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Master Hand Violin Shop

  • 546 S Main W Street
  • Broadway, VA 22815
  • 630/ 292-2641

    Store Hours

  • By Appointment Only
  • Owner

    Elizabeth Ecklund

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    What Can a Chinrest Do For You?

    By Diane Bruce

    Have you ever given a second thought to the chinrest you use? Sure, you know it keeps you from dropping your violin or viola, and it might even be pretty, but have you wondered if it does anything beyond that? After all, people played successfully without chinrests for centuries. Our current chinrests are relatively new contraptions. Well, it turns out that a chinrest can be very important to the ease with which you can play your instrument as well as the sound you produce. And if nothing else, your chinrest gives your instrument some style!

    Why do we even use chinrests at all? Stradivarius didn't use them -- chinrests didn't even come around until the 19th century. We use chinrests because music over the centuries has evolved to require violinists and violists to have more dexterity and flexibility with their hands and to comfortably move their hands all over the fingerboard. The first "chinrest" available, long before the advent of the shoulder rest, was a little bar of wood with a lip, that would keep the instrument from sliding out from under the chin. Eventually, the chinrest began to include a small cup for the chin, which was advantageous because not only did it increase comfort in playing, but it also prevented oily skinned persons from ruining the varnish on their violins with their skin.

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    So it stands to reason that if you are selecting a chinrest to make playing comfortable, then playing should be comfortable. Not surprisingly, different styles of chinrests offer different people varying degrees of comfort. Some people find flatter cupped chinrests on the side to be comfortable, while other players prefer deep cups that are more centered on the instrument. There is so much variation in chinrests, that finding a comfortable one can take time, but it is worth it. Moving your hands around will be easier, your chin and jaw won't hurt, and your neck will feel good. A chinrest may always give you a slight mark on your neck, but it shouldn't be a painful bump!

    Surprising to many, your chinrest's style also affects the sound of your instrument. This just makes sense. If you have a chinrest clamped on the side of your violin, you are inhibiting the resonance of that part of wood and thus affecting the overall sound of your instrument. Some people believe that clamping over the endblock affects resonance less because that area doesn't ring much to start with. Thus, chinrests that sit over the tailpiece are popular. Additionally, if you use two small feet, rather than a bar of wood (called a Hill style chinrest), then you can decrease the amount of wood that is prevented from vibrating.

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    Selecting the right chinrest is perhaps most critical if your or your child has a smaller build or shorter arms or if you play viola. Chinrests with center cups extend arm reach on the fingerboard and can allow smaller players to play with more ease. Viola players may find that they can play a larger instrument if paired with the right chinrest. Even if you do not have short arms, you just may appreciate the extra reach that certain chinrests provide.

    Finally, many people consider chinrests important because they give your violin or viola pizzazz! You can enhance the color of the varnish by choosing a boxwood, rosewood, or ebony chinrest (and tailpiece and pegs), as well accentuate the shape of your instrument by selecting a complementarily shaped chinrest. For those who are looking for a cheaper (although not recommended) solution than a wooden chinrest, bakelite is also available. Some chinrests/tailpiece/pegs sets have extra fancy designs on them that will make your instrument look sharp. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but who doesn't want a great looking and sounding instrument?

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