The idea that music makes you smarter has become embedded in the public consciousness with much attention from the popular media and governments. The proposed connection between music and intelligence represents a classic case of a simple solution (exposure to music) to a complex problem (enhancing intelligence). But is there really an association between music and intelligence? If we observe an association between music lessons and intelligence, how can we explain it?

Many people have disputed that music affects brain development. Often, people will challenge the idea that music can lead to an enhancement of higher brain functioning. Despite the unending debate, it has already has been demonstrated several times that through varied use of music, a significant impact can be noted on both hemispheres of the brain, making learning easier. Several of these demonstrations originated from studies associated to cognitive development.

As stated by the Biology dictionary, cognitive development is the study of childhood neurological and psychological development. Specifically, cognitive development is assessed based on the level of conception, perception, information processing, and language as an indicator of brain development. It is generally recognized that cognitive development progresses with age, as human awareness and understanding of the world increases from infancy to childhood, and then again into adolescence.

Some studies demonstrate that benefits of musical training extend beyond the skills it directly aims to train and last well into adulthood. For example, children who undergo musical training have better verbal memory, second language pronunciation accuracy, reading ability and executive functions. Learning to play an instrument as a child may even predict academic performance and IQ in young adulthood. Long-term effects of music were studied in groups of pre-school children aged 3-4 years who were given keyboard music lessons for six months, during which time they studied pitch intervals, fingering techniques, sight reading, musical notation and playing from memory. At the end of training all the children were able to perform simple melodies by Beethoven and Mozart. When they did they were then subjected to spatial-temporal reasoning tests calibrated for age, and their performance was more than 30% better than that of children of similar age given either computer lessons for 6 months or no special training. The improvement was limited to spatial-temporal reasoning; there was no effect on spatial recognition. In relation to this, can music also affect the brain sans musical training? For example, can passive listening alone generate an impact on brain proficiency?

It is often said that listening to classical music enhances short-term memory and problem solving for certain tasks. Specifically, this could be associated to the Mozart effect. This theory is a hotly-debated topic that often divides opinion. In 1993 Rauscher et al. made the surprising claim that, after listening to Mozart’s sonata for two pianos (K448) for 10 minutes, normal subjects showed significantly better spatial reasoning skills than after periods of listening to relaxation instructions designed to lower blood pressure or silence. This proved controversial since some investigators who attempted to authenticate the results were unable to reproduce the findings, but others confirmed that listening to Mozart’s sonata K448 produced a small increase in spatial-temporal performance, as measured by various tests derived from the Stanford—Binet scale such as paper-cutting and folding procedures or pencil-and-paper maze tasks.

Due to this, Rauscher has stressed that the Mozart effect is limited to spatial temporal reasoning and that there is no enhancement of general intelligence; some of the negative results, she thinks, may have been due to inappropriate test procedures. From this, we can conclude that musical training uniquely engenders near and far transfer effects, preparing a foundation for a range of skills, and thus fostering cognitive development, and passive listening, though short-term in its effects, also generates brain proficiency.