What Instrument Did Scott Joplin Play? A Concise Insight

Scott Joplin, often referred to as the “King of Ragtime,” was an iconic American composer and pianist who specialized in and popularized ragtime music.

Joplin’s compositions and exceptional talent on the piano have solidified his place as one of the most celebrated and influential musicians in history.

Scott Joplin’s Instrument


Scott Joplin, a renowned ragtime composer, was known primarily for his exceptional skills as a pianist. From a young age, he learned to play the piano, which would later become the primary instrument for his compositions. His talent shone through in his legendary piece, “Maple Leaf Rag” (1899), which he wrote while working as a pianist at the Maple Leaf Club in Sedalia, Missouri. The piano was a crucial tool for Joplin to create and perform his ragtime compositions, characterized by their syncopated melodies and rhythmic patterns.

As an influential figure in American music history, Joplin composed numerous piano rags, including well-known works such as “The Entertainer” and “The Maple Leaf Rag.” These piano rags catapulted him to fame in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and solidified his reputation as the “King of Ragtime.” With his mastery of the piano and innovative ragtime compositions, Joplin played an instrumental role in shaping the genre and influencing future composers and musicians.


While the piano was Scott Joplin’s main instrument of choice, he was also exposed to the banjo at an early age. His mother, Florence Joplin, was a singer and banjo player, which fostered a musical environment within the family. This influence likely contributed to Joplin’s overall understanding and appreciation of various musical styles and instruments.

Although not as prominently featured in his compositions or performances as the piano, the banjo’s presence in Joplin’s musical upbringing illustrates the diverse musical influences that shaped him as an artist. These influences played a role in developing his unique ragtime style, which borrowed elements from different musical traditions and brought them together to create an innovative and distinctive sound.

Career and Musical Contributions

King of Ragtime

Scott Joplin was an American composer and pianist known as the “king of ragtime” at the turn of the 20th century. Born in Texas, Joplin was raised in Texarkana. His musical family background influenced his early interest in music, and he eventually mastered the piano.

He became famous for his compositions, including the widely popular “Maple Leaf Rag” and “The Entertainer.” Joplin’s style of ragtime music was characterized by syncopated rhythms, catchy melodies, and a two-step dance tempo.

Opera and Ballet

Beyond ragtime, Joplin also explored composing operas and ballets. In 1907, he moved to New York City to find a producer for a new opera. Unfortunately, his first opera, “A Guest of Honor,” is now considered lost, and his second opera, “Treemonisha,” was never fully staged during his life.

Although his operatic endeavors were not as successful as his ragtime compositions, they showcased his desire to push the boundaries of musical forms.

Influence on Jazz and Classical Music

Joplin’s work in ragtime significantly influenced both jazz and classical music. His compositions provided a foundation for future jazz artists to build upon, contributing to the development of syncopated rhythms, complex harmonies, and improvisation techniques.

Joplin’s works also inspired classical composers to incorporate ragtime elements into their musical pieces. Marvin Hamlisch, for instance, created a Pulitzer Prize-winning adaptation of Joplin’s music in the 1970s.

Sheet Music

Scott Joplin’s musical contributions can also be seen through his sheet music publications. Some of his most famous compositions include “The Maple Leaf Rag,” “The Ragtime Dance,” “Solace,” “Original Rags,” “The Chrysanthemum,” “Heliotrope Bouquet,” and “Bethena.” In collaboration with publisher John Stark, Joplin helped popularize sheet music of ragtime compositions, making it accessible to the general public and allowing his music to spread nationwide.

To sum up, Scott Joplin is a talented composer and artist known for being a famous pianist and having an instrumental knowledge of the banjo, despite not using it in his musical pieces.

John Godfrey

John Godfrey is a music fanatic, as well as the owner of Songpier.com which provides music guides. In high school, he learned how to play the drums which inspired him to learn about rock music. He began to write articles for various music magazines and during this period he realized he had a passion for writing music descriptions. He has a Master's degree in music education from the University of Redlands.