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What makes a tune a Rag?

27 Dec 03 - 04:56 PM (#1080618)
Subject: Origins: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Jeep man

I like all of them, Rags, Breakdowns,Waltzes, (NO Polka), but what makes a rag a rag. I have a new melody that I want to call "Old Turnpike Rag", but is it a rag.? Jeep

27 Dec 03 - 05:09 PM (#1080624)
Subject: RE: Origins: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Amos

Ragtime is predominantly a heavily syncopated rhythm pattern.   A rag is a piece written in regtime.

American Heritage:   A style of jazz characterized by elaborately syncopated rhythm in the melody and a steadily accented accompaniment.

There are certain chord patterns typical of rags, such as C==>E==>A7==>D7==>G.


27 Dec 03 - 06:37 PM (#1080668)
Subject: RE: Origins: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Bernard

Yes - a rag has a heavily syncopated melody line, but the bass-chord 'left hand' (on the piano) is a very rigid rhythm, usually with the bass on the first and third beat of the bar, and the 'chord' on the second and fourth beat. The apparent independence of the melody and accompaniment is the essence of ragtime.

In a guitar arrangement, it is usual for the thumb to emulate the piano's left hand in what is called an 'alternating bass', whilst the fingers play the tune.

Don't know if that's helped, or made matters worse!!?

27 Dec 03 - 07:22 PM (#1080680)
Subject: RE: Origins: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: kendall

Did the term "Ragtime" come from the unusual timing? Ragged timing as it were?

27 Dec 03 - 08:06 PM (#1080694)
Subject: RE: Origins: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Amos

I suspect so, Kendall, but I don't know for certain. I can imagine a dialogue like:

"Hey there, now, Mister Joplin, what kind of rhythm is that? It isn't 3/4 time, and it isn't 4/4 time!! Why it's no time at all!!"

"No time??? Sure, Mister Bones, that there is RAG time!!! That's what it is!"


27 Dec 03 - 08:11 PM (#1080696)
Subject: RE: Origins: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Jeep man

Way to go guys. I consider myself fortunate to have folks at hand willing to help out. Jim

27 Dec 03 - 09:16 PM (#1080726)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

As always, the Oxford dictionary has interesting quotations. The earliest mention if the word in print is on sheet music.

1897- W. H. Krell, "Mississippi Rag." The first ragtime two-step ever written.
1898- In Étude, the music magazine. "Rag time is a term applied to the peculiar, broken rhythmic features of the popular 'coon song' ...Unfortunately the words to which it is allied are usually decidedly vulgar, so that its present great favor is somewhat to be deplored."
1899- Musical Record (Boston). " I feel safe in predicting that rag-time has come to stay."
1900- Musical Courier. "'Rag-time' is a rhythm which is the most characteristic feature of what may be called American negro music."
By 1906, O Henry wrote that they were singing 'Home Sweet Home' in ragtime.
The definition in the OED essentially is that of Bernard, above, but with more words.

27 Dec 03 - 10:05 PM (#1080748)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Guy Wolff

Yes I heard the same that it came from music with a "ragged beat". Im with Kenndell on this one . All the best , Guy

27 Dec 03 - 10:51 PM (#1080762)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Justa Picker

Eubie Blake was asked during an interview about a year before he died, if he considered himself an old man, and his reply was ...

"No. I consider myself a young man with some very serious health problems."

28 Dec 03 - 12:29 AM (#1080793)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Leadfingers

Ragged Time is where I would put it too.The only purely American form
of Folk Music. ALL other American folk music is basically derived from NON American origins.

28 Dec 03 - 06:35 AM (#1080850)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: GUEST,Chris Nixon

Hold on - where did we get into "the only purely American form of folk music"? The origins of ragtime are in popular commercial music,and rather surprisingly were almost rigidly formal in structure - listen to the huge output of Joplin and pick up how he put them together. The pickers got hold of it and adapted (and largely simplified the style) for the guitar. If you want to hear original rags on guitar, seek out "The New Ragtime Guitar" by Dave Liebman and Eric Schoenberg. But folk just don't define that easily.
Happy New Year

28 Dec 03 - 02:23 PM (#1081030)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Ragtime as we know it is popular commercial music, as stated by Chris Nixon, with urban beginnings, although its syncopated roots show African-American and minstrel influences.

