A big part of playing a violin or viola well comes down to selecting an instrument and chin rest that fits your physical form. If you’ve ever tried to play a violin that is too big to hold comfortably, you’ve discovered this can quickly become painful and reduce the quality of your music. Finding just the right chin rest can alleviate this problem. A good chin rest places an even weight between your instrument, your head, and your hands as you play.
Fortunately, there are many types of chin rests that can suit just about any player. But, what should you look for when choosing a chin rest for your violin or viola? Here are some steps for beginners:
Step #1 - Check where to place your chin rest for maximum comfort
If you’ve been playing your instrument for a while, you may be getting accustomed to where it feels the most comfortable. However, inexperienced musicians often try to hold their violin or viola too close to their left ear, which puts strain on the neck muscles. Instead, look in a mirror and place your instrument directly under your chin. Try carrying your instrument around and note when it starts to cramp your neck, then shift the instrument back until it lessens up.
Step #2 - Discover where your chin sits on the violin
You may naturally feel more comfortable holding your violin to the right, middle, or left of the tailpiece. For example, violist Richard O'Neill holds his violin hard to the left. This can be determined by the way you hold your instrument and the shape of your jawline. Note this when selecting a chin rest, because trying to force things in the wrong direction can be painful.
Step #3 - Decide on the most comfortable chin rest shape
Take a look at your jawline. Each person has a unique shape and width that can determine the best chin rest. Use this guide to determining your face shape. Now, place your instrument under your chin and note where the hump sits in relationship to your chin. The wider your jaw the easier this may seem. A narrow jaw or small chin may create the need for a more customized chin rest.
Step #4 - Determine the right height for your chin rest
If you use a shoulder rest or shoulder pad when playing, the height of your chin rest matters. A shoulder piece will elevate the chin rest. Not using one may necessitate the use of a higher chin rest instead. Also observe how you hold your bow and the length of your arms and hands.
Step #5 – Chin rest materials
There are many styles of chin rests available on the market, thanks to the availability of materials and finishes. But cost can be a factor for beginner instrumentalists. Consider that a plastic chin rest may be easy to clean and less expensive, but it can also become slippery and cause skin breakouts due to sweat. A wooden chin rest absorbs sweat and is easier to customize the fit, making it well worth the additional cost.
Step #6 - Evaluate the individual fit in your natural playing state
Finally, don't choose a chin rest simply because you are using the one that came with the violin or because it is one that your instructor uses. This is an individual choice you must make for yourself. Get one from a good music retailer that stands by their products and offers warranties.
These are essential instructions for those who are just starting out with selecting a chin rest for a violin or viola. If in doubt, work with your music instructor or another seasoned musician to find the best accessory for you.