Why is everyone suddenly ditching the shoulder rest they’ve been wearing for years? Ok, it’s true – the shoulder rest can lock the shoulder and violin in one position and prevent freedom. It can also lead to imbalance in posture, such as raising the left shoulder, thus putting one at risk for neck injury. However, the shoulder rest still work well for certain folks, although it’s being demonstrated by specialists over and over again that many players benefit more from an anti-slip material such as a sponge along with a customized chinrest to fit the dimensions of their jaw, neck, shoulder angles, etc.
The problem I’m seeing is that when players see a famous violinist on YouTube (or a few colleagues) without a shoulder rest, they get very curious, and then suddenly it becomes this next “cool” thing to do. So they take off their shoulder rest and try to play without it, but without any professional guidance on making the transition! Imagine going to the gym without knowing how to use the weights correctly and just trying to do all sorts of exercises for the first time with bad form. Yikes! This is just one thing causing so many players develop crazy shoulder injuries – they try to change their posture all on their own without knowing what they’re doing. Ok, I’ll come clean – I’m not an expert on choosing the perfect shoulder rest and chin rest combination. And neither are the majority of teachers, although we do our very best for each individual student. This is why we now have professional bodymappers and chinrest/shoulder rest specialists. They are available for custom fittings to help optimize your personal setup – one that would suit your unique body. Some can even prescribe injury-prevention exercises. If you’re going to try to play without a shoulder rest for the first time, please do so with some kind of guidance.
Speaking of the gym, it’s so important to stay in good physical shape as a musician. We are “mini athletes” and it’s time we start learning basics about our body functioning while we play. Athletes always cross-train – that is, they do exercises outside their main sport in order to excel at their game and also to prevent chronic injuries from returning or new ones from developing. We as violinists and violists need to include this sort of training as part of our practice. Here’s a short sample of a few exercises I like to do before a concert.