Rudiments of Ragtime: Introduction

Since there are some TST readers and many young people who are not well acquainted with ragtime backstories, this column will attempt to provide an elementary introduction to the evolution and heritage of America’s music.

Short, individual articles will appear online at intervals and in the monthly print edition. They will focus on brief biographies of the major and minor composers.

Hot Jazz Jubile

To begin, quite simply ragtime is a colloquial term for a field of music that is usually syncopated. Syncopation refers to the unexpected disruption of traditional metric rhythmic patterns. It is basically march and dance music uniquely accented and originally seems to have emerged from banjo folk music. Ragtime was popular from the late 1890s until the First World War. Classic ragtime follows the basic written form of Scott Joplin’s 1899 Maple Leaf Rag containing three or four repeated themes as AABBCCDD. Unlike Jazz which is usually improvised, ragtime is specifically written though performers sometimes get creative after playing pieces through as written.


Berlin, Edward A., Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History, University of California Press, 1980.

UpBeat Records

Hoeptner, Fred. “Etymology of ‘Ragtime’: Role of “Tag, Rag, and “Bobtail” (The Rabble) and the 19th Century “Fancy Rag Balls”. Comments on Etymology, April-May 2020, 49 (7-8) Gerald Leonard Cohen.

Next Time: Early Ragtime Compositions.

Larry Melton was a founder of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in 1974 and the Sedalia Ragtime Archive in 1976. He was a Sedalia Chamber of Commerce manager before moving on to Union, Missouri where he is currently helping to conserve the Ragtime collection of the Sedalia Heritage Foundation. Write him at [email protected].

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