A quick, simple, fun way to get the very basics of an old-time ragtime fingerpicking sound.

You download the PDF of the Introductory Rag here.

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welcome one and all to ukulele practice time with Danno on a beautiful summer day. I am healthy, wealthy and wise. Two of those less so than are the third and I'll let you work out which is which.

The whole point of ukulele practice time is. I'm practicing and sharing with you what I'm working on as I go. And that said, I actually have a very specific little mini lesson in mind for us today, because yesterday we got looking at some ragtime style music with tablature and there seemed to be a certain amount of interest in that. So today we're going to follow up and actually work on that. I have some links to share with you here in a minute. So I'm going to try to keep things very concise and businesslike. Snip, snap, no nonsense, no fooling around. We've got work to do, people.

A basic rag

So I know you can only see the first line or so, but you have access to the download and I'll share more of the music with you here in a minute. But I just I really want you just to kind of hear what it sounds at its most basic level. So this is named the introductory raag, and it was composed, dare I say, by Phil Dollman, with the specific purpose of introducing players who are new to the ragtime style, to the ragtime style. And on and on like that, so give me a thumbs up or give me a yes or give me a something and just tell me, is that appealing to your ears? Now, granted, this is intentionally very, very simplistic. So there's nothing fancy or fast going on in there. But I want to know if you just like the feel at this basic level, because if you're not interested in it, it won't do you any good.

And I won't be offended if you're not interested in it or if you don't like it. So for those of you that are actively interested in this, I think you're going to get a lot out of this really quickly, which is my point today.

Is tab overwhelming?

And what I promised you yesterday is that this looks so intimidating on the page. There are all these numbers, all these lines, all these rhythmic notations, not to mention, you know, the things that we're used to like chord shapes or names anyway. And it can just overwhelm the senses and make you just set it aside and say, I'll get to it tomorrow. But what I'm going to show you today is the introduction to the introduction, if you know what I mean. So you're not going to be able to play this in real time with me, probably if you're starting from ground zero.

But what I hope to do is to give you the understanding that you need the introduction to the introduction so that you'll at least see that it's worth working on and that it's not as intimidating and as hard as it looks like it could be. So that said, let me show you a couple of things that are really introductions to the introduction, to the introduction, and we'll move on from there.

An anecdote…

We're going to be done in our regular time today. About 20 minutes past the hour, I predict, so you can move on to other activities. For me, the next activity is lunch. Wow. Somebody is cooking something in my house that smells so good. I'm just salivating here. I used to do the place. I first started teaching ukulele classes was in Cambridge at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, which I always liked because it made it sound very official and our classes were at seven o'clock in the evening. So naturally everybody was coming from work and coming from other things and we'd get there just at the dinner hour and right up the hall, Another form of adult education was the Italian cooking class. Oh, my gosh, you've never seen so much moaning and groaning for such a happy activity. We were there to learn ukulele and everybody was just sniffing and smelling and wishing and wanting. And I tried to make friends with the teacher from the Italian cookery class saying, you've got a roomful of people who will happily be your test audience for these garlic filled dishes you're making. But she was never interested in joining forces with me, alas.

All right. Let's get to work when we look at this page. This page, what we're seeing is tablature yesterday I asked it seemed like everybody was at least familiar with the concept of tablature. It is beyond what we're going to do right now for me to teach you to read tablature, I can give you the very, very, very basics. So at least you know what language you're speaking when we look at it.

Free mini-course on tab

But here is a link for you in the comments area that will take you to a free mini course on my site. In fact, I can give you a quick view of it. Looks like that. Oh, there's me again how to read and play from ukulele tab, I'm pretty proud of this little mini course. I think it's a great overview to teach you the basics and beyond the basic honestly, of how to read tablature and the value of doing so. Meanwhile, back here at the introductory rag, really tablature is just telling us which strings to play at which time and which fingers, which frets to play on which strings.

We'll leave it at that now. If you don't know how to read Tab, I recognize that this alone feels overwhelming, but the basics are very quick and easy to learn and my little course will help you with that. What I'm going to show you today is based on the idea that you either now or will be getting the understanding of how to read tab.

You don't NEED to read tab to play this song

Because I'm actually going to show you why you don't need to learn to read and to play the introductory rag that's kind of beating around the bush, they're burying the lead, as they say. So for this, you do not need to learn to read this tab. Why? I'm going to show you what this is made up of. You're going to want your ukulele in your hand here in a minute when we look at this page. You see across the top the codenames, right, C E7, A7.

Take my word for it that in a minute you're going to understand that all these numbers, all these different bits of information that make up the tab right now aren't representing anything more detailed than the chords, the chord shapes that you already know. So another way of saying that is. That little chunk of tab right there. Is representing the C chord, here's what I mean, it's telling us to play two strings top and bottom while holding a C chord.

That three on string one as shown in the tab, well, you know that that is part of a C chord. OK, now I'm really trying not to overcomplicate it. I'm trying to reassure you, if you have questions, let me know. But I'm going to keep moving on. And hope that you trust me as we go, if we just strum this song. And I would do that by just reading the court names across the top of the page, the same way you would do from a, you know, a lead sheet that you would get, then we get something like this.

ring any bells? To me, it sounds like — five foot two eyes of blue.

