Mier - Good Time Rag
Martha Mier, born in 1936, lives in Florida where she works as a composer, arranger, adjudicator, accompanist and piano teacher. Her piano music is fun to play and becomes ever more popular with teachers, students and examination boards.
Good Time Rag is from the collection,Jazz, Rags and Blues Book 4, published by Alfred Publishing.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This piece would suit a student who has confident 'keyboard geography' since it requires constant leaps in the LH and some nimble RH fingerwork.
A feel for the ragtime style would also be an advantage. This might have been gained through playing other ragtime pieces, such as Mechanics Rag by Chris Norton, via a simplified simplified version of The Entertainer by Scott Joplin, or simply by listening to ragtime music.
Style & Tempo
Ragtime music is often, but not always, cheerful in character, frequently in 2-time and should be played in a fairly strict, moderate tempo. Changes of tempo and overt use of rubato are inappropriate.
Good Time Rag is marked 'lively' but it would be a mistake to play it too fast. Crotchet = around 144 works well but a confident student, such as Diana here, could take the pace a little quicker.
Phrasing & Articulation
The piece begins with a four-bar introduction that is echoed in the final coda. The main part of the piece has uncomplicated four-bar phrasing throughout.
A gentle crescendo through the first two bars of each phrase, followed by a subtle diminuendo towards the phrase endings will give sufficient shape for a convincing performance.
The structure of the piece is basically A-B-A so it is essential to give the Da Capo repeat of the first section from the sign at Bar 5, before going to the coda after Bar 20.
Tone & Texture
The RH melody should be prominent over the LH stride accompaniment but this is not a loud piece and the tone needs to be pleasing, not ever forced. The character is easy-going and charming so the tone should reflect this.
Notice how the melody from Bar 13 - 16 is attractively placed beneath the RH higher, repeated notes. This melody needs to sing out clearly as demonstrated here.
Ragtime music needs to be rhythmical and one of the dangers is a lack of consistent evenness in rhythmic control. This student knows the piece well but tends to experience some lapses in evenness.
It is impossible to guess at the cause of this in the performance heard here, since clearly this is a conscientious student. However, to help avoid problems, keep checking on the student's hand position, since keeping the RH fingers resting on the keys and then pushing down to make the sound can lead to unevenness. Holding the fingers just a little above the keys then dropping the fingers into the key can give greater control.
Helpful fingering suggestions are given in the score and particular care should be taken to follow these at the start and end of the music when the hands play in thirds.
An alternative to using LH 3 then 1and 2 in bars such as Bar 5 could be to use 5 then 1 and 3. This alternative could suit small hands.
The sustaining pedal would traditionally have been used very sparingly in ragtime music, with the bass notes not connected to the LH upper notes / chords.
Pedalling should be subtle, if used here at all. It is effective to give a mere touch of pedal just for the low bass notes in order to enhance the tone, as long as they remain clear and essentially non-legato.
Ensuring that the student develops a firm sense of rhythm in relation to this piece is essential, so begin by teaching the rhythms rather than the notes.
Counting out the rhythms will yield poor musical understanding in this kind of music so it is much more effective to listen together to recordings of ragtime music and then to play clapping and imitation games.
Try this to begin with:
you and your student walk in time with the minim beat while you clap the rhythms of the beginning of each section, starting at Bar 5 and again at Bar 21.
A useful practice schedule might be as follows:
Introduction and ending, ensuring that the the quavers are even in timing.
Practise clapping the rhythms, remembering how they sounded in the lesson.
Memorisation of the LH Bars 5 - 12, which is virtually the same for Bars 13 - 20.
Memorisation of the RH, first section.
Hands together practice.
Repeat the process for the middle section.
More time should be spent on Bars 21 - 36 than on the first section, since the first section is repeated and the middle section has trickier technical requirements.
Consistently correct fingering is an absolute must in this piece, especially in the more challenging bars such as 25 and 33 - 35, where extra practice will be needed.
Always practise performing a piece before the big day of a competition or examination.
The main problems that might be anticipated concern rhythm. The syncopations need to be felt as a result of both listening to ragtime music and clapping or tapping out rhythms, imitating the teacher's clapping or playing. Take turns at keeping a steady pulse by tapping your foot or using an untuned percussion instrument.
Care should also be taken with notes as it is all too easy to substitute a wrong note that sounds right in a piece of this style. To prove it, we challenge you to spot a deliberate mistake in our performance of this piece - it is difficult to find because it actually sounds right !
Find the answer below ... (clue - there is one wrong note).
An excellent performance will show a well judged pace, lively yet relaxed and light-hearted in mood. There will be sensitive balance between the hands and articulation will be detailed carefully, with the LH detached. The syncopated rhythms will sound effortless and intuitive. Pedalling will be subtle and fluency will be confident, with a keen sense of phrase shown in dynamic grading as well as in tonal contrasts.
A good performance will demonstrate awareness of the style and character, with good accuracy, but the tone might not always be poised and pedalling may not be entirely appropriate. Some of the expressive detail will be given, with mainly careful articulation.
A sound performance will maintain continuity and there will be some sense of character despite the odd smudge in accuracy. There may be a need for more detail in articulation and dynamic grading may not be evident. There will be a firm sense of pulse even though the syncopated rhythms may not yet be completely comfortable.