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How to Choose a Chin and Shoulder Rest for Your Violin

The violin is a highly personalized instrument. Unlike the piano or trumpet, the violin must be sized to fit your specific body height, weight, and shape. If you don't take the time to do that, you could hurt yourself while playing, when it's so easy to prevent. 

To achieve the proper posture and hold, be sure to choose the right shoulder rest and chin rest for you — this is crucial for beginning violinists.

Basically, your chin and shoulder rest choice is an individual one. Not only do you need to account for your body’s size and shape, you must also consider your own style of playing and comfort.

Many beginning violin players aren’t exactly sure how to choose the right shoulder and chin rest combination. These tips and suggestions can help you sort through the various options and help narrow down your selection so you can find the perfect fit.

Understanding the Purpose

You should know that there shouldn’t be a great deal of pressure required to hold your violin in place. You should be able to position it comfortably, without holding your shoulder up, or pushing your head forward, or clinching your jaw. A relaxed, but correct posture will mean that you don’t feel tension in your neck while holding your violin.

Whether you hold your instrument off the shoulder and look ahead, or it’s more comfortable for you to turn your head slightly so that you’re looking down the length of the violin, the natural weight of your head combined with upward support from your collarbone should hold your violin in place. And basically, your chin rest and shoulder rest work together to create this balance.

You should also know that both pieces will affect the resonance qualities of your instrument. Hardwoods resonate better than other materials, but remember, the most important factor when choosing your chin and shoulder rests is comfort. So, if sponges or another material works better for you, although the resonance will be slightly muffled, that’s what you need to pick.

Also, keep in mind that posture plays a key role. If you don’t have an issue with your chin and shoulder rest most of the time, you may not need to change them — you may just need to work on your form. If you only feel discomfort once in a while, ask your instructor to review your playing posture to make sure that a change would be beneficial.

Height, Shape, Size, and Placement Considerations

There’s a reason that there are so many types, styles, and brands of shoulder and chin rests for violins. And although the selection can seem a bit daunting for those who are just beginning violin, the volume of options and configurations lets you create a custom solution for your instrument. Since no two violinists have exactly the same needs, having countless variety actually makes your choice better and easier.

Both chin and shoulder rests can be customized. Some options include:

Shoulder Variations

When choosing a shoulder rest, the length of your neck and breadth of your shoulders are the most important factors to consider. It should allow flexibility and comfort.

  • Size — You may already realize if you need a larger/smaller should rest. Depending on the shape and slope of your shoulders, different sizes work best for different players.
  • Height — Again, here your neck height will affect how high the legs of your shoulder rest are. Many of the top brands offer adjustable feet and leg height.
  • Softness/Firmness — As mentioned, hardwood construction offers better resonance, but you may want to supplement your rest with additional cosmetic sponges for comfort. The key is to create that perfect balance so that you do not experience chronic overuse injury.

Chin Variations

For chin rests, it’s imperative to find one that matches your face and playing style.

  • Mounting locations — the chin rest can be placed center mount or side mount, or you can choose a Guarnerius-model mount. Again, choose the style that fits your particular comfort level.
  • Shapes — Just like your shoulder rest, choose a shape that feels comfortable.
  • Hypo-allergenic materials — some players have an allergic reaction to the nickel used, causing a “violin hickey.” But don't worry. There are many new materials being used to prevent these issues.

Making your Choice

Unfortunately, the absolute best way to select your violin chin and shoulder rests is to try out a number of different kinds. It’s a good idea to do a little research first. Ask your instructor for his or her opinion and speak to your local dealer about which models/combinations are the most popular, then start trying some out. It will require a bit of trial and error, but the time you invest will be worth it.

The shoulder and chin rest you choose will have a big impact on how well you’re able to play, and when fitted correctly, help prevent performance injuries.