Origin of Ragtime

Ragtime originated near the end of the 1890s. The music was created and popularized by African Americans, many of whom did not know how to read or write music. Ragtime first originated as a playing style that was disseminated in saloons, brothels, and bars.

Characteristics of Ragtime

A defining characteristic of ragtime is a type of syncopation in which musical accents occur between beats. Instruments often associated with ragtime include the piano, ragtime guitar, and the banjo.

Social Implications

In their earliest stages, coon songs, ragtime, and cakewalks were almost the same musically. The Cakewalk was a dance performed by African American slaves that parody White upper-class behavior. Coon songs was a popular song style that presented a biased view of African Americans performed by White performers in blackface.

Important Performers

Important ragtime performers/composers include; Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, Eubie Blake, and Joseph Lamb.


Musicians visiting the United States often brought African American ragtime sheet music back to Europe. African American ragtime was reinterpreted to align with traditional European musical values and practice. Ragtime that was published in Europe was less syncopated.

Influences of Future Genres

Ragtime had an influence on classical music. “Ragging the classics” was a characteristic of ragtime playing styles in the United States.


Ragtime is a special genre of African American music in the way that it was created. Those that created ragtime were not able to read or write but were able to create a genre as complex and amazing as ragtime. I hope to see ragtime revived or even incorporated into some of the music we hear today since it has such an amazing history.

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