Ragtime and Stride – Two American Piano Styles

Ragtime and Stride are two styles of American piano playing that are closely related and often mistaken for one another. Both styles are virtuosic with an active, steady bass line with a syncopated melodic line in the right hand. The styles developed over a short period of time, first Ragtime and then Stride.

Here’s a breakdown of some features that set these two styles of playing apart.

Repertoire

Ragtime repertoire consisted primarily of “rags,” a compositional form and style inspired by marches. These pieces of music were typically written down and played as the sheet music dictated. Most rags were composed in duple meter (2/4 or 2/2), though there are a fair selection of waltzes (3/4) in the repertoire. They often consist of four strains, melodic ideas typically 16 measures each that are organized in the following form:

||: A :|| ||: B :|| A ||: C :|| ||: D :||

A common formal variation is to include a final playing of the “A” strain at the end of the piece. Rags often start with a short introduction before the first playing of the “A” strain. Other modifications to the form are possible, even prevalent.

Stride repertoire was more open-ended. It included songs from the Great American Songbook as well as original compositions. Tin Pan Alley songs were typically published in the form of a very generic piano arrangement. This gave stride pianists room to add their own personalities into these songs rather than being beholden to the sheet music.

Improvisation

Ragtime music did not involve improvisation. It stayed true to the written music. Sometimes, performers would repeat sections of pieces more times than indicated to add length to the pieces, particularly during social functions.

Stride allowed for more embellishments and improvisation as part of the performance of pieces. This component was critical to moving forward from Ragtime into the Jazz tradition.

Origin

Ragtime originated in the southern and midwestern United States in the 1890s. Missouri was a central hub for the music, perhaps in part because legendary Ragtime composer and pianist Scott Joplin made Sedalia, MO his home for much of his life.

Stride originated in Harlem, New York City around 1920. James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and Willie “The Lion” Smith were the three pianists credited with being innovators and masters of Stride piano. These artists were aware of Ragtime and drew from its rich tradition in their own music.

Recorded History

Ragtime waxed and waned in popularity before recorded music was commonplace. The music was primarily preserved in the sheet music published during the time. Toward the end of the Ragtime Era, player pianos came into prominence and some Ragtime performances were preserved as piano rolls. Once music recording technologies advanced, some of the surviving pianists of the Ragtime Era, such as Eubie Blake and Joseph Lamb, recorded their works.

Stride developed alongside early recording technology. This is a true gift because we, a century later, can hear how Stride was played at the time of its creation by the artists who created it.

I hope this explanation helps bring clarity to how Ragtime and Stride are distinctive approaches to pianistic performance and composition in the United States.

Sources

About Stride Piano
Harlem Stride Piano
History of Ragtime
Stride Piano: Bottom-End Jazz
Stride Piano


Learn More About Ragtime

This is a collection of the sources I have used for my research on ragtime. I am always looking for more places to learn, so please let me know if you have any recommendations.

Now Selling: The New Groove Sheet Music

I am excited to share that all the sheet music for my debut EP The New Groove is available for sale on my Bandcamp merch page!

Each song’s sheet music is available individually and in a combined songbook. Every sheet music purchase comes with the track from the EP (or in the case of the songbook, the entire EP)!

This week only, The New Groove Songbook is available with a 20% discount – just enter the code new_groove_songbook during checkout!

If you are interested in checking out more of my sheet music, I just created a new sheet music store on my website!

3 Saxophone Products You Didn’t Know You Needed

You have the saxophone, the neck strap, the case, the cork grease – all set, right? That’s enough to get you started, but there are some great products that can make the saxophone a more comfortable and enjoyable experience.

Before I get further into this post, I want to mention that there are a lot of products available fo the saxophone. Some are high quality while others are cash grabs. I only promote products that I actually use. I want to direct my readers to only the best resources products, ones that have been tried and true.

1. Yamaha Powder Paper

You can clean out condensation on the inside of your horn with a swab, but it doesn’t soak up the moisture on your pads. Powder paper helps absorb the condensation and prevent pads from sticking. This is a great step to add into your saxophone care routine.

Yamaha Powder Paper for saxophone and other woodwind instruments
My personal powder paper

2. Vandoren Harness

The Vandoren Saxophone Support System Harness helps distribute the weight of the saxophone more evenly, relieving pressure from the neck and shoulders. It makes the saxophone fee incredibly light and allows for a more comfortable playing experience.

A less important detail. I’ve had some success with making it look l’m not wearing a harness. For example, I can put the harness on and then wear a cardigan over it and it looks like I’m just using a neck strap. I know some people are wary of switching to a harness because it might not look as good on the stage, but I have found ways to work with it.

Back when I first bought my harness.

