Syncopation, a musical characteristic of Ragtime was evident many years earlier in songs sung by slaves. Drums where prohibited in most slave holding states due to the fear of their use to transmit messages between slaves in these communities. Hand clapping and foot stomping were not restricted and took the part of drums in setting up early syncopation in slave songs. Not only was simple syncopation achieved but the cross-rhythms of the slave melodies clearly showed the polyrhythms of their native Africa.
Many early compilers and collectors of these songs failed to show this in their musical notations due to their own musical limitations and understanding of the African roots of these songs. These rhythms become evident though in listening to modern African-American singers performing the folk music of their ancestors.