I've been into playing ragtimes recently, especially of Scott Joplin.

I've read in several books where they vaguely relate ragtimes as one of the early forms of Jazz. What aspects of ragtimes make them special and separate them from classical music? Certainly, it's based on classical music just like in Jazz, but are there any notable chords or progressions to tell as well?

I can tell there are wonderful syncopations, which makes them so fun to play, and significantly a lot of 7th chord, including minor and maybe major 7th?

Heliotrope Bouquet has some amazing progressions in the first theme, and Gladiolus Rag never fails to impress me with each of its four themes.

2 Answers 2


Structurally, ragtime tends to be fairly conservative. A lot of ragtime is 0-1 strains away from fitting the classic rag form:


This is derived from Sousa-like regimental march form, where the introduction, A strain, and B strain are in the home key, while the C and D strains are in the subdominant.

One example of a rag that is pretty much completely in the classic rag form is Elite Syncopations.

...I say "pretty much" because ragtime often involves moving second repeats of strains an octave up, along with improvisation (this is already apparent in Joplin piano rolls). It's just that, in Elite Syncopations, one such octave-higher repeat is written out.

For further-out rags, I've seen rags in rondo form (e.g. Scott Joplin's New Rag), ternary form (e.g. Magnetic Rag), and military march form including breakstrains (e.g. Popularity by George Cohan). But I haven't seen rags in sonata-allegro form or verse-chorus form yet (at least among those published before 1950).

(As an aside, ragtime composers were fond of rearranging classical music into rags--Russian Rag is one example that adapts Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C Sharp Minor, Op. 3, No. 2.)

  • 'Russian Rag' was renamed 'Rockies Rag' , presumably to placate American political phobia in the communist era.
    – Laurence
    Jun 5, 2018 at 12:02

Ragtimes are notable for the pianists left hand pattern of playing a low chord root followed by the offbeat 8th note full chord voicing. This creates an "ump-pah" type of 2/4 rhythm that underlies the right hand playing complex syncopations on top to make the music an early form of piano solo dance music.

Stride pianists become staples of New Orleans brothels and "Jazz" music was a euphemism for gism... Scott Joplin's intention was to elevate stride playing to a serious "classical" art form and he definitely succeeded in creating a body of work worthy of a serious concert pianists efforts.

It's still wonderful "dance music" with an incredible example of melodic, harmonic and rhythm creativity. I think of Joplin in the same vein as Bach but separated by 200 years, 2000 miles and very different cultural environments. Bach had social standing because of the church and Joplin had to fight to make his music acceptable to serious musicians... it only took another 100 years for that to happen.

  • Right. He's music has everything in it and it is delightful to play them. Also he was amazing in other-than-ragtime-songs like Bethena and The Solace. Just like you mentioned Bach, which I highly agree, I thought there was some chopin in them too(although I don't know Chopin very well).
    – Victoria
    Jul 29, 2017 at 2:43
  • It's a great shame the opera Treemonisha never got much attention and A Guest of Honour was lost completely along with his other posibble music scores.
    – Victoria
    Jul 29, 2017 at 2:45

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