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

Music rests.svg

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


One-bar rests

When an entire measure is devoid of notes, a semibreve (whole) rest is used, regardless of the actual time signature. The only exceptions are for a 4/2 time signature (four minims per bar), when a breve 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.[1] For a 4/2 measure rest, it is now also common to use the semibreve (whole) rest instead of the breve, so that a whole-measure rest for all time signatures starting from 3/16 is notated using a semibreve. Some published music places the numeral "1" above the rest to confirm the extent of the rest.

In manuscript autographs and facsimiles, bars without notes are sometimes left completely empty, without even a semibreve rest. The composer can also completely leave out the staff lines (the practice of, for example, Krzysztof Penderecki).

Multiple measure rests

Multimeasure rest lasting 21 whole rest lengths
Multimeasure rest using long and breve rests

In instrumental parts, rests of more than one measure in the same meter and key may be indicated with a multiple measure rest, showing the number of measures of rest, as shown. Multiple measure rests of variable duration are usually drawn in one of two ways: either as long, thick horizontal lines placed on the middle line of the staff, with serifs at either end, or as thick diagonal lines placed between the second and fourth lines of the staff. They denote a silence several times the duration of a whole rest.

The number of whole rest lengths for which the multiple measure rest lasts is indicated by a number printed above the musical staff (usually at the same size as the numerals in a time signature). Where the silence is for less than eight whole rest lengths, some publishers use a combination of four measure rests, double whole rests and whole rests to graphically indicate the extent of the rest. This serves as a counting aid and derives from Baroque notation conventions that were adapted from the old mensural rest system dating from Medieval times. If a meter or key change occurs during a multiple-measure 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 a double-barline, which demarcates musical phrases or sections (a tacet instrumental part to a song may contain a sequence of multiple eight-measure rests, for instance).

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. They are usually found in conjunction with the aforementioned four-measure rest.

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).

Double-dotted rests, while theoretically acceptable, rarely appear in printed music, due to notational conventions and a concern for clarity.

See also


  1. ^ Gardner Read: Music Notation, A Manual of Modern Practice, Second EditionTaplinger Publishing, 1979. Page 98.



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