Black musical ability

Jason Malloy, in his review of Richard Lynn's Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis, writes:
For the first time I've seen, Lynn also reviews tests of "MQ" or musical intelligence for black and white Americans. While blacks score lower on almost all the items, commensurate with the fact that IQ correlates with musical ability, they also do much better, on average, than whites on rhythm items - Lynn calculates a rhythm IQ for Af-Ams of 106, though no cross-cultural results are presented, this has been recognized in a number of societies through time. Since Sub-Saharan Africans have been musical innovators across a number of different countries, this topic should have more attention.
I haven't read Race Differences in Intelligence, but while I agree that a preponderance of evidence indicates rhythm is a relative strength of blacks, I'm skeptical of the idea that blacks have greater rhythmic ability than whites in adulthood. Matt Nuenke summarizes the results presented by Lynn as follows:
African Americans perform less well than Europeans on tests of musical abilities of pitch discrimination, tone discrimination, and memory, but they perform about the same as Europeans on tests of rhythm.
This conclusion falls more in line with the evidence I'm aware of (e.g. this study of high school students, which I see Lynn includes). Nuenke continues:
To show this pattern of musical abilities, the results of these studies have been aggregated to give a Musical Quotient (MQ) derived from tests of musical ability other than rhythm, and a Rhythm Quotient (RQ). The results of these studies are summarized in Table 4.8. Row 1 gives results for a large sample of African Americans in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia calculated from the Seashore Test and shows that they obtained an MQ (Musical Quotient) of 90 but a higher RQ (Rhythm Quotient) of 106. Row 2 gives results from a comparison of 272 European and 288 African American college students attending colleges in Tennessee, again showing that Europeans achieved higher scores on general musical ability (pitch, intensity, time, consonance, and total memory) but African Americans achieved a higher RQ (Rhythm Quotient) of 102. Row 3 gives results for a sample from a poor neighborhood in Washington, D.C. showing an MQ of 83 and an RQ of 96. Row 4 gives results for a sample of African-American 5-to-8-year-olds in Rochester in New York State with an MQ of 89 and an RQ of 104. Row 5 gives results for a sample of African-American 18-year-olds drawn from senior high school largely in Texas, with some from Illinois and Rochester in New York State, with an MQ of 86 based on tonal memory and pitch discrimination and an RQ of 100. The comparison group was 541 Europeans attending the same schools. All the studies show that African Americans have Rhythm IQs substantially greater than general Musical IQs by about 15 IQ points. There appears to be no change in the musical abilities of Africans over the period of approximately half a century from the 1920s to the late 1970s over which the studies have been conducted.
Black children may score slightly better than white children on tests of rhythm, but this most likely simply reflects the faster maturation of blacks:
The reader has no doubt noticed that the Negro fifth grade has consistently shown a tendency to compare better with the white fifth grade than the Negro eighth grade and adults compare with the respective white groups. Thus once more we have a verification of the oft-stated idea that the Negro child matures more rapidly than the white child.
[Yale S. Nathanson. The Musical Ability of the Negro. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 140, The American Negro (Nov., 1928), pp. 186-190]


Anonymous said...

I think you're underestimating the African American ability with rhythm. Looking at their disparate impact in music, they must have some advantages. Good rhythm would be a huge one.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to find out where East Asians stand with regard to musical ability. They have no popular music genres of their own like Whites and Blacks do (as far as I know). Yet they have high I.Q.s which otherwise seem to correlate with the non-rhythm based tests, as well as having a tradition of drumming and rhythmic dragon dancing and similar.

Maybe the disparate impact of American Blacks in music is due to whatever it is that gives them more motivation to dance. High oestrogen levels perhaps?