The challenge with shoulder rest and chinrest
Point of Contact between Instrument and Player
One starting point is particularly important to me. I believe that the first point of contact between instrument and player should be the point between lower bout and collarbone, and that ALL helping tools should relate to this point. Following this position, which is well known in historical performance practice, where such «crutches» aren’t used, it becomes obvious that the gap between shoulder and instrument, and the gap between upper bout and the player’s chin should be filled through the chin holder. These requirements alone already have pretty noticeable effects and disqualify more than half of the holders available on the market.
Assuming that contact is necessary between wood and human bones, the first to leave the market are the super high shoulder rests and the slightly barbaric looking metal prostheses. These models were based on the idea, that an instrument will have the most resonance if it barely touches the player. I find this a senseless philosophy, for my instrument would apparently sound best in its case, hanging on a hook. I also assume that each body has its own sound, and that the player can’t just form the sound through bowing and fingering. Only the symbiosis of the body with the instrument connects the player on a personal level, to form an emotionally intriguing sound.
Good rests made out of wood and light foam coating, can be adjusted
in angle, width and height (ca. 80€).
My current rest, very light, doesn't seem to impact the overtone
spectrum negatively (ca. 80€).
Unfortunately, the angle can't be changed, however it sounds
beautiful and is very light (ca. 60€).
Made out of wood, personally adjustable, I haven't tested this costly
rest myself, however it is very light and sounds excellent (ca. 300€).
Chin Holder Placed in the Middle
As a small person, who has always played viola, I quickly learned that it is easier to play with a chin holder that is placed over the tailpiece, (short: a middle chin holder), than with a chin holder placed on the left. There's also a half variant, where the chin holder still touches the tailpiece, however the curve still stays on the left side. Depending on the corpus size and instrument, I recommend the left, half middle, or middle chin holder.
The smaller the player and the larger the instrument, the more the musician will benefit from a middle chin holder. In my experience, even tall instrumentalists have benefitted from using a middle chin holder. I am meanwhile an advocate for the middle or half middle chin holder.
Form and Sound
The form needs to fit the player's jaw joint particularly well, shouldn't have any hard edges, and have an overall smooth, oval surface. Many chin holder have a hump, with some kind of curve behind. That is problematic, as this feature leads players to hold their head too up front, to reach the bump with the chin, then pulling back the head, which results in strong neck tension. That's why I plead for models with a relatively flat form, not too deep of a curve, and a smooth edge – still considering the player's jaw joint form of course. Important here as well is that the chin holder is made out of well sounding material, as it shares a larger contact surface with the instrument.
A few beginners' chin holders are made of plastic, which I advise against.
There’s a chin holder by Wittner, which is made of very pleasant plastic, however it doesn’t match a wooden chin holder in terms of sound. However, the model is adjustable in height and angle.
Many young players have long necks. They are often advised to use too high rests due to a lack of selection on the market, which has a tremendous impact on their technique, freedom of movement and sound.
Players with long necks must choose a height adjustable chin holder, which unfortunately is still a relatively rare product.
Apart from the Wittner chin holder, which won't suffice with its adjustable height, there's a chin holder with screws, placed on the underside. It is made by violin maker Reiner Wilfer, but may also be ordered with other violin makers. However, I couldn't find it on online platforms yet. This model exists in the middle variant, however also as a half middle and potentially in a left variant. Various woods are offered.
In order to determine the right height, I calculate as follows: The player puts the instrument in its common playing angle, on to the collar bone. The player then turns the head slightly to the left, without bending the head (just as if saying no). I give two fingers width of wiggle room to the bottom. After the «no» comes the «yes»: the player nods briefly, still with the head turned to the left, then lands softly on the chin holder, without further adjustments, and without pulling the head back again.
Chin Holder Screws
The chin holder screws, typically double threaded screws, are easily loosened or tightened with the small metal pins, obtainable with violin makers. However, they are mostly made of metal, and carry the sound vibrations quite slowly. If you value a fast sound carrier, titan screws may be worth the investment (ca. 40€); in my opinion, these are almost always worth the money. They are just as easy to install as the common screws, and always make the instrument respond easier, with both students and professional players. That's why I wish that chin holder manufacturers would use fewer screw types, which require a toolbox to installing or removing the chin holder.
These paragraphs shall serve as an orientation and buyer's guide. However, they may not replace the opinion of an experience instrumental teacher. Still, I hope to have inspired a few colleagues and students with this article.
Youtube channel by Marion Leleu:
Interesting web links:
The French violist Marion Leleu studied at the CNSM in Lyon and later with Tabea Zimmermann in Frankfurt/Main.
She worked for many years as an orchestral musician at the Hamburg State Opera and the Kammerakademie Potsdam. Also, among others, as a guest musician in other ensembles such as the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Ensemble Modern, the Bavarian State Opera, the Dresden State Opera and the 'Akademie für Alte Musik' Berlin.
The stage experience she gained there has been passed on to the UdK Berlin since 2008 and to the Hans Eisler Hochschule (Bach Gymnasium) since 2017.
Her passion is the pedagogy and psychological support of other musicians in order to help them to achieve their best possible performance.
Another focus of her pedagogical work is the analysis of movement and placement from a physiological point of view.
Viola Handbook by Barbara Gschaider:
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