3. BG Mouthpiece Cushions

Mouthpiece cushions, sometimes called mouthpiece patches, are a great product because they are more comfortable on the teeth and protect the mouthpiece from bite marks. They come in different thicknesses (I personally prefer the thicker ones) and different sizes for various instruments. I have found that one size works for alto sax, soprano sax, and clarinet.

BG Mouthpiece cushions for saxophone and clarinet
My personal mouthpiece cushions
What are your favorite saxophone products? Let me know in the comments!

Sheet Music Store

I am excited to share that my new sheet music store is now up and running on my website! I have original compositions and arrangements for a variety of instrumentations including lead sheets, saxophone quartet, small jazz ensembles, and big band.

5 Ways to Include Women in Your Jazz Studies Curriculum – And Why You Should

The #MeToo Movement shined a light on sexism in many fields of study, “jazz” included. Now, with the immense public support for Black Lives Matter, discussions about racial justice and justice for people with intersectional marginalized identities are out in the open. Students from among the most elite conservatories have taken to social media to share their difficult and traumatic experiences in music education (see @nec_anonymous and @MSMSpeaksOut, among others).

Here five strategies for including more women in jazz studies curriculum. While the followings examples here are specific to women, these points are applicable to any group of people who are underrepresented in this field of study.

1. Hire women on your faculty and as guest artists/speakers

Support women jazz musicians by supporting their careers. There are ample incredible women who play every instrument, compose, understand music business, etc. Hire them, not just as adjuncts but as full-time faculty with a livable salary and benefits. By doing this, you are signaling to you female students that they can achieve this and deserve to be recognized as respected authorities on the music when they enter the professional world.

Bring female guest artists to your campus. Play her music with your school’s ensembles. Treat her with the respect you would any other guest artist rather than tokenizing her.

Include female guest lecturers in your classes. Remember, there are women experts in a variety of fields concerning jazz, not just “women issues.”

2. Use the works of women in your curriculum

For ensemble directors, include the works of women composers in your repertoire. Do not do this for just one “celebrate women concert” but all the time.

For classroom teachers, use reading materials about women and written by women. A few books to start with are Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, Morning Glory, and Madame Jazz. Play examples of music performed and/or written by women in your classes. If you’re not sure where to start, I’ve got you covered.

While it is not directly related to “jazz” or “popular” music, I want to give a shoutout to MusicTheoryExamplesByWomen.com!

3. Commit to lifelong learning

It’s okay to not know everything, but it’s important to continue learning. Decide on a commitment that is meaningful but practical for you. Maybe that looks like reading a book, listening to online lectures or panel discussions about women’s issues, or engaging with a local women in jazz organization.

Don’t be afraid to consult with your peers about resources they have found useful for continuing their education or for enhancing their classes.

Be transparent with your students about your learning. This could inspire some of them to learn more about the role of women in jazz and signal that this is something worth their attention. Don’t be afraid to ask your students about what they already know. Some of them might be very knowledgeable about how women have contributed to jazz or be aware of resources for female artists.

It is also important to recognize that many people have intersecting marginalized identities. For instance, your Black female students and white female students are going to likely have different lived experiences. Learn more about intersectional feminism.

4. Call out your peers – and yourself

When you hear someone say something inappropriate, call it out. This can be hard, especially if it is a close friend or someone in a position of power over you. But, if you choose to stay silent, you are signaling that hurtful language and actions are acceptable in this space. Find a way that you are most comfortable with to express yourself. This could be as simple as, “What you just said made me uncomfortable.” Here are some more ideas.

Be mindful of your own biases. Are you overly impressed when a female student plays well? Did you have lower expectations for her when she walked into the room? While these types of thoughts may be nearly subconscious, it is important to observe them and question them. Why did I think that way? Where did I learn to think that way? Are my thoughts based in facts? Then, seek more information (see #3).

5. If there is truly no way to include women in your curriculum, have a conversation with your students about why women are absent

I had a teacher who did this incredibly well, and I found the impact to be powerful.

I was taking an Intro to Western Classical Music class, a topic notoriously devoid of women and BIPOC. Toward the beginning of the course, perhaps even the first class, the teacher acknowledged that there were very few women in the curriculum. He explained how women were often denied a musical education, especially beyond childhood, and that the details of their lives were not preserved to the same degree as their male colleagues.

To me, this was so much better than saying nothing. This explained that there is injustice in this field of study and that the teacher knows this and is doing his best to include women in the curriculum when information is available.

Why this is important

Taking these steps are critical to addressing the ramifications of historical abuse of women in “jazz” and “popular music” that continues to this days from the smallest clubs to the most prestigious conservatories.

