I would like to know the actual difference between one-step and two-step rags.

So far I thought that a one-step is a rag, where the melody is mostly written in quarter and eighth notes, so there are only up to four notes in most measures, like in this rag:

enter image description here

However, recently I found a one-step rag that just looks like all the regular two-step rags with many sixteenth notes:

enter image description here

So was my definition of one-step wrong? ...or is the second example just claimed wrongly as a one-step even tho it's actually a two-step?

1 Answer 1


Ragtime is a syncopated (but not 'swung') style epitomised by the first three bars of your first example, bars 2, 6, 8 of your second. The 'ragged time' occurs where notes are displaced from the quarter or 8th note grid.

Ragtime pieces DO have passages where notes are 'on the grid'. Like the main section of 'That's-a-Plenty'. Continual 'ragging' would be monotonous. But if everything was 'on the grid', it wouldn't be Ragtime!

One-step and Two-step are specific dance styles. A slower ragtime piece might be suitable for dancing a Two-step These brisk-tempo rags were considered suitable for the One-step. Remember Joplin's exhortation at the beginning of many of his Rags - 'Do not play Ragtime fast'? He might not have approved of them!

The dance most closely connected with moderate tempo ragtime might be the Cakewalk.

So yes, I dispute your definitions. The basis of all ragtime is syncopation. Played slower, you can dance a Two-step to it. Played faster you can dance a One-step.

Here's the complete 'That's-a-Plenty'

It's interesting in that, apart from the introduction and links, this version is hardly ragtime at all!

Here's another version of the same song, where although marked 'Swing' (the antithesis of Ragtime) the melody IS syncopated. Played with 'straight 8s' I'd consider it more Ragtime than the 'Rag or One-step' version you showed us!


  • I wouldn't say that swing is the antithesis of ragtime. Debates pop up about whether ragtime should be played swung. Rags with triplets (e.g. Rialto Ripples) may in fact be asking to be played with swing.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 14:20
  • There will always be examples of a composer merging styles. 'Rialto Ripples' certainly has elements of ragtime. Also of the 'Novelty' piano style that would come to be epitomised by Zez Confrey. 'Kitten on the Keys' was published in 1921, 'Rialto Rag' in 1917. I'm not at all surprised at Gershwin being a little ahead of the game! I've seen an opinion that ragtime WAS originally swung, but limitations in punching rolls for player pianos enforced 'straight' rhythms. Easily defeated by looking at the much more complex rhythms that piano rolls DID routinely reproduce!
    – Laurence
    Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 19:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.