Ragtime music and it's place in the music industry

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Ragtime Music

In the late 1900s, Ragtime music was debatably one of the most popular in the music industry. It was widely received in places like New Orleans, New York, and St. Louis, but its presence was ephemeral owing to some reasons. Hip Hop and jazz and other available types of music have been around consistently and have lasted longer. This is a result of the diversity in the music, which was a result of a hybrid of European and African ideas that originated from the southern states of the United States. Another factor is that the songs were crafted by self-taught composers and music professionals who would gather in bars and streets. The rather informal folk type of music would later be formalized by composers like Joplin and Harney who turned out to be reforming the Ragtime. Besides, these composers further popularized the style through publications to reach larger audiences.

The Concept of Stop-Time

To remain relevant in the field of music, ragtime introduced a concept called stop-time. In this improvisation, the rhythmic patterns would pause for a while before resuming. This was a notable and a trending pattern which can also be identified in the musical works of Scott Joplin. Scott introduced stop-time towards the stoppage time of his pieces, something that made it outstanding and good to listen to. Joplin was always creative in taking the music to new heights. He later released another piece called “Stop-time Rag” which utilized the foot-stamping technique in the whole composition (Berlin 260-263). Although there are forms of “stop-time” in other classical music, ragtime was the earliest to incorporate the technique before it was adopted in blues and jazz music.

The Decline of Ragtime Music

Soon. Ragtime music was on the decline towards the 1920s after a shift to the blues music that seemed to be more appealing. W.C Handy was one of the key influential figures to mark this departure and would later be considered as the father of blues (Slotkin 570-572). Despite producing good ragtime music like Ole Miss Rag and Pattona Rag, he opted to concentrate on the blues exclusively. Besides, ragtime music was facing stiff competition from other genres like Jazz music which was more flexible, giving room for improvisations. Notable figures who departed from ragtime to jazz were Fats Waller and Jelly Morton and were behind the introduction of concepts such as the swing rhythm. It should be noted that the pure form of ragtime was proving to be unstoppable, something that is attributed to the number of comebacks in the music field. Winfred Atwell was the most recent figure to record and popularize the ragtime music between 1950 and 1960. Some of his styles and pieces were appealing to the music industry like the ‘Black and White Rag.'

The Future of Ragtime Music

Ragtime music, however, failed to get the same reception and would thereafter be on an irreversible decline. In the modern world, there seems to be no drive to compose the ragtime music. Attempts to make the music relevant in the contemporary world has failed and it can be projected that in the future, nobody will have the interest in it. Something that has worked against the music is its rigidity. Unlike the jazz music which gives room for improvements and the incorporation of new ideas, ragtime was rather dormant with little chances for growth. The introduction of the stop-time and the rhythmic dance can be considered as improvements, but it is worth considering that there was supposed to be more than this.

The nature of the music itself was causing its destruction. Ragtime music has a strict adherence to the AABBACCDD pattern which hindered its evolution. This is a common trend even to its modern composers like William Bolcom, Max Morath, and William Albright. Compared to the musical format of other genres, the design adopted can be considered as being fluid. This form of stagnation to the same pattern was noted by Joplin who in several instances deviated from the norm. This is evident in the composition of the Magnetic Rag which incorporated the classical concepts of ragtime and at the same time, giving room for flexibility. A similar trend marking a shift from old rules can be identified in the works of Chopin. Changing the original nature of the ragtime music in the name of creativity was however not well perceived by the classical fans. They thus failed to appreciate the need for evolution, thus causing an internal conflict on who was composing the real ragtime music.


One might question the liberty that a ragtime music composer has in choosing the repeats in the rags. The answer lies on the composer’s musical sensibilities, a good taste for music and a profound understanding of the style. Each rag should not feel like every other through the manner in which it is played, and there should be tempo flexibility. As a factor leading to the decline in the music composition in the current era, culture should be the least factor. The music was accepted and held in great awe among the diverse groups in the American society including the white and the African Americans. This leads to the conclusion that the laws guiding the music were behind its destruction. Ragtime music will, however, remain to be a good basis for other forms that evolved from it like the jazz and blues, hence, worth appreciations.

Works Cited

Berlin, Edward A. "Scott Joplin's Treemonisha Years." American Music (1991): 260-276.
Blesh, Rudi. They All Played Ragtime-The True Story of an American Music. Read Books Ltd, 2013.
Slotkin, James S. "Jazz and its forerunners as an example of acculturation." American Sociological Review 8.5 (1943): 570-575.

October 26, 2021




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Music Industry Ragtime

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