Rests


In looking at how to read music we’ve talked about duration and how rhythm is built upon knowing what notes to play and for how long; but what about knowing when not to play? It is vital to be able to know when not to play. Thankfully, this is pretty straightforward.

Note Rests

In the same way that there is a symbol for every note length there are corresponding symbols that show when not to play something. These are called rests. Every available note duration (whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, etc..) has a corresponding rest duration:

Whole Rest

A whole rest (or semibreve rest) lasts the same duration as a whole note or a semibreve – 4 beats.
The symbol for a whole rest is small black rectangle hanging on the 4th line up of the stave:
Whole Rest Symbol image
Have a look/listen to this example of whole rests (I have recorded 4 clicks before the example begins so you can get a sense of the beat):
Whole Rest Example Sheet Music Extract

      Whole Rest Example

You can hear how the note in the 1st bar is played for 4 beats and then there is a rest for 4 beats in the 2nd bar.

Half Rest

A half rest (or minim rest) lasts the same duration as a half note or a minim – 2 beats.
The symbol for a half rest is small black rectangle sitting on the 3rd line up of the stave:
Half Rest Symbol
This means that we can combine notes and rests into the same bar. Have a look/listen to this example of half notes and half rests:
Half Rest Example Sheet Music Extract

      Half Rest Example

You can hear how the note in the 1st bar is played for 2 beats and then there is a rest for 2 beats. This same pattern is repeated in the 2nd bar.

Quarter Rest

A quarter rest (or crotchet rest) lasts the same duration as a quarter note or a crotchet – 1 beat.
The symbol for a quarter rest is black vertical mark as shown below:
Quarter Rest Symbol
You may also occasionally see a quarter rest (or crotchet rest) written as a reversed number seven, but this is increasingly rare.
Let’s have a look at a simple example, a combination of quarter notes (crotchets) and quarter rests….
Quarter Note Sheet Music Rests

      Quarter Rest Example

Notice how each of the quarter notes is held for a beat and then there is a beat of silence where the quarter rest is.

Eighth Rest

An eighth rest (or quaver rest) lasts the same duration as an eighth note or a quaver – half a beat.
The symbol for an eighth rest looks a bit like a number 7 written in the middle of the stave:
Eighth Rest Symbol
Here is an example of eighth rests:
Eighth Rest Example Sheet Music Extract

      Eighth Rest Example

Sixteenth Rest

A sixteenth rest (or semiquaver rest) lasts the same duration as a sixteenth note or a semiquaver – a quarter of a beat.
The symbol for a sixteenth rest looks similar to the eighth rest, but with an added “tail”:
Sixteenth Rest Symbol
Here is an example of sixteenth rests:
Sixteenth Rest Example Sheet Music Extract

      Sixteenth Rest Example


Here is a summary table of rests in music:
Table of Sheet Music Rests
You can see from the table that each note length has a corresponding rest.
As a result, we can make our music examples even more complex by combining different rests and note lengths in each bar (as long as the total adds up to the number of beats in our time signature):
Combined Sheet Music Rests
      Mixed Note Rests Example

In the example above the combination of quarter note and eighth note rests gives a syncopated and funky groove to the music.
Here is a more complex example:
Complex Rests Example Sheet Music
      Complex Rests Example

You can hear how the combination of different rests produces a really exciting and syncopated rhythm.

Whole Bar Rests

In some pieces of music an instrument/part has a whole bar where it plays nothing.
If an instrument should not play for a bar then it will be written as follows….
whole note sheet music rest
Note: the whole bar rest marking works for whatever time signature the piece is written in.

In some pieces of ensemble music (e.g. orchestras, wind bands or string quartets, etc..) instruments may have more than one bar’s rest.
If an instrument should not play for more than one bar then it will be written as follows…..
Multiple Bars Sheet Music Rest

The above instrument should not play for the first 5 bars.
This method of notating multiple bars of rest makes it considerably easier for performers to read their parts (and not lose count!) – it stops them having to scroll through lots of empty bars.

Dotted Rests

Dotted rhythms are a crucial tool in notating music notes.
However, the use of dotted rests in traditional music notation is limited and can be a cause of controversy.
This is becuase rests should not “cross the beat” – you should always be able to see separation between the beats in a piece of music.


Have a look at these examples.
In the 1st example, the beats can clearly be seen in the music and no rests overlap any of the beats:
Correct Use of Musical Rests
However, in this next example, the dotted rest overlaps the beginning of the 4th beat.
This is an incorrect use of a dotted rest:
Incorrect Use of Musical Rests


As a result, in time signatures such as 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4 dotted rests are not used.
If a composer wants to show a rest length of one and a half beats (usually a dotted quarter note/dotted crotchet), then he/she should use a quarter rest followed by an eighth rest (crotchet rest and quaver rest) rather than a dotted quarter rest (dotted crotchet rest).

However, in 6/8 you will sometimes find that composers do use dotted quarter rests (dotted crotchet rests). However, traditionalists do sometimes “frown” upon this approach.

Hopefully this explanation of rests is fairly straightforward.
As always, the best way to learn any sort of rhythm is to have a go at clapping/playing it.
I would encourage you to play the examples above again and clap along with them to get used to the “feel” of the different rests.
If you’re looking for practical ways to learn how to read music then check out all the FREE content on my site – there’s videos, articles and worksheets to help you out. It’s all TOTALLY FREE!
Good luck!!
Ben


Music Theory Academy Intermediate Course lesson 4 link image