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Rests are graphical representations equivalent to the note figures and during which the musician does not play.


A rest is a figure representing a duration during which the musician does not play. At each rhythm figure corresponds a rest figure of the same duration. As for the rhythm figures, the rests do not have an absolute duration but depend on the beat value and the tempo.

Why write down rests? If the musician does not play during a rest, he must know for how long he does not play, for two reasons: first, in order to respect the work written and desired by the composer, secondly, to avoid any shift with other musicians. A frequent mistake of musicians, even of an advanced level, is not waiting enough during a rest, because, nature having horror of emptiness, we want to fill the empty space left by the rest. However, music is made of silence and knowing how to "play" a