Joplin The Entertainer

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  • Ragtime was eventually succeeded by jazz, and although there was a revival in the 1940s, Joplin's prediction was not truly fulfilled until 1973 when 'The Entertainer' was used as the theme music for the multiple Oscar winning film The Sting.
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Introduction

The Entertainer is a classic ragtime piano piece written by Scott Joplin in 1902. Ragtime was a very popular piano style in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century which has been preserved almost exclusively in the music of Scott Joplin. The defining characteristic of ragtime is the syncopated (or “ragged”) rhythm of the right hand in relation to the regular left hand. This means that the left hand played a basic march pattern and the right hand emphasized notes that did not occur on the beat.

. “Ragtime.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 4 Apr. 2017.

Joplin
You may choose to watch this “Living History” video by Dennis Kobray about Joplin:

After watching you may ask students to narrate what they recall from the video.

Listen

Listen to the song using one of the links below. You may want to listen to the piece more than once in a sitting.

Discussion

Rag time music involves a regular two-step march rhythm in the left hand with the irregular, “ragged,” rhythm of the right hand. The purpose of including this song in this lesson is to give an example of accompaniment, however it is a good opportunity to study a unique and truly American musical style.

Harmony

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  • Voicing: This is an example of a harmonic accompaniment. Notice the pattern that occurs in the left hand – it is essentially a march with an “Oom-Pah Oom-Pah” pattern. The lower notes of the left hand play on the beat, and the higher notes of the left hand play off the beat.
    • Describe/sing the pattern in the left hand. (alternating low and high notes)
    • Is it playing a melody or accompaniment? (accompaniment)

Melody

  • Ask students to try and sing the melody. This may not be very easy because ragtime focused on creating syncopated rhythms, not singable melodies.
  • Try to clap along with the beat (low notes in the left hand). This is difficult to do because the right hand continues to emphasize the off-beats throughout the music. After attempting to clap along for some time describe to the students that:
    • The melody (or the right hand) places emphasis off the beat.
    • The accompaniment (or the left hand) places emphasis on the beat.

Mood

Joplin The Entertainer Sheet Music

  • How does this piece make you feel? What makes it sounds that way?
  • Is this piece happy or sad? Is it exciting or not? What makes it sound this way?
  • Ragtime pieces like The Entertainer were sometimes written as dance music. Earlier we listened to dance pieces from the Nutcracker. How is The Entertainer different than the Nutcracker dances?

Review or Narration

  • Tell me about the music we listened to together?
  • Can you sing me the melody?
  • Can you sing me the harmony/accompaniment?
  • Does this piece remind you of any other music we have listened to? (Encourage them to consider similarities and differences in instrumentation, speed, mood.)

Links

YouTube

A musical animation of The Entertainer. Imagine the keyboard is curved up in the shape of a circle. Things you can point out to students:

Joplin the entertainer lyrics
  • Which hand is playing the red notes? (right) Blue notes? (left)
  • Where on the “circle” are high notes played? Low notes played?
  • Where are most of the notes played on this piece? (Idea of register.)

A pianist performs The Entertainer with the piano open so students can see the hammers hitting the keys.

Here’s a musical animation by Synthesia which can help students visualize the lines of music. Don’t use this as your only version of the song as the recording is a MIDI and not an actual piano.

Joplin The Entertainer Piano Sheet Music

Something Interesting

Here is an orchestrated version of The Entertainer. You can ask students:

Entertainer Ragtime

  • What instruments are playing the melody? (strings, violin)
  • The accompaniment? (drums, percussion, upright bass)
  • How does this orchestral arrangement sound different than the piano version composed by Joplin?
  • Which version do you like better? Why?