Let's look at this as a layer cake

So that's step one if we look at this as a layer cake, right. And the first layer is just the cake and then we put on the icing and the decorations and the candles, the first layer is what I just did for you, the chords.

Now, if you were if this were a more complex song, the next layer would be to understand what the tablature is telling you, which notes within those chords do you play or sometimes which notes in addition to those chords, do you play? But here's the shortcut or the shortcake to carry a metaphor.

Here's the shortcake that I'm going to teach you for this whole song and why you don't actually need to read the tablature and get fussed about it. Remember, what I'm teaching you today is not how to read tablature. I'm teaching you how to get the ragtime feel to any song.

All about PATTERNS

Remember yesterday we talked about patterns, look for the pattern, Luke, Look for the pattern. Well this pattern set up in bar one is the only pattern in this song, with one exception. So if you learn this pattern, all you need to do is apply this pattern to those chords and play straight through instead of strumming, you'll apply the pattern. So let me show you the pattern.

I'd love to know if that statement makes sense. Instead of strumming, we're going to apply the pattern, even though you don't know the pattern. Tell me if it makes sense to you as a concept. Let me teach you the pattern. This is where you may want your book in your hand. When it comes to fingerstyle. Don't worry, I'll bring the music back in a second when it comes to fingerstyle. It can get complex very quickly or it can stay very simple. This is not super simple, but it's not hard at all. And because it's a pattern, you'll have it in no time, I think.

An oral tradition passed down from generation to generation

I don't want you to read it off the page. I want you to learn it from me the old fashioned way. An oral tradition passed down from generation to generation.

THIS is your pattern

This is your pattern, pinch, OK. If you've got a uke in your hand, I'm holding a C chord, you can do it too. I'm going to pinch two strings together, top and bottom. Let's call those outer strings pinch now, pinch the two inner strings pinch, so that's step one, step two one, and that's how we count it. And now we have to do some single notes, single strings, still holding a C chord. That is the whole pattern now, so I hope that's reassuring that there aren't very many movements involved.

I'm going to play it in a loop a few times so you can start to see it.

Stick with the pattern; don't read the tab

All right, so that's the first little bit when we shift to E7, you don't need to read all the tablature. So S7 is the second measure. And you don't need to read all that stuff that's on the page, all you need to know is an E7 chordsand then the same pattern applies..


Now I'm doing it at normal speed, if this is new to you, you're going to have to slow it way down. And like the other day when we were talking about juggling tricks is going to sound weird when it's real slow, but practice it slowly. You need to and as you gradually bring it up to speed, it will start to sound more like ragtime. So let me play just those first couple of measures for you now that you know that it's nothing more than a repeating pattern.

The two goals

So from the top. Sharon says, what about a strum instead of a pinch? So you would get. I think it would sound great. Sharon, this is one of those moments Where you have to ask yourself, what am I trying to accomplish? There are two goals that you can have when you're working on a song like this and both are equally valid. You can say, what I'm trying to accomplish is to get a great sounding ragtime like piece based on what's written on the page. Your other goal can be I'm trying to learn the way exactly it's written on the page, either because I want it to sound exactly the way it was intended or because this is the one that gets me a lot, because I want to know what's intended, even though my intent is to eventually probably to jazz it up myself and to change it up myself, either to simplify or to make it sound better.

Lynn? Yes. Hurray. I get it. That makes me so happy.

Now, I don't want to I could walk through the whole song this way, but that's all there is. That's all there is. If you download the page, you need to know the chord shapes.

Tab is like learning words

Course if you already know how to read tab you can start to kind of work in from both ends to read the tab and say that tab is telling my fingers to do the pattern the Danno taught me. So that tab means that pattern and you'll start to read. It's just like reading words right at first you have to sound them out. Later on you can glance at it and know what it is and later on you don't even have to glance at it because you've memorized, even internalized it. So that's really cool and not hard.


So those are your steps. Download the page, practice the pattern and you can practice forever on one chord. You never need to change when you start to get bored and you just want a different sound, do it on a different chord. It's weird because it doesn't seem like it should be any different on a new chord and it's not. But it will jar you when you first do it and it will feel different because it sounds different if that makes any sense. But no, in your heart of hearts that the pattern, the right hand is always, always, always, always, in this case the same.

And that's why this is an introduction piece, because a real ragtime song would have something similar to this throughout. I won't do a ragtime rant right now, but there's a lot of repetition in ragtime music and just not this much repetition. So this is a really great starting place.

Intentional sloth

Work on your one little pattern varied over the chords. If you want to do what Sharon mentioned and try some variations on your own as long as you're doing it intentionally and not doing it. Out of sluff, you know what I mean, or let it at least be intentional sloth, which I don't disapprove of at all.

Wrapping up

So good. That's what I wanted to share with you today, folks. Like I said, as far as things to teach in a quick 20 minute lesson, that's kind of a lot to manage. So I hope that made sense to you. So there we go. I've got something delicious to go eat. I hope you have something fun to go do, too. And what could be more fun than practicing a little bit of ragtime, for that matter. And we'll be back again tomorrow at 12:01. Take care, everybody.

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Danno Sullivan
Danno Sullivan

Founder of ”Play It Daily” Ukulele, co-founder of the Ukulele Union of Boston, and spreader of good cheer.