Rhythm and Syncopation—the Challenge of Music

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About a month ago, Erin Prais-Hintz announced her latest quarterly design challenge—The Challenge of Music. I love doing Erin’s challenges, so I signed up straight away! And like all of them, this one has a little twist. The music used to inspire our creations had to be instrumental, with no words to influence our designs.

In Erin’s words:

  • Find a piece of instrumental music that speaks to your soul. The goal is to find a piece of music without any choral accompaniment, so that you have the freedom to interpret the colors, textures, shapes, movements and images that it evokes. YOU get to tell the story!
  • Create something of your choice – jewelry, accessory or some other artistic representation – that takes us on the journey of this piece of music. I am opening this challenge up to any artistic interpretation. Whatever way this music moves you, follow its lead!

Music has always been a part of my life, one way or another. My parents, my Dad in particular, are keen traditional jazz fans, and as a child I spent many hours sitting in dingy pubs listening to jazz bands (for some reason, Saturday and Sunday afternoons were prime time for jazz band gigs) and playing with the straw in my glass of red cordial. At age 9 I started learning to play classical guitar and performed in numerous performances and competitions until I reached the last couple of years of high school. I spent many, many nights in my 20s and early 30s going to see bands in venues ranging from sticky-carpeted pubs to gigantic football stadiums, and the radio is rarely off in my car.

When I started thinking about which pieces of instrumental music might inspire me, jazz was the first to come to mind, after all it is music I have been listening to for my whole life! And of the myriad of instrumental jazz tunes I have heard over the years, catchy little ragtime numbers kept popping into my head.

According to Wikipedia, ragtime was an early form of jazz:

Ragtime (alternatively spelled rag-time) is a musical genre that enjoyed its peak popularity between 1897 and 1918. Its main characteristic trait is its syncopated, or “ragged,” rhythm. It began as dance music in the red-light districts of African American communities in St. Louis and New Orleans years before being published as popular sheet music for piano. Ernest Hogan was an innovator and key pioneer who helped develop the musical genre. Hogan is also credited for coining the term Ragtime. Ragtime was also a modification of the march made popular by John Philip Sousa, with additional polyrhythms coming from African music. The ragtime composer Scott Joplin became famous through the publication in 1899 of the “Maple Leaf Rag” and a string of ragtime hits that followed, although he was later forgotten by all but a small, dedicated community of ragtime aficionados until the major ragtime revival in the early 1970s. For at least 12 years after its publication, the “Maple Leaf Rag” heavily influenced subsequent ragtime composers with its melody lines, harmonic progressions or metric patterns.

One of my favourite rags is the Maple Leaf Rag, that first hit ragtime tune.

This video uses a recording of a pianola roll, apparently one of seven recorded by the composer Scott Joplin himself (you can hear it skipping and speeding up here and there, a captured slice of musical history). Late last year I heard the tune played by a student at my daughter’s end of year piano concert and it’s been dancing in and out of my head ever since. It’s a bouncy, happy piece of music, makes me think of bright colours, women and men kicking up their heels in jewel-toned dresses and black and white tuxedos (although since this tune would have been played in dance halls as the 19th century became the 20th, I’m not sure that my mental image is particularly accurate!).

The other thing that strikes me about this music is its structure, which holds the tune together amid all of the wild syncopation. Ragtime music tends to follow a specific pattern with distinct repeated themes. Again, Wikipedia explains it better than me:

Original ragtime pieces usually contain several distinct themes, four being the most common number. These themes were typically 16 bars, each theme divided into periods of four four-bar phrases and arranged in patterns of repeats and reprises. Typical patterns were AABBACCC′, AABBACCDD and AABBCCA, with the first two strains in the tonic key and the following strains in the subdominant. Sometimes rags would include introductions of four bars or bridges, between themes, of anywhere between four and 24 bars.

So we have bright, happy colours and a repeating structure—in the case of the Maple Leaf Rag, the structure of repeats is AABBACCDD. I spent a long time browsing through my stash of beads, looking for the right combination of colours and shapes. In the end, I designed a necklace with 4 different sections, repeated in almost the same pattern as the song. Three of my sections are semi-precious gemstones (rose quartz ovals, dyed blue agate rondelles and dyed greenish-yellow jade flat rounds) with tiny brass spacers between each stone to represent the steady beat underlying the syncopation, while the fourth is a fancy brass chain. I added an extra section of chain—my designated A section—to balance the necklace a bit more, as I couldn’t get it to work asymmetrically (and in truth, one version of the rag I heard had a slightly different structure, with an extra AB on the end).

