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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How to Make a Box Violin

  • Macaroni and cheese box, empty, preferably with lid still intact or hinged on at least one side; some teachers use empty margarine stick boxes, which are more square in shape rather than the rectangular shape that I prefer
  • Packing peanuts
  • Paint stir stick (free at hardware or paint store)
  • Mole foam (not mole skin, which is too thin)
  • Shelf or drawer paper; I prefer the kind that has a backing that peels off and leaves a gluey surface to the paper; the student may prefer a blank paper so that the student may decorate the box violin
  • Packing tape, clear
  • Rubber bands
  • Wedge sponge shoulder rest
  • Decorative stickers

Take the empty macaroni and cheese box and fold over the open top. Cut a slit in one edge of the top’s hinge to fit the width of the paint stir stick. Fit the paint stir stick through the slit until it completely enters the empty box and touches the box bottom. Whichever side of the box that the paint stir stick is closest to, make sure that the side of the stick without the writing is the side that faces up. You might secure the paint stick to the inside of the box with one or more pieces of packing tape to keep the stick from sliding back out if pulled by an unsupervised younger sibling. Fill the box with packing peanuts, and then fold down the top to close the box with the paint stir stick now half in and half out of the box. Secure the lid closed with packing tape.

Lay out the shelf paper flat with the decorative surface face down. Lay the box on top of the paper and cut around the paper to accommodate the size of the box. Here’s where your talent at wrapping gifts will come in handy. I won’t give you detailed directions for cutting the correct size of the paper, because you may have a terrific way of doing it, and I’m not sure that my way is the best way.

After cutting the shelf paper, peel off the backing, lay the box on the sticky side of the shelf paper, and start folding the paper around the box. I do some snips here and there to make flaps in the shelf paper to fold over and seal the top, bottom, and corners of the box. I seal up these places tight with the packing tape if needed.

After the box is covered with the shelf paper and the paper’s corners are secured with packing tape, I then cut an oval shape about 2 inches wide or so out of mole foam. Mole foam is better than moleskin because it has a bit of cushion to it. I peel off the backing and affix the sticky oval to the bottom left side of the box violin top surface, where the chin rest would go. Then I wrap a rubber band around the violin from top to bottom on the left side and another rubber band on the right side. The rubber bands serve several purposes: we can pretend that they are violin strings, they provide a way to secure a shoulder rest wedge sponge underneath the box violin, and they can act as “seat belts” for a toy when placing it on the violin.

I put a sticker on the backside of the violin at a place that is right underneath the place where the stick comes out. This is the “thumb spot,” which is where I want the student to place his or her thumb when taking the box violin from rest position to playing position. We won’t get to this place for a few lessons, but I get the box violin ready for all of this right from the beginning.

For some younger students, they might enjoy putting more stickers on the box violin or even coloring their own design. I have a student who enjoys horses, and her mother has drawn several pictures of horses on her violin.

My students generally do not spend too much time on the box. When they have mastered the basic list of necessary skills, I move them to a real violin and bow in stages, which I’ll cover in a future discussion. For my very, very young students, I will keep them on the box violin for a much longer time.


  1. Thank you! I am getting ready to put together one of these for my 2.5 year old. I know she is young, but she is dying to mess with my violin and her older siblings' violins. I think if we make her a box, she'll play with that for awhile longer until she's ready for a 1/32 violin of her own. Maybe when she's 3... how young are your youngest students?

  2. My youngest student was the 2.5 year old, who is now 3 and pictured in the blog post with her new violin in the post about why I use a box violin. If you send me an email, I'll send you a very funny video about step 1 in making a box violin. I'm going to re-film it to correct the lighting and close up, but I guarantee you that this is a funny video as it is. I used to say I'd start a student when they were potty trained, but younger students who are siblings of students already in the program seem to be able to start earlier because they already know "what to do." birdtull@prodigy.net

  3. haha - we had a great "1/64"-violin-shaped box! Courtesy of our elder daughter who brought back Mozart Chocolates from Vienna some years before. Our little one discovered it and started playing with it when he was 1+yo. We gave him a long chopstick for the "bow".

    Pic: [http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1435/4729791892_3e82c0abbd.jpg]

    And he happily "played" on it when his elder brother practised:

    Anyway, he'll be 3yo next month and has been playing around with a 1/32 real violin. We haven't started him on any formal lessons yet.

  4. Thank you for this great description of how to put together a box violin! My 1.5 and 3.5 year old sons have been sneaking into their older brother's violin case and pulling apart the bow. Hopefully this will satisfy their need for their own violins.

  5. Please would you consider adding some photos to your making process? It is such a great guide!

    1. You are absolutely right! Originally I had intended to make a movie available, and I did start one. It was hilarious, as it turned out, because I started being a bit facetious. My kids said I used my "TV voice." The lighting was poor so I didn't finish it. However, it has been on my back burner for some time now. And I have a new idea for a stick bow that young students my really enjoy. Maybe a spring break project?

  6. Me and my husband found this post a while ago, and since then our 1.5 year old has blossomed to age 3. Since then we made the decision to buy a violin for her, because of her enthusiasm for the box violin and her interest in her older sister's violin. The problem is she doesn't know a real violin isn't as durable as her box violin. The teacher attempted to explain the difference, but she isn't budging. She's touched the hair on her and her sister's said violin. I've spent a fortune in fixing both and I'm about ready to sell the violin. Any tips?

    1. The purpose of the box violin is to teach your child how to be responsible with a real violin. If she is not ready for a real violin, then I would not give her one. I would continue to keep her on the box until she demonstrates that she has the ability to treat a real violin properly. And, I would be sure to let her know what is expected of her. I am very up front with my students about what they need to demonstrate to me and the parents before we allow a child to move to a real violin. And, if the child regresses, we have been known to bring back the box violin and put away the real violin. Music lessons are a privilege, and so is a real violin. I would not give a child something valuable if they are not ready for it.

      On occasion, I have had a young student come to me and demand to have a real violin before the child would cooperate in lessons. We did not move forward. instead, I told the child and parent that I thought the child was not yet ready for lessons (not mature enough), and instead I returned to giving the parent the lessons.

      Put the violin up on the top shelf of a closet, out of reach, and continue with the box. When she is ready, you can bring the violin back out of the closet. In the meantime, use the box violin. Whenever she does something destructive, you could make a big production of how the box violin was hurt and now needs to rest. You could then pat the violin, soothe it, and then lovingly and carefully put it away somewhere safe so that it can recuperate from your child's destructive behavior. I would do this with everything that your child mishandles: dolls, toys, clothes, etc.

      I think of this as a maturity issue. If your child does not obey, then perhaps she has not yet reached the level of maturity needed to do this activity. And, I would say exactly that to her. Make sure she understands very clearly what your expectations are and follow through on removing these items from her grasp if she does not follow your instructions and expectations. I would not be wimpy about this. Take charge for sure! And put her sister's violin out of reach too.

  7. Do you use box violins with older beginners as well? My oldest is 7 and has Down Syndrome, and I am going to start teaching him this month. I think he would benefit from starting with the box but wasn't sure what to use since a macaroni box is too small.

  8. I do make exceptions based on the student's age. That said, in your case though, I think the comfortable simplicity of a box would be great. There are other types of boxes that might work. What about a margarine box, which is more square?

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