Representation matters. It shows women that they are valued and capable of achieving more. While this article is about representation in Hollywood films, the same logic applies. And the same logic – that not only is this the right thing to do, but is good for a school’s bottom line – applies, too. Many women want to attend a music school where they will be able to learn from women and interact with female peers and are finding ways to make their voices heard about this.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, including women in your curriculum is the right thing to do. This is not just from a moral standpoint but also from an academic one. If you are excluding women, you are inaccurately retelling the history of this music.

Side note: I just wrote an article about the role of women in Ragtime music. We have been part of this lineage all along.

I hope this list serves as a starting point for how to make jazz education more inclusive, mindful, and accurate.

How have you worked to include women in your jazz studies curriculum? Let me know in the comments.

Women in Ragtime

Content warning: sexism, racism, racist drawing (covered)
What is a content warning?


Much like the retelling of many aspects of history, the lives and contributions of women are not equally discussed and celebrated as those of their male counterparts. Fortunately, several scholars have been keen on preserving and investigating the stories of female composers of the Ragtime era. It is important to note that there is an enormous disparity in whose history is able to be recovered; White middle-to-upper-class women are far more likely to have a paper trail to follow than Black women of the 1890s to 1910s.

Women had diverse career paths as musicians and composers during the Ragtime Era. Some were prolific composers while others may have only published a couple pieces. [1] Often, women’s careers were stifled after marriage. There are exceptions such as Fleta Jan Brown Spencer, who teamed up with her husband Herbert Spencer to pen several hit songs (straying from the Ragtime idiom) including Pansies Mean Thoughts and Thoughts Mean You (1908) and Prairie Flower (1910). [2]

Brown and Spencer’s Pansies Mean Thoughts and Thoughts Mean You (1908)

One tactic female composers used in order to have their sheet music published was to write under a pseudonym or solely a first initial preceding their last name. While this may have helped sell their music during their lifetimes, it added layers of complexity to tracing back the identities and histories of these women. For instance, Fannie B. Woods’ composition Sweetness (1912) was thought to be written by male composer Charles L. Johnson until 2005. A 1960s home recording of Woods playing her composition, among other evidence, has surfaced to confirm that she was indeed a real person and composer.

Fannie B. Woods’ Sweetness (1912)

Even more severe, it was thought that pianist and composer Mary Celina Mamie Desdundes Dugue was an imaginary figure when she was in fact a real person who was highly influential in the New Orleans music scene. In a 1938 interview with scholar Alan Lomax, Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe, better known as “Jelly Roll” Morton recounted his memory of Mamie Desdunes.

“Jelly Roll” Morton talks about Mamie Desdunes with Alan Lomax and demonstrates Mamie’s Blues, also known as 219 Blues

Note: In the recording, Mortan says, “she hardly could play anything else more.” On the surface level, this could be construed as a sexist remark, that Mortan doubted Desdunes’ abilities. However, this comment was likely in reference to the fact that Desdunes had an injury resulting in the need to amputate two fingers on her right hand [3], limiting her ability to play larger chords, which is reflected in the way Mortan performs in the recording.

Perhaps Mamie Desdunes’ near erasure from history is an example of the disparity between Black and White women musicians of the Ragtime Era. White women from middle-to-upper class families were more likely to have access to a piano and private lessons, as playing the piano was seen as a social skill. [4] It was also common for White women to hold jobs as pianists at stores for the entertainment of shoppers and also to promote the sales of sheet music and pianos. [5] It is important to remember that during this time period there was no television, radio, or recorded music other than piano rolls toward the end of the era.

Women were the subjects of a substantial amount of sheet music cover artwork, but the way White and Black women were portrayed were worlds apart. White women were typically portrayed as being sophisticated, well-dressed, and adhering to Eurocentric standards of beauty while Black women were regularly depicted as caricatures, unkempt, and with exaggerated features. Sometimes these images would be accompanied by racist language whether that was in the title or subtitle of the piece, lyrics, or other text elements. There are also instances of derogatory images of non-Black women of color such as Native Americans fronting sheet music of the period. Compare the way women are depicted in these two examples – The Thriller (1909) and Gladiolus Rag (1907).

The Thriller (1909), composed by May Frances Aufderheide

Scan of original sheet music available on the Library of Congress website

Gladiolus Rag (1907), composed by Scott Joplin

The practice of using women, especially women complying with Eurocentric beauty standards, to market music is a practice that extends far beyond the Ragtime era and continues to this day. Lara Pellegrinelli’s JazzTimes article entitled The Women Jacketed By Records discusses this history in detail.

It is clear that women contributed to Ragtime music in a variety of ways as composers, lyricists, and performers. In the lay discourse on Ragtime music, women are largely overshadowed by the “big three” composers – Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb. It is time for the female pioneers of this art form to be given their due recognition, along with an acknowledgement of the intersectional disadvantages imposed on women of color.

Learn More About Women in Ragtime

These are the works of scholars who have done extensive research to uncover the histories of women musicians in the Ragtime era.

