We always enjoy talking to our customers on the phone or through email about their future instrument purchase. One question we always ask is if someone needs a shoulder rest. The most typical response is, “Do I need one?” We usually explain that it is up to the instructor. But, at Kennedy Violins, we are all players and instructors, so we usually would recommend that people do use a shoulder rest as an accessory to promote good posture — not because we are trying to add another thing for the customer to buy. However, unless someone knows how to use one correctly, a shoulder rest can only become an item of frustration, especially to a beginner.
Without a shoulder rest, a violin or viola student would hold their instrument by the neck of the instrument and place the body of the instrument on the shoulder. To eliminate the remaining gap between the underside of the chin and the instrument, that student would probably need to unnaturally bend his neck to set his chin on the chin rest. Problem solved? Not necessarily. When the body compensates for that space, the left shoulder and the spine are going to be strained while trying to hold the violin this way. Plus, the left hand is not only trying to make intricate movements on the strings, it is also holding the violin up into position.
A simple $20ish solution can eliminate so many potential problems. Once a shoulder rest is properly positioned, the violin/viola can be brought to the shoulder and the chin simply drops into a naturally comfortable position to hold the instrument in place. The most incredible thing about a shoulder rest that is being used correctly is that the left hand can now simply drop down to the side of the player’s body, and the instrument is still held securely (and comfortably) in place. The left hand is now free from holding the violin up into place and can simply maneuver the notes, especially while shifting between positions.
The shoulder rest can be made of a curved plastic or wooden bar that is cushioned where it comes in contact with the body. The arms of the shoulder rest have rubberized feet where it clamps onto the violin and holds it snug. Some students complain that their shoulder rest comes off too easily, but they usually aren’t putting it on correctly. Most shoulder rests are adjustable to fit different sizes of instruments as well as different depths for longer or shorter necks.
Here is an excellent video on how to correctly install a shoulder rest. This video refers to the Kun shoulder rest, which is probably the most well known shoulder rest among players across the country.
Kennedy Violins offers a great selection of shoulder rests, including the ever popular varieties of the Kun. Our newest shipment of the Portland Acoustical Shoulder Rest is made to our high standards and specifications. It adjusts just like the Kun shoulder rests do, but it is also made with a solid piece of wood. The wood is not only pleasing to look at, but it also has great acoustical qualities as well. Wood naturally carries sound much better than plastic, so a wood shoulder rest will help carry the sound from the back of the instrument as it is being played.
Even though the use of a shoulder rest makes sense to most people, there will be a select few who do not want to use a shoulder rest because they haven’t seen a professional soloist use one. For starters, most people who play violin without a shoulder rest are using a custom fit chin rest, which basically does the same thing as a shoulder rest on a violin with a standard chin rest. But, quite frankly, most professional soloists are like superheroes who can see great distances without using any special tools. Since I do not have super distant eyesight, I’m not afraid to grab a set of binoculars to see the same thing. And, when you see the soloist performing with an orchestra, scan the musicians through the sections and see how many are using shoulder rests. Not all of them will, but I can assure you that the great majority of players will be using a shoulder rest.