How To Learn Ragtime Piano


The Forward Rag Roll And Basics

Learn how to play a very easy ragtime on piano keyboard

The most important rag roll to learn is the forward rag roll. It was a favorite of Scott Joplin and the most common roll within ragtime piano playing. Like explained above, the forward rag roll begins with an octave chord and is followed by arpeggiated inner notes.

For visual learners, it looks like this written on sheet music:

It is important to note this image is only a forward rag roll for a C Major chord, but rag rolls can be used in any key. Also notice how the punchy octaves are on beats 1, 2 and the and of beat 3. These notes are commonly accented as it is that syncopated rhythm that gives ragtime its iconic sound.

Along with playing rag rolls in other keys, rag rolls can be played in other inversions of the chord. The image above is a tonic chord rag roll however you can play a first inversion rag roll of C Major that would look like this:

The most important things to remember about rag rolls, and to practice while you learn is that you should be keeping the same pattern regardless of what note you are on. The other super important reminder is that the outside octave notes are your melody. The inside notes make up a chord to support the octave melody you are creating.

With these reminders, a player can make almost any song ragtime as long as they adhere to the rolls and their basics.

What Is The Most Prominent Musical Element Of Ragtime What Are Some Other Characteristics Of Ragtime Music

There are several different types of ragtime and ragtime-inspired styles. The early style is known as classical ragtime, which developed within African-American communities, particularly around St. Louis, Missouri. Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb are three composers who define the classical ragtime style. This style is normally written with a 2/4 time signature, begins with a four-measure introduction, is march-like, and incorporates syncopated rhythms. One very important characteristic of ragtime is how these syncopated rhythms would often be accented in-between beats, but the beats themselves would still be accented, driving people to dance to the rhythm. Inspired by African traditional music, this technique makes it sound as if two unrelated rhythms are being played at the same time, which is called polyrhythm.

Some other characteristics of ragtime music include passages that must be played in octaves and the swung-style in which theyre performed. Originally, Scott Joplin described playing ragtime this way: Play slowly until you catch the swing. The term Swing eventually would become known as a popular-style of jazz music that developed from ragtime influence. Classical ragtime pieces usually contain around four different themes, but sometimes that number varies. These themes may each be 16 measures long, broken into four four measure phrases. Again, this may change depending on the piece.

Josh Walsh Jul 08 2020

One of the most common questions I hear from beginning piano students is “can I learn to play Maple Leaf Rag?” Or, “Is The Entertainer approachable as a beginner?” Ragtime and stride piano are some of the most popular old-time piano styles. They are a lot of fun to play, and can really impress your friends.

So, is ragtime hard to play? Ragtime is too hard for complete beginners, but is approachable by those who have been playing piano seriously for at least 2-3 years. Ragtime requires you to have a strong sense of rhythm and some technical proficiency to play it well.

Composed ragtime, like the rags of Scott Joplin, are a great first step for classically trained pianists. These compositions, like The Entertainer, Maple Leaf Rag or Solace are fully written and can be learned note for note from the sheet music.

As ragtime evolved over time, particularly through live performances in clubs during the 1920/30s, it become more improvisatory and virtuosic. This ultimately created a new style similar to Ragtime, called Stride. Stride piano is one of the most difficult styles to master, due to its sheer technical nature.

Heres a performance of Jelly Roll Mortons Fingerbreaker, a notoriously challenging rag.

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Is Ragtime Music Considered Jazz

This is a question that many learners of ragtime have asked. It does share a lot of characteristics with jazz, such as swung and syncopated rhythms and adventurous chords, but it is really a genre on its own. The ragtime genre helped lay the foundations for the creation of the jazz genre. Scott Joplin himself considered ragtime to be a serious form of classical music, like the sonata, and he really disliked those who considered it only to be a popular genre.

This Specialty Course Is For Anyone That

Ragtime Piano  Master The Piano
  • That wants to take a deep dive into learning the methods and strategies of playing stride and ragtime piano
  • That wants to improve their solo piano skills by strengthening their LH stride components which are a major supporting role when playing solo piano
  • Has felt frustrated trying to combine their LH & RH to achieve a fuller sound and stride style atmosphere
  • That loves the older styles of jazz piano and wants to be able to play them with confidence and ease
  • Wants to improve their dexterity and technique through the styles of stride and ragtime
  • Wants an easy and structured way of learning the crucial components that create the stride and ragtime sound

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What Defines Ragtime Music

What are the musical elements found in ragtime piano music? It has a:

  • Syncopated or somewhat ragged sounding rhythm
  • Melody that avoids metrical beats by emphasizing notes that follow or anticipate the beat
  • Score that is often written in ¾ time
  • Sense of lilt, forward motion, and swing
  • Combination of Western and African cultures and musical influences

Influenced by African American banjo styles, the off-beat dance rhythms of the cakewalk, minstrel-show songs, and even certain elements of European music, ragtime piano music is definitely something you should consider learning.

