Rob Crausaz's Ragtime MIDI Files

(Last updated on July 1, 2012)

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Questions & Answers about this Website and about Ragtime

  • Can you give me a brief overview of the contents of this site?
  • How did you choose which titles to include?
  • Were these midis made from sheet music or are these your own arrangements?
  • Where did you find all this sheet music?
  • What is “Ragtime” music?
  • When was “Ragtime” music popular?
  • Who were the best ragtime composers?

    Can you give me a brief overview of the contents of this site?

    The vast majority of this site consists of midis of instrumental ragtime piano pieces (as opposed to ragtime songs). There are also a couple of midis of ragtime written for other instruments, and I couldn’t resist adding a few other period pieces that weren’t strictly ragtime such as: syncopated waltzes, a lovely tango, a catchy schottische, etc. It’s my hope that visitors will also find these of interest (and I may add a few other non-ragtime pieces in the future, meaning after this introduction is posted).

    Lately, I’ve also been writing commentary/descriptions for each new midi posted. Even though the earlier midis were not accompanied by comments, I plan to eventually provide some for each and every midi.

    How did you choose which titles to include?

    Many sites have made new midis/MP3s of the same rags. Nearly every piece on this site was selected for inclusion because, to the best of my knowledge, it didn’t exist in midi form anywhere else on the web at the time of its posting. (I referred to Michael Mathew’s fine “A Ragtime Compendium” to see if a midi of a ragtime piece existed/or had existed on the web in the past few years. Michael has done an amazing job collecting this type of data.)

    While some pieces found here are not particularly uncommon (it’s just that no one had posted a midi of them), there are some that are extremely rare. Of course, not all rare rags are great works, but there were some that were. Many of those lovely ragtime numbers are rare simply because they were self-published and/or were from small towns and consequently had very limited distribution. It’s one of my goals to share these forgotten gems with ragtime lovers everywhere. (For example, Herbert Weaver’s self-published “Queen City Girl” is an extremely rare yet delightful piece.)

    Were these midis made from sheet music or are these your own arrangements?

    In making these midis (by the way, none of these are hand played, they were all made with Finale’s “PrintMusic!” notation software) I’ve strictly adhered to the published (or in some case unpublished) sheet music though I have taken the liberty to correct some obvious errors such as octaves written as sevenths or missing accidentals (incidentally, none of these corrections are recorded in the piece’s commentary). Unfortunately, some unintentional errors still exist in some of the renditions, especially in my earlier efforts. Jan Dahmén has found some of these errors and has been kind enough to point them out to me. If anyone else finds errors please email me at the address at the bottom of the site.

    Where did you find all this sheet music?

    I’ve been buying reprints of old ragtime sheet music for the past twenty-five years. My wife and I have also found some original rags which had never been reprinted in antique shops and used book stores. I’ve also scoured the web for scans (there are some huge collections of scanned sheet music there). Lastly, a few kind members of the ragtime community have emailed me scans and/or mailed photocopies of some rare works (one non-ragtime friend even gave me his grandmother’s collection of original sheet music most of which was from the first decade of the twentieth century).

    What is “Ragtime” music?

    Before I launch into a definition of ragtime, I need to insert a caveat. The idea propagated today that ragtime only consists of instrumental works for the piano is a much narrower definition than the one held by the average person of a hundred years ago. They would have thought of ragtime as being predominantly songs with words (in addition, many of them would have known that ragtime was also played by bands, orchestras, and a variety of solo instruments, and even combinations of two or three instruments such as 2 mandolins and one guitar). The exemplary ragtime historian Dr. Edward A. Berlin, who has a PhD in musicology, has written that “…songs were the most conspicuous species of ragtime…” However, most modern ragtime aficionados find the instrumental piano rags to be much more interesting musically than songs (partially because of their greater complexity) and generally tend to consider ragtime songs to be of less importance.

    Having said that… ragtime is an American music which is considered by musical historians to be one of the roots of jazz. It is the marriage of West African polyrhythms (syncopation) with European and American type melodies and harmonies. In simple English: the most unique and exciting thing about ragtime is its rhythm (although there’s no definitive proof, many think that the very word “ragtime” was derived from a phrase which described this rhythm, “ragged time”).

    “Ragged” rhythm occurs when the melody is repeatedly “off-beat.” This can be illustrated by picturing how a rag is played on the piano. The pianist’s left hand lays down a steady beat often in the form of octave-chord-octave-chord (this would be the equivalent of the beat established on an African drum or of a person clapping) while his/her right hand plays the melody. Much more frequently than a classically trained ear would expect, the melody is silent (or is held) on the beat and sounds again in between beats (hence the musical term “off-beat”).

