The biggest step to improving technique is setting yourself up for successful playing posture.
A student who finds the violin uncomfortable or painful is unlikely to put in extra practice, and an inconvenient set-up hinders virtuosity. There’s a shoulder rest out there for everyone, so let’s find the one for you!
1.) Wolf Forte Secondo
Ideal for taller students playing on 3/4 – 4/4 violins, the flexible and curved shape of the Secondo creates comfort and security. The height adjusts for even the longest of necks, and the contour of the shoulder pad makes the Secondo reliable despite the added height.
While the grippy rubber feet of the Secondo wear out eventually, replacements can be purchased online and in many shops. For heavy use without replacing the feet, expect a product lifespan of 6 months to a year, as the screws eventually become shaky.
Note: Violists who are playing on 14” violas should select the 3/4 – 4/4 violin size of the Secondo. However, the viola version of this shoulder rest for violas over 14” tends to not fit instruments or shoulders well as the length of the shoulder pad is not long enough to compensate for the width of larger violas.
$29.95, available on Amazon.com
2.) Everest ES Series Shoulder Rest
These are the most durable shoulder rests on the market for the price. Everest loses points for not being nearly as customizable as the Wolf, but it makes up for that with good design. The rubber feet make putting this shoulder rest on the violin difficult for beginners, but Everests do stay securely in place during practice and performance. The plastic holes for the screws will eventually wear out, but even so, the overall construction for this one is solid.
As a bonus, Everest shoulder rests come in various colors, making them ideal for students to take to school as these won’t get lost in the sea of plain Kun shoulder rests. Everests are best suited to students who are too small for the Wolf Secondo but too advanced for a Kun. Sizes range from 1/10th violins to 16.5” violas.
$14.96, available on Amazon.com
3.) Kun Original
While Kun is the most recognizable brand, it offers the least flexibility for a custom fit. On the bright side, Kun makes shoulder rests in sizes for just about any violin or viola. Additionally, smaller Kuns come in a range of colors, making them more special for young students. However, these shoulder rests tend to slip off the instrument during performance and the height is limited. Further, the rubber feet tend to wear out and the plastic beneath them can break with long-term use. While this shoulder rest works for petite students, its short height and slippery grip on the instrument often results in students squeezing the violin with their left shoulder or supporting the instrument with their left hand.
$21.44, available on Amazon.com
4.) Bon Musica
Bon Musica is the most secure shoulder rest on the market for those with slim shoulders and a long neck. It allows the left shoulder to relax completely. Further, it stays put on the instrument during practice. While the components of this shoulder rest feel cheap for the price, the comfort Bon Musica provides to those who fit it well is well worth the cost. One more thing to know is that the size of Bon Musica shoulder rests frequently prevents them from fitting in students’ violin cases.
$46.34, available on Amazon.com
5.) Foam Shoulder Rest
Best for early beginners, a foam shoulder rests mimics the advantages of using a sponge without having to cut one into the right shape yourself. Some students prefer to stack two of these together to gain additional height, as foam shoulder rests tend to become flat after a few weeks of playing. The relaxed feel of foam shoulder rests helps students drop their left shoulder, making this choice brilliant for the youngest beginner.
$1.65, available on Amazon.com
6.) OttoMusica Magic Pad
One of the least expensive options and certainly the most fun, these work best for the smallest of violinists as well as for advanced students who otherwise would prefer not to use a shoulder rest. The small animal securely and gently adheres to the violin at the beginning of each practice session and can simply be removed for storage without damaging the instrument’s varnish. Violists, especially, who prefer not to use a shoulder rest but who do not want their shoulder to muffle the sound of the instrument may benefit from these. The downside, however, is that the small height of each magic pad makes them impractical for taller musicians.
$4.79, available on Amazon.com
7.) No shoulder rest
Some violinists and violists are most comfortable without a shoulder rest. If you’re considering this switch, speak with your teacher about how to achieve this without negatively impacting the speed and accuracy of the left hand.
All shoulder rests are available on Amazon.com, with the prices listed pertaining to full-size violins. Violists should confirm the measurements of their instrument before purchasing, and young musicians are encouraged to re-evaluate their shoulder rests as they grow to maintain comfort and posture. All opinions are by Lauren Haley and all original content is copyright 2015 Lauren Haley Studios.