- Rachael Ridge
How to Properly Set-Up the Violin
Having a proper set-up and good posture when playing the violin can help prevent injury and make playing more enjoyable. In order to have a good set-up, it is important that you understand the function of the shoulder rest and chin rest, and how the violin should fit you.
Before I get into that though, I want to stress one very important rule. Never bring your body to the violin, bring the violin to you. When we bring ourselves to the instrument, we tend to lean or bend in ways that are unnatural and can cause strain, tension, and injury over time.
Always, always, always bring the violin to you.
The first step in understanding how the violin fits to you, is understanding how and where it balances on our body. The base of the violin should rest on your shoulder and collarbone. Think of your shoulder, collarbone, and left hand as creating a tripod for your violin. While your left hand shouldn’t be holding the violin up, it creates one of the “legs” to stabilize the instrument.
Understanding this positioning is crucial. I recommend that you play around with holding your violin in playing position without a shoulder rest to feel that placement. Make sure the violin feels grounded on the natural “tripod” of shoulder, collarbone, left hand.
Some people prefer to play without a shoulder rest, and personally, I find it very beneficial to be able to find the right positioning WITHOUT a shoulder rest first. But, I have had students that struggled and needed a shoulder rest from the beginning.
Whatever you decide, just make sure your left shoulder doesn’t start to rise up to hold the violin in place. This causes strain and tension in your shoulder and neck and can lead to headaches, nerve pain, and difficulty playing.
Shoulder Rest and Chin Rest Use
The shoulder rest was originally invented to prevent the violin from slipping out of place on the shoulder. There are many different styles to choose from, and some people use a simple cloth or pad instead of a traditional shoulder rest.
Some people mistakenly use the shoulder rest to adjust for neck height, and this can cause pain and discomfort over time. This is something I learned the hard way as I struggled with a bad set-up for a while in my professional career.
A good shoulder rest will help you feel secure that your violin won’t slip off your shoulder while playing, and it won’t limit your range of motion.
The chin rest was invented to help adjust for differences in neck length. There are different heights, sizes, and styles available depending on your own personal anatomy.
No matter whether you use a shoulder rest/ chin rest combination or not, it is important to make sure that your foundational set-up is correct. Once you feel confident in how the violin fits to you, you can experiment with different shoulder and chin rest combinations if you so desire.
My personal set-up is the result of several years of experimentation, and I’m sure I will continue to experiment and change things up along the way!
You can purchase the shoulder rest that I currently use, the BonMusic, here.
I have also linked a violin pad if you’d like to experiment without a shoulder rest here.
If you are interested about learning more about violin, check out my course here.