Brian Hefferan – The Entertainer

Brian Hefferan – The Entertainer (Tab)

Play something I’ve heard of,” a cry I often hear from elderly family members who are less than impressed with my Roy Smeck imitations. The fact is, no matter how technically adept you are, most people want to hear something they’ve heard a million times before. I suspect that, after ripping through the 24 caprices, Paganini’s grandma screeched, “Play that one off the cigar advert. You know the one.” Luckily, everyone recognises Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer.

The Entertainer (dating from 1902) is easily the most well known ragtime piece, but it only came into prominence in the 70’s when it was used as the theme to the film The Sting (set in 1936 – more than 15 years after ragtime fell from popularity). It has since been used numerous times on TV and by ice-cream vans. I associate with dreary childhood Sunday afternoons watching snooker.

Ragtime music was the first music to cross all international, racial and gender barriers. Thanks to the fact that pianos were regarded as a women’s instrument in the 1800’s, a very large number of ragtime composers were women (read up on the subject on The Ragtime Emphemeralist). Despite the huge level of what now looks like racism (even the cover of The Entertainer is so offensively stereotypical it could have been drawn by a Big Brother contestant), black composers to attain a level of financial success never before known.

Scott Joplin’s advice on playing ragtime, and one he insisted was printed on every one of his song sheets, was, “Ragtime should never be played fast.” We’re used to hearing speedy ragtime thanks to nefarious owners of player pianos who would speed up the music in order to shorten the time between coins being dropped in the slot.

Inevitably when transferring a piano piece to uke you’re going to lose some parts. Here the steady bass part is left out and only the syncopated melody remains. This could cause the piece to feel disjointed but the melody is so strong and familiar that the pulse of the song comes through clearly. While playing the tune, be sure to feel the pulse as the melody skits around it in order to keep the song driving along.

Another adjustment required to make this piece uke-able. Whereas you can hit a note on the piano at breakfast and still hear it ringing at bedtime, ukes don’t sustain notes too well. Brian gets round this two ways in this piece. First by using vibrato – sometimes a huge amount – to keep notes ringing. Also he adds in quieter notes (marked pianissimo) to ensure that the piece doesn’t slacken during long sustains. Once you’ve mastered those and managed to get the occasional big fretboard leaps as smooth as Brian plays them, you’ll be well on your way to impressing grandma.

While I was discussing this piece with Brian, he recommend that I check out John King‘s arrangement of it in his book The Classic Ukulele. Something I absolutely intend to do.

Buy Classic Ukulele US UK

You can buy The Fabulous Heftones albums on Where you can also download a number of rags performed by the Heftone Banjo Orchestra.

You can find more of my arrangements of ragtime tunes for ukulele in the ebook How to Play Ragtime Ukulele at How to Play Ukulele.

View Comments


  1. Uke Hunt » Most Popluar Ukulele Tablature August 15th, 2007 8:06 pm

    […] 7. Brian Hefferan – The Entertainer […]

  2. Ben R July 25th, 2008 8:16 pm

    this has been a great help to me:
    -great tab
    -great video

    a winning combo
    –keep it up!–

  3. Woodshed July 25th, 2008 8:35 pm

    Thanks, Ben. Glad you liked it.

  4. Anton June 26th, 2010 12:17 pm

    wonderfoll fingerpicking…

  5. Woodshed June 26th, 2010 5:18 pm

    Anton: No doubt!

  6. James October 10th, 2010 7:20 pm

    This is brilliant, thanks. I was wondering whether you have any advice to help me move quickly and accurately from lower down the fretboard to higher up it?

  7. Woodshed October 12th, 2010 9:06 pm

    James: Well, my default advice is: practice. I’ll have a think and see if I can come up with something more constructive.

  8. Matthew December 30th, 2011 6:25 pm

    It wont let me download it??

  9. Katie March 7th, 2012 9:09 am

    So, I decided to YouTube this guy and it’d be overly epic if you talked to him about/tabbed out how he plays foggy mountain breakdown.

  10. Pamela March 28th, 2012 11:47 pm

    Hi, brilliant video and tabs. Just wondering what size the ukulele is – it doesn’t look like the small soprano – is it a concert or tenor size?

  11. Odie April 3rd, 2012 5:40 pm

    Can anyone there help me with finding the chords to accompany the melody for Scott joplins…the entertainer….?
    Thanks for the good uke site…..

  12. Pamela April 29th, 2012 9:08 pm

    Hi Brian, saw your video of Maple Leaf Rag, which was brilliant. Are you doing the tabs sometime?

  13. Howlin' Hobbit November 23rd, 2014 8:52 pm

    I know I’m late to the party here but I’ve been working on Rigk Sauer’s version for some time, and like it a lot, but it only has the first two movements tabbed. Brian’s has got the other movement(s) and I’d like to see if I can transpose.

    so the question is, is Brian’s version in C? there’s no key signature on it which either indicates “C” or “didn’t bother with it” and I need to know before I spend a lot of time transposing into the wrong key.


  14. Woodshed November 24th, 2014 11:17 am

    Hobbit: Yep, this one is in C as well. I’m not familiar with Rigk’s version but they should fit together fine.

  15. Howlin' Hobbit November 25th, 2014 7:22 am

    Rigk’s is in Bb, so I’ll have to transpose, and Brian’s uses frets that neither of my two nice ukes have, so there are a couple spots I’ll have to re-arrange.

    oddly enough, I’m looking forward to the task. I’ve been wanting to play this for years and I feel like I’m finally getting close.


  16. Woodshed November 25th, 2014 2:32 pm

    Hobbit: Oh, I see. I hope you get it figured out.

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