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Filling the area between the jaw and the left shoulder is a perpetual problem for violin and viola players
How do you get that under your chin?’ This supposedly humorous question has irritated generations of cellists and bassists, who probably have a repertoire of unprintable responses. Nobody, however, thinks to ask the same question of a violinist or a violist. If they did, they might get more than they bargained for.
The answer would most likely involve the familiar club sandwich of shoulder, shoulder rest, chin and chin rest, with the instrument tucked in the middle. This might lead on to a list of aches and pains, of problems and solutions sufficient to make the interlocutor wish they’d stayed in bed that morning. And if they were really unlucky, they might also get a dissertation on the design and use of the shoulder rest, and the pros and cons of using one at all.
There are an awful lot of shoulder rests on the market nowadays, soft and hard, adjustable and rigid. There are brightly coloured ones for children, and there is the home-made variety, using a kitchen sponge and a rubber band. Some players experiment constantly, always searching for the perfect rest. Others stick with the ones they got as youngsters until the rests fall apart.
For a long time, of course, people managed without them at all. The first mention of any such device comes in Pierre Baillot’s L’art du violon of 1835, where he suggests that ‘Children or young people whose shoulders are not yet broad enough to support a violin, and women violinists who have nothing in their clothing to help them hold the instrument easily and inclined to the right, can fill the space between the left shoulder and the violin with a thick handkerchief or a type of cushion.’
Women violinists of today may have their own views on this, but some teachers do find that a simple sponge pad is best for young children.
Such a tricky area – some kids really resist even a sponge, while others find them more comfortable. I once knew a great German violinist who could even play Paganini with no support at all – I guess we all have anatomical quirks