16 - Is Ragtime or Boogie Woogie More Difficult to Play?

by John Tennison — History of Boogie Woogie

There is a long history of snobbery and resentment from some Ragtime players towards Boogie Woogie players.  Interestingly, there does not seem to have been as much resentment from Boogie Woogie players towards Ragtime players.  Specifically, the most resentment seems to have come from Ragtime players who tended to play with 2-to-the-bar, oom-pah, “striding” left hand bass figures.

Ragtime and Boogie Woogie players still sometimes get into arguments over whether Ragtime or Boogie Woogie is more difficult to play.  For example, one dimension of variability in broken-octaves of Boogie Woogie and the oom-pah bass of Ragtime is the size of the stride between one broken octave couplet to the next in Boogie Woogie, or between the “oom” and the “pah” in Ragtime.  Quite often, the arguments over difficulty arise over claims from Ragtime players who say the wide strides in their oom-pah left had parts are harder to play than the closer intervals in some Boogie Woogie bass lines.  Yet, size of stride is a dimension of variability that can be made wider in Boogie Woogie or Ragtime, resulting in either style becoming very difficult to play.  Consequently, a simple Ragtime piece with small strides would be easier to play that a complex Boogie Woogie piece with large strides.  On the other hand, a complex Ragtime piece with large strides and frequently-changing chords would be harder to play than a rudimentary Boogie Woogie with a simple, shuffled-chord bass in a typical blues progression involving only I, IV, and V chords.

Boogie Woogie players will often argue that improvisation, and the independence of left and right hand required to create the complex polyrhythms of Boogie Woogie requires more skill than that typically required to play the striding bass of Ragtime.  Yet, a Ragtime piece with a wide stride with ever-changing chords between each oom-pah requires a high degree of skill.

Therefore, since there is potentially infinite variability of difficulty in the genres of both Boogie Woogie and Ragtime, to globally label and stereotype one genre as harder or easier to play than the other makes no sense.  Instead, it makes more sense to say that different (although somewhat overlapping) skill sets are required for each style of music.

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© 2004-2008 John Tennison — All Rights Reserved

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