Websites not available: Nan Bostick, Dr. Nora Hulse, Richard Zimmerman


Learn More About Ragtime

This is a collection of the sources I have used for my research on ragtime. I am always looking for more places to learn, so please let me know if you have any recommendations.

A Week of Ragtime

This blog post is part of my Ragtime Project, which encompasses an upcoming EP of Ragtime-inspired music, blog posts about the history of the music, and a forthcoming self-published collection of essay about what in this music and its history resonates with me as a performer and composer.


Leading up to the release of my latest single, Rag in Fourths, I shared an important piece of Ragtime music each day on social media. This is a compilation of these posts.

June 26thMaple Leaf Rag

June 27thSensations

June 28thTreemonisha

June 29thFrog Legs Rag

June 30thThe Cascades

July 1stThat Epidemic Rag

July 2ndMaple Leaf Rag (as played by Sidney Bechet)

July 3rdRag in Fourths


Learn More About Ragtime

This is a collection of the sources I have used for my research on ragtime. I am always looking for more places to learn, so please let me know if you have any recommendations.

July 2020 Newsletter

Dear friends,

I hope you are all having a fabulous start to July!

It continues to be an uncertain time for many, including those of us in the music industry. I’m working hard to find ways to stay creative, explore my interests, and have fun.

I’m releasing my single Rag in Fourths TODAY! It is available on my Bandcamp store and 100% of the proceeds will be going to the Sphinx Organization.

The sheet music for Rag in Fourths is also available for purchase.

Rag in Fourths is part of my Ragtime Project – an exploration of the artists, culture, and trends of American music in the 1890s-1910s. The project is multi-dimensional including an EP, an ebook, blog posts, and sheet music.

More great news: My debut EP The New Groove is available for streaming on most major platforms! Please give it a listen and share it with your friends.

The EP is still available for purchase on Bandcamp.

While there is a lot of uncertainty in the world, I have found a silver lining during this time. It has been a luxury to be able to put so much time into my art, whether that has been through practicing, composing, recording, reading, listening, or blogging.

Thank you for joining me on this journey! I am so fortunate to have such a supportive community around my music and me.

Take care,
Sam


Featured Sounds

Virtual performance with EIKO + ERIKO

Sheet Music For Sale

Original compositions and arrangements for a variety of ensembles available on Noteflight Marketplace and Sheet Music Plus!


Latest From the Blog
Sneak peeks for future posts available on Patreon 

  • That Epidemic Rag – A coronavirus theme song from the Ragtime Era … [Read More
     
  • The New Groove: Now Available for Streaming – Celebrate my birthday by streaming The New Groove! Out on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, and more … [Read More]
     
  • The Ragtime Revival of the 1970s – Learn about the figures who defined the Ragtime Revival of the 1970s – Eubie Blake, Joshua Rifkin, Gunther Schuller, and more …. [Read More]

OUT NOW: Rag in Fourths

Today’s the day – Bandcamp Friday! In celebration, I am releasing a single from my Ragtime Project entitled Rag in Fourths. It is a piece inspired by Ragtime rhythms and quartal harmonies (think McCoy Tyner).

I am even more excited to be giving all the proceeds from the release to the Sphinx Organization, whose work of transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts is very important.

I also have the sheet music available on the merch section of my Bandcamp page.

I am going to start selling more of my original sheet music through Bandcamp because they take only a 10% cut for all digital merch sales compared to the major online sheet music stores that take as much as 55%. This is just one of many ways that Bandcamp is an amazing platform that puts artists first!

My previous releases – The New Groove and Live at Berklee – are also available on Bandcamp.

And I’m running a special – buy my entire digital discography for $7.15 (35% discount)!

Thank you for your incredible support, especially during this difficult time. I hope you enjoy the music!

That Epidemic Rag

While researching for my next extended blog post, I came across a rag I couldn’t resist sharing – Edna Williams’ That Epidemic Rag (1911). How fitting for this unique time in history!*

That Epidemic Rag MIDI realization by RagtimeDorianHenry
The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra’s rendition of That Epidemic Ragtime

I tried to find more information about the life and music of Edna Williams, but little information appears to be available on the internet. I came across another song she likely wrote entitled You’ve Made a Home Run With Me (1911) and a collection of more songs from the University of Oregon’s Historic Sheet Music Collection.

I did find two other important musicians by the name of Edna Williams. Edna C. Williams was a beloved soprano vocalist, pianist, and educator. There was also Edna Williams, a trumpet player and member of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, perhaps the most prominent all-female band of the Swing Era.

*For the sake of clarity: COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in mid-March.


Learn More About Ragtime

This is a collection of the sources I have used for my research on ragtime. I am always looking for more places to learn, so please let me know if you have any recommendations.