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Piano Stride

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Piano Stride - © Attention Deficit Disorder Prosthetic Memory Program

Stride jazz piano, often abbreviated to stride, is a jazz piano style that arose from ragtime players. Prominent stride pianists include James P. Johnson, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Fats Waller, and Luckey Roberts.

Stride employed left hand techniques from ragtime, wider use of the piano’s range, and quick tempos. Compositions were written but were also intended to be improvised.

The term “stride” comes from the idea of the pianist’s left hand leaping, or “striding”, across the piano. The left hand characteristically plays a four-beat pulse with a single bass note, octave, major seventh or major tenth interval on the first and third beats, and a chord on the second and fourth beats. Occasionally this pattern is reversed by placing the chord on the downbeat and bass notes on the upbeat. Unlike performers of the ragtime popularized by Scott Joplin, stride players’ left hands span greater distances on the keyboard.

Stride piano is highly rhythmic because of the alternating bass note and chord action of the left hand. In the left hand, the pianist usually plays a single bass note, or a bass octave or tenth, followed by a chord triad toward the center of the keyboard, while the right hand plays syncopated melody lines with harmonic and riff embellishments and fill patterns. Proper playing of stride jazz involves a subtle rhythmic tension between the left hand which is close to the established tempo, and the right hand, which is often slightly anticipatory.

Unlike ragtime pianists, stride pianists were not concerned with ragtime form and played pop songs of the day in the stride style. Ragtime was composed, but many stride pianists improvised. Some stride players didn’t read music. Stride used tension and release and dynamics. Stride can be played at all tempos, slow or fast depending on the underlying composition and treatment the pianist is performing. On occasion a good stride jazz pianist might have the left hand shift into double time.

Some younger pianists have transcribed display pieces note for note from early recordings. However this practice only illustrates a small part of stride jazz musical adventures.

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