Music and spatial task performance in Nature in 1993, numerous researchers have tried to replicate the so-called ‘Mozart effect’: the idea that listening to Mozart's music would make you smarter.
There is now quite some evidence indicating that indeed music listening leads to enhanced performance on a variety of cognitive tests, but also that such effects are short-term and stem from the impact of music on arousal level and mood, which, in turn, affect cognitive performance. However, this is not special to music: experiences other than music listening have similar effects.
However, music lessons in childhood tell a different story. They are associated with small but general and long-lasting intellectual benefits that cannot be attributed to obvious confounding variables such as family income and parents' education (Schellenberg, 2004). However, the mechanisms underlying this association have yet to be determined (Schellenberg & Peretz, 2008). Other controversial issues related to these findings are, for example, the direction of causation -does music influence cognitive skills or is it the other way around?- and the reason why "real musicians" often fail to exhibit enhanced performance on measures of intelligence -if music makes you smarter why aren't musicians generally smarter?
On Wednesday 15 June 2011 Glenn Schellenberg will give a lecture on this topic at the Cognitive Science Center Amsterdam (CSCA) of the University of Amsterdam. See here for more information on the lecture and location.
Schellenberg, E. G., & Peretz, I. (2008). Music, language and cognition: unresolved issues. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12 (2), 45-46 DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2007.11.005