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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why use a box violin?

Recently I put up a new picture of one of my young students. This little boy just began lessons a week ago, and the picture was taken on day 2 with the box violin. If you look closely, you will notice that his torso is a bit twisted. That is because he is in the middle of a growth spurt. Torsos tend to develop this slight twist during growth periods, because our bodies do not grow evenly. In the coming weeks, his mother and I will work to straighten out this kink in the boy's body, which will last until his next growth spurt.

Since putting up that photo, many folks have asked me why I use a box violin or what is the significance of starting a student with a box in the first place. Here are some of my reasons.

First, the box violin weighs next to nothing, so it is light and comfortable for young students to hold. When I first started teaching, I made a box violin with newspaper stuffed inside, but the violin was too heavy for young students. Using packing peanuts for the inside of the violin gives the box instrument some weight and helps the box to retain its shape in the event that someone sits or steps on it.

Second, the box violin is easily made and replaceable. So while the student is learning how to take care of and play the new "violin," the parents and I do not need to worry about any damage to the box violin. Pets can tear it apart, or younger siblings can sit or step on it, and the parents and I will not cry over it or call the insurance adjuster. We'll be able to use the experience as an object lesson for the child about how to take better care of the instrument.

Third, the box doesn't make any musical sound, although it does make rhythmic sounds. This is helpful because the student doesn't get distracted from the tasks we are working on during lessons -- usually posture and bowing rhythms. If we had to factor in good tone production and eliminating squawky sounds at the same time as we are focusing on good posture and rhythmic impulse, the student would go crazy with all the things to be handled at one time. Using the box helps the parent and me break the skills learning into a smaller set, which keeps the student from becoming overwhelmed by too many points to think about. We can continue to build concentration and focus, instill good posture habits, and awaken the inner rhythmic pulse.

Fourth, using the box violin is a strong motivational tool. The box is the step before a real violin. I frequently mention during lessons that we are learning skills that we will be using with the real violin when we finally get to that point. I often discuss openly with the parent (in the student's hearing) about the skills that we are working to master that will signal when it is time to move to the real violin. Most students are so eager to get to the point of having a real violin, that they will practice anything 100 times if it means that they will move closer to getting the real violin.

Is there ever a time when I start a student on a real violin? Yes, if it is an adult beginner or an older child. I consider each situation carefully before beginning lessons to decide whether a real violin is appropriate. In the case of a child, I might still have 1 or 2 lessons on the box just to get us going, and I make sure that the student understands that the box is extremely temporary.

Another instance when I might consider moving to the box violin quicker than usual is in the case of a student with a well developed aural ability. I have two such young students right now. One is the 3 year old girl who was featured on the blog home page for the past several months (the student who started when she was 2.5 years old). I recently switched this student from the box to the real violin because she was doing so well with her skills on the box. She has quickly adjusted to the violin and is copying the rhythmic musical sounds she hears.

Another student who is 4 is using a real violin because she was more responsive to the actual musical sounds of the violin than she was to the rhythmic sounds of the box. Since this particular child is highly energetic, I felt we needed the added sounds in the air for this student to make a better connection between physical movement and sound production on the violin. So far it is working.

Have a good week. Check out the short three second video below for some sage advice from a 7 year old.


  1. Emma & Maddie just completed 100 consecutive days of practice! Way to go, girls! It has truly made a difference in their piano playing. I am so proud of them both.

  2. Congratulations, Emma & Maddie! And I'll bet that mom isn't too far behind with her own 100 days, is she? Way to go!!!! Whoooo Whoooo Whoooo!

    So tell us how it went. Tell us what was good or bad about it, what was easy or hard, and what if anything you and the girls got from it.

    And the number 1 question we all want to know?


    Are you planning on taking a break or going on to 200 days?

    Congratulations again! Can't wait to celebrate. And yes, the girls have been having great lessons every week!

  3. Hello, my name is Agatha. I am a violin teacher and I have a question. Where have you obtained the information about the uneven growth of the child's body? Please, do not believe them as it is a big fat lie. You should send the child for the professional assessment if it is really bad. As a children's teacher you must make sure they have a set of exercises to do at home and you must correct them during the lesson all the time. Otherwise that's what happens to those poor spines and if parent's will not act fast it will develop to a very serious conditions in later life. I really would like to know where have you got that terrible information. Best of luck to you and your students. PS.If you make sure he is standing straight during the lesson, equally spreading his upper body weight onto both his legs (on the picture he is literally standing only on his left leg) it will make a big difference already. He is also holding the violin 'box' too much to the left and his left wrist is not straight. Please, use this information to help him and other children otherwise you will end up with lots and lots of children with twisted spines and broken hip joints. Kind regards, Agatha.

    1. In this article, I was referring to normal growth in a child and to the fact that a child may grow 1/8" on the left side, 1/4" on the right leg, and so forth. The child does indeed grow normally, but it doesn't happen all at once. While the growth is happening, the child sometimes develops a slight twist in the torso, and the violin swings to the left. It straightens itself out in a week or so, and during that time we help the child to hold the instrument with the best possible posture. I am not referring here to spinal or skeletal malformation. The picture came from the boy's mother at a home practice and before I had a chance to "straighten" him out. I agree with you completely, that he was not spreading his weight evenly on both feet. The swing to the left with the violin is exactly what I intended to show, since this is a perfect example of the torso twist. You can see even better pictures of this torso twist in other Suzuki teaching books. As for the information that children do not grow evenly, what I was talking about came from my own experience. I have never seen a child proportionately grow all around. E.g., a child does not evenly grow 1/4" all around in every single part of the body. It happens in bits and pieces. If you have other information, please share it. It sounds as if you have some specialized experience in spinal issues. Thanks for writing, Agatha.

  4. Paula is there an age cap for starting on the box? I am starting a 1st grader is that too old for a box???

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  6. Is a 7 year old beginner considered an "older student"? Would you start this 7 year old with a box violin?

  7. Yes, I think probably so. It always depends on the student. I have a little 6-7 year old who is very youngish in general. But I would think that a 7 year old is old enough. I might try the box at first to get them started, but we wouldn't stay on it more than 1 or 2 lessons I'm guessing. The last one I started like that, we stayed a little longer than I expected because of tension issues. Hope this helps. -- Paula

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