    Most rags were written in 2/4 or 4/4 time (though most are in 2/4 time) and generally consist of 3 or 4 themes, each of which is frequently 16 measures long. There’s a lot of repetition in ragtime. Themes often consist of the same 6 or 7 measures played twice with different endings and all the themes are usually repeated at least once (the structure of the famous “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin is very typical for a four themed rag--AABBACCDD).

    When was “Ragtime” music popular?

    It was documented at the turn of the last century that ragtime first caught the American public’s ear in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair (the World’s Columbian Exposition) which was attended by people from all around the nation, (this implies that ragtime must have existed a few years before that). Ragtime probably reached its pinnacle of popularity around 1910 (give or take a couple of years) and began to fade in popularity by the late teens. The modern ragtime community uses the term “ragtime era” which is generally defined as being from approximately 1897 to 1917.

    Most “ragtimers” today prefer to commence the ragtime era with 1897 because the first published instrumental piano piece with the word “rag” in its title was “Mississippi Rag,” which was copyrighted in Jan. of 1897. However, not all ragtime historians agree that this was actually a “rag.” David Jasen and Trebor Tichenor wrote in their Rags and Ragtime: a Musical History.

    “The first three published ‘rags,’ in fact, were cakewalks: William Krell’s Mississippi Rag… It was not until October of 1897 that the first true ragtime composition was published… this was Louisiana Rag by Theodore H. Northrup…”

    Though I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Jasen and Mr. Tichenor about “Mississippi Rag” not being a true rag, I will say that the rambunctious “Louisiana Rag,” which the publishers apparently considered too complex for some pianists (the bottom of the first page reads, “If this arrangement is too difficult, try the simplified arrangement on last page.”) has more thickly textured chords and is more heavily syncopated overall than the folksy “Mississippi Rag.”

    I often used to wonder why publishers waited over three years after the close of the Chicago World’s Fair (in Oct. 1893) to publish a rag for piano (four years if you agree with Jasen and Tichenor) until I read the following in chapter six of the biography The Great Pierpont Morgan by F. L. Allen and discovered one very probable reason:

    "For more than four years--1893, 1894, 1895, 1896, and part of 1897-- the United States was tormented by what we would now call a major depression. (In those days they spoke of the Panic of 1893 and of the 'hard times' which followed.) Business which formerly had been prosperous went into the red; factories shut down; bankruptcies multiplied; wages were cut; workers by the millions lost their jobs, and year after year faced the recurring nightmare of unemployment; and there was industrial strife, bitterness, and unrest..."

    Not exactly the climate in which the music publishers would want to test market a new kind of sheet music.

    And why do ragtimers consider 1917 the close of the era? In 1917 Scott Joplin, the “King of Ragtime Composers” died, jazz was becoming the new “hot” music to listen to and, on the piano, not only were “fox trots” (many of them unsyncopated) becoming increasingly popular, “novelty piano” was about to supplant ragtime--some of this newer ragtime was beginning to resemble the forthcoming novelty with its dotted rhythms. (As early as July 1918 the great novelty composer, Zez Confrey, made a piano roll of his first novelty piano composition “My Pet” though it wasn’t published in sheet music form, minus one theme, until 1921.)

    Of course ragtime sheet music did not abruptly disappear from store shelves in 1917. Rather, it slowly faded away. New ragtime was being published all the way into the early 1920s (and by then a few rags were being released solely on piano rolls or recordings), but the annual number of new rags being issued by then in any format was only about 10% of what it had been a decade before.

    There have been several ragtime revivals since then (the first in the early 1940s) but ragtime has never been as nationally popular as it was during those two decades.

    Who were the best ragtime composers?

    Obviously this is a subjective determination, but, surprisingly, there seems to be considerable agreement today that the top three ragtime piano composers were Scott Joplin (circa 1868--April 1, 1917) who has been known for the last one hundred years as the “King of Ragtime Composers,” James Sylvester Scott (Feb. 12, 1885--Aug. 30, 1938) and, Joseph Francis Lamb (Dec. 6, 1887--Sept. 3, 1960).

    You won’t find any works by the triumvirate of ragtime on this site because renditions of their ragtime compositions are available on several other websites. However, if you’re interested in hearing their music, I suggest you begin by listening to what ragtime historians and collectors Jasen and Tichenor consider to be the greatest rag written by each composer (and I do completely agree with their choices). Those three rags are:

    “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin (1899)

    “Grace and Beauty” by James S. Scott (1909)

    “Top Liner Rag” by Joseph F. Lamb (1916)

    ... to ragtime MIDI files


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