Originally posted by Fredrik:
Slightly OT, perhaps: what are the best pieces to ease into Joplin/Ragtime/Stride? I'm probably only an "early intermediate" player, as the music editiors say: most of this material is probably a bit beyond me, but with fair persistance I think I could reach for a few.
OK. I'll try to give you some ease-ins, with some caveats, or perhaps more minor instruction on what they will do and how they will help.
The main difficulty with ragtime is the separate hemisphere thing. In other words, the logic or right part of your brain is running your left hand (right brain usually commands left body to some degree, and vice versa), and the left side is sending the more creative signals to your right hand. Even so, since ragtime is far from homogenous rhythmically, the primary difficulty is in separating from that homogeny into the separate hemispherical thinking where the right hand is doing its thing, but still cooperating with and regarding the steady left hand.
Also know that there are some things in true ragtime that are nearly unavoidable if you want to play true ragtime. Bass octaves are among those things. Not every bass note is an octave, of course. However, if your left hand is limited to (in C) playing just C3 and G2 below C4 (Middle C), many pieces will come out rather thin. Those lower octaves or even single notes like C2 will be necessary from time to time, if not frequently. So practice of bass octaves or lower bass notes with well formed three note chords in the boom chick pattern will be essential to making even simple ragtime sound like something beyond beginning piano.
Once that is established you need to work with melodic lines. Some rags will have you doing that with octaves, or notes within and including octaves, or in the case of some Joplin/Scott/Lamb pieces really stretching yourself in a two or more octave range of a long melodic line or one that has lots of call and response in corresponding octaves. The simpler pieces will not involve as much keyboard movement, and will allow you to grasp some of the tenets of syncopating a melody over a steady duple meter bass, preparing you for future endeavors into the more advanced stuff.
On The Entertainer: While being in C/F it is one of the more simple Joplin Rags, it does have that octave leap call and response, octave melodies, and moving lines throughout that require changing right hand chords as well as left. Not a great starter, but better than Gladiolus or Maple Leaf.
Start outside of Joplin. Pick some of the easier Charles L. Johnson pieces. These include Dill Pickles, Porcupine Rag, Crazy Bone Rag, and even Cum-Bac Rag which has a great rising octave pattern in the A section. You can play a Johnson rag at a moderate tempo and it will still work well. Does not have to be fast. The Dover editions have many of his pieces, and they are also available in a single volume from an independent publisher. Obtaining a CD that has lots of Johnson stuff on it (I recommend Sue Keller's Johnson CDs as well as my own A Bag of Rags) will also help in terms of placing the syncopations since you will have an audible guide.
Other rags, although some are harder to find, would be the Fischler or similar pieces from Vandersloot (some are in Dover editions) like Fashion Rag, Hot Chocolate, etc., that are based largely in the secondary rag or three over four patterns. Black and White Rag (currently hard to find in print but hopefully will be in a folio by the end of this year), like Dill Pickles, uses this pattern. It has implied syncopation by the emphasis of where the first or third note of each three note repeated pattern lands in conjunction with the bass, and provides an entry into understanding shifting rhythmic points, and therefore full syncopation.
If you REALLY want to start in Joplin I can recommend the following:
The Chyrsanthemum (a little harder, but not too much syncopation)
Solace (not a rag, but a good introduction to the format and the habanera rhythm)
School of Ragtime (found in some Joplin sources)
After these, The Entertainer will come more naturally.
WARNING: Do try this at home.
Hope that give some insight.