Why is it So Hard to Sight-Read Ragtime Music?

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com. Today’s question is “Why is it So Hard to Sight-Read Ragtime Music?” Ragtime music is so much fun to listen to and it’s fun to play as well. But it’s extraordinarily difficult to sight-read! And you might wonder why. To give you an example as to why it is so difficult to sight-read ragtime music, I’m going to compare it to something that is as far removed from ragtime as you can get, which is Bach.

Baroque era music can be played without your hands jumping around the keyboard.

Even though the music is complex, you don’t need to look at your hands because it’s all right there under your fingers. The hands don’t leap around like they do in ragtime. Music which has octaves alternating with chords in the left hand, which is very typical of ragtime music, is all but impossible to play without looking at your hands. So if you’re reading the score, how do you look at your hands and the score? It can be maddening! There’s a lot of music that falls into that category where you just need to look at your hands to handle the leaps. But here’s the good news: if you go to the trouble of memorizing ragtime, it’s not particularly difficult to play! There’s a certain technique that’s required. It’s the same technique utilized in pieces of Liszt, such as the end of his 6th Hungarian Rhapsody. The left hand goes all over the place!

Leaping back and forth from octaves to chords makes sight-reading nearly impossible.

That’s why ragtime or any music that has fast leaps is extraordinarily difficult to read. Even some relatively simple accompaniments, like some works by Fritz Kreisler. They’re absolutely glorious works and they have very simple piano parts. But the left hand has leaps in several sections making it very hard to read. There are two ways you can approach this. One way is to have the score memorized. The other way is to work on practicing those leaps without looking. I love to be well prepared when I have an accompaniment like that so I can either choose to look down at the hands or follow the score. I like to practice keeping my eyes on the score and get it to the point where I can do it just by feel. Now think about this. There are some sensational blind pianists out there. So, it is possible to be able to sight-read music that has leaps, but it’s extraordinarily difficult.

Thanks so much for joining me. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store. See you next time!