Rest (music)

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A long/longa rest
A whole/semibreve rest
A quarter/crotchet rest
An eighth/semiquaver rest

A rest is a musical notation sign that indicates the absence of a sound.

Each rest symbol and name corresponds with a particular note value for length, indicating how long the silence should last.


Rests are intervals of silence in pieces of music, marked by symbols indicating the length of the pause. Each rest symbol and name corresponds with a particular note value, indicating how long the silence should last, generally as a multiplier of a measure or whole note.

Rest symbols, names, and lengths

American English British English Multiplier Symbol
Longa Long rest 4 A long/longa rest
Double whole rest Breve rest 2 A double-whole/breve rest
Whole rest Semibreve rest 1 A whole/semibreve rest
Half rest Minim rest 12 A half/minim rest
Quarter rest Crotchet rest 14 A quarter/crotchet rest
Eighth rest Quaver rest 18 An eighth/quaver rest
Sixteenth rest Semiquaver rest 116 An sixteenth/semiquaver rest
Thirty-second rest Demisemiquaver rest 132 A thirty-second/demisemiquaver rest
Sixty-fourth rest Hemidemisemiquaver rest 164 A sixty-fourth/hemidemisemiquaver rest
  • The quarter (crotchet) rest Crotchet rest alt plain-svg.svg (𝄽) may also be found as a form Crotchet rest plain-svg.svg in older music.[1][2][3]
  • The four-measure rest or longa rest are only used in long silent passages which are not divided into bars.[citation needed]
  • The combination of rests used to mark a pause follows the same rules as for note values.[4]

One-bar rests[edit]

    { << \new StaffGroup <<
        \new Staff <<
            \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 2 = 66
            \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"voice oohs"
            \clef treble \time 4/2
            \relative c' {
                \clef "treble_8" \time 4/2 \key g \dorian
                r2 g a1 bes c bes r2 c
            \addlyrics { ve -- ni -- re post me, ve -- }
        \new Staff <<
            \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"voice oohs"
            \clef bass \time 4/2 \key g \dorian
            \new Voice \relative c {
                e1 f g f r2 g a1
            \addlyrics { ni -- re post me, ve -- ni -- }
>> }
Pause on weak interior cadence from Lassus's Qui vult venire post me, mm. 3–5

When an entire bar is devoid of notes, a whole (semibreve) rest is used, regardless of the actual time signature.[4] Historically an exception was for a 4
time signature (four half notes per bar), when a double whole (breve) rest was typically used for a bar's rest, and for time signatures shorter than 3
, when a rest of the actual measure length would be used.[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.[6]

Multiple measure rests[edit]

a 15 bar multirest
Fifteen bars' rest
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.
Seven measure multirest, notated variously

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, and also if a rehearsal letter occurs during the rest..

Dotted rests[edit]

YB0110 Silences pointes.png

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
or 12
. 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: Anacrusis.

General pause[edit]

In a score for an ensemble piece, "G.P." (general pause) indicates silence for one bar or more for the entire ensemble.[7] The marking of general pauses is relevant, as making noise should be avoided there—for instance, page turns in sheet music are avoided during general pauses, as the sound of players turning the page would be audible by the audience.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c History of Music Notation (1937) by C. Gorden, p. 93.[full citation needed]
  2. ^ Examples of the older form are found in the work of English music publishers up to the 20th century, e.g., W. A. Mozart Requiem Mass, vocal score ed. W. T. Best, pub. London: Novello & Co. Ltd. 1879.
  3. ^ Rudiments and Theory of Music Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, London 1958. I, 33 and III, 25. The former shows both forms without distinction, the latter the "old" form only. The book was the standard theory manual in the UK up until at least 1975. The "old" form was taught as a manuscript variant of the printed form.
  4. ^ a b AB guide to music theory by E. Taylor, chapter 13/1, ISBN 978-1-85472-446-5
  5. ^ a b Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice, second edition, by Gardner Read (Boston: Alyn and Bacon, 1969): 98. (Reprinted, New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1979).
  6. ^ "Aesthetic Functions of Silence and Rests in Music", by Zofia Lissa, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 22 (1964), no. 4: 443–54 doi:10.2307/427936.
  7. ^ Elaine Gould, Behind Bars – The Definitive Guide to Music Notation, p. 190. Faber Music (publisher), 2011.
  8. ^ Elaine Gould, Behind Bars – The Definitive Guide to Music Notation, p. 561. Faber Music (publisher), 2011.