Musical Theory: Give It a Rest! 

Counting the Silent Beats

Naturally, we think of music as a combination of sounds—but don’t discount the importance of the absence of sound in creating interesting songs and compositions. “Rests” are these defined moments of silence in music.

Just like notes, rests have precise rhythms; every type of note value has a corresponding rest with the same time value. And although there is no sound, in order to play with rhythmic accuracy, rests must be carefully counted.

The following chart breaks down the types of rests you are most likely to find in music:

Rests – the silent beats

While the whole rest and half rest look very similar, notice that the whole rest hangs below the
fourth line of the staff, while the half rest sits above the third line. (Here’s an easy way to
remember the difference—sitting on top of the line, the half rest looks like a hat. Half sounds
like hat.)


When an entire measure is meant to be silent, a whole rest is always used—regardless of the time
signature. That means, for example, that a whole rest used in a 2/4 time signature is worth two
beats, and a whole rest used in a 3/4 time signature is worth three beats.
You may also encounter dotted rests, and these function the exact same way as dotted notes—the
dot increases the value by half. However, dotted rests are not used as frequently as dotted notes
because it is generally preferred to avoid having a rest “cross beats.” It is more typical to find a
combination of rests that allows the beats to be clearly delineated. For example, rather than using
a dotted quarter-note rest to show one-and-a-half beats, it is preferred to use a quarter rest
followed by an eighth rest.
Finally, when multiple measures are intended to be silent, a “shortcut” notation is a thick,
horizonal bar on the middle line of the staff with a number above indicating the number of
measures of rest.

More Clip N’ Save

Clip N’ Save: Tricky Time Signatures

Clip N’ Save: Types of Cadences

Clip N’ Save: Understanding Enharmonics

Clip ‘n Save: Stepping Up and Stepping Down: Augmented and Diminished Intervals

Clip N’ Save: Musical Terms Every Musician Should Know


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