Rests in Sheet Music

silent rhythm

felix mas

Rests make music exciting!
Rests :

  • Emphasize notes
  • Help us understand music's rhythm
  • Let us know when a phrase ends
  • Contrast Sound and Silence

Listen to music as phrases of sound. Then, instead of getting lost in counting rhythm, we hear a song's logic to help us understand the rests' rhythmic role.

Sheet music has different symbols for the various durations of rests (silence). Like their note counterparts, rests count rhythm. But rests' appearance is static, since they have no tone and don't change position on the staff as notes do.

Whole Rest

It hangs from the D line

A whole rest lasts an entire measure, wholly counting a measure of two, three, or four counts.

When whole rests appear, another instrument usually is playing, or your other hand on a keyboard. Whole rests also may repeat for measures at a time.

Half Rest

It sits on the B line

A Half Rest lasts half as long as the whole rest. We could put two in a measure of four counts, since each takes up half of the count, but a whole rest is the same duration. A half rest and additional notes combine to complete a measure's count.

With each division of a whole rest, there are more rests per measure. Keep in mind that notes (tones) eventually will be inserted between the rests, and will take up their own counts in a measure.

Measures get their name from measuring out units of time, or duration, in equal parts. The divisions can be in units of 2, 3, or 4. These units are 'beats', because each tone makes a sound that has a duration within the rhythm of the song. With rests, the rhythm is counted out, until the next note. Every element, notes and rests, get a count, or portion, of the measure's count - whether it's a count of 2, 3, or 4 beats per measure.


Quarter Rest

Half of a half rest, is a Quarter Rest. Four quarter rests take up all of a measure's count. If the count (beat) is in three, then three quarter rests can appear, though we use the whole rest to count an entire measure.

Each quarter rest gets one beat per measure (a mixture of notes and rests probably would fill the remaining counts of the same measure).


Eighth Rest

Finally, half of a quarter rest, is an Eighth Rest. Eighth rests are used extensively between a melody's changing tones, like a comma. And the rhythm section of a band or orchestra makes use of eighth rests to offset upbeats from downbeats.


The Dot

Sometimes when we add up a measure's count, we find we don't have enough rests to cover it all. Or, we may have too many. This happens when rests and notes are mixed. After all, measures must contain specific counts along a song's rhythm. Measures need an extra rhythmic symbol to make up a missing count (or complete a measure).

It's a simple Dot. Just add a Dot after a rest or note, and voila, that rest or note just added one half of its value to itself. A quarter rest or note becomes one count, plus a half count, to make one and a half counts total. Count this dotted quarter rest as 1&2.

dotted quarter rest

However, a 3 beat rest is found mostly within time signatures where the eighth note is one beat (not a quarter note). A 3 beat rest is written as a quarter rest, followed by an eighth rest. This equals 3 eighth rests. In total, they have 3 beats, since the eighth note or rest gets one beat, in these types of time signatures. Count the rests as 1&2&3& (like 3 eighth rests).

quarter, eighth rests

Finally, keep dividing the rests in half, to get smaller divisions. At the moment, we'll keep it simple. Once we get the hang of counting rhythm, we'll get into subtleties (of sound, and rests, even). I'm excited about rhythm, because it makes us want to move!

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The next page has measures of notes, whose rhythm we divide into musical phrases.