12th Street Rag has long been a uke favourite and it seems to be very popular at the moment. Gary at Ukulelia wants to learn the Lightnin’ Wells version (above) and a number of people wanting a simpler version on Ukulele Cosmos. So I decided to knock together a version of 12th Street Rag stripped to its bare minimum. The idea is not that you play it this way, but that you take this and give it your own twist.
The tune starts out with a classic ragtime introduction – it’s a phrase that’s well worth learning even if you don’t want to learn the whole piece. The next section is the most challenging. Usually this section is all strummed. However, I’ve tabbed it as a strum, which allowed to keep ringing, followed by fingerpicked single notes. The easiest way to play this at speed is to pick alternately with you index and ring finger – making a running finger-puppet motion. If you are more comfortable strumming than fingerpicking, play it all strummed.
This version contains variations which, while not being essential to the tune, are well worth a little extra effort to put in. The biggest difference is in bars 15 – 20. Although this is tricker to play it gives the section that limping ragtime feel.
The first place to start making this piece your own is the chord changes at the end of each section. The rhythms I’ve tabbed in these sections are very simple but there’s plenty of room for jazzing up. You can also use different inversions of the chords. Such as this for bars 11 and 12:
You can change the chords or make them less vanilla or even substitute different chords entirely. My favourite way to play it is this:
You could also use some single string runs such as this for bars 13 and 14:
Listen to as many versions of the tune as you can find (not just ukulele versions), mess around with it and play what appeals to you.
Update: Another prime area for jazzing up the song is the intro. Dominator suggests this little beauty:
Be sure to check out his transcription of the Fleastomper version on his tab page for more ideas.