The music theory of ragtime -- intermediate lesson
February 2, 2012 8:42 PM   Subscribe

Please tell me something more about the music theory underlying ragtime than III-VI-II-V-I, duple meter, and syncopation. Assume that you have just described blue notes. Recommendations for books that you have personally read/studied are also welcome.
posted by Ardiril to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The music theory isn't the big aspect of ragtime. The big aspects are form and syncopation. The actual music theory was fairly simple. Rag's usually used a more elaborate form than a lot of jazz music today. ex: AABBACCDD Plus, it's the syncopation that makes it a distinctive style. Not sure of any good books, but I would start by just looking at some rags. Get a book of Joplin/Jelly Roll/Eubie Blake songs and pick a part a few. Listen to recordings and get it in your ear. You won't hear any really advanced or far fetched musical concepts, it's all in how they used the music of the time.

(This is Angab's S/O)
posted by angab at 7:55 AM on February 3, 2012

Not sure if this is true, or anything like whatever it is you are looking for, but I saw a claim that some piano rolls recorded by Joplin suggest that the music was played at a much slower tempo than one normally hears it played today.
posted by thelonius at 7:57 AM on February 3, 2012

The first google hit I got for "ragtime theory" was An Essay on Piano Ragtime Composition, which looked pretty accurate from a couple-minute scan. I can't tell whether it's beneath the level of detail you're looking for, but it covers the fundamentals well.
posted by dfan at 8:04 AM on February 3, 2012

I'd recommend Collected Piano Works - Scott Joplin, which has some nice introductory essays including one that compares form and harmony across several pieces. It also has biographical information and includes Joplin's many non-rag compositions.
posted by imposster at 10:31 AM on February 3, 2012

I have been transcribing Joplin and Scott rags for guitar for just over 10 years now, and I have not been able to come up with much more than "just start with a damn good melody". I read a similar claim that they were played slower, and considering that rags were also dance music, that makes sense as modern tempos would be quite exhaustive after only a few songs.

That PerfessorBill site is the reason I posted this question. He is very long winded, yet he doesn't provide much more insight than duple meter and syncopation.

Thanks, imposster, I will hunt that one down via interlibrary loan.
posted by Ardiril at 10:39 AM on February 3, 2012

Is there something more specific you want to learn about them? You can send me a private message if you want to ask more questions.
posted by imposster at 8:39 PM on February 3, 2012

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