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Ragtime Music

Updated on October 22, 2011

Ragtime music has the distinction of being the first uniquely American music ever to be recorded. It came about, in the late 1800's in the red-light districts and dives in Southern United States cities, like New Orleans and St. Louis, that the people were dancing to this weird, syncopated, intoxicating beat.

It was happy music, wild and free, a liberation to all those waltzing debutantes.

Ragtime took America by storm with the popularization of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag", in 1899.

Ginger Rogers Dances the Charleston

The Walnut Street Dixie Ramblers

The unique sound came from our black American heritage, with its syncopated rhythms and quick, vivid changes. Unique American music genres fused from that great, crazy rhythm. Jazz, boogie-woogie, stride and honky-tonk music, along with bluegrass music, were derived from ragtime music. Ultimately, ragtime music made its contribution to rock 'n' roll.

Ragtime is the American equivalent of Minuets by Mozart, Mazurkas by Chopin, or Waltzes by Brahms, in that the music drove the dances; composers were composing the music to dance to. Ragtime even influenced 20th century art musicians including Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky, with its flavorful melody lines, harmonic progressions, and complicated metric patterns.

Ragtime sounds so happy, cheerful, upbeat--you just have to try and dance to it. But (and you'll know this if you ever tried to play it!) it isn't simple music. It isn't that easy to play!

The dances of the ragtime era were giggly, uninhibited, wild and free, and include such classics as:

  • The Cakewalk
  • The Charleston
  • The Two-Step
  • The Black Bottom
  • The Jelly Roll
  • The Fox Trot
  • The Quickstep
  • The Jitterbug

The first recorded music with widespread availability in America (and elsewhere!) was recorded for the player piano on piano rolls. "Maple Leaf Rag" was one of the best-selling piano rolls. Everyone loved it!

Ragtime was first popular in the late 1890's and early 1900's. It experienced three distinct revivals over time; the first, in the early 1940's, when recording technology made 78 RPM (revolutions per minute) records available to the general public and it was possible to record a complex, multi-level style of ragtime music. Ragtime went vinyl!! It revived again, in the late 1950's, mostly because of the dances--the Charleston and the Jitterbug and the Cakewalk experienced a revival at that time; and then once again, in 1971, with Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" ragtime music making it to No. 3 on the pop music charts, because of the movie, "The Sting".

Ragtime music from a player piano roll


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    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, Tim. That's really great, that you've mastered this music genre and are promoting it.

    • profile image

      Tim Northen 

      7 years ago

      Keyboard Piano Player Artist, Mr. Northen loves Scott Joplin Rags and plays them all in the Movie "The Sting"

      transcribed from Piano to Band sound. My email is If anybody is interested

      in a Ragtime Band, or promotion os Scott Joplin, King of Ragtime.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Fuscia, this was a fun one to write.

    • fucsia profile image


      7 years ago

      I very like this description and tribute to the Ragtime. Thank you for sharing!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Laura!

    • Laura du Toit profile image

      Laura du Toit 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Hi Paradise - as usual a lovely walk down memory lane - Love your hubs as they always offer your readers something out of the ordinary! Voted up!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Oh, pradetio, I'm so glad you found this hub!! Ragtime is SUCH a treat, if you've never heard it before!

      Mulberry, welcome to Paradise! Thank you for the kind comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed the music.

    • mulberry1 profile image

      Christine Mulberry 

      7 years ago

      What fun music, enjoyed my time here.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Thanks for share this with us. I love music very much and Ragtime is new for me. I love your description and the history about Ragtime. The video was awesome. Good job, my friend. Rated up!


    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, epigramman, I hope the hubbers enjoyed the music as much as I did!

    • epigramman profile image


      7 years ago

      .....well all of your hubs are a celebration and this one in particular is a musical celebration ..... remember the movie some years ago called Ragtime - and yes I consider you one of the finest cultural anthropologists at the Hub!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Radioguy. It always makes more sense to me to listen to the music rather than talk about it--that's why there's so little copy and so much YouTube on this one!

    • Radioguy profile image


      7 years ago from Maine

      Concise and to the point along with the fine videos make this hub a hit!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, drbj, for the comment. Yeah, I did. I love that Ginger Rogers video, she looks so good, and like she's having so much fun!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      Didja ever do the Charleston while sitting at the computer? I just did! Thanks, Paradise, for the fun and the toe-tapping videos.


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