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Joined: Apr 2016
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Hey folks, any opinions on whether Scott Joplin's ragtimes should be played with straight eights or swing time? Most performances I've heard use straight time but there was a piano roll that was supposedly Joplin himself playing Maple Leaf, and it sounds like it has a little swing though at a pretty quick tempo.

Maybe it depends on the tune. Swing time seems to make sense in Maple Leaf or Joplin's New Rag, but maybe not in Solace or Eugenia. Probably not Entertainer either.

Thoughts?

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Hi

No right or wrong in this case IMO. I've heard Monty Alexander stride and swing through The Entertainer, and it sounds fantastic.
If you like to swing it, swing it.....

Whether it was the composers original intention, or whether other people like it (or not), is a matter of personal taste.

Cheers


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Originally Posted by KenBakerMN
Hey folks, any opinions on whether Scott Joplin's ragtimes should be played with straight eights or swing time?


Straight eighths would be more appropriate, especially if you wanted to play the way Joplin did.

Originally Posted by KenBakerMN
Most performances I've heard use straight time but there was a piano roll that was supposedly Joplin himself playing Maple Leaf, and it sounds like it has a little swing though at a pretty quick tempo.


That YouTube video with an unfortunately large number of views is decidedly not Joplin's playing.

Originally Posted by KenBakerMN

Maybe it depends on the tune. Swing time seems to make sense in Maple Leaf or Joplin's New Rag, but maybe not in Solace or Eugenia. Probably not Entertainer either.


Some sections of some rags positively beg to be swung, but it's rare that all 3 or 4 sections of a rag sound particularly good when swung.

Those two decades of music were revolutionary and the style certainly underwent some transitions and evolved into entirely different genres, so ultimately it comes down to what you prefer.


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Originally Posted by Simon_b
Hi

No right or wrong in this case IMO.

+1



If you listen carefully, you can find the rudiment of swing feel.

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There's an old thread on here somewhere that has lot of opinions, insights and comments about this.

I agree with the comment here that Joplin's own style may have changed by the time he recorded the piano roll. Or, maybe he was succumbing to the "new" public taste of the swing rhythms of jazz. Duke Ellington, for example, certainly played his music differently in 1970 than he did in 1927. So maybe Joplin did too.

If you want to play it safe, in the best possible meaning of the term, stay with straight 8ths. But if you enjoy swinging his music, there's no one around to say you can't!

As an interesting parallel, Beethoven heard Mozart play piano one time, and reported that Mozart played "non legato." Can you imagine what the critics would say if a pianist walked out on the Carnegie Hall stage and played Mozart with a detached articulation? They'd give the worst reviews possible and say it wasn't as Mozart intended. Yet this is precisely how Beethoven described Mozart's own playing!


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It's always a bit ambiguous when people ask "should" I play it like this? It depends what you mean.

If you mean "play it like the composer wrote it" I'm guessing straight rather than swing, as that's what the music tells you to do.

However, in ragtime they do refer to "swing" but I don't think it means converting straight time to swing time, I think it refers to syncopation. I would say if you want that lop-sided feel to it, as in "rag" time then playing it straight would sound the best.

However, as others have pointed out, there is no law against playing it exactly how you like. But if "should" means authenticity then personally, from what we know, I would play straight time.

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Great answers, folks, thanks.

I think what I'm converging on is that most Joplin pieces are best with straights eights, but I like a quick tempo and a little swing in Maple Leaf. On Joplin's New Rag I take it a little slower than you normally hear it and add some swing. I also like the idea that not every section within a tune has to have the same straight or swing feel. Solace I do pretty straight, almost classical. I play Entertainer a bit slower than you normally hear it because I like to give the melody some space. I'm leaning towards straight eights on that one.

But yeah, play it the way you like it, and the critics can say what they want.


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