The best way to do that is by taking piano lessons but it never hurts to watch videos of the greats, either. Even watching ragtime piano tutorials can help. Heres an example of what were talking about:

Adding Yourself Into The Music

Ragtime is an incredibly experimental form of music and is best played when you add your own playing styles into the equation. Elements of improvisation based around the fundamentals all add immense levels of colour and flare into Ragtime piano, making it a fantastic genre to enhance creativity and helping students understand the physical playing of music rather than simply reading music off a page.

Perhaps the best way to learn more about the flare of Ragtime and enhance your playing skills is to listen to Ragtime regularly, this is the best way of internalising the skills and techniques available at your fingertips when experimenting with improvisation. It creates a base for you to compare your own music against and see how you can improve against some of the greats.

We hope you enjoyed this brief overview and insight into the world of Ragtime piano, its forms and how you can begin getting started with it. To learn more about Ragtime, we would recommend exploring the works of Ragtime By Scott Joplin, written by Jean Kleeb or to improve your improvisation skills, explore our guide here.

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How To Play Ragtime Piano

Feeling inspired? If you want to learn how to play ragtime, let your piano teacher know! The syncopated rhythms can be tricky to master, so your teacher can help you with specific exercises to improve your skills.

You can also find additional information about ragtime here:

Ragtime Crash Course 1

Ragtime Piano CRASH COURSE for Beginners! Rag Rolls, Stride Bass, & More w/ Jonny May

Learn how to rag up a simple song with beginner rag rolls and the jumping left hand. After this course, youll have a working knowledge of how to ragify any melody you encounter.

Course Objectives
  • Learn a simple stride Left Hand
  • Apply 3 Rag Rolls to the melody
  • Use these techniques to learn “Mary Had a Little Lamb”
Learning Focus

Discover the professional secrets behind ragtime with this in-depth workshop. You’ll learn the 4 essential Rag Rolls and the Ragtime stride left hand which we will apply to a traditional song.


Learn America the Beautiful in a Ragtime Style. Starting with the lead sheet, we apply rag rolls and the ragtime-stride left hand. An essential Ragtime course!


A deep dive on Ragtime stylization using the tune America the Beautiful. Learn the stock Ragtime intro, forward rag rolls, reverse rag rolls, triplet rag rolls, ornaments, & the bass treatment.


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Here’s What You’ll Learn When You Invest In This Course

In this essential new specialty course, youll learn the science behind playing stride and ragtime piano that will make your practice easier, save you time, and have you playing this style faster than you could ever imagine.

Stride and Ragtime are actually essential components to solo piano in jazz due to the ability to accompany one self and sound like a band. If theres any course that you need to improve your jazz piano, its this one.

Free Ragtime Music By Scott Joplin

This article may contain compensated links. Please read the disclosure for more info.

Ragtime music, or as it is also often called Rag-time, is a style of music that was very popular between 1897 and 1918 .

What makes this music so special is the syncopated rhythm combined with a chopped or “ragged”, rhythm pattern in the bass.

Here you can learn a little more about this style of music and print free sheet music!

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Piano For All Teaches You Ragtime Piano

If youre interested in learning how to play Ragtime piano, then you may want to consider the Piano for All course. Consisting of 9 eBooks, Piano for All helps you learn how to play everything from Ballads and Pop music to Blues, Jazz and Ragtime.

This course features in-depth eBooks that contain 200 video lessons and 500 audio lessons. And best of all, the course works on PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, or any Android phone or tablet. Get your copy of Piano for All today while supplies last!

With The Help Of This Brand New Specialty Course You’ll Discover

Hal Leonard Piano Recital Showcase: Ragtime! Piano Library Series Book ...
  • How to use the March Pattern to quickly and easily create a stride sound
  • The best way to utilize Octaves in your playing to get the authentic sound of the stride and ragtime giants
  • Learn the secrets of Syncopation in order to produce a full and advanced sound
  • How to easily combine your LH & RH even if you dont have much technique or youre still just a beginner and are new to jazz
  • Learn the necessary RH intervals, and runs that need to be played in order to easily create the authentic stride and ragtime style
  • How to practice and incorporate different types of beginner, intermediate, and advanced chord shapes that will make your LH sound brilliant
  • The hidden secrets of the stride and ragtime giants, such as Art Tatum, James P. Johnson, Teddy Wilson, by analyzing their playing and transcriptions
  • And so much more
  • Instructor: Sterling Cozza JPS Staff Educator
  • Education: 35 lesson videos, notated practice exercises, descriptions, and more
  • Access: Lifetime!

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Does The Voice Inside Your Head Start Saying I Could Never Do That When You Listen To The Stride And Ragtime Piano Giants Of The Past

Ive walked into a lot of bars, lounges and restaurants and her stride and ragtime piano being played. And what is it most of us say in our heads?

Theres no way.

Theres literally no way I could play like that.

I would listen intently to their LH, zooming back and forth across the piano with a contorted look on my face that just says, How?!

