If you want to get strong opinions out of violinists/violists/fiddlers, talk about shoulder rests. Some believe you don’t need them, some swear by only one brand, some make their own at home. The purpose of a shoulder rest is to help support the violin which helps take some of the strain off of the left hand.
I believe that when learning the violin, you have to strike a balance between ideals and being able to progress on your instrument with some level of comfort. Here are a few of my favorite options. Note: When purchasing a shoulder rest, make sure it is the appropriate size (4/4, 3/4 , 1/2, etc.)
Kun Collapsible 4/4 Violin Shoulder Rest This is a classic and my personal favorite. There are models with foldable and adjustable legs. I don’t need a really tall shoulder rest and this one lowers down to a minimal height. Similar to the Kun is the Everest Collapsible Violin Shoulder Rest, and it’s a bit cheaper. I find that I can adjust the Kun to a lower height, which suits me. Both are excellent options.
Some people don’t care for the stiffness and rigidity of a shoulder rest and opt for a sponge. There are ones that are shaped like shoulder rests, such as the Zaret, however, many people opt to use a regular sponge or foam from the fabric store, cut it to the size they want, and attach with a rubber band. If you don’t need any type of cushioning at all, you can also use a piece of leather or suede and place it over the chin rest so that it does not slip when playing.
I have experimented with different types of shoulder rests and sponges over the years and it has taken me a long time to find out what I like. It’s best to go to a music store that specializes in strings and try out the different types of shoulder rests. You can also experiment with different thicknesses of sponges at home before you buy something.