What Is Ragtime Music? Syncopating Through Its Amazing History and Impact

Dive into the 1890s with us as we explore the rhythmic beauty of Ragtime music. Learn about its origins, influences, and impact in the music industry.

Ever wonder how it’d feel to time-travel back to the jazzy 1890s, the very birthplace of Ragtime music? Imagine chilling at a music hall, a solo pianist doing their thing, playing some syncopated rhythms that just slap. It’s a rhythmic journey with a totally fresh vibe that’s just as insane as it sounds. Hang tight because you’re about to visit the era when Ragtime ruled!

What is Ragtime music? Ragtime’s a musical style that’s a crazy mix of European and African vibes, a legacy left by Black American performers in the 1890s. It’s all about that sophisticated chord progression, memorable melodies, and most importantly, the unexpected rhythms.

What’s the history of ragtime music?

Ragtime music first became popular back in the 1890s, drawing inspiration from a lively blend of European and African musical traditions. Composers like Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb crafted masterpieces using syncopated rhythms and sophisticated chord progressions that still influence music today.

Image of ragtime musicians performing. Source: pexels
Image of ragtime musicians performing. Source: pexels

The creators of Ragtime were mostly Black American artists, and their work sparked a musical revolution. Early Ragtime drew from the beats of marching band music (think John Phillip Sousa) and combined it with elements of minstrel music. Even though these influences stemmed from white artists, Ragtime thrived in the hands of Black American composers at the turn of the twentieth century.

My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

What is ragtime music? Syncopating through its amazing history and impact | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

Who were the leading figures in Ragtime music?

Pianist Scott Joplin was the real MVP. Born in Texarkana, Texas, he spent most of his career in St. Louis, Missouri, and New York City. He studied piano and music theory under a German-born Jewish-American music professor named Julius Weiss. This interaction likely introduced Joplin to the European art of polka, which deeply influenced his Ragtime compositions. Joplin’s classics include the Maple Leaf Rag and The Entertainer.

What characterizes Ragtime music?

Ragtime music isn’t just piano beats and rhythmic jauntiness. It’s a rich fusion of African and European influences, reminiscent of German polka and Anglo-American marching band music. Below are four primary characteristics of Ragtime:

  • Primarily piano-based music
  • Syncopations and jaunty rhythms, make it somewhat danceable
  • Combination of African and European influences
  • Harmonic sophistication akin to classical music and jazz, but without improvisation
Stay true to the sheet musicImprovise
Take inspiration from both European and African music traditionsOnly focus on one cultural music influence
Use syncopated rhythmsStick to only regular rhythms
Dos and don’ts of playing ragtime music

What is the structure of ragtime music?

Ragtime music has a unique structure that adds to its distinct charm. It’s commonly composed in the sectionalized structure of a popular march, with each section repeated. They often used the AABBACCDD form, injecting a repeat of the first section halfway through a piece.

Ragtime features syncopated melodies played over ‘oom-pah’ chord patterns.

Ragtime features syncopated melodies played over ‘oom-pah’ chord patterns. Imagine a pianist’s left hand emulating the bass drum and cymbal beats of a marching band while the right-hand dances to syncopated melodies. It’s a style rooted in the banjo accompaniment of old minstrel shows and slave songs. It’s like a crazy rhythmic party!

How did Ragtime shape Jazz music?

In the early 1900s, the magic of Ragtime reached New Orleans, giving birth to Jazz. Music aficionado Jelly Roll Morton incorporated ragtime piano into his jazz compositions, effectively bridging the gap between the two genres. However, keep in mind that, unlike jazz, Ragtime doesn’t wander into improvisation. It remains true to its sheet music.

Image of a man playing the saxophone with a jazz band. Source: pexels
Image of a man playing the saxophone with a jazz band. Source: pexels

Here’s the hard truth: Jazz music pretty much stole the limelight from Ragtime in the 1920s. But don’t despair, Ragtime lovers! There are still bands today nostalgic for the Ragtime era, keeping the genre alive through revival performances. And it’s still influencing classical music composers like George Gershwin and Igor Stravinsky.

Scott Joplin might be the ‘King of Ragtime,’ but let’s not forget the major contributions of Jazz stars like Jelly Roll Morton, Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, and Irving Berlin. Here’s a table of famous ragtime musicians along with some of their notable songs

MusicianNotable Song(s)
Scott Joplin“The Entertainer”, “Maple Leaf Rag”
Joseph Lamb“American Beauty Rag”
James Scott“Frog Legs Rag”
Eubie Blake“Charleston Rag”
Jelly Roll Morton“The Pearls”
Tom Turpin“Harlem Rag”
Charles L. Johnson“Dill Pickles Rag”
Wilbur Sweatman“Down Home Rag”
Arthur Marshall“Kinklets”
Percy Wenrich“The Smiler”
Table of famous ragtime musicians along with some of their notable songs

If you want even more great tips and information, check out the video below.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Now, let’s address a couple of FAQs that might be buzzing around in your curious music-loving minds.

What makes ragtime different from stride piano music?

Even though Ragtime and stride piano music share similarities like their strong left-hand rhythms, they’re quite different. Stride piano often looks to Ragtime for its baseline, but it’s more complex with wider intervals and allows for improvisation, which isn’t found in Ragtime.

Is ragtime music still being composed today?

Yes, it is! Ragtime music may not be mainstream today, but there are niche artists and enthusiasts who continue to compose and perform Ragtime music. It’s also regularly reincorporated into the scores for films, musicals, and games as a homage to the past.

Can I incorporate Ragtime music into electronic music production?

Absolutely! The essence of music production lies in experimentation, and blending Ragtime’s unique syncopation and chord progressions with electronic beats could result in some seriously catchy tunes. It could be an exciting challenge for modern music producers!


Wow, we’ve really ragged that time, haven’t we? I’ve had a blast sharing all these groovy facts and history about Ragtime music. Remember, music doesn’t have borders or boundaries, and taking inspiration from genres like Ragtime can add a unique twist to your music production.

Did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below. I read and reply to every comment. If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on exploring different music genres. Thanks for reading and keep making those beats bounce!

Key takeaways

This article covered the fascinating world of Ragtime music. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Ragtime music originated from the blend of African and European music traditions in the 1890s.
  • It’s characterized by syncopated rhythms and ‘oom-pah’ chord patterns.
  • Major figures like Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton significantly contributed to its popularity.
  • Its influence helped shape Jazz music.
  • Ragtime’s unique rhythms and harmonies can inspire modern music production.

Helpful resources

Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

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Edited by Nick Eggert, Staff Editor

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