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Now that you’ve seen my creation and heard about its musical inspiration, please take some time to visit the other bloggers in this hop!

Erin Prais-Hintz –> OUR HOSTESS!
Alenka Obid
Ali McCarthy
Alicia Marinache
Amy Severino
Amy Grass
Carolyn Lawson
Cece Cormier
Cynthia Riggs
Ema Kilroy
Emanda Johnson
Emma Todd
Erin Kenny
Evelyn Shelby
Evie and Beth McCord
Gerd Andersson
Holly Westfall
Jennifer Justman
Jenny Davies-Reazor
Jess Green
Judy Campbell
Karla Morgan
Kay Thomerson
Kristina Johansson
Lola Surwillo
Lynn White
Malin de Koning
Mallory Hoffman
Mary K McGraw
Melissa Meman
Melissa Trudinger –> YOU ARE HERE
Michelle Escano
Michelle Bourbonniere
Michelle Heim
Michelle Mach
Molly Alexander
Molly Schaller
Monique Urquhart
Niky Sayers
Pam Farren
Rebecca Anderson
Sally Russick
Sharon Palac
Sharon Driscoll
Susan Kennedy
Tari Kahrs
Tracy Stillman
Veralynne Malone

13 thoughts on “Rhythm and Syncopation—the Challenge of Music

  1. I did not grow up with jazz but it is now one of my favorite genres. My earliest memory of Scott Joplin is when I was in the fifth grade in Norfolk, VA. In those days music was part of the curriculum, Like how you took the rhythm of the music and added it to the composition of your necklace.

  2. I didn’t grow up with Jazz either, but now that I am “older and more mature” (cough, cough) I love listening to it. I do remember my parents occasionally listening to the big bands….Love your piece and how you used the syncopation as part of the design! Great Job.

  3. I do like a little ragtime now and then. Such cheerful music and it really transports you back in time. And what an interesting and clever take you had on this, basing your design on the pattern of the melody/rythm. It turned out great — your necklace is just lovely!

  4. I love the focus of your design, Melissa… it’s a great illustration of the underlying structure of the music yet looks playful and fun. thanks for teaching me about ragtime!

  5. That was an in depth investigation into the structure, interesting! Your colors are lovely together, very upbeat and zingy – I like that correlation with the music!

  6. That was a very in depth into the ragtime music…I think much more than most of us did. I’d of never understood how to break it down that way. The necklace is great – it does remind me of music that changes beat but is very happy and fun. The necklace pulls that all off very well. Thank you for sharing and for the lesson.

  7. Another person who chose ragtime! I agree, it’s happy and fun music. I love how you incorporated the asymmetrical aspect into your pretty necklace. And you did a much more thorough write-up of ragtime than I did, which I really appreciate.

  8. Love the lesson about ragtime! It does make you want to stand up and start dancing around and I can see everyone kicking up their heels 🙂 Love how you used the AABBACCDD structure for your piece – love it!

  9. Love it! I can just picture it bouncing around someone’s neck as they indeed kick up their heels and dance about. I appreciate the music lesson too to really understand the interpretation, sure gives it a lot of soul

  10. This is the 2nd ragtime song I’ve come across on this hop so far, and it takes me back to my childhood when my grandmother would sit down at the piano and play it for all of us for hours at a time. This particular piece is one of my favorites, and is the first song I think of – essentially my go-to – when I hear the word ‘ragtime’. This necklace would be just like this music for me: a go-to piece of beautiful jewelry that would go with just about anything in my closet. Thanks for sharing so much detail on the music composition, and bravo on including that concept in your finished necklace.

    🙂 Molly

  11. You simply cannot be unhappy hearing this tune! There was this pizza place that was popular to go to for birthdays and such when I was a kid. It was this huge room with pipe organs all around. I seem to recall that they played music like this there while you were eating so it was sort of a show. It recalls happy times to me! I love that you focused on the rhythm of the music for your pattern. It is so lovely and I can see someone wearing this to dance wildly around the bar! So glad you could join in the Challenge again, Miss Melissa! Enjoy the day. Erin

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