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Violin 101: What Is a Violin Shoulder Rest? Learn About 3 Types of Violin Shoulder Rests

Written by MasterClass

Jun 24, 2019 • 2 min read

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Itzhak Perlman Teaches Violin

The violin is not a naturally comfortable instrument to play, but there are some ways to make it as comfortable as possible. While chinrests come standard on nearly every violin—and have since the early nineteenth century—shoulder rests are more a matter of personal preference.

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What Is a Violin Shoulder Rest?

A shoulder rest is an accessory that attaches to a violin to provide comfort and stability while playing. Shoulder rests appear in different shapes and sizes, and they tend to be made of one of the following materials:

  • Wood
  • Plastic
  • Carbon fiber
  • Aluminum

What Does a Violin Shoulder Rest Do?

The shoulder rest attaches to the back of the violin and rests on the shoulder and collarbone. Its purpose is twofold:

  1. It makes the violin comfortable to play for long durations, enabling proper posture and preventing injury.
  2. It keeps the instrument from slipping, thereby allowing the player to remain in tune and fully able to attack a passage of music.

Learn more about how to set up your violin with our guide here.

Are There Disadvantages to Using a Shoulder Rest?

While shoulder rests are more common than not among today’s violinists, they do have some drawbacks.

The biggest drawback is that shoulder rests tend to deaden the resonance of a violin. The greater the area of direct contact between the violin and shoulder rest, the more pronounced the sound deadening will be.

The other disadvantage is that a shoulder rest, if improperly sized and positioned, can also cause bad posture and subsequent injury. Ideally a shoulder rest is used to prevent such things, so make sure you choose a device that suits your body’s unique shape and dimensions. A good violin teacher or violin store employee can assist in this regard.

3 Types of Different Violin Shoulder Rests

As is the case with violin chinrests, there are many types of violin shoulder rests to choose from.

  • Clip-on shoulder rests. These rests have “feet” on either side that attach to the rim of the instrument. They are often adjustable both in terms of height and also the angle at which they can be attached to the back of the instrument. A few of the most popular brands include Kun, Wolf, Everest, Viva, Korfkerrest, Mach, and Resonans.
  • Foam shoulder rests. A foam shoulder rest can be made at home using a foam sponge and a rubber band. (Just attach the sponge to your instrument, and voilà.) There are also pre-made cushioned shoulder rests that shape to the shoulder, as well as small round pads and sponges that self-adhere to the back of the violin.
  • Air cushion shoulder rests. This is an inflatable cushion, usually made by the company Playonair, that straps to the back of the violin.

Some violinists opt to go without a shoulder rest. Whatever your choice, make sure it feels comfortable. A shoulder rest is not integral to violin playing. Whichever model you choose, assuming you choose one at all, should primarily be chosen for comfort. The idea is to engender many hours of sustainable, injury-free playing.

Learn more violin playing techniques in Itzhak Perlman’s MasterClass.