Everyone called it "ragtime".

In an era before the age of radio and recording, the only way for music to reach the public, aside from the concert hall, was through sheet music. Many homes in the United States had their own pianos, and at least one family member was able to play this instrument, albeit often in a rudimentary fashion. Apart from the classical repertoire, most pianists favored versions of popular songs of the day, notated with a very simple accompaniment. Although ragtime challenged the skill levels of the average amateur pianist, Americans quickly succumbed to the new and unusual syncopations. The music became so popular that schools sprouted up around the country specifically for the purpose of teaching the lay-person how to play this strange and seductive music.

The original creators and developers of ragtime were the great ragtime pianists of the period, the three acknowledged masters of the classic rag being Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb. Eventually the Tin Pan Alley composers, the pop songwriters of the day recognized the commercial potential of this form and began cranking out ragtime pieces by the score. By the end of the 1930s. over five thousand ragtime works had been published. Possibly due to this rampant commercialization, the quality of the music degenerated and eventually ragtime disappeared from public favor until it was revived as a repertoire form years later.

During the twenty or so years of ragtime's heyday, many wonderful pieces of music were born from the pens of its finest composers. Along with the works of the above­mentioned masters, one can find a wonderful assortment of music by other great ragtime artists, such as Tom Turpin, Charlie Hunter, Charles Johnson, and Artie Matthews among others. Ragtime displayed great melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic invention; each piece possessed its own clear emotional impact.

Almost simultaneous with the decline of the piano rag came the birth of the guitar rag in the hands of the greatest of all ragtime guitarists, Arthur "Blind" Blake. Although he came from the lineage of the early blues artists of the time, "Blind" Blake incorporated many of the musical elements of piano rags into his playing, while at the same time maintaining the feel and tonality of the blues. As a bluesman, he managed to extend the harmonic, melodic and technical capabilities of the instrument, sounding at times like two or even three players. His successors, the reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt, later made their own contributions to the development of ragtime guitar, Davis with his exuberant hard-hitting approach and Hurt with his quiet, yet percolating rhythms. Yet these three masters had one thing in common; a total approach to playing the guitar that utilized the many capabilities of the instrument. They had an ability to simultaneously play melody, harmony and rhythm and to make it swing.