• ragtime •
ræg-taim • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Adjective
Meaning: A piano music style that is a precursor of jazz, characterized by a regular "step" rhythm in the bass played against a bright, syncopated melody on the upper keyboard. Click here to hear The Maple Leaf Rag.
Notes: When we think of ragtime, we think of Scott Joplin (1868-1917), who was chiefly responsible for ragtime's popularity. He codified it and made it into an art form. The songs he wrote were rags, such as The Maple Leaf Rag, The Palm Leaf Rag, The Peacherine Rag. Rags became so popular that the great Irving Berlin wrote Alexander's Ragtime Band in 1911 and Joplin wrote an opera (Treemonisha) based on them. Writers and players of ragtime are ragtimers and playing ragtime music is ragging.
In Play: Ragtime grew up to a large extent in brothels and juke joints, so a ragtime girl was one whose morals were as loose as her hips on the dance floor. Miloš Forman celebrated this music in his 1981 movie, Ragtime, based on the novel of the same name by E. L. Doctorow.
Word History: The original pieces written in ragtime were known as rags because of the ragged rhythm of the melody. Today's Good Word refers to the ragged or syncopated timing of rags, with beats held back or hurried, the hallmark of jazz and blues. To rag a tune was to syncopate it, break up the rhythm, make it bouncy and less predictable. The ragged rhythms probably came from Western African jubas, the knee-slapping, hand-clapping syncopated music of plantation slaves in the South. Jubas may also be related to our Good Word jukebox.
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