A shoulder rest is an accessory that can be found on violins and violas. It may be made of wood, aluminium, carbon fiber or plastic. Usually, the shoulder rest attaches to the edge of the back of the violin with padded rubber tubing or soft plastic. The goal of a shoulder rest is to allow a more comfortable attitude while playing by adding height to the the shoulder and preventing the instrument from slipping. It is a relatively recent invention, and though it is quite commonly used among modern violinists and violists, it is not universally used. Depending on body type and style of clothes, some musicians need no more than a thin sponge or a cloth under the instrument.
Recommended Violin Shoulder Rests
One common shoulder rest is the Kun shoulder rest. It works well and is less expensive than other types of shoulder rests. (for more information about the Kun shoulder rest click here). Another option, used by many violinists (including Itzhak Pearlman and Elman Oliveira), is to take a small facial sponge that has been treated with rubber cement and stick it right to the violin.
Disadvantages to Shoulder Rests
The purpose of a shoulder rest is to aid one in holding up the violin. The problem is that we shouldn't be holding the violin up with the shoulder at all. We should hold up the violin by pushing the violin down with our chin, always keeping our back bone straight and then holding up the end of the violin with the left hand. This is the way the violin was held for centuries before the invention of the shoulder rest (in the 1920's-30's I believe). If you took a poll of all of the greatest
violinists of all time you would only find a hand full of them that ever used a shoulder rest, even today. The secret is not raising the shoulder. Don't even touch the violin with the shoulder and see how much more easier
it becomes to shift and how much faster the fingers can move. It is not easy to learn how to do this. It took me years to learn...I'm still learning! -Prof. Belknap