Pre-Twinkle Violin Box Class

Lauren said: Feb 7, 2016
Lauren Lamont
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Edmonds, WA
33 posts

I’ve been teaching Suzuki violin for 20-some years, and for young beginners, age 3-4, maybe 5yrs, I start students on the “box” violin. I’ve found this to be very successful in two ways; 1. students know how to handle their violin and correct placement on their shoulder when they get the real violin, and, 2. it also provides an incentive to move through the “box” stage to the “Real Violin!” It’s like a graduation and early reward for practice.

Foam-a-lin violins are sometimes used, as well as the homemade box and ruler violin. However, my husband made little violins out of balsa wood, with a scroll, bridge, drawn-on F holes, foam chin and shoulder rests, and button at the bottom!

However, I meet more and more teachers who are not familiar with the Box stage. Are many teachers still starting young students with the “box” violin? (or whatever type used for ‘pretend violin’)? Has this process been dropped? Just curious as to what other violin teachers are doing.

Diane said: Feb 7, 2016
 Violin, Viola
14 posts

I start preschoolers on a pretend violin: usually a box and ruler. I also start older beginners on the box as much as possible, for a much shorter time though.

Joyce McGlaun said: Feb 7, 2016
Joyce McGlaun
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
39 posts

“Box” used to be a standard beginning for my young beginners. Since I began teaching Suzuki ECE I find the transition from those classes to violin lessons much more satisfying for all parties involved. Pitch, rhythm, focus, listening, are established skills from ECE classes. Now I spend one month or maybe a bit more with Pre Violin class where we do finger strength exercises, Pre-Twinkle rhythms on the arm (like scrubbing with soap, bow hand on top of violin forearm). We sing, practice focusing on left hand alone, do left hand pinky touches to the nose to shape the hand, and order the violin. We usually begin with the bow. Bow Buddies create a flawless bow hold. At the end of the same lesson with the bow, doing “Up Like a Rocket” we place the violin on the shoulder. It’s a BIG day!
If I see a student who is really unfocused, somewhat reckless, has lots of brothers and sisters who are overly curious, I still begin with a homemade box. I cover an appropriate sized box of cracker jacks, fruit rollups or mac and cheese with wood grained contact paper with a ruler extended from the approximate center away from the box to simulate a fingerboard. I attach a sticker on the upper right near the ruler as a focal point. Also use a sponge and rubber band for shoulder rest. and a sticker for placement of jaw. I have been teaching for 44 years, watching trends, teachers, parents, students and teaching my four daughters when they were ages 2 or 3 through high school. It is interesting to discover better ways to accomplish fine playing as time passes.

Joyce McGlaun
Strings Unlimited Violin Studio & Quartet
Baby Music of Abilene,
325-677-5766; 325-829-4440

Pam said: Feb 8, 2016
Pam Hatley (Hunter)
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools
San Jose, CA
12 posts

Thanks for this great response, Joyce! I’m curious about the finger strengthening exercises. Would you please share more about these?


Wendy Azrak said: Feb 8, 2016
Wendy AzrakTeacher Trainer
SAA Board
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
68 posts

I love using the box. All my beginners start with it.

Nina Westbrook said: Feb 8, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
Cello, Violin
Burnsville, MN
7 posts

I start my younger students (age 3—6) on the foam-a-lin usually. How long we stay on the pretend violin depends on how soon they master the violin & bow position, rhythm for Variation A, and can focus and follow directions. With age 7 & 8, I’m inclined to start with the real violin, but even just a week for older students with the foam-a-lin and bow sets up really good posture. I have extra foam-a-lins in my studio. Age 10 & up I would probably start with the real violin.

Edmund Sprunger said: Feb 8, 2016
Edmund SprungerTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Saint Louis, MO
99 posts

I don’t use box violins. I usually use what I’ve taken to calling a “practice bow” which is a dowel rod with something glued on it to simulate a frog. I also use a “whisper tube” (toilet paper tube) to have students bow in.

I use this equipment because of some essential elements in my teaching. First of all, I have discovered that “holding” or “balancing” the violin is not difficult. What IS difficult is holding up the hands and arms. With a practice bow and a whisper tube, I can teach this skill.

Also, I never teach my students how to hold the violin without their hands. However, at some point, I notice each of my students can balance the violin without a hand when there is a nose to be itched and only the violin hand is free to do it. All of which is to say that I’m working in a way to eliminate tension. My concern is that teaching kids to hold the violin “hands free” encourages tension from the get-go.

And then, there’s the fact that I don’t generally think it’s a good idea to begin formal lessons before age four. I’m a HUGE fan of Suzuki ECE, which is a totally different thing, but it would be very unusual for me to begin a child in formal lessons before age four.

Edmund Sprunger

Mengwei said: Feb 8, 2016
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
119 posts

I had stopped with the box/foam because I had to teach respecting the box/stick, then teach respecting the violin/bow. For whatever reason, it just didn’t transfer. Squirmy children get distracted by the thing in their hands and are better about listening and following directions in whole body activities, singing, games, etc. When they take turns using a musical or rhythm prop, that’s preparation for future violin-specific instruction.

The ones who “intuitively” (because they’ve seen enough older violinists or are more mature themselves) understand how to handle fragile items don’t really need the box, but I still have them “earn” the violin by practicing 500 bow holds first. The bow hold is a harder skill for most kids whereas half the work of getting the violin in right place is me fitting the chin rest and sponge or shoulder rest correctly.

Lately I have an ECE-like class where the foam violins do come out as props in the context of the rest of the class. In general I find that the music socialization environment accomplishes the same basic purpose of the box stage—teaching them how to interact appropriately in a class and express themselves musically. I just prefer not having the box in the way!

Friederike said: Feb 9, 2016
Friederike Lehrbass
Suzuki Association Member
Plano, TX
71 posts

It’s interesting to read everyone’s response. I haven’t used the box very much and at the moment I don’t have preschool children in my studio. But I have used a box on a 2 year old( who’s family suddenly moved) and a few others, but mostly I have used the real violin right away, when the students are at least 4 years old. (Don’t remember anymore what I did for my own daughter) and I mostly require the mom to learn also when they that little. It’s good to hear from Edmund Sprunger, that he doesn’t use box violins either.I haven’t heard yet about ECE before.( IS it similar to Kindermusic and Music together?) Have to look into that.Thanks, Friederike

Praise the Lord with the stringed instrument

Edward said: Feb 9, 2016
Edward Obermueller
Suzuki Association Member
Morris Plains, NJ
17 posts

I’ve had good success with using box violins. Especially for boys, they give me a way to teach them how to take care of the violin before we graduate to the real thing.

When I do introductory classes I start with these and bill them as something to take care of and have as your own, just like a stuffed animal, find a special place for it, brothers and sisters not allowed to play with it, etc. Gives them a head start on how special it is to have a violin.

I like to make them with a box and paint stick, covered in contact paper with a couple of stickers on it. One is an owl to look at the approximate location of the bridge. Kids seem to be more interested in that than in the foam or cardboard violin kind.

I have also begun students with the real violin, but I’ve found that the box eliminates the distraction of wanting to make noise while we are practicing the initial motions.

I think what Ed Sprunger said about not introducing tension is very important. What I’ve come to realize is that I need teach them to be able to lower their hands so that the left hand can float, but I don’t overemphasize that, and I always let them help with the other hand if it is too difficult or tense for them.

I spend more time on teaching where to hold the box as it goes from rest position into play position (by the body and not the neck.) Repetition of that skill helps me to establish the correct posture and balance.

Happy practicing,

11 Holloway Place
Morris Plains, NJ 07950

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Jennifer Visick said: Feb 10, 2016
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

I tend to bring out the “pre” violin or box violin when there are younger siblings who are not ready for a real violin but want to participate in the lessons or group classes.

Mostly, though, I find that I use pizz. in pre-twinkle songs and I want beginners to be able to pluck, and you can’t do that on a box violin.

Lauren said: Feb 10, 2016
Lauren Lamont
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Edmonds, WA
33 posts

Thanks for all the great responses and ideas concerning box class. I’ve picked up several concepts I will incorporate into my decision to box or not box. I like Jennifer’s consideration that new students want to Make Sound! The box cannot provide that. And Ed, thank you for your ideas on tension—always a challenge with students—young and old! This forum is so great.

Paula Bird said: Feb 10, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Let me weigh in here as well. I use a box to start, but I hope to move to the violin quickly. Here is an article detailing my reasons. I have seen too many destroyed box violins, so I make the box violin my “go to” beginner default position with the little students, and I do start them as young as 2.5.

Why I Use a Box Violin

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio (blog) (podcast)

Jodie St Clair said: Feb 10, 2016
Jodie St Clair
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Eugene, OR
16 posts

Along with Joyce, I’m also an ECE teacher and a lot of my pre-twinkle students are now fed it from the ECE class. I now have a policy of only starting 3 year olds when they have come from the ECE class. If they are 3, they need to spend at least a term in the ECE class before starting violin. When they are coming from the ECE class, it’s easy to start directly on the violin. They have been learning respect for instruments from the beginning. Plus beautiful tone! They have mastered several musical skills already, so they often pick up Var A rhythm in the first lesson.

My typical routine now is to do 1 or 2 lessons without a violin at all, one lesson where we are just working on position and then by usually the 4th lesson we are beginning to do Var A on the E string. I love that they get immediate feedback from the sound. It’s not just open from the elbow or keep your bow in this spot. When they can see it on the instrument it’s a concrete reason and more motivating.

I really like the idea of taking out the holding with just the head component to take away tension.

Eugene Suzuki Music Academy

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