The day I broke free from my shoulder rest

The day I broke free from my shoulder rest


norman lebrecht

July 25, 2016

Nathan Cole, associate concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is one of the most upfront violinists to be found  on social media.

He writes with flair and candour about surviving auditions, preserving your voice in an orchestra and, now, getting rid of your shoulder rest.

One day, when nobody was looking, I left the rest in the case and walked on stage for a rehearsal.

At that time I was with the Chicago Symphony. For those who are curious, orchestra rehearsals and concerts are perfect for experimenting with just about any change: hours and hours of playing, day after day, without the chance to second-guess your technique. In fact, check out this 360-degree video of me rehearsing Bartok’s The Miraculous Mandarin with Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic: use your mouse or mobile device to “look around” the video and you’ll see me in my usual spot, sans shoulder rest!


For thirty years, I’ve had you pressed against me. I’m sorry to say that the joy is gone.

Read on here.



  • David Osborne says:

    “I had also switched to a looser soundpost placement to increase the resonance of that wonderfully human gut-string sound.”

    Human gut strings? I don’t care how good they sound, that’s just wrong. Shame on you Pirastro…

  • NYMike says:

    Dr. D.C. Dounis formulated his violin pedagogy while watching Fritz Kreisler who also used no shoulder rest and had a largely hand vibrato. Many of his students followed the same approach including among others: David Nadien, Charles Libove, Joseph Silverstein and George Ochner.


    Silverstein did use a shoulder rest, and many others appeared not to but in fact had something on the right shoulder hidden under their jacket. It doesn’t really matter; great playing is great playing with or without.

    • M2N2K says:

      In most cases though, it’s the left shoulder.

    • Milka says:

      Once we get to the correct shoulder ,left not right, wonderful things can happen……That it took Mr. Cole some 30 years is unfortunate ,but he has at last come to understand
      the art of playing the violin .The worst thing ever to have come into the world of violin playing was the shoulder rest .

  • Robert Levin says:

    Milstein would love this. He hated shoulder rests and referred to them as crutches! He could play holding the violin against his belly (I saw him do it)!!

  • M2N2K says:

    There are (and were) many fabulous violinists who use(d) shoulder rests and plenty of poor ones who don’t (didn’t)– as well as vice versa of course: so what? If a fine musician can realize his/her interpretation better with a “crutch”, then by all means – use it! A musical instrument is a tool for making music and it doesn’t make any difference to the listeners whether a musician uses a tool that is equipped with a fancy handle or without it. Musical result is the only thing that matters. In this case, Nathan Cole was a very fine violinist with a shoulder rest and he remains just as fine a musician without one.

  • Milka says:

    The sophisticated listener will recognize the difference by the sound production .
    Kopatchinskaja the artist to a Ray Chen clap trap show biz .

    • M2N2K says:

      The difference is in the musician, not in the device. There are better violinists than Kopatchinskaya who use shoulder rests and lesser ones than Chen who don’t.