The name may have originated from rag, in the sense of- to tease. Pianists loved it as an escape from more classic forms, although the first rag was set for the banjo. It became part an parcel of the two-step.

Jazz broke away from ragtime's rigidity.

28 Dec 03 - 03:08 PM (#1081052)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

The Mississippi Rag, 1897, after looking at the sheet music, originally seems to have been in piano arrangement, with arrangements for mandolin, banjo and guitar, and other combinations up to small orchestra and large orchestra, prices $0.50 to $1.00.
An easily readable copy is at American Memory (also at Levy): Mississippi Rag

28 Dec 03 - 04:18 PM (#1081084)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: GUEST,guest tom

Are the words reggae and rag connected? For some reason I always think of the syncopated beat as being dragged rather than ragged

28 Dec 03 - 05:23 PM (#1081109)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Origin of reggae unknown, possibly from Jamaican English rege-rege, a quarrel or row. The word is fairly new, about 1960s. OED and Webster's. The accent often is on the offbeat. Someone familiar with early reggae content may offer a more valid sugestion as to the origin of the name. The similarity of the word to rege-rege may be coincidence.

Ragtime very dubiously from ragged because the music is rigidly formed. The derivation from rag, to tease, is more likely. Another possibility is that of a rag or ribbon- the contained form of the music again at the root. The series of syncopated variations in some of the compositions are reminiscent of the variations on a theme, popular from Bach's time onward, but these are works of formally trained musicians such as Scott Joplin.

In addition to Krell, Tom Turpin published his "Harlem Rag" in 1898. There were precursors, possibly stemming from vaudeville cakewalks and routines. Some try to see the beginning in plantation dances: possible, but speculative since this form is not in the remnants of slave dances that have survived.
Some have pointed to the entertainments offered outside the gates of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 as the place where ragtime began, but little is known of the content except for that of the mainline vaudeville and variety shows.

28 Dec 03 - 11:02 PM (#1081245)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: ddw

I'm not expert in this field, but my understanding of the term "ragtime" was that it applied to musical form that had a rigid baseline (usually alternating, like a bouncing left hand on piano or alternating thumb on guitar) and a melody line overlaid with the right hand (piano) or treble-string fingers (guitar) that was played partly on and partly off the beat -- i.e., in "ragged time."

Which I think is about what Kendall said.....



29 Dec 03 - 02:52 AM (#1081362)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: M.Ted

The practice of playing a melody off beat against a stridant beat and using it as a basis for rhythmic improvisation was referred to as "ragging" and seems to have been a common practice among minstrel show banjo pickers and other instrumentalists from the the end of the civil war on--the device is pretty much the basis of all the "American" music forms, from ragtime, jazz, and blues, to bluegrass, travis picking, funk, rock and roll, and so on--it also commonly used in African and Arabic music--

Seems to me that I ran across a copy of an audition notice for minstrel banjo pickers from 1880 or there abouts to the effect that prospective players had to play a two minute improvised rag based on a melody that would be given to them at the time of the audition--

Interestingly, the elements of rags and Indian ragas are fairly analogous==

29 Dec 03 - 02:13 PM (#1081659)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Rag in the sense of teasing or playing about with words goes back to the 18th c. and rag in the sense of a comic show to the 19th c.

MTed, If you could find a copy of the minstrel audition notice that mentions rag, please do; it would be the earliest printed reference with rag mentioned in a purely musical sense, although rag was used to refer to the comical programs put on by students in the 19th c. It suggests improvisation, which extends the teasing definition and might have led to application of the word to the later, more formal ragtime compositions. Speculation, of course, but the notice would be a contribution toward narrowing down the origins of the term.
The musical routines of the minstrel shows do seem to be a likely source of ragtime.
(Another question is the association with the two-step- so popular around 1900-WW1, blamed on Sousa and his Washington Post March of 1891).

29 Dec 03 - 06:39 PM (#1081883)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Dave Swan

Eubie Blake also said that rag should NEVER be played fast.

29 Dec 03 - 11:03 PM (#1082086)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: CraigS

I remember seeing somewhere that only Joplin, Scott, and Lamb could be considered the real ragtime composers - but there was a "ragtime boom" around 1910 - 1914 which led to a lot of compositions and music hall songs being styled as rags. I also remember seeing a serious rag music sheet having the direction "Tempo di Stomp" at the top - hope this doesn't confuse things.

