With little ones, how important is it to focus on the shoulder rest set-up? Is it better to get it absolutely right from the start, or is it OK to wait until they are comfortable with the instrument? Jan Dopper, Cambridge, UK
Mimi Zweig: This is an easy question for me to answer because I do not believe in metal or wooden shoulder rests for children (or for older players, but that is another story). Before their teenage years, children simply do not have necks and the instrument can be balanced on the collarbone with the minimum support of the left arm. I give children a small sponge to keep the instrument from slipping. The key ingredients to achieving comfort with the violin are attention to the balance of the whole body with its relationship between the head, neck and back; freedom of motion in the joints (especially the ball and socket joints in both arms); and choice of chin rest.
Géza Szilvay: The correct position is of vital importance from the very first lesson in order to avoid future ergonomic problems. It is important that teachers have several sizes and types of shoulder rest. Each child needs individually a different kind of a shoulder rest. Check that the shoulder is in a relaxed position and not raised. Children with long necks need a bridge-type shoulder rest. Those with a short neck do not need a shoulder rest.
As a matter of fact, the shoulder rest is not as problematic as the chin rest. Large chin rests without sharp edges are the best. Even these ones often irritate children’s skin. If the pupil has a bridge-like shoulder rest and the chin rest isn’t optimal, take it off. I often teach six- and seven-year-old children without chin rests for some months until the main violin hold is established. If the pupil has no shoulder rest, the chin rest is necessary.
Mimi Zweig is professor of violin and viola and director of pre-college strings at Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University at Bloomington
Géza Szilvay is co-author of the Colourstrings teaching method and principal of the East Helsinki Music Institute
Photo: Children playing violin in a group recital, Suzuki Institute, Ithaca, 2011