"Do not play this piece fast.
It is never right to play
Scott Joplin felt it necessary to add this caution to his published music beginning with Leola (1905).
When taken at breakneck speed, ragtime suffers as badly as express versions of the immortal
Toccata in F
for organ by Charles-Marie Widor. A moderate tempo is
essential to preserving the fascinating rhythms and tunefulness of ragtime, though the "ideal" tempo
varies from piece to piece. I usually find myself settling
in around 80-88 beats per minute, though faster for some of the more
pyrotechnic works (James Scott's New Era Rag comes to mind).
I usually play my own rags around 76-80. Contrast these tempi with rags played at far over 100 and you'll
see that Joplin's intuition for effective ragtime -- as usual -- was on the mark.
Orchestrations in these clips
As a kid, I played the LP's of Max Morath's
Original Ragtime Quartet until the needle had practically ground
through the vinyl. To this day I love the possibilities available for scoring rags for a small ensemble, and
my approach to orchestrating ragtime is strongly influenced by Morath's marvelous interpretations.
First and foremost is the piano, and I add bass heft and a bouncy beat with an
upright brass and sometimes a low brass patch. For melodic counterpoint and accompaniment, I rely on banjo and guitar
patches, and occasionally winds.
Classic and Original Ragtime
The quintessential American music, ragtime is the first music I learned to play, and despite the heavy presence of Bach and friends on this site, rag remains among my favorite music. The best rags transcend popular music and hold their own easily among works of true art music.
Below you'll find a slowly growing set of realizations of various rags. At the bottom of the narrative on each page is a link that will return you to this index (or just use your browser's back button). I will add rags by the turn of the century composers chronologically to the
section. The rags in the
section are by me and are under copyright and registered with BMI.