Why Cellists score higher on the SAT

Yes, I’ve seen the headlines too. Music makes kids smarter.

They read better

Talk better

They add and subtract better

And overall they just look better (ok…I made that last part up)

But we all know that. But, why exactly? Harvard says this, Northwestern University says that, who’s to know?

My name is Christopher Vuk, and I’m the father of four incredibly energetic young children and the founder of Fiddlefox.

As parent, music can be something of a conundrum. 

Do I play music to the kid when he’s in the womb?

Do I buy my child a bunch of baby einstein toys to play with?

Do we need to go the mommy and me music class together next week?

Let’s take a trip done memory lane (diddle diddle diddle boop!)

Remember high school, and all those tests that you didn’t study for? Now don’t lie to yourself, I know you didn’t study for some of them until the night before. What do we call that again? Cramming, anyone?

So, what are we doing when we cram for a test? 

Well, essentially, we’re trying to put a lot of information into our head, over a short amount of time. And this is usually reinforced by repetition. 

Works every time, right?

Now, compare that to actual studying. If you thought what I just described was actual studying, then you are going to love this. 

Alright, so let’s say you have a math test every Friday. Each day you’re in school learning some new concepts, and so your brain is working. But where the magic really happens is in study hall…wait, no one actually studies in study hall, so the magic probably actually happens at home, after school. That’s when you sit down and you review what you just learned, and you practice it. And you repeat that process of reviewing and practicing it every day until the test. 

What does that do other than keeping you inside your room and not bothering your parents? It strengthens your memory. And what does school emphasize in testing more than anything?

Drum roll…MEMORY!

What year was the Declaration of Independence signed? Hmm…let me remember. 

What was the dog’s name in the story you just read? 

Can’t remember? Then it sounds like you need some practice.

I’ll bring it back to music. What’s one thing that musicians do more of than probably anyone else?

Memorize the music they’re playing.

You’ve probably had to memorize things a lost of things yourself like poems, verses for church, grocery lists. Imagine if someone asked you to memorize, word for word, the first few chapters of a book (now don’t get cheap on me and tell me about a book you have where every chapter is one paragraph). If you could do that, you would probably think that you were pretty amazing. And you would be. 

Most advanced string players are doing the equivalent of this by the time they’re in their early teens (some may be even younger). My friends and I were memorizing 20-30 pages of music when we were this age. 

The only way you can do it though, is through consistency and repetition. You’re exercising your brain. And just like any other muscle, when you work it out, you make it stronger, and so it then becomes easier and easier to remember things…like all the questions you get tested on in the SAT or ACT. 

So then, do all musicians score better on tests? 


However, there is a direct relationship between school academic success and memorization, and from where I’m sitting, music is one of the best ways to increase knowledge retention. 

CHALLENGE: Pick something to memorize this week. And make sure it’s not super easy. Maybe a passage you’ve highlighted from a book, or a favorite quote. Tell me about how you did it, and share anything you did that made it easier.

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