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Axel Christensen: The Czar of Ragtime and his Ragtime Review

Chapter 5: Axel Christensen Ragtime Instruction Manuals

 

By Ted Tjaden

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In addition to operating a franchise of ragtime piano instruction schools throughout the United States, Axel Christensen also cashed in through the publication and sale of instruction manuals that were marketed as self-study correspondence teaching materials for students, particularly for those persons who did not live in a city with a Christensen school.

Because Christensen appeared to have updated his teaching manuals periodically and created new ones, it is difficult to track and compile a complete listing of these manuals. For now, I set out below two such manuals: Christensen's Rag-Time Instruction Book For Piano (circa 1909) and Axel Christensen's New Instruction Book for Rag and Jazz (circa 1920). The dates of publication for these manuals are based on the latest copyright date at the front of each manual. Notice how with the later manual below circa 1920 that Christensen is now capitalizing on the jazz trend (by including "Jazz" in the title of his manual).

 

Cover of Christensen's Rag-Time Instruction Book For Piano

Christensen's Rag-Time Instruction Book For Piano (circa 1909) (36 pages, PDF)

[view full-text of manual]

Cover of Axel Christensen's New Instruction Book for Rag and Jazz (circa 1920)

Axel Christensen's New Instruction Book for Rag and Jazz (circa 1920) (48 pages, PDF)

[view full-text of manual]

 

The Table of Contents from the from the first manual (see to the right) shows that Christensen's method was in part to simplify ragtime piano into "three movements" which were three basic right-handed syncopated rhythms common to most rags. He also then sets out for the student a number of exercises that steadily incorporate and build upon these three movements. The manual also includes a number of instrumental rags and a fair bit of written instruction on ragtime theory. As someone who was a believer and supporter of the concept of the "classic" rag, Christensen advocates a fair bit of improvisation by having the student play various standard chords and musical passages using each of the three ragtime movements or patterns.

  Table of Contents from Axel Christensen Teaching Manual (circa 1906)

Christensen's first "rag-time movement" (below) is one of the more common rhythms associated with ragtime:

 

Example from Christensen's manual of first "rag-time movement" or pattern

 

The second "rag-time" movement" is also a commonly used pattern in ragtime piano:

 

Example from Christensen's manual of second "rag-time movement" or pattern

 

Likewise, the third "rag-time movement" is a variation of the previous movements and commonly employed by ragtime composers:

 

Example from Christensen's manual of third "rag-time movement" or pattern

 

Christensen was not the only ragtime personality to publish self-instruction manuals. One interesting pre-ragtime era teaching manual I came across was a Canadian publication from 1894 entitled How to Vamp: A New Method of Teaching the Art of Playing by Ear by Theodore La Motte:

 

How to Vamp: A New Method of Teaching the Art of Playing by Ear

La Motte, Theodore. How to Vamp: A New Method of Teaching the Art of Playing by Ear. Toronto, ON: W.H. Billing, 1894.

[view entire guide]

Source: University of Toronto Music Library   [top]

 

The first purely ragtime instruction manual appears to have been published by Edward Winn in early 1900. The version of Winn's manual below is from 1915:

 

Winn's Practical Method of Popular Music: Rag and Jazz Piano Playing: Manual Cover

Winn, Edward R. Winn's Practical Method of Popular Music: Rag and Jazz Piano Playing. New York, NY: Jerry Vogel Music Co., 1913 ~ 1920.

[view entire guide]

Source: Personal collection [top]

 

Scott Joplin published his School of Ragtime in 1908. It is not nearly as extensive or lengthy as Christensen's manuals since Joplin only sets outs six ragtime exercises, with brief comments:

 

School of Rag Sheet Music Cover

Scott Joplin. School of Ragtime. New York, NY: Scott Joplin, 1908.

[view entire guide]

 

I recently acquired the following ragtime instruction manual by H.J. Beckerman (with ragtime composer F. Henri Klickmann editing the exercises):

 

The American School of Ragtime Piano Playing Cover

Beckerman, H.J. (with F. Henri Klickmann as arranger). The American School of Ragtime Piano Playing. Chicago, IL: S.M. Mautner, 1918.

[view entire guide]

Source: Personal photocopy  [top]

 

Also from the ragtime-era are the following two instruction manuals (neither of which I have been able to locate):

  • Waterman's Piano Arrangements. Glenn R. Waterman. Waterman Piano School, 1918.
  • Ten Lessons for Piano. Zez Confrey. New York: Jack Mills, 1926.

Finally, there are two current ragtime composers who have published their own ragtime instruction manuals:

 

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This site created by Ted Tjaden. Page last updated: September 08, 2012.