Setup Series Part 2: The Shoulder Rest Pt. 1-Rigid Bar Shoulder Rests
Using a Shoulder Rest:
The use of a shoulder rest is a polarizing topic in some circles. As a player, I personally have a love-hate relationship with rests. However, a number of my students and most of my colleges use them. If it works well for a person's anatomy and doesn't get in the way of technique, I am fine with whatever works for my students.
How a Shoulder Rest Works:
The shoulder rest, like the chinrest, functions by filling in the space between instrument, head and torso and provides stability to the instrument. However, unlike the chinrest, the shoulder rest lifts the instrument away from the shoulder towards the head in order to fill the space.
As I explained in the previous blogpost about chinrests, I prefer to make up as much of the space between neck and shoulder/torso with chinrest, rather than with shoulder rest. My reasoning is that the further up and away from the torso the instrument is, the higher the bow arm needs to reach for the contact point, especially on lower strings and when utilizing the upper part (towards the tip) of the bow. That can potentially cause problems for the right shoulder.
What I look for:
I look for the student's head to be facing front and not be angled to either side. I also look for the neck to be straight, but not overextended. Whatever device used between the instrument and the shoulder should allow the instrument to be stable (no need to 'grab' with left hand) and should allow easy movement in all positions and across all strings.
The biggest issue I run into with 'bar' style shoulder rests is that they can sometimes lock the left shoulder into one position. So, when a student needs to shift up the string, especially on the lower strings, the left shoulder naturally must move forward slightly. This movement may cause the instrument to jerk abruptly, or at its worst, not allow the student's left arm the freedom to make the shift at all. Sometimes this can be solved by adjusting the location of the rest, other times a different sort of rest is needed.
Let's have a look at the most commonly available models:
This is my favorite of the less expensive bar rests. It doesn't have every feature, but it's a great place to start. The Everest is available in different sizes for both full and fractional sized violins and violas. This rest is cushy, with a dense rubbery foam cushion throughout the bar. This rest is moderately wide, moderately contoured, and is both size and height adjustable. The feet move to accommodate the curve of the instrument, but the rest does not pivot. One of the models is collapsable, but the original isn't. The feet are coated with surgical tubing which is quite durable and doesn't slip off the instrument when in use. The rest itself is made of plastic, and does not flex when in use. The rest is reasonably lightweight and durable.
Good 'ol Kun. This rest is available in many sizes and models (and colors!) for all sizes of violins and violas. It is height and size adjustable, and has an option for very high feet which can be purchased separately if needed. Depending on the model the rest is all plastic with plastic and metal hardware, or wood with metal hardware. Some models are collapsable. The Kun is slightly more narrow than the Everest, but has the same cushy dense foam material as padding. The Kun is moderately contoured to the shape of the shoulder. The plastic models are reasonably lightweight, but I find the wood models to be heavy ( The Bravo model). The Kun does not flex while in use, and some models do have the ability to tilt towards or away from the body. The Voce model is made of carbon fiber, has a slightly different shape, and is very lightweight. The only complaint I have with the Kun is that I've found that the feet slip while the instrument is being played. I ended up switching the feet on my Kun to a different set, and the slippage stopped.
The Wolf rest is where I send the swan-necked students. The Wolf Forte Primo model is capable of getting very, very high (over 3”). The Wolf Forte Secondo is sometimes a better fit for smaller folks. This rest is available in many sizes for both violin and viola, and is height, pitch/tilt and width adjustable. The rest itself has a shorter and wider bar than the Kun or the Everest, and while it isn't contoured to the shoulder, it does have some flexibility when in use and can be bent a bit to fit. The rest is made of plastic, metal, with a dense rubbery foam along the bar. It isn't squishy, but it isn't hard. The Wolf is a medium weight rest, and it's durable. The feet don't slip while in use. The main problem I have with this rest is that if you have a shorter neck or are a smaller person, and bring the feet down, the flexibility of the rest plus the exposed metal hardware on the underside can potentially scratch the back of the instrument.
The Mach One
If I use a rest with my viola, I use this one. That being said, in the last 15 years I've only met two other people that use this rest. It is height and width adjustable, but has no pitch adjustment and is not collapsible. It is not cushy, the bar is very angled and very rigid. The rest is made of wood with a synthetic 'pad' cover, with metal and rubber coated metal hardware. There is a model of this rest that has a 'hook' sort of angle, which catches onto the back of the left shoulder. I prefer the original design myself. This design also comes in plastic. DO NOT GET THE PLASTIC! The plastic model's bar is flexible enough that when the weight of the head is added to the instrument the bar flexes and the rest falls off the instrument. Super annoying. On the upside, the lovely maple wood model is very lightweight. The feet on this model aren't fantastic, so I replaced them with some old Everest feet I had laying around. Other than the feet, the rest is VERY durable.
This rest is very long, and is meant to be bent to an individual's anatomy. On most everyone the rest can be bent to create a sort of 'hook' to hang onto the left shoulder. The rest is height adjustable, and somewhat width adjustable by bending. It doesn't collapse. The rest is made of metal, with a rubbery foam over the bar and is slightly cushy. This rest is solidly built and durable. The rest doesn't flex much when in use, and stays on the instrument really well. This rest isn't great for short necked folks, even at it's lowest setting it's quite high, and sometimes the rubber covered screw (for height adjustment) can poke at the player if it's set too low. It can also be a pain to make it fit into a case, although it's possible.
Viva La Musica
Viva La Musica has several different models of rest. Most of the models are made of wood with rubber foam cushion and metal hardware. There's one plastic model (called the Flex) which I do not recommend. This rest is available in a number of sizes for violin and viola. These rests are height and width adjustable, tilt/pitch and collapsible. They are durable. These rests remind me a lot of the Kun Bravo rests, but these are slimmer and more delicate than the Kun. The padding is very thick and cushy but the rest remains lightweight. The bar is lightly contoured and the bar doesn't flex while in use. The feet are nicely made and offer lateral adjustment, which is interesting, although I've found that the feet can sometimes slip while in use.