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I went years without thinking twice about how to position my shoulder rest on my violin. I simply assumed that each foot should grip the widest part of the lower bout (see picture). (In case you’re wondering, this is the shoulder rest I use!)
However, I eventually decided to play around with the position of my shoulder rest. And it didn’t take me long to find a more comfortable position! Let’s discuss how a different position can potentially benefit you and your violin playing.
Is there only one correct way to position a shoulder rest?
Not at all! Since body types can vary greatly among all of us, each person will require a unique adjustment to the positioning of their shoulder rest for maximum comfort and ease of playing. This article is intended to be a guide to help you figure out what position will work best for your own particular shape and build!
Why does the positioning of the shoulder rest matter?
Simply put, how you position your shoulder rest will change the angle of your violin relative to your body. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at the different positions below.
The far-left position
In the below image, observe how the left foot of the shoulder rest is lower than its right foot. In this case, since your shoulder rest will still sit in the same spot on your shoulder, the violin will now point farther left of your body. You can see the resulting effect in my posture.
Of course, how much you raise the right foot relative to the left foot will determine how dramatically your violin points to the left.
The central position
Now, in the first image below, you’ll notice that the two feet of the shoulder rest are at the same level. In addition, each sits at the widest part of the lower bout. This is by far the most popular way to position a shoulder rest. And, for some people, it will be the best position! Of course, the only way to find out is to experiment yourself with the different positions.
In the second image below, you should see that the violin still sits out to the left, but not as dramatically as it did in the far-left position.
The inner position
In this case, the shoulder rest’s feet are placed with the right foot lower than the left (opposite to the far-left position). This causes the violin to be more positioned in front of me than in the previous two positions.
For purposes of illustration, I show this effect quite dramatically in the photo below. However, it is possible to position the left foot only slightly higher than the right. This creates a slight turn of the violin inward and could potentially benefit the posture of some players.
How to experiment with the different positions
The best way to try out the different positions is to make adjustments to your usual shoulder rest placement. Personally, I don’t recommend the far-left position, as I find it typically makes playing more difficult and uncomfortable. But different players might find comfort somewhere on the spectrum between the central and inner positions. Simply reposition your shoulder rest and see how the violin feels on your shoulder each time. Personally, I find that I like my shoulder rest’s left foot only slightly higher than the right.
Overall comparison of the different positions
Caution: Changing the shoulder rest position can affect your bowing!
The one thing to be aware of when adjusting your shoulder rest position is that it can affect your bowing angle. In fact, if I notice that one of my students is bowing uncharacteristically crookedly, I will immediately check their shoulder rest placement. Often, they have put it on at a different angle than usual and this is causing the problem. But why would the shoulder rest position affect the bow arm?
When you first learn to bow in a straight path, you grow accustomed to moving your arm in a certain way relative to your violin. But if the violin suddenly moves to a different location, the bowing motion that was once correct will suddenly become crooked. Check out the pictures below. I kept my bow arm position the same and changed only the shoulder rest position (and thus the position of my violin).
Notice how none of these produced a completely straight bow angle for me. This is because I land somewhere between the central and inner positions.
Moreover, because of the crooked bow angles that can result from experimenting with different shoulder rest placements, it is best to do so in front of a mirror! That way, you can catch any crookedness that might occur. Sometimes it will be necessary to adjust your bowing angle to accommodate a more comfortable shoulder rest position. I can attest that it’s definitely worth it!
Some less common shoulder rest positions
Occasionally, someone might have a need for a different position than we have discussed so far. Let’s explore when this might be the case!
Really small children (usually lower-elementary age) can have very tiny shoulders! This means that if the shoulder rest is positioned in the central or inner position, or somewhere in between, it might not sit adequately on the child’s shoulder. (Of course, if a child has the proper size violin, it will minimize this problem greatly!)
In this case, I first recommend experimenting with the shoulder rest itself. In most models, it is possible to adjust the device to bring the two feet closer together. This makes it possible to then place the shoulder rest farther down on the lower bout (see picture) while maintaining its proper grip on the violin. This will bring the shoulder rest closer to the player, allowing it to sit more properly on the shoulder.
Those with very broad shoulders
In the same vein, if someone has huge shoulders (usually only large men would fall into this category), they may benefit from positioning the shoulder rest higher on the lower bout. Of course, this location is also narrower (but minimally so). So, you might need to make the same adjustment to the shoulder rest’s feet as described above.
To sum it all up…
I really hope this article has helped you to have a better understanding of how to position your shoulder rest on your violin! There are so many shoulder rests out there, so it only makes sense that we’d want to fiddle with the position of them as well! Everyone’s body is different, and we all need to figure out exactly what works for us individually.
Remember, it’s best to stick to either the central or inner position (or somewhere in between), unless you have very small or large shoulders.
Do you have any shoulder rest positioning hacks you’d like to share? Please let me know in the comments below! 🎵