How is this possible?

Not to mention the RH is also playing burning lines and movements at the same time!

This would happen constantly listening to the great Art Tatum, James P. Johnson, Scott Joplin, Teddy Wilson, and others.

It seemed like sorcery. I mean how could all of THAT be played by one person.

Wouldnt it be great to understand the magic?

I needed to know.

Fortunately I studied and work hard and started to understand the easy, methodical strategies that produced a complex stride and ragtime sound.

And even MORE fortunately, one of our Jazz Piano School Staff Educators named Sterling Cozza just happened to be taking a deep dive on all of it!


Lets create a new specialty course on all of it!

Lets pull back the curtain to the wizard of STRIDE & RAGTIME!

And thats exactly what weve done.

This specialty course SHOWS you the magic.

TEACHES you the magic.

In an easy and structured way that will allow you to start implementing into your own playing today.

If youre the type of person that loves the stride and ragtime sound and wants to be able to add it into your own playing, then this specialty course is for you.

Maple Leaf Rag By Scott Joplin

We are lucky this even exists. It is from a pianola roll played by Scott Joplin himself, found by chance years ago in the wrong box! With this song everyone stopped what they were doing and a craze for the piano style was born. The emotional impact is unstoppable, and was strong enough that leisure time activities after that often included ragtime piano. If you played this style in the 1970s revival, you were the rock star of the day. Its melody and rhythm are infectious and timeless.

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Exercise : Forward Rag Roll Exercise

So, how do you practice your forward rag roll?

Well, Johnny Hodges provided us with this wonderful forward rag roll exercise where you practice harmonizing every note of the C Major scale with the forward rag roll while using your primary chords in the key of C.

Here are the first 4 measures of the exercise:

If you are a member here at Piano With Jonny, you can download the full lesson sheet music with this exercise on this page, plus practice this in all 12 keys with one click with our smart sheet music.

Congratulations! You can now play ragtime over any note from the key of C Major, which means you can play 99% of popular songs (because most songs use notes from the major scale and only 3 chords.

For a deep dive of how to apply the rag roll to a song, checkout the Ragtime Piano Crash Course for Beginner/Intermediate Players or the Ragtime Piano Crash Course for Intermediate/Advanced Players.

Now that you have the forward rag roll, its time to learn the second most common rag roll in ragtime, the Reverse Rag Roll.

Where To Begin With Ragtime

Learn To Play An Easy Ragtime – A Piano Keyboard Tutorial

The absolute first name that you will find when doing any level of research into the world of Ragtime piano is Scott Joplin, and for good reason! Often dubbed the King of Ragtime and is probably the most familiar name when it comes to the style, he is perhaps best known for his pieces such as The Entertainer or Maple Leaf Rag, both of which are fantastic places to begin a ragtime journey. As you begin to explore other names within the ragtime world, the likes of Eubie Blake and James Scott will soon open up and are other fantastic areas of Ragtime to begin exploring.

Also Check: Best Piano Keyboards For Beginners

Exercise : Listen To Ragtime Regularly

This is not a piano exercise and may seem like a weird way of building up ragtime skills. However, listening to ragtime is a great way to really internalize what ragtime is supposed to sound like. It creates a base for you to compare your own music against and see how you can improve.

In reality, when trying to learn any style of piano for the first time players should always begin by listening to the professional players often. Then, especially for styles like ragtime, its always important to put your own spin on it and create your style of ragtime. Thats what makes it so special.

What Is Ragtime Music Learn About The History Of Ragtime Piano Music Here

Are you interested in learning some fun and upbeat piano music? Ragtime is the perfect place to look for a new impressive piece of music to play! In this article, we will explain what ragtime is, what makes ragtime unique and important, and provide some fun ragtime piano examples. We also will give some recommendations and tips to help you on your journey in learning fun ragtime piano music.

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Learning To Play Ragtime Piano: What You Need To Know

Ragtime piano music was a popular musical genre during the late part of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, especially in the dance halls and saloons in the USA. It has a cheerful, bouncy, and amazingly versatile sound capable of emotional lyricism and a fun type of sophistication. In the 1970s, it experienced a revival due to the award winning movie The Sting because of an unknown Scott Joplin ragtime song called The Entertainer that became an instant hit.This ragged time music also covers other musical styles like jazz, pop, and the blues.

If you would like to learn to play ragtime piano, we have a course for beginners at Click on the link to learn all about it.

Ragtime musics main characteristics are a duple bass and a syncopated melody there are some rag tunes that do not fit this exact mold. The hardest part of playing this type of music on the piano is that you are playing three parts the harmony, the melody, and the bass line. This essentially means that your left hand must pull double duty and play the bass part on the first and third beats of each measure and the harmony on the second and fourth. You can achieve this using only your smallest fingers for the bass part and to use the remaining fingers to play the harmony.

1. Get a feel for the music by listening to famous ragtime composer Scott Joplin songs like The Entertainer and Maple Leaf Rag.

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