What is Classic Ragtime?

Classic Ragtime is essentially sheet written ragtime music that peaked in popularity around the period 1897-1917. Classic Ragtime resembled classical music in that it was what I call "note perfect". i.e. you could interpret the composer’s work but it would not be considered "Classic" if you improvised on it. Invariably the left hand marked time by playing even eighth notes while the right hand added syncopated melodies.

The pieces are usually broken into 4 sections or strains but there are exceptions. The first strain would repeat once in the middle.

The most standard structure of a Classic Rag followed this format:

A / A / B / B / A / C / C / D / D /

Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin

Almost all Scott Joplin Rags adopted this structure. Other prominent ragtime writers like James Scott, Joseph Lamb and Tom Turpin tended to stay closely to this structure.

Scott Joplin wrote many rags, marches, waltzes and even an opera.

It is interesting to note that almost all jazz standards that followed in the 30’s and 40’s also adopted a standard format. In that case the format was:

A / A / B / A /

The sheet music was accompanied by a colourful and eye-catching cover. Entire books have been written documenting the stories behind these covers. Here are a few examples:

Classic Ragtime Covers


One Response

  1. Keep this up, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog!

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