Adjusting your equipment

Most people try to solve individual difficulties with their equipment quickly as they arise. Often we look for help from a new shoulder rest alone. Yet both chin rest and shoulder rest need to play their part, and work well together. We suggest taking the time to take a fresh look at your equipment situation.

Here are 4 steps you can follow:

1. Remove your shoulder rest and place the violin on the collar bone.
Having the violin on the collar bone improves sound through bone resonance. The collar bone is the main support for the weight of the instrument, with chin rest helping above the instrument, and shoulder rest below, to stabilize it. When the shoulder rest is used to compensate for a long neck, the violin comes up off the collar bone. Then the only option is to clamp the instrument between jaw and shoulder. Learn more...

2. Choose ideal position of instrument for bowing and fingering.
Now that your equipment is not determining the position of your instrument you can find out the best place for it for fingering and bowing. Using the squaring off method line up your strings with your bow stroke, allowing the bow to go straight using the natural swinging movements of the joints. Make sure that you do not need to overstretch your arm to reach the tip of the bow on the g-string. Bow to the frog on the e-string to ensure that your left shoulder is not cramped. Mostly people try to correct the position of the instrument by moving only the scroll towards the centre or away. There are more options. You can tilt the instrument towards and away from the strings. Or, by lifting the head off the chin rest and re-positioning the instrument differently on the collar bone you can also turn the instrument as a whole around the axis of the bridge. Or, instead of rotating it, you can slide the instrument up to the left or down to the centre, keeping the strings pointing in the same direction. Make these adjustments with your right hand, to avoid wrestling with the instrument with your left hand or shoulder. A combination of these adjustments is usually necessary to find the place where the bow wants to go straight on its own, and the left hand can easily swing round to the lower strings or higher positions.

3. The chin rest test.
We usually do not require much of the chin rest because we are not generally able to choose the height, tilt, form and position of the chin rest on the instrument. Here you can begin to observe what you really need from a chin rest, which will help you select a commercial model. In some cases, people choose to have a custom chin rest made for them (read more about our consultation services).

Hold the body of the instrument with your left hand, with your head off the chin rest and face forward (still no shoulder rest). Turn your head by looking with your eyes first, then nod your head from the top of the spine. This is what we call the ‘royal nod,’ the regal incline of the head that queens use to great their subjects. Now take a look in the mirror and go through this check list:

Is your chin rest cup under your jaw, or is it to the left, near your ear? If it is not near your jaw, where you want to use it, you will need to change the position of the chin rest on the instrument.

Height and Tilt
Can you find the chin rest by simply turning and nodding your head from the top of the spine, or do you have to pull your head forward and down beyond the reach of these delicate neck joints? If not, you will need to change the height and tilt of your chin rest. Note: In our research, we found that taking the neck out of balance affected not only the motor coordination of the arms and hands, but also the ability to perceive where you are in space, and what you are doing, which adversely affects technique (learn more...).

Does the form of the chin rest match that of your jaw? In other words, does the edge of your chin rest fit up under the back of your jaw bone, giving you the hold you will need when shifting down, or vibrating. You can test this by feeling where your jaw bone is and then comparing it to the position of the chin rest edge. Often the edge of the chin rest is poking into the throat, and not near the jaw bone. You also need to check that the chin rest is not interfering with your jaw and teeth, causing (asymmetrical) tension and biting. If the chin rest form does not match your jaw you will need change the form of the chin rest cup.

NOTE: In most cases, adjusting the chin rest means getting another, or having one made. The Equilibrio Chin Rest Series allows you to choose a chin rest that suits the height, and then tilt it or raise it as needed. The edge of the chin rest is designed to leave the throat free from pressure.

Only when your chin rest fits well, can you turn your attention to the shoulder rest.

4. The shoulder rest
Once the chin rest is adjusted in three dimensions, you can turn your attention to the shoulder rest. The job of the shoulder rest is then:

  • to direct the instrument towards the collar bone.
  • to allow for the desired tilt of the strings towards the bow.
  • to prevent the instrument from sliding down the chest.
  • to prevent the scroll from swinging down to the right.

Note: We use custom made hard rubber shoulder rest “wedges” which can do all these jobs well.

Place the instrument in the desired position for playing. Adjust the shoulder rest to respect this position and make sure that it comes to rest on the middle of the collar bone on one end, and the top portion of the breast bone on the other end.

Make sure that it does not press near or on the tip of the shoulder, the acromion, or on the chest muscle or lower portion of the breast bone. It should also leave the muscle at the top of your shoulder free.

Make sure at each adjustment of your equipment that the instrument itself is still resting on the collar bone, and that you still have the instrument in the desired position for bowing and fingering.

NOTE: If any of these steps seem too difficult then it means that your current equipment is not ideal for you. It is also sometimes difficult to observe what is wrong when your habits of playing have been determined by ill-fitting equipment. That is why we recommend a series of lessons in the Alexander Technique.

to re-train cramped playing habits, combined with equipment adjustment by our team of experts.Click here for the list of Alexander Technique teachers in your area.