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Fiddlepogo Tries a Shoulder Rest Again... and LIKES IT???

Posted by fiddlepogo on Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Because I play several different instruments, I have acquired way too much music paraphenalia... tuners, preamps, old tailpieces since replaced by Wittner Ultras, old rosin blocks, etc.

And little doohickey tools for the instruments.

Last month I decided the chaos on my desk had gotten overwhelming (those of you who think I'm the type to have a neat desk are WRONG!!!) and I bought some little green plastic bins at the dollar store to try and restore SOME sense of order.  And, on top of the music doohickies bin sat...

a Kun shoulder rest.

I have tried shoulder rests before, and I've never gotten to the point where I felt the extra effort of attaching it and putting it away was worth what I was getting.  The vast majority of the time I've played fiddle, it's been without a shoulder rest.

But, I got a Kun that came along with Stinky, the second Knilling Bucharest 4KF I bought a few years back.  And recently a friend gave up on violin and gave me a cheap Chinese fiddle with a pegbox crack. I've been pondering how to fix it, but not very hard.... I already have 3 fiddles.  instead, I've been cannibalizing it... put the metal pseudo-Wittner tailpiece on Stinky for one... and, it also came with a pseudo-Kun shoulder rest, which I THOUGHT I had no use for.

Anyway, yesterday, on a whim, I grabbed the Kun sitting on top of the music paraphenalia bin, and put it on... and somehow, someway, it started WORKING for me.  Now, I VERY SELDOM go up the neck, so that doesn't work as a motivation.  I LIKE the sound of the fiddle in first position.

How it seemed to be working for me:

1. A little more volume in the low end

2. I realized the fiddle is a little more stable laterally making bow-rocking more precise- I realized I've been neglecting bow-rocking hornpipes, and it's because I can feel this subtle shifting they cause in the fiddle when I don't have a shoulder rest on it.  In addition I've been working on more slurred string changes, especially on the beginning of Ragtime Annie, and it makes them easier and more precise.

3. The slight dampening of the treble seems to work for me now, not sure why.... I didn't like it before.

4  I've been trying to tuck the left elbow to keep the left hand fingers close to the fingerboard, and it makes that easier to do.

5. When I attempt Irish Trad, the fingers seem more relaxed and the rolls and cuts are easier to execute.

6. When I do long bows in song tunes and waltzes, somehow the way the shoulder rest makes the fiddle more stable is allowing me better control of dynamics.... especially on the soft end of the scale... it's like I have control to lighten up the pressure more than I have ever done so before, and I'm getting some nice tones that I wasn't getting before.

7. I don't use a conventional classical violin vibrato... I use something more akin to a classical guitar vibrato, and not constantly either... but regardless, it's easier with the shoulder rest.

8. I've realized that it's going to help me hold the fiddle in much closer to the same way every time I pick up the fiddle, and I think that is going to help learning tunes in the long run, because every practice session will FEEL much more the same.

9. Today I used the fiddle + the shoulder rest at a volunteer gig, and not only was the improved tone and dynamics apparent, I comment a lot on the tunes (that doesn't SURPRISE you does it??? ;^)), and when I do, I usually don't keep the fiddle under the chin... meaning that when I reposition the fiddle under the chin, I may be holding it in a slightly different way... and it throws me off.  With the shoulder rest, getting back into playing well seems to happen much more quickly.

10. Both the Klezmerish/Eastern European tunes AND the Irish tunes seem to benefit from the shoulder rest.  More dramatic dynamics in the former, and the ability to play more gently and smoother on the Irish... and oh yeah... BOWED TRIPLETS seem to be easier to do faster and more precisely, because the fiddle isn't shifting underneath the bow.

11. With the exception of one double stop, the freeing up of the left hand seems to be improving my intonation, because the fingers are more free to adjust- the hand isn't as tied down.

Only two practice sessions with the shoulder rest, and I'm noticing all this... when at other times, I couldn't find a reason to continue using a shoulder rest.

I think what's happening is similar to what happens to me and bows... I max out what I can get out of them and hit a "ceiling" where I stop making progress. And then a new bow causes new breakthroughs.   And I think I had maxxed out what I could get out of a fiddle without a shoulder rest, and much of what I've been striving to do lately (improve my bow control  and relax my left hand and make it more efficient) are things that a shoulder rest really helps with.

I DID get a left wrist twinge today... but it was after practicing around an hour before the gig, playing fiddle for about an hour AT the gig, and then playing for another hour AFTERWARDS.  And I stopped right away... it doesn't seem to be in the carpal tunnel, but more towards the surface of the back of the wrist.

That's a LOT of playing in one day (for a nearly 60 year old guy anyway!)... it seems like the shoulder rest is making it easier on my neck and back, which allows me to play long enough to tire out my wrists!

I've tried both shoulder rests, the real Kun and the fake, and got them adjusted about the same... I can't decide which I like better.... they do sound a little different too.  But both are good.

Anyway, I can hardly believe this is happening after not using a shoulder rest for so long... if I had known this I wouldn't have traded in my case with the big compartment!!! (the easier to carry shoulder rests in!)

I have noticed that the change IS throwing me off a little here and there... it's like I have to relearn tunes with the shoulder rest, because some of the movements aren't the same now.

Edit next day:

It occurred to me that one reason it may be working was that the last time I tried the Kun, I had the idea to adjust it so the tilt of the fiddle would be very much like playing without a rest... somehow it didn't click at the time, but now it is probably helping the shoulder rest do it's thing in a more natural feeling way.

3 comments on “Fiddlepogo Tries a Shoulder Rest Again... and LIKES IT???”

fiddlerd Says:
Tuesday, April 24, 2012 @4:50:46 AM

I didn't use a shoulder rest when I picked back up my fiddle. My teacher made me use one at my lesson. I bought one and fought it for awhile. Now i like it for all the reasons you explained....I like the fiddle being in the same position every time I play!

mudbug Says:
Tuesday, April 24, 2012 @12:35:57 PM

I used a shoulder rest for the first two years, but dumped it a year ago. I like the freedom of not using it but ya never know, I might decide otherwise in the future.

Rene Says:
Wednesday, April 25, 2012 @5:42:43 PM

I'm from the same puddle as mudbug

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