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Thursday, March 13, 2014

What Bows to Use with Box Violins

Written by Paula E. Bird, copyright 2014

My purpose in using a box violin is to accustom the student to how to hold a real violin. I have given my reasons for using box violins in an earlier post [article link here]. I stay on a box violin as long as the student needs it. I do not advocate staying on a box violin for too long, merely long enough to establish some good posture habits and to make sure that the student has learned how to take proper care of it.

The best bow for a box violin in my opinion is an actual bow. I do not use healthy regular bows, however. I visit my local fine stringed instruments shop and ask if they have any broken bows. I found out that the shop keeps a collection of bows that have broken for one reason or another in order to return them to the manufacturer. Many of these bows are still perfectly fine for the purpose of a box violin. The bow does not need hair on it, nor does it matter if the frog is cracked a little in some way. As long as there is a frog that the student may put the thumb under and the bow stick is still good, then the bow is still usable. I set up this kind of bow with my usual set up, as I covered in my earlier post about starting beginners. [article here]

Dowel rods work very nicely though. Depending on the age of the child, I select a dowel rod of the correct length and circumference to suit the child. A younger child may need a thicker dowel rod. It is possible to decorate the rod in some way. To mark an area of the "bow" that reflects the student's "square" arm, I sometimes use stickers and then wrap clear packing tape around this area to keep the stickers securely fastened and visible. [insert picture of this]

I use various bow grips for box violin bows. I have used the Bowmaster on one end and have supplemented that with corn pads for placement of the thumb and pinkie. I have also used the Bow Buddy, although I have issues with both of these items when it comes to long term use. Sometimes I have just used the fish from the Bow Buddy. There are many possible items that can be used for this purpose.

For the very young child, I may allow the child to do the Palmer grasp on the bow until the child has developed some ability to use fine motor skills to form the bow hold. The Palmer grasp is the first grasp that babies and young children use when latching onto something. If you have ever had a baby grasp your finger, then you know that the Palmer grasp is the perfect bow hold. As the child progresses, I find it simple to begin adjusting the pinkie to its proper placement.

Here are three pictures of bows that the students find to be fun. The first is a bow that one of our university students constructed using a dowel rod, rubber eraser, and electrical tape.

Eraser and Duct Tape

Here is a "bow" made with barbecue skewers and plastic beads. This bow is light and delicate and makes a satisfying sound when drawn across the box violin "strings."

Barbecue Skewer
A variation of the bead bow is one made with much larger "beads." Here is the younger brother of one of my students. When I explained about the bead bow, this mom made up a different version of it with much larger and colorful beads.

Dowel Rod and Big Beads
And here is the dowel rod with the Bowmaster on one end. You can see the corn pads placed to make it easy for my student to find the thumb and pinkie placement.

Bowmaster and Corn Pads

There are many possibilities when it comes to an appropriate item to use for a box violin bow. My favorite item is an actual bow. No matter what bow item that I use, I keep in mind that this item is to be used on a temporary basis. The purpose of tools is to make it easy to get good posture habits started. Once the correct posture is in place, I find no reason to maintain the tool.

Please comment below and let me know what tools you use to start beginner violin students.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Can you tell me how you prevent the beads from falling off the bow? What do you use on the end? Tape?