30 Dec 03 - 02:41 AM (#1082173)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

There were many ragtime composers. Irving Berlin and Ted Snyder wrote at least a dozen.
CraigS, your source apparently liked only the very formal piano compositions. I understand his point of view; I have all (maybe) of Joplin's, a few of Scott's ("Frog Legs Rag" is a favorite title- wish I had it on record), and a few by other composers.

At the beginning, the cakewalk was a strong influence, also the march. The minstrel connection was strong, and a number have 'coon song' lyrics. Some of these were by African-American composers (e. g. Smalley and Adler, "Dat Lovin' Rag"). Some composers used pseudonyms (e. g. who was Dippy Dip?). Rags were published in western cities such as Tulsa as early as 1906 ("Just Noise," Stewart).

Here are some of the early ones (sheet music at Levy, American Memory, Brown Univ.)
La Pas Ma La. 1895. Ernest Hogan. Sung by Jennie Whitbeck in the play "At Gay Coney Island." (Copy at Levy)
All Coons Look Alike To Me. 1896. "Choice chorus with Negro rag." Sung by May Irwin. Ernest Hogan (composer of the "famous Pas Ma La").
Missus Johnson's Rent Rag Ball. 1897. Hamill and Lewis.
Shake Yo' Dusters, or Piccaninny Rag. 1898. W. H. Krell (see Mississippi Rag, posted above, 1897; not the earliest as suggested in the OED).
Louisiana Rag Two Step. T. H. Northrup. 1897 (instrumental pas ma la rag, supposedly from Negro dancing).
Rastus Thompson's Rag-time Cake Walk. 1898. Sterling and Von Tilzer (well-known for other types of popular compositions).
Original Rags. 1899. Scott Joplin arr. C. N. Daniels (piano score, #4). American Memory, at Duke Univ.
Prancin' Jimmy. Cakewalk and Two-step. 1899. E. B. Claypoole.
His Rag Time Walk Won the Prize. 1899. Nathan Bivens (Cake walk the basis).
Phoebe Thompson's Cake Walk. March and Two-step. 1899. Sadie Koninsky.
Turkey in the Straw, a Rag-time Fantasie. 1899. Otto Bonnell.
You Can't Boss Me. 1899. Mildred Lawrence and T. H. Chilvers (more of a cake walk).
Lady With the Rag Time Walk. 1899. Armstrong brothers. Performed by Lew Dockstader.
You Gotta Play Rag Time. "Hoot Man." 1899. Sung by Maude Raymond. Havez and Sloane.

Ragtime continued in popularity into the early 1920s.
Some of the late ones are anon. "Clemmens Rag," recorded by Lomax at the Clemmens State Farm (prison) in 1939.
"West Virginia Rag," "Rag in C" and others by the Reeds' (American Memory, audio) are fiddle rags, with strong country fiddlin' flavor. These could be considered folk rags.

30 Dec 03 - 02:14 PM (#1082555)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Tom Turpin, who wrote the first published piano rag by an African-American, "Harlem Rag," 1897 (1898), was a St. Louis friend of Scott Joplin.
"Harlem Rag," a basic rag incorporating a popular tune in the last part, can be heard at: Tom Turpin
Click on the name of the tune.
It is quite different from the later, complex rags written by Joplin.
"Original Rags," Joplin 1899 is quite basic: Original Rags
More interesting are "Heliotrope Bouquet": Heliotrope
and Solace 2: Solace 2
The index to these midis: Index

Listening to the rags is the best way to define them. Words in dictionaries are a poor substitute.

30 Dec 03 - 02:32 PM (#1082573)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Tom Turpin, Harlem Rag-

30 Dec 03 - 02:40 PM (#1082583)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Mudcat cut off the link-
Turpin- Turpin

30 Dec 03 - 04:33 PM (#1082675)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: M.Ted

I have looked around and haven't found the original source reference for you on "rag"--I have found a book that quotes Ben Harney(who was once billed as "The Father of Ragtime"), to the effect that ragtime piano was adapted from the old banjo playing technique of playing one melody against another--The context of the first quote was a discussion of banjo playing--thought I knew where it was, but it isn't there--

Incidentally, Ernest Hogan, author of "All Coons Look Alike to Me" was black. His original title had been "All Pimps Look Alike to Me"--but apparently changed it to make it less offensive--

