All About Ragtime Piano
If you’re ever looking for a good piece to play to entertain guests at a party or impress someone, a ragtime piece is a great option. A couple of famous examples are Maple Leaf Rag and The Entertainer by Scott Joplin. One of the characteristics rags are most famous for is their bass line—most composers use a “stride” pattern in the left hand, which means that the hand first plays one bass note, then it jumps up to play a chord, then continues with more bass notes and chord jumps. Rags are also distinct because of their rhythm—rather than placing emphasis on the first or down beat, the second and fourth beats are emphasized. This is called syncopation and makes a song more upbeat. Ragtime pieces also have very distinct melody lines.
Rags, which were developed from African-American roots, were first started in the 1890s and paved the way for jazz in the Roaring Twenties. A couple of the more famous ragtime composers are Scott Joplin and Ernst Hogan. Unlike jazz music, ragtime was written down and published as sheets of music. This made it more accessible to the public because they could have it in their homes instead of having to learn a piece by ear.
Since ragtime’s birth there have been a couple of revivals. Some European composers, like Debussy, Satie, and Stravinsky, were inspired by American ragtime, and they included hints of this style in their works (see if you can hear the ragtime in Debussy’s “Golliwogg’s Cakewalk“). Another revival was during the forties when jazz artists included rags in their repertoire. In the seventies, composers such as Max Morath, William Bolcom, and Trevor Tichenor added their own variations to the rag style. The more prominent revival occurred at the release of The Sting which featured music, some revised and orchestrated, by Scott Joplin.
By Colin Rubow