AT Congress® Berlin 2022

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Event Details

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Esther Visser

Esther Visser
The Netherlands

Playing violin without using a shoulder rest: how to do that with AT?

This workshop could be interesting for musicians and Alexander Technique teachers who work a lot with violinists and viola players. As you might have noticed, a lot of violinists openly or secretly have the wish to be able to play their instrument without the use of a shoulder rest. Most string players agree that a violin or a viola sounds fuller, freer, opener and more beautiful when not using a shoulder rest. There is less need to ‘clamp’ the violin with the neck or shoulder muscles, and as a result the neck can be much more free (!), and the head can go forward and up (!) easier, than while using a shoulder rest.

However, it seems a ‘lost art’ how to do that. The skill how to balance a violin in a free and healthy way seems almost to be ‘forgotten’ since the invention of the shoulder rest around 1920. It is easier (but not better?) to teach children to hold the violin using a shoulder rest and even for adults this solution is easier than acquiring a skill that needs balance and poise. During the last 100 years we went to a situation where most modern violinist use a shoulder rest, having no idea anymore how on earth they could play without using this tool. But all centuries before that (1500-1920), violinists have managed beautifully without using it and for long time a lot of top violinists refused to use it (Perlman, Oistrach, Menuhin, Anne Sophie Mutter etc). Paganini for example played his caprices without using shoulder rest or chin rest.

In his book “Six lessons with Yehudi Menuhin” he writes about balancing the violin: “We speak of holding the violin, but the word ‘hold’, with its implication of a firm and static grip, can be misleading. We should remember that the violinist, unlike the pianist or cellist whose instruments rest on the floor, must support his instrument unaided… Here, as with the bow, the development of a sense of balance and flexibility will form a far freer and healthier basis on which later to apply strength and effort, than would clamping the violin between shoulder and head, or clutching it between the thumb and first finger of the left hand… It is preferable to do without a shoulder-pad or a shoulder-rest. If used as a support, the shoulder is restricted in its freedom of movement, and if actively ‘clamped’, the shoulder is ‘frozen’.” As an Alexander Technique teacher I very much agree with this. The question remains: How to develop this balance and flexibility, and how to teach it to others?

I am a professional violinist (specialized in historical performance practice) and certified Alexander Technique teacher for 7 years (specialized in working with musicians), living in The Netherlands. In 2019, I won a full-time scholarship at Canterbury Christchurch University (UK) to perform a PhD study about the different ways violinists supported their violin before the invention of the shoulder rest and the implications of that on performance practice and health in our time, in combination with applying Alexander Technique to the balancing of the violin. I am researching how violinists back in their time balanced the violin without the help from a shoulder rest and how we can apply these skill in modern performance, to avoid the many injuries there are nowadays (that is why I won a scholarship – as it potentially could save a lot of pain and costs).  By researching old treatises on violin playing and combining it with Alexander principles I am searching for the best way how to teach this skill to violinists. I love to play without using shoulder rest myself. At the moment, I am in the final stages of this research.

From next October I will run an international experiment in which I will teach professional violin/viola players how to play without using a shoulder rest while applying Alexander Technique principles, during a series of 12 weekly online lessons. So it’s a free 3 month training. In this workshop I will tell more about my research, this experiment and the background for it. It might be interesting for you or your students to join this experiment starting in October and you will have the chance to ask me all about it. Would be very nice to discuss ideas, starting from the Alexander Technique. I would love to involve more international Alexander Technique teachers in my project. You can read more about the experiment on my website www.esthervisser.com, if you like.

If you have your violin with you, please do bring it to the workshop! Non-musicians are welcome too, of course.

About Esther Visser

Esther Visser is a Dutch violinist, specialized in historically informed performance practice, PhD researcher and Alexander Technique teacher. Directly after gaining her Bachelor of Music Degree in the Netherlands she was invited to continue her studies with Vilmos Szabadi at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, where she completed a 3 year Postgraduate program. Simultaneously, she followed a 2 year program ‘Formation Superieure’ with the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées in France. She was coached by the concertmaster of the orchestra, Alessandro Moccia, and performed at the ‘Spotlight on Young Artists’ concert series of the Festival de Saintes. She subsequently gained her Master of Music degree for baroque violin with Sigiswald Kuijken in Brussels.
Esther acted as a concertmaster at several orchestras and during two years she was leader in the European Philharmonic Orchestra. With modern violin she worked as a substitute a.o. at the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra. Esther performed as a soloist with orchestras in The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Finland. As a baroque violinist she collaborates in concerts and CD recordings a.o. with La Petite Bande, Collegium Musicum, Concerto d’ Amsterdam, Florilegium Musicum, Musica Aeterna, and the Harmonious Society of Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen.
Esther is founder and artistic leader of ensemble La Chambre du Roi, winning the title ‘Promising Ensemble’ at the International Young Artist Presentation in Antwerp. She received prizes and study grants from the SNS REAAL Fonds, the Marti Keuning Eckhardt Stichting and the Ben Remkes Cultuurfonds. During 3 summers she participated at the Aspen Music festival, USA. Esther did practical artistic research on authentic performance practice of Romantic repertoire at Leuven University, winning the ‘Excellence Prize’ from the Roger Dillemans Foundation Belgium for this research.
Since 2013 Esther works as a guest lecturer at Codarts, Rotterdam Conservatory, as a specialist in historically informed performance practice, coaching Mmus students. Since 2017 Esther also works as a guest lecturer at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. Esther is running a successful Alexander Technique practice in Haarlem (NL) specialized in musicians. Since 2019 Esther is doing PhD research through the Canterbury Christ Church University (UK), researching the way how violinists supported their violin between 1790-1830 and the implications of that on performance practice and health.

Esther trained as an Alexander Technique teacher with Paul and Tessa in Amsterdam, from 2012-2015.


See also: Esther Visser – Presenter Detail Page

Wednesday, 24 August 2022
10:30 h - 11:45 h (10.30am-11.45am)
Math Building
Floor: 6.OG (6th floor)
Room: MA 642

AT Principles and Procedures||Performance/Music/Acting/Voice||Anatomy||Connections to other Modalities/Techniques||Science



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