Though there is considerable debate about the use of a violin shoulder rest, many beginner violinists use the shoulder rest when they are first starting to learn the violin.
The shoulder rest is as the name suggests: it is an accessory that is attached to the body of the violin to support the instrument over the player’s shoulder.
It can make holding the violin easier by propping the violin up higher from the body so as to facilitate technical requirements like shifts.
The use of a shoulder rest is, however, not necessary to play the violin. It is actually a relatively recent invention from the 20th century.
Many violinists who play professionally do not use shoulder rests. Also, the majority of violinists and violists who play Early Music will not use shoulder rests at all to maintain an older style of playing.
That said many people find that using a shoulder rest is more comfortable so it is important to explore this option while learning the violin.
There are many types of shoulder rest so it typically takes some experimentation to find the shoulder rest that is best suited for your violin set up.
Shoulder rests are usually made out of a combination of wood, carbon fibre, plastic, foam, aluminum, leather, and/or sponge.
A popular style has rubber-tipped “feet” that attach the shoulder rest to the body of the violin. Foam or sponge rests can either stick right on the violin, or may be attached with elastics.
Most shoulder rests come in the same shape of the shoulder, though the shape can vary considerably. Some come with more padding and others, less.
Bar-style shoulder rests that attach to the body of the violin are said to mute the sound of the instrument less, though this point is still contested.
Foam or sponge rests that have a large surface area that touches the violin are said to mute the sound more than bar rests. This would be due to the greater interruption of the vibrations of the back of the violin.
You can think of a violin like a drum; the wood acts like a membrane that vibrates in resonance with the strings, as transmitted through the sound post. If a shoulder rest interrupts these vibrations, there will be lower amplitude and thus the violin will sound softer.
Of course, different brands of shoulder rest are different sizes. Many shoulder rests are also adjustable for their height. This can be very useful if you have a longer neck and find yourself with a lot of tension at your neck trying to hold the violin steady.
As a general note, most shoulder rests are also available in sizes to fit a viola, and work in much of the same way as violin shoulder rests. Also, don’t be afraid to mix and match pieces of a shoulder rest.
Do you like the shape of one but the feet of another? Don’t worry; you can usually transfer the feet over to another shoulder rest to create the best fit for you.
Additionally, if you are finding that many shoulder rests do not work for you, try different styles of chin rest. Often the problem lies not with how the violin rests on your shoulder, but how it hooks under your chin.
A final piece of advice: if you are experiencing any pain with your current set up, then something isn’t right. Check your hardware, your chin rest and shoulder rest, yes.
But also check your posture and how you hold your instrument. You will be surprised how small changes in your playing can make a large difference to both your playing and your body!
Top 8 Violin/Viola Shoulder Rests
1. Kun Original Violin Shoulder Rest
This is possibly the most popular shoulder rest for beginners. Many outfitted violin sets come with this standard shoulder rest.
It is made out of plastic, foam, and aluminum, with adjustable rubber feet to attach to the instrument. The shape is contoured to fit the body.
2. Kun Collapsible Violin Shoulder Rest
This shoulder rest is the same shape as the above, with the added feature that the legs fold into the body for easier storage.
If you do not have a lot of space in your violin case, this could be a better option than the above.
3. Mach One Violin Shoulder Rest
Mach One shoulder rests are generally more expensive than Kun models, but they are often better quality. These shoulder rests are typically made out of wood or plastic.
The contour is slightly different than the Kun models, which many people prefer. However, the feet of this shoulder rest, though adjustable, are not very effective for attaching to a violin.
For this reason, many people use Kun feet on Mach One shoulder rests.
4. Everest Violin Shoulder Rest
Due to their low price, Everest shoulder rests are also popular models for students.
Like the Kun models, they are often included in violin outfits. Made out of plastic and foam, they are a slightly lower quality, but a great price.
5. Vival La Musica Violin Shoulder Rest
There are many different styles of shoulder rest from this company, so there is much to explore.
Viva La Musica rests are usually made out of wood, so they are stiffer (and a little bit pricier) than plastic models. They feature fold out rubber feet and beautiful designs.
6. Wolf Violin Shoulder Rest
Wolf shoulder rests have an aluminum back that can be moulded to fit the player’s shoulder.
This makes them a very popular option for people who are more advanced beginners who like to experiment with their violin set up. These models also have fold out rubber feet.
7. Playonair Violin Shoulder Rest
Unlike the bar shoulder rests mentioned above, this model is an inflatable cushion that clips on to the violin. You can control how much you inflate the cushion for the most comfort.
These models are typically lower, so they are well suited for violinists who do not require a significant amount of height from their shoulder rest.
It should be noted that shoulder rests in this style might reduce the volume of your instrument, so you must weigh your options carefully.
8. AcoustaGrip Violin Shoulder Rest
This is a foam shoulder rest that adheres right to the body of your violin by hundreds of microgrip suction cups, so as to not damage the varnish of the violin. Because there are no clamps, the makers of this shoulder rest claim that there is no effect to the sound.
In addition to the models listed above, you may also want to try other types of shaped foam or sponge as you try to find which shoulder rest is best for you.
Remember, you do not have to play with a shoulder rest. If you can develop a style of playing that is healthy and comfortable for your body without a shoulder rest, absolutely do not feel pressure to use one!