbing against your bones and the vibrations from the instrument can leave you uncomfortable or sore.
After all, wood is generally quite a hard material and it can make your playing less enjoyable. This is why some violinists opt for a shoulder rest to place between their collarbone and their instrument.
A good shoulder rest will sit on the musician’s collarbone and still mean that the instrument can be easily bowed.
A shoulder rest is a curved and rigid quilted bar which spans the back of the violin and rests against the violinist’s collarbone.
You should know that a shoulder rest can make playing your violin more difficult as it makes accessing the strings more difficult and playing in pitch even harder.
Violins without shoulder rests have a deeper, richer, and more natural tone and better playability.
Some beginners will be faced with a difficult choice: deal with the pain for a better sound or alleviate the aches to the detriment of their playing.
When you attach a shoulder rest to a violin, you add extra tension which makes it harder to vibrate and reach the strings.
What’s a chinrest?
The chinrest sits at the bottom of the instrument.
Its job is also to alleviate the aches and pains inherent in playing the violin. However, it also protects the wood from sweat and rubbing.
That said, it’s pretty much part of the violin and has been since the 19th century. However, for the 300 years previous to that, most violinists avoided using one at all cost.
Choosing a Violin Chinrest
The chinrest has become such a common accessory for a violin that almost every violin nowadays is now sold with one.
It’s there to make playing a violin more comfortable by alleviating the pain from rubbing against the wood of the violin’s body.
It also protects the instrument itself from dirt, sweat, and constant rubbing. It’s therefore imperative that the accessory is perfectly fitted and angled to fit your chin into comfortably.
How should you choose a violin chinrest?
Whether you play jazz violin, chamber music, or classical music, you’ll use a chinrest.
In fact, you need to choose one that is the same size as your chin.
Chinrests are generally made from plastic, ebony, or rosewood.
The material you choose will affect how your violin plays. If you don’t feel comfortable with plastic, you’ll not feel as comfortable playing your violin.
The choice of material is almost as important as choosing the instrument itself.
How can you achieve a good vibrato or pizzicato if you don’t like the feel of the violin against your chin?
You also need to consider how your chinrest attaches to your violin.
Here are some of the criteria to consider when choosing a chinrest:
- The shape: side or centre mount
- The material: synthetic materials and plastics
- The finish for wooden chinrests: ebony, rosewood, or boxwood
- How it attaches to your violin
You’ll find tonnes of online retailers and brick-and-mortar music stores selling violin chinrests. You can also visit a violin shop to pick up stuff for your fiddle.
They can range from £10 to £150 according to the model you opt for. Generally-speaking, the higher the price, the better the model. However, if you're just playing for fun, it's probably not worth spending a fortune on them.
Choosing Your Violin Shoulder Rest
When buying a violin you also need to think carefully about the extras and accessories.
In order to alleviate pressure on your collarbone, a shoulder rest is the answer. Keep in mind that if the shoulder strap is too tightly attached to your violin, it will negatively affect its sound.
You need a shoulder rest that’s comfortable and sits comfortably on your collarbone as well as not hurting the sound of your violin too much.
We recommend trying your instrument with and without a shoulder rest in a music shop so that you can judge for yourself whether or not it’s worth it.
There are tonnes of different brands, materials, and colours. There are metal ones, wooden ones, and carbon ones and you get them from Kun, Wolf, Wittner, Playonair, etc.
You have to consider the size of your violin, too.
This is arguably the most important criteria to consider as you don’t want to put a shoulder rest for a 1/4 violin on a 1/2 violin or a 4/4 violin. You need to choose a shoulder rest that fits your instrument.
In terms of price, they can range from £10 to over £100 for top-of-the-range shoulder rests. Keep in mind that there are also compact and foldable shoulder rests that’ll fit in your violin case.
Perhaps you could ask your violin teacher to guide your choice for the right chin rest...
Adjusting Chinrests and Shoulder Rests
It’s important that you get the right chinrests and shoulder rests. However, a lot of violinists overlook them.
What’s the point in playing really well if you always come away in agony?
Here’s some advice for adjusting your violin accessories.
Firstly, set the height of your shoulder rest. This needs to ensure that the violin comes up to your lower jaw.
Put simply, the violin needs to sit comfortably in place. If it doesn’t, either your chinrest or shoulder rest need to be adjusted.
Your shoulder rest needs to also be adjusted to fit the violin itself. It needs to be adjustable and fit where you want to put it on your violin.
Finally, you need to adjust the angle.
When you put your chin on the chinrest, your violin needs to be able to sit horizontally and stay in place. The shoulder rest can be used to adjust how the instrument sits and ensure that it’s almost perpendicular to your head.
Do you practise in a flat or have neighbours who aren’t that keen on your music?
You should consider investing in either a practise mute or an electronic violin and get lessons from some of the great tutors on Superprof!
If you're not sold on the idea, you should keep in mind that many of the tutors offer the first hour of tuition for free. This is a good opportunity to work out what they can do for you, how they teach, how much they charge, and when they can schedule tutorials for you. Try a few different tutors before making your decision!
Don't forget that if you need replacement d'addario violin strings, tuners, horsehair for your violin bow, violin bows, violin cases, violin parts like tuning pegs, or any other accessories for your acoustic or electric violin, there are plenty of online retailers and physical music stores for your musical instrument. These places will also probably sell cello strings and viola strings for the other members of your string quartet!
Soon you’ll be able to tune your violin by ear, a master of music theory, and a violin virtuoso!
If you are a right-handed musician, of course, you can learn to play the typical way, but if you are a left-handed musician playing the violin will be different. You can learn more about that in our other blogs about the violin.