Chin up and Cheer up: Learn How to Find the Right Viola or Violin Chinrest

This little accessory can make a difference if you get the right fit.

Most viola and violin players will not bother changing the chin rest that they already have in their instruments. Most of them would say “well, it came with the instrument when we bought It.” unfortunately, chin rest models that came out with the instrument or rented with it, could not entirely fit all people. As instruments vary in sizes much more are people. So if a player uses a chin rest that came with the instrument or a generic one that other’s said it works for them, that musician will miss the opportunity to improve with their technique or to prevent problems physically.

In fact, if you have a chin rest that’s nicely fit to you, you will have a better posture and support as you play your instrument as you try to balance your left hand with your collarbone. On the other side, an ill-fitted chin rest is not a good idea. It will cause several problems from clenching to pains and aches and worst of all sores. That is because one part of the chinrest pressed continuously against one part of the neck.

Lynne Denig a violin and viola teacher in Fairfax, VA, USA and one of the founders of Frish and Denig violin and viola chinrest fitting system shared how to choose a chinrest that is right for you.

Discomfort is a Sign

Discomfort is a sign that tells us if the chinrests are ill-fitted. The player will have to look to the right while their heads are tilted to the left while their heads are simultaneously trying to reach forward to secure the instrument with their jawbone. If you think these positions are okay, think again. Executing positions like these causes’ lots of aches and pains from the top of the head down to the neck and shoulders (not to mention other injuries caused by the unnatural position of the head). Added to that, players will have to adjust themselves rather than improving the setup of their instrument to minimize comfort and feel secure.

There are other signs to determine if the chinrest that you have is a wrong fit. Those who are playing with an ill-fit chinrest would “droop” their instrument out of position. Some would play by positioning their chin over the rest’s crossover piece where the left of the jaw is with the cup or plate. This position is another way for the player to secure the instrument by using the crossover piece as a ridge. This was probably a natural response as the shape of the chin rest curves up from the neck of the player. The Guarneri model is one famous and perfect example of this.

So what should a violin or string player do? The quest for a best fitting chin rest begins with a journey to a violin shop. This doesn’t just happen in one glance; you need to play different types of chin rests in the shop, and you need to play dozens of them. You also need to remember that even though the models of chin rests are the same, they can have a different shape if the manufacturers are different. If you can do this on the shop where you can have plenty of shapes to fit and try for more jaws, then it’s okay. However, if you are doing online shopping, you cannot do any of these.

To find the best fit, you need to consider these guidelines:

The length of the neck and shape of the Jaw

There are two critical dimensions: the height and shape of the bow. If a chin rest fits these two dimensions, your head can serve as a good counterbalance for the extended bow arm and its weight. With this kind of balance, you will have healthy shoulders and neck. Players can have a relaxing feel on their head coupled with great comfort.

When it comes to shapes, no two jaws are the same. However, there are specific chin rest styles that can best match on some jaw types. For instance, jaws that are fleshy and round are the only ones that best suit for a low and long ridge right across the chin rest’s back. Players who have thin and long face would prefer to use rests with a higher elevation. For various jaw shapes, the model that can fit comfortably is the Brandt.

If the chinrest display a slope that goes down from the chinrest’s rear will lead the pressure of the chin towards the neck which will give good leverage.

There will be skin irritations caused by the pressure of jawbone on the ridge. To avoid this, the elevation of the chinrest should have a lower contour. It should be below the ear area, and the right is higher, fitting the jawbone while the instrument is pulled in, providing a feeling of security and stability.

The Height is Right

When it comes to the proper height of the chinrest, it should have about one finger-width gap between the jaw and the top of the rest when you have your eyes looking forward and not looking down or up. It would be too short if one would try to touch the top of the chinrest by nodding down in an exaggerated fashion. The chin rest would be too high if you have a shallow nod.

If you can add a lift made of cork or a riser to raise the chinrest to the right height, then we can say that the chin rest is at its best fit. When it comes to the cork, you can glue one or two pieces of it depending on the cork’s density to the bottom of the chin rest. It has to be about 2mm in height. The chin rest must not be destabilized. You can look at chinrests.com and violinistinbalance.nl for other variations of raising chin rests.

Placement and Flexibility

The flexibility of joint in the left shoulder is another factor that we should consider when choosing the right chin rest. Players will often place their chin rest to the left of the tailpiece if they are flexible in this particular joint. On the other hand, those who have less flexibility or their shoulders are narrow, would prefer a chinrest that slightly reaches over the tailpiece. For violists, the breath of their instrument requires them to balance out its weight so they would prefer a chin rest that slightly extends over the tailpiece.

Technique and Sound

If the chin rest fits well, your sense of security is increased when you face these two techniques that cause tremendous insecurities: doing the vibrato and when shifting down.

The chin rest that has the right fit also have health benefits. The body’s natural support system operates well because of the weight of the bulk of the instrument is transferred to the collarbone that connects to the spine. You can avoid static tension because you are free to move your left collarbone. For the first time, a player may frequently experience a sensation where the left arm moves from left to right. Also, the player will feel that their instrument becomes lighter to the left arm because its weight is close to the body, automatically improving the scroll height.

The right chin rest also provides enormous benefit to the production of sound. Because proper chin rest offers an appropriate connection of the instrument to the collarbone next to the neck of the body, this will allow more ringing sound to come out from violas or violins.

Side Bar:

Teachers should take note

Remember always that all your students will not fit right to the chin rest that suits you. With the proper chin rest, your students can play longer because it provides security and comfort. Also, your students can execute even longevity and adequate technique because their muscles are not clenched. At the same time, it promotes ease in playing because the movements are balanced.