Are you a violinist who plays without a shoulder rest? Do you feel that even though you don’t want to use a shoulder rest, you would still like a little something between your collar-bone and and your instrument? After all, the instrument can be prone to sliding around, and you worry that body contact might affect the finish of the instrument. And maybe you also feel a bit left out, like people who play with shoulder rests have all this choice, and the rest of us, well… we get high tech sponges with elastic bands. Disappointing.
I have been struggling to find a solution to this problem since I weaned myself off my shoulder rest in 1998. It was then when I started studying traditional Celtic music full-time. My teacher at the time recommended I try playing without a shoulder rest (more about that in another post). I was mostly playing in 1st position then, so having padding wasn’t as crucial, but it would still have been more comfortable. I experimented with many different designs, mostly covered sponges of different shapes and sizes that were attached with a long elastic band, but I couldn’t come up with something that met all my requirements – comfortable, securely attached, and something that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to have on my beautiful instrument. I continued to play with nothing.
Then, in the fall of last year, I decided to join an orchestra and start playing classical music again, which I hadn’t done much of since I started fiddling. Now that I had to start running up and down the fingerboard again I discovered, as many do, that it was next to impossible to keep my violin in place because it was too slippery. I needed something but I didn’t want to do the sponge-elastic combination. It was aesthetically unsatisfying, as well as prone to falling off. I tried following the example of past and present violin virtuosos and played for a while with just a folded cloth. That turned out to be really comfortable and it worked really well to keep my violin in place; but it was inconvenient, and it felt like I was playing a beautiful instrument with a cheap rag.
I needed a better solution. How was I going to design something that was comfortable like that cloth, that wouldn’t fall off the violin, that kept the violin from slipping, and that aesthetically met my approval? I stared at my violin. Then a light finally went on.
The chinrest. The chinrest was the solution. It was one of those smack-yourself-in-the-head moments. Why hadn’t anyone thought of that before???
I got to work right away, and on the first try, came up with a design that I liked so much, I couldn’t stop admiring it on my violin. It worked! And it did everything I wanted it to do and more: the padding was thin enough that it allowed me to feel like I was still in contact with my instrument, yet it was comfortable; it was attached at the chinrest and would never fall off in the middle of a rehearsal or performance; it kept my violin securely in place as I played; and most importantly, I thought it looked pretty damned good!
For those of you who are thinking, but what about the sound? Does the pad dampen the sound of the instrument? I was worried about that too. To my delight however, it turns out not to be a problem at all; the pad is so thin, it just flops over so that the only contact it has with the instrument is where your shoulder is. In other words, it doesn’t interfere with the sound anymore than your own clothing would. Bonus!
The reaction I have been getting from other violin players has been extremely positive. I just love the look on people’s faces when they see it and go, wow, that makes so much sense! I know that there are plenty of other violinists out there who are looking for a solution, and so I have decided to market my design. And because the design was inspired by the great masters of the violin who play without a shoulder rest, I have aptly branded my new design, the Virtuoso. Check out the website, virtuosoviolin.ca to find out more.
I am so excited to share my design with other rest-less players out there. If you are a rest-less player, I hope you will give it a try. I also have plans to also make versions for child-sized violins, violas, and Baroque violins without chinrests, so stay tuned!