Some thoughts after reading through two papers by Frances H. Rauscher, who has been involved in research on the correlations and possible causation between music and learning. Quick summary: listening to music is not sufficient in itself to result in cognitive improvements. Studying and, preferably, performing, music seems to have the greatest impact on strengthening neurological connections and enhancing cognitive ability.
I think the important point here is that there is no “free ride” to learning. Simply listening passively to Mozart (the so-called Mozart Effect) is not effective in the learning process. However, studying music composition and theory, and practicing and performing music are very likely to have a positive causal impact on cognitive functions. There is evidence (from other sources) that this causal effect may be important not only in child development, but in the lifelong learning of adults as well, especially in advanced age.
“Early Music training seems to shape the young brain, strengthening the neural connections and perhaps establishing new ones.” ~ Dr. Frances Rauscher
“We have shown that music education may be a valuable tool for the enhancement of preschool children’s intellectual development. The challenge is to articulate a successful program for music in education that can become a permanent feature of the public school curriculum.” ~ Dr. Frances Rauscher
Here are links to the papers. One is from 1994, the other from 2006.
2006. Rauscher F.H. & Hinton S.C. “The Mozart Effect: Music Listening is Not Music Instruction” Educational Psychologist 41(4) 233-238
1994 Rauscher F.H., Shaw G.L., Levine L.J., Ky K.N. “Music and Spatial Task Performance: A Causal Relationship” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association (102nd, Los Angeles, CA, August 12-16, 1994).