Anyway, my thought is that, whether it was actually called "ragging" or not, the musical technique seems to have come from rural black music, and probably was a central element in banjo playing when the instrument was brought over from African-

30 Dec 03 - 08:00 PM (#1082823)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: GUEST,guest

The last statement is the closest to what I have read. Rag time music derives from the banjo. It is the piano imitating the banjo. Somebody also mentioned the cakewalk. The popularity of the cakewalk highly contributed to the popularity of Rag time and vise versa. Rag time came in and out of vogue a few timees last century. Scott Joplin died pretty poor and his wife had to turn their NY home into a brothel in there later years. I think Maple Leaf Rag is considered the quintessential Rag time tune, written by Scott Joplin somewhere in Missouri at the turn of the century. A lot of songs are titled rags that wouldn't fit any academic definition because they were just calling everthing a rag for a while.

30 Dec 03 - 10:46 PM (#1082929)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

The Maple Leaf Rag (1899) is one of the best of Joplin's early rags but his later compositions (e. g. Solace, Euphonic Sounds) are considered by some to be hs best.
Joplin left St. Louis and spent two years in Chicago during the World's Fair. What his group played there is not really known, but after his return to Missouri and attendance at the George R. Smith College for Negroes in Sedalia, where he studied music, his first pieces were marches and a waltz. Little is known about the Maple Leaf Club of Sedalia, for which his Maple Leaf Rag was named. With Stark, his publisher, he moved to St. Louis soon afterwards.
Levy Sheet Music has a copy of Maple Leaf Rag which they date 1899, but the cover with its maple leaf mentions later compositions including The Cascades (1904), and gives both St. Louis and New York addresses for Stark, so it cannot have been printed before 1904-1905. This also was the time when Stark and Joplin moved to New York.
The other copy with a cover copyrighted by the American Tobacco Co. may have been printed in Sedalia (only the cover shown), as it states, but it is undated.

The descent of ragtime, as played in the 1890s, from rural Black music of the early slave period is speculative. Its relationship to minstrel show routines, however, especially the cakewalks and marches, is obvious.

31 Dec 03 - 04:02 AM (#1082990)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Roger the Skiffler

My favourite Joplin rag is Crysanth... er, oh hell, Heliotrope Rag!
I have several ragtime piano rolls, they sound impressive on my pianola until folks notice I'm only pedalling not fingering! (Added bonus- no lyrics for me to murder!).


31 Dec 03 - 09:24 AM (#1083104)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: jaze

This thread reminded me of some lps my uncle used to play when I was a kid. Mickey Finn which I beleive was Ragtime or maybe Speakeasy. They were and acoustic band and I remember actually liking them. Does anyone know anything about them?

31 Dec 03 - 01:52 PM (#1083317)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: M.Ted

Mickey Finn is still around, and playing his "pianistics" style ragtime/dixieland piano--He had an eponymous club in San Francisco in the 50's and 60's which became an eponymous NBC network TV --he is now working with former Miss Delaware and banjo picker, Cathy Reilly--they play Las Vegas style "virtuoso" music which has a purity of its own, if you know what I mean--

31 Dec 03 - 03:33 PM (#1083378)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Billy Weeks

Tracking back to MTed and Q's comments on early references to 'rag' in a musical context, I have a collection of minstrel songs published by Turner and Fisher in NY and Philadelphia in the mid 1840s in which the term occurs. The song is 'Black Pink - or Love on the Canal Street Plan'. Verse 8 begins:

'I don't care for dat black man at all
I was induced to him at de rag ball'.

I accept that this is dubious evidence of 'rag' being applied to an emerging musical form but it doessuggest that the word was in use in a music/dance context some decades before the accepted 'earliest' references.

Blesh and Janis, 'They All Played Ragtime', 1958, the first serious study of the subject, doesn't shed much light on this question.

26 Apr 14 - 01:59 PM (#3622470)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

An excellent collection of RAG TIME sheet music

University of Colorado

Reproductions of the sheet music include the covers, some of which are colorful.
Try dancing "The Angle Worm Wiggle."

27 Apr 14 - 09:07 AM (#3622557)
Subject: RE: What makes a tune a Rag?
From: GUEST,leeneia

Thanks, Q.