Schwertberger - Honky Tonk Piano Rag


Far removed from the original seedy bars of the American deep South during the early part of the 20th Century, where often beer and prostitution went hand in hand, this Honky Tonk Piano Rag is more musically genteel.

The original term 'Honky Tonk' referred to "variety shows" of questionable repute in theatres known for their drinking and gambling.

It is probable that upright pianos by the maker William Tonk found their way into the bars of the deep South.

In the early days Honky Tonk piano was synonymous with the ragtime style and had a big influence on boogie woogie.

These days the term "honky tonk piano" is often used as a derogatory term for a really poor instrument which is badly out of tune!

Pupil Match & Suitability

A popular piece suitable for a variety of age ranges including adult pupils.

Everyone has a sense of humour and this is definitely a piece which calls on the performer to engage with this quality.

Despite its rhythmic nature this is not a piece which should be clinical and dry. It contains a lot of subtleties yet is also robust and demands a confident sense of rhythm.

It lies under the hand easily enough and should be a joy to learn.

Style & Tempo

You will notice from the various illustrations on the tabs below that tempo is largely a matter of capability, and not necessarily something set in stone.

The suggested tempo marking given is in brackets, so this may either suggest an optional tempo of 126 to the crotchet or a preferred tempo.

It does feel a little slow at this tempo but there is a very different character about it - something rather more quirky - at this pace.

The complete peformance in the performance section is at around crotchet = 132. Compare this to the other extract here (best examination tempo?).

Phrasing & Articulation

Much of the playing might feature detached quavers. Slurs are used but a long seamless legato line would be out of place.

Considerable attention should be given to the LH to get the feel right.

Note lengths need careful attention in both hands since a crotchet is often required to be played in a variety of different ways.

Tone & Texture

This is fairly straightforward.

Dynamic levels are indicated and care should be taken to add variety as appropriate.

As discussed in Phrasing & Articulation, the emphasis on beats 2 & 4 should not be unduly heavy.


Getting around the keys with confidence and accuracy is a vital component of piano playing.

Keyboard geography, as it might be known, is not so much about looking as 'knowing' where the notes are.

Looking is the first stage, but this must be replaced with a feel for the gaps, the shape of the chords and the range of movement needed.


Much here is fairly obvious, although sufficient consideration does need to be given to certain parts.


Mostly without pedal.

A touch of pedal would add resonance to the final note.

The dotted minim beats in bars 1, 13 & 25 could be pedalled (i.e. a pedal on each dotted minim) if the rhythmic feature was wished to be emphasized, but it should not be one long pedal, and in any case is not really necessary.

It is hard to notice the effect of added pedal between the 1st pedalled version here and the un-pedalled 2nd version.

Teaching Strategies

This is a rhythmic piece and as such this element should the main priority.

A solid foundation right from the start is the best strategy to go for.

Practice Tips

Devise interesting games and tasks for the student to try out at home.

By inventing an improvisation game as suggested around the LH 8 bar riff, the student may well feel empowered to go away and have fun on their own at home, experimenting with lots of new ideas.

This is a good way to motivate them to sit at the piano and spend time at it.


Bars 17 – 19 and 21 – 24 are likely to be challenging, so be prepared to spend plenty of time working slowly at these passages.

Hearing the cross beat syncopation is an important first step, so be certain to get the student to play the LH whilst you play the RH. If you can also get the student to play their LH whilst you play the RH and get them to sing or say out loud a syllable every time the accents occur they will be well on the way to getting these passages comfortably correct.

Honky Tonk TS.pdf

Final Performance

An excellent performance could be at a quicker or slower tempo, but it will have a sense of panache about it. It will be fun and exude lightness and control.

A good performance will be keenly rhythmic although it may not have the same flair as the excellent one. It will be a colourful performance of which the performer should be justifiably proud.

A sound performance will have everything in place and be positive. Performers may be struggling a bit to achieve a convincing sense of balance between the hands and at the lower end of this scale it is likely to be rather heavy handed in terms of tone with perhaps little shaping.

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