Play Them Rags!

... the left hand is Mom and Dad, the right hand is the child

From Marjorie Burgess' Ragtime Instruction Book ...

Whenever Ragtime is played there is an instant response to this happy music. We light up to its joyous sounds. What is Ragtime? There are many excellent books tracing its origins. For those who may enjoy a simple explanation, I would like to offer the following:

Marjorie and MIT grad student Ingeborg Endter in the sound lab.

"Think of the left hand as the Mom or Dad, keeping a steady beat, and the right hand as the child, running off and doing whatever." I would like to add a unique description of ragtime dancing: "A special sort of dance in which the rhythms of the arms and shoulders conflict with the rhythm of the feet."

Ragtime is basically a pianistic art, notated in the European tradition of written music. Unlike European music, however, it is syncopated from start to finish (i.e., accenting the weak beat). In the simplest form, this (is) music of a steady beat in the left hand with the syncopated beat in the right. Ragtime is derived from a rondo form resembling the minuet, quadrille or march. Each strain (theme) contains sixteen bars of ear-catching music--with section A repeated, arranged in alphabetical order. For example: AA BB A CC DD.

In this brief article you will find a short list of books dealing with the origins of Ragtime and its influences on music of the past, present and future. They are waiting for you at your local library and your favorite music store. Of course, there are hundreds more!

There is also a list of recommended ragtime music books, rags and arrangements of rags, old and new, easy and not so easy. These compositions will be appealing to the student and will capture the interest of the teacher; arrangements worthy of attention by all of us who love to listen and or "PLAY THEM RAGS".

Ragtime Bibliography

Ragtime Collections, Solos from Easy to Medium, Classic Ragtime, Method Studies and Ragtime Books.

1. The Riches of Rags by Roger Grove: Summy Burchard Co.
2. Rag Times Four by Tony Caramia: Kjos.
3. Teacher's Pet, The Best of Scott Joplin, simplified piano arrangements by John Lane: Columbia Pictures.
4. Ragtime Duets (one piano, four hands) arranged by Denes Agay: Mark Music/Belwin Mills.
5. Popular Jazz Piano Method, Vols.1 and 2, by Bill Lee and Jim Progris (method, theory, technique, solos and duets): Columbia Pictures Publications.
6. Glad Rags by Covello: Hal Leonard Publications.

Authentic Ragtime Solos

1. Play Them Rags: Belwin/Mills.
2. Scott Joplin, Collected Piano Works Edited by Vera B. Lawrence: Belwin/Mills.
3. Classic Piano Rags Selected with Introduction by Rudi Blesh: Dover Publications, Inc.
4. Ragtime Rarities Selected with Introduction by Trebor Jay Tichenor: Dover Publications, Inc.
5. Authentic Piano Rags for the 20th Century Pianist by Galen Wilkes: Wilkes Ragtime Co.


1. The Art of Ragtime: William Schafer and Johannes Reidel.
2. Rag and Ragtime: A Musical History by David A. Jason and Trebor Jay Tichenor.
3. Ragtime, A Cultural History: Edward A. Berlin.
4. They All Played Ragtime: Rudi Blesh.

Special Announcement

Silver Ridge Rag by Gretchen Heller, aged 12, winner of the 1993 Lynn Freeman Olson Award. Intermediate piano solo. Performed at the 1993 NERF Tickled Ivory Concert. Available at many music stores: published by Belwin.

Sheet Music

1. Screen Door Rag (my first rag) by Marjorie Burgess: Emerson Music, republished by Schmitt Music; republished for the Blue Ribbon Series (favorite Piano Solos, level 4) Columbia/Belwin Mills.
2. Humdinger (Rag) by Marjorie Burgess: Willis.
3. Sweet William (Rag Waltz) by Marjorie Burgess: Willis.
4. Penny Candy (Duet, four hands) by Marjorie Burgess: Willis.
5. Pantomime Rag by Marjorie Burgess: Emerson Music.
6. The Magdalena Rag by Elaine Laber: Ben Oaks Music.


1. "If it's music, I'm interested."
2. "Anyone can write a rag."
3. "Cultivate your own garden."
4. Name seven famous composers, six European and one American who admired and/or wrote ragtime music.
5. What was the name of the theme song of the hit children's show, Kukla, Fran and Ollie?
6. Scott Joplin wrote tempo instructions "Not fast". "Nonpareil" states the following: "Slow march tempo. NOTICE: do not play this rag too fast. It is never right to play ragtime too fast." What was the reason for this reminder?
7. What Boston mayor, whose grandson became president of the United States, banned ragtime dancing?


1. Gunter Sculler - composer, performer of classical music and jazz, and director of the New England Conservatory. In 1973, Schuller formed the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble. After hearing Schuller's and Rivkin's recordings, a movie producer used Joplin's rags in the 1974 Academy Award winning film, The Sting.

2. Professor Joshua Rivkin, of Brandeis University, clearly stated on TV, "Anybody can write a rag." Being an anybody, I listened with rapt attention and belief, and wrote "Screen Door Rag.

3. Anton Dvorak: He advised them to cultivate their own garden - to use diverse ethnic folk song materials.

4. Dvorak, Debussy, Stravinsky, Satie, Milhaud, Ravel, and Ives.

5. "The Naked Dance" by Jelly Roll Morton.

6. "They (rags) cannot be interpreted at sight. They must be studied and practiced slowly and never played fast at any time. They are stimulating, and when the player begins to get the notes freely, the temptation to increase the tempo is almost irresistible. This must be kept in mind continuously. Slow march time, or 100 quarter notes to the minute is about right. When played properly, the Stark Rags are the musical advanced thought of this age and America's only creation." -- John Stark, 1916

7. Mayor John "HoneyFitz" Fitzgerald (grandfather of John F. Kennedy)

This is sight dedicated to Rag since 1973
The Mississippi Rag

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