12th Street Rag – Bare Bones

12th Street Rag (Tab 1)

12th Street Rag (MIDI)

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.

12th Street Rag (Tab 2)

12th Street Rag (MIDI 2)

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:

12th Rag

You can change the chords or make them less vanilla or even substitute different chords entirely. My favourite way to play it is this:

12th Rag2

You could also use some single string runs such as this for bars 13 and 14:

12th rag single note

MIDI of run

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:

12th Street Rag Intro

Intro MIDI

Be sure to check out his transcription of the Fleastomper version on his tab page for more ideas.

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  1. Curt Sheller Publications » Blog Archive » 12th Street Rag - Bare Bones July 16th, 2007 2:57 am

    […] 12th Street Rag – Bare Bones: […]

  2. Dominator July 16th, 2007 5:00 am

    Excellent work Woodshed

  3. Gary Peare July 16th, 2007 6:41 pm

    Hey, thanks! I’ll post an update over on Ukulelia!

  4. Gary Peare July 16th, 2007 6:53 pm

    One question: I presume that I should use a triplet strum. Dom, if you read this, can you relate this to the 3 strums that James Hill taught us yesterday?


  5. Woodshed July 16th, 2007 7:00 pm

    Thanks, Gary. Triplet strums would certainly be a good idea. And nice name drop ;)

  6. Howlin' Hobbit July 22nd, 2007 7:41 pm

    Your excellent work and my initial attempts to learn from a recording of Ukulele Eck doing this have allowed me to learn a tune I’ve long wanted to play.



    P.S. I just put your blog into my rss aggregator. Turns out the google alert I had wasn’t picking up all your posts.

  7. Woodshed July 22nd, 2007 8:00 pm

    Thanks Hobbit. That’s strange. I have no idea how to fix that.

  8. Steve January 18th, 2009 3:32 pm


  9. Woodshed January 19th, 2009 10:31 am

    Thanks, Steve.

  10. Lil Rev May 17th, 2011 6:53 am

    While working on some ragtime tunes today (Dill Pickle Rag & Maple Leaf), i came upon your excellent lesson woodshed! Cool ideas and Kudos to Dom as well.
    I am a huge fan of Ragtime. If for some off reason it has escaped anyone out there, i highly recommend that all folks interested in Ragtime start by listening to Johnny Marvin, who recorded it in the 1920’s and inspired Roy Smeck to do the same. Also, listen to Louis Armstrong blow it on his horn. Then go onto You Tube and give a listen to my buddy Brian Hefferan, my absolute favorite ukulele player when it comes to the rags. he has posted dozens of rare rags and is a master at arranging them for ukulele. enjoy! Lil Rev

  11. Woodshed May 18th, 2011 9:50 am

    Rev: Thanks very much! Look forward to hearing your version. And I completely agree about Brian.

  12. dirtfacekate October 29th, 2011 4:08 am

    awesome. so, i don’t know how or where to suggest songs you should tab, but, hard times killing floor by skip james would be incredible to figure out how to play.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rv-_mzVBSF8

  13. Stephen Butler March 15th, 2012 1:43 pm

    Can these 12th Street Rag tabs be played with low g?

  14. Woodshed March 15th, 2012 10:02 pm

    Stephen: You might need to make a few changes here and there but it should work okay.

  15. Brian July 17th, 2012 10:34 am

    Hi where could I find ukulele tabs for the riff Orange Blossom special. johnny cash plays it on a harmonica

  16. Michelle October 11th, 2012 12:07 am

    Hi I’m 4th grader Michelle! I would like to thank u because I’m I’m preforming this at the gold house at KY! thx agan

  17. Woodshed October 11th, 2012 10:05 am

    Michelle: Good luck with your performance!

  18. Bryan February 7th, 2013 11:55 pm

    Why isn’t the ragtime book available anymore? :c

  19. FosterBDAV66 March 5th, 2013 7:54 pm

    May want to slow your MIDIs down a bit. They sound like they’re off to the races, rather than a quick trot.

    Maple Leaf Rag is a quick step (marching 120bpm) piece. This is about what this song should be, too, from listening to Louis Armstrong’s live performance of it (it’s actually listed as 110bpm on sheet music).


  20. Gerhard April 25th, 2013 7:21 pm

    This is awesome it helped me develops my learnig.

  21. Woodshed April 26th, 2013 8:11 pm

    Gerhard: That’s great!

  22. Lee May 10th, 2015 11:11 am

    Al, would you consider re-issuing your “How to Play Ragtime” eBook again?

  23. Woodshed May 12th, 2015 9:14 am

    Lee: It’s not going to happen any time soon, I’m afraid.

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