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Rest (music)

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Rest (music)

Pause as weak interior cadence from Lassus's Qui vult venire post me, mm. 3-5 About this sound   .

A rest is an interval of silence in a piece of music, marked by a symbol indicating the length of the pause. Each rest symbol corresponds with a particular note value:

American English British English
Long (or four-measure rest) Long
Double whole rest Breve rest
Whole rest Semibreve rest
Half rest Minim rest
Quarter rest Crotchet rest
Eighth rest Quaver rest
Sixteenth rest Semiquaver rest
Thirty-second rest Demisemiquaver rest
Sixty-fourth rest Hemidemisemiquaver rest

The quarter (crotchet) rest may also be found as a form in older music.[1][2]

(The four-measure rest or longa rest is a symbol found in Western musical notation denoting a silence four times the duration of a whole rest. They are only used in long silent passages which are not divided into bars.

The two-measure rest or breve rest is another symbol found in Western musical notation denoting a silence twice the duration of a whole rest.

The combination of rests used to mark a pause follows the same rules as for notes.[3] For more details see note value.

Time is the measure of actual sound as well as of the opposite, its omission.

One-bar rests

When an entire bar is devoid of notes, a whole (semibreve) rest is used, regardless of the actual time signature.[3] The only exceptions are for a 4/2 time signature (four half notes per bar), when a double whole rest is typically used for a bar's rest, and for time signatures shorter than 3/16, when a rest of the actual measure length would be used.[5] For a 4/2 bar rest, it is also common to use the whole rest instead of the double whole rest, so that a whole-bar rest for all time signatures starting from 3/16 is notated using a whole note rest.[5] Some published (usually earlier) music places the numeral "1" above the rest to confirm the extent of the rest.

Occasionally in manuscript autographs and facsimiles, bars without notes are sometimes left completely empty, possibly even without the staves.

Multiple measure rests

a 15 bar multirest
Fifteen bars' rest. A five bar multirest has the number 5 written above, etc.

Old multirests from 1 to 14 bars
The old system for notating multirests (which is still in use today) which varies as the extent to which it is followed.

In instrumental parts, rests of more than one bar in the same meter and key may be indicated with a multimeasure rest (British English: multiple bar rest), showing the number of bars of rest, as shown. Multimeasure rests of are usually drawn in one of two ways:

  • As long, thick horizontal lines placed on the middle line of the staff, with serifs at both ends (see above middle picture)[1] or as thick diagonal lines placed between the second and fourth lines of the staff (but this method is much less used than the above method; although a small number of publishers use this method, it most commonly used casually in modern manuscripts),[5] regardless of how many bars' rests it represents;
  • The former system of notating multirests (deriving from Baroque notation conventions that were adapted from the old mensural rest system dating from Medieval times) draws multirests according to the picture above right until a certain amount of bar rests is reached when multirests are then drawn to the first method. How long exactly must a multirest be until the above method is used is largely a matter of personal taste, most publishers use ten as the changing point, however bigger and smaller changing points are used, especially in earlier music.[1]

The number of whole-rest lengths for which the multimeasure rest lasts is indicated by a number printed above the musical staff (usually at the same size as the numerals in a time signature). If a meter or key change occurs during a multimeasure rest, the rest must be broken up as required for clarity, with the change of key and/or meter indicated between the rests. This also applies in the case of double barlines, which demarcate musical phrases or sections.

Dotted rests

A rest may also have a dot after it, increasing its duration by half, but this is less commonly used than with notes, except occasionally in modern music notated in compound meters such as 6/8 or 12/8. In these meters the long-standing convention has been to indicate one beat of rest as a quarter rest followed by an eighth rest (equivalent to three eighths).

See also


  1. ^ a b c History of Music Notation by C. Gorden, p. 93, copyright 1937.
  2. ^ Examples of the older form are found in the work of English music publishers up to the early 20th century, e.g., W. A. Mozart Requiem Mass, vocal score ed. W. T. Best, pub. London: Novello & Co. Ltd. 1879.
  3. ^ a b AB guide to music theory by E. Taylor, chapter 13/1, ISBN 9781854724465
  4. ^ Alfred W. Crosby, . The Measure of Reality: Quantification in Western Europe, 1250 1600 (, 1997): p.152. ISBN 9780521639903. Cites Source Reading in Music History, 1:140.
  5. ^ a b c Gardner Read, Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice, second edition (Boston: Alyn and Bacon, 1969): 98. (Reprinted, New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1979).

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