Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag typifies the style of ragtime popular in the early 1900s. Developed from the march style of Sousa in the late 19th Century, ragtime is often in 2/4 time and features a stride bass. This bass is reminiscent of the ‘oom-pah’ sound of march band accompaniment where bass notes are heard on the first (and, depending on time signature and subdivision, third) beat and chords sound on the second (and possibly fourth) beat. This feature can be heard at bar nineteen of the Joplin – the beginning of the B section of the piece, where two bars of Eb7 (V7) followed by two bars of Ab (I) unfold in the left hand. During the A section, this bass pattern is a slight variation on the typical stride where the bass note is heard on beat one, followed by two chords and then a bass passing note to lead to the harmony of the next bar.

Melodically, this piece is heavily syncopated, often avoiding strong beats through rhythmic anticipation – a technique common to ragtime that has its roots in African music. This creates a strong forward, rhythmic momentum in the piece and dance-like quality to its overall sound. The melody often outlines the supporting harmony with limited use of passing notes and non-chord tones; it is clear that the focus is on rhythm. The opening two bars are a prime example of this. Some interest can be found in the harmony with use of chromatic techniques common in late classical, early romantic period of the European tradition. The use of mixture chords (chords from the parallel minor key – flat VI in bar 6 and minor i [Abm] in bar 8) is the most prevalent example.

Scott Joplin Rags – Maple Leaf Rag – Spotify