Similarities And Differences Between Ragtime And Blues

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Similarities and Differences between Ragtime and Blues


Ragtime can be described as a dance-based American vernacular music, featuring a syncopated melody against an even accompaniment. It arose in the 1890s and faded by the late 1910s. It is truly American music, and it is, unlike any other American style. It is music of toe-tapping vitality, yet often of fragile beauty and subtle, rhythmic complexity. Although based on orthodox harmonies, ragtime is never fully predictable. It has an immediate and direct appeal. Its charm and allure transcend the time and place of the ragtime era. (Blesh and Janis, Pp: 10-13)


According to music scholar John Edward Hasse, ragtime is, "The music that for two decades captivated a nation; set its toes to tapping; its feet to dancing; its fingers to playing; and its blood to rushing. Ragtime is the name that has become a metaphor for an era. The very word evokes images of America at the dawn of the 20th century. The images include dancers prancing to the syncopated styling of saloon `ticklers; ' Sunday band concerts in the city square featuring the music of the `Red Back Book; ' hundreds of thousands of parlor pianists struggling to master the `Dill Pickles' and `Maple Leaf' rags; piano as pounding out ragged rhythms; charcoal-skilled `professors' playing in high-class hotels bedecked with potted palms and lazily turning ceiling fans."

There are four main types of ragtime: instrumental rags, ragtime songs, ragtime or syncopated waltzes and "ragging" of classics and other preexisting pieces. Although ragtime is an expansive style, "rag" or "piano rag" is usually a much more definite term. A "rag" is an instrumental composition usually for piano, in dual meter, with a syncopated melody against a rhythmic, oomph or march-style bass. Rags normally use conventional European harmonies. It was rhythm that gave ragtime its musical distinctiveness and much of its appeal. (Blesh and Janis, Pp: 10-13)

At about the same time, a brand new form of African American folk music called the blues began coalescing into a 12-bar pattern that remains largely unchanged today. The blues typically use three-line verses sung in a so-called AAB rhyming pattern. This simple and universal pattern proved to be—and still is—highly adaptable to collaborative song writing. The blues also displayed a harmonic quality that made it sound quite different from the popular music of that era. It was derived by "flatting" both the third and seventh notes of the widely-used tempered, or "classical," scale. These two seemingly simple innovations allowed for infinity of variations which, over the past century, have had a vast impact on modern music, including, jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, rock and roll and, most recently, rap. None of these forms would exist without the invention and popularization of the blues element.

The African American bandleader of a minstrel orchestra often credited with "inventing" blues actually did not do so. But he may well have been the first individual to achieve commercial success playing it. Handy, by his own description, was a folklorist, documenting different styles of music and other cultural indicators he found during his travels. Although the word "blues" was ...
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