When famous violinists talk about their earliest music lessons, they often remember fondly, “I started out on a box violin…”

What exactly do they mean? Many very young students begin their lessons on a “box violin” – a cardboard violin. The box violin allows teachers to show students the basics of how to hold, handle and care for a violin, before they actually start working with such a delicate instrument. You can buy a box violin, with winnings at the Swiss Casino Online, but it’s much more fun for students to make their own, and it’s also very easy. It also makes for a fun music-related craft project, whether you ever intend to play the violin or not!

You’ll need:

Violinist.com Violin Cutout – printed out on 8 1/2-inch by 14-inch paper or cardstock (click here to download the cutout)
Crayons
Macaroni box (emptied) or box of similar size. (An egg carton will work, though it’s a little thick for very small students)
Grocery bag or wrapping paper (optional)
A ruler or paint stick
Scissors
Packing tape
Glue

How to Make the Box Violin:

First, create the “box” part of the violin. I’d recommend having the teacher or parent prepare this in advance, depending on the student’s level of patience with crafting.
Using the packing tape, tape shut the empty macaroni box (presumably it was opened to empty it out). This helps keep the structural integrity of the box, so it doesn’t collapse.
Cut a piece of paper from the grocery bag or wrapping paper and wrap the macaroni box. This is optional, but it helps create the illusion that this is a violin, if you can’t see the macaroni box.
Using packing tape, tape the ruler to the box, leaving seven inches of the ruler sticking out. Wrap the tape around the box and ruler several times, until it is very secure. More about this topic here: https://www.independent.co.uk/topic/violin

At this point, you can bring in your student! I recommend turning on some music and taking time to enjoy coloring the violin. Allow your student to use their creativity and color the violin however he or she wishes to do so.

You’ll get a lot of variation here – some may want to color it brown and make it look as much as possible like “the real thing.” Others will find the opportunity to have a purple violin, or a violin decorated with rainbows, flowers and unicorns. Or, they might decorate it with swords, dragons and fire flames. This is all acceptable and part of the creative process!

Once the violin is colored, cut it out. Then apply glue (like Elmer’s) to the back of the paper violin, and affix it to the box.

Now you have a box violin! Here are a number of beginner practice videos that can be done with a box violin; specifically look at the Rest Position Song, This is the Scroll and the Numbers Game.

Note: When I was teaching a beginning violin class at McKinley School in Pasadena, I went to the office supply store and printed out a big stack of the Violin Cutouts on oversized cardstock. This stash has lasted me for years.

Exploring Stradivari and del Gesù Violins, with Dr. Sloan and Cristian Fatu

Los Angeles-based fine violin collector Dr. William Sloan doesn’t really think there is a “secret” to the exceptional sound of old Italian instruments such as the two he owns, the 1714 “Jackson” Stradivari and the 1742 “Sloan” Guarneri del Gesù.

Certain makers in the 18th century were simply great craftsmen, he told violinist Cristian Fatu in the video interview below.

“They understood the wood, they understood the vibrations,” Sloan said, “….and they made something that is durable.”

Indeed, these fiddles have endured — some 300 years later, both violins sing with voices that have rung through them for centuries. They sing again in the hands of Fatu, who at the end of the video performs the Sarabande from Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B minor, alternating between the “Jackson” Strad and “Sloan” del Gesù. On Saturday Fatu plans to launch a series of paid streams, performing on both of Sloan’s instruments, with solo violin works by Bach, Paganini, Ysaÿe, Kreisler, Enescu and Piazzola.

Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù – arguably the two finest violin makers who ever lived, are known for the particular kinds of sound that each of their violins generally makes — the clear and ringing tone of a Strad, or the “woody,” rough-edged sound of a del Gesù. Generalizations, to be sure, but the experiences and stated views of many fine violinists bear out those observations. Sloan, a surgeon who learned the craft of violin-making late in life and has completed four violins himself, said that the difference that we can hear all comes down to the arching in the instrument, as well as the graduation in the wood.

A tree produces enough wood to make more than one violin, and Sloan talks about the “sister” instruments that were carved from the “same wood” as his own famous instruments. Sloan’s “Jackson” Strad is made in the same year and from the same wood as Itzhak Perlman’s 1714 “Soil” Strad. And Sloan’s del Gesù has its sibling in Pinchas Zukerman’s 1742 “Dushkin” del Gesù.

Yet the violins are incredibly rare. “Most violin makers today who are copying Guarneri del Gesùs — have never seen one,” Sloan said. There are, at most, 150 del Gesù violins left in the world, and about 500 Stradivari violins. Sloan has owned both violins for more than 30 years. “I’ve never made a copy of my Guarneri completely,” he said, “but I’ve used it as a reference.”

Shifting positions is a technique that needs good balance when moving from one finger to another. Another challenge is changing strings when shifting. Once you add vibrato, it can further destabilize. With a few adjustments, you can keep the hand from slipping. To insure confidence and success, it helps to keep all the moving parts in sync with each other. A firm wrist and well-aimed fingertips will keep the hand from leaning over or, even worse, falling off the ledge. With four strings and four planes, it helps to make the hand more like a skyscraper than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

In first position, place your first finger on any string. Feel like the hand is an umbrella with the first finger being its center. (This is not a literal description. Instead, it’s meant to convey that the first finger has the support of the hand behind it.) This image insures that the playing finger is the dominant one. Do the same with the other fingers, making the center of the umbrella change with the finger. This action will not only unify the hand and the finger, but it will make the fingertip stronger.

If the finger doesn’t feel the support and weight of the surrounding hand, it will place an unnecessary burden on the finger. Let the hand adapt to each changing finger.

Should the hand always be held with fingers spread apart, ready to fall on their targets? Not necessarily. The alternative, in which the hand is relaxed and the fingers are in normal position, is preferable. It is because the hand is designed to spring back and forth as the fingers go up and down. Violinists don’t need to artificially spread the fingers in order to mark the intervals. It does help, however, to keep the fingers poised and separated for a passage with many 16th notes. In slower sections, however, the hand can relax and expand, depending on the rhythm. Keeping the distances in mind will get each finger ready for its proper spacing. The distance of the intervals should be clearly visualized in the imagination of the musician.