A macaroni box on a stick. That's where it starts for first-year students learning how to play violin in the Suzuki violin program, a specialized and increasingly popular system that teaches young children how to play the violin much the same way they learn to speak.
Southeast Missouri State University's Music Academy director and Suzuki violin teacher, Hays Hendricks, starts the students off using the macaroni box violins because she knows they will drop them.
It may sound like an unusual practice, but the Suzuki method doesn't follow conventional ways to teach a child how to play.
"It also teaches the students to learn proper posture and how to take care of their violins," she said.
The Suzuki teaching method was an idea that a Japanese educator, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, had when he noticed how quickly young children learned to speak their native tongue. He believed a high musical ability could be produced in young children if they learned to imitate and repeat sounds.
Third-year student Nathan Fridley remembers starting the program with his macaroni box.
"Our teacher guaranteed us that we'd drop them in the first week, but I didn't," Fridley said with a grin. "I proved her wrong."
Fridley is one of 85 students enrolled in the Suzuki violin program. When Hendricks first started the program at the Music Academy five years ago, the original class had 20 students.
"We've seen significant enrollment increases, which is great," Hendricks said.
Four teachers have been hired to give lessons, and there's a waiting list to enroll in the program.
Children ages 3 and up can enroll in the Suzuki program at Southeast; five 3-year-olds are currently enrolled.
Hendricks said that while it can be difficult to keep the attention span of a 3-year-old, the child can be taught to play violin just like riding a bike.
"We start them at an early age for a couple of reasons," Hendricks said. "We want to train their ears to appreciate musical sounds."
Suzuki students are taught to develop basic competence on their instruments before they are taught to read music, Hendricks said. Just as young children are taught to read words after they learn to speak.
Much like a parent is involved in teaching a child to speak, the Suzuki method encourages the parents to be involved with their child's violin instruction. Parents are required to attend a Suzuki parent-education class and observe private and group lessons on a regular basis.
Emily Soch has two children, Amanda, 10, and Lindsey, 8, enrolled in the Suzuki violin program and is a former Suzuki student herself.
"The Suzuki method makes it so much easier for the children to learn to play because of the repetition training," she said.
Soch believes the program teaches her children discipline and helps improve their thinking skills.
The Suzuki program gives the children many opportunities to perform, Hendricks said. The children have the opportunity to play at various concerts and recitals at the University throughout the year.
Soch's daughter, Amanda, began the Suzuki program when she was four years old.
"I remember the first time she got up on the stage to perform," Soch said. "She got up there, put her violin in rest position and took a bow."
Jackson middle school student Abbey Fieser has been enrolled in the program for three years.
She's always been interested in learning to play the violin, and since Jackson doesn't have an orchestra program, the Suzuki lessons have given her the opportunity to learn to play.
"I've learned a lot about music theory," she said. "I've also gotten used to performing in front of people, which is my favorite part about the program."
Fridley, 10, said performing is his favorite part about the Suzuki program. While he enjoys playing the classical tunes on his violin, Fridley is more interested in playing fiddle tunes.
"A violin is an instrument with a split personality," he said. "You can play fiddle tunes on it and that's what I like to do."
Hendricks credits the success of the Suzuki violin program to its unique teaching methods.
"I also think a lot of parents are looking for their child to have a musical experience at a young age," she said. "There's a large cute factor involved seeing a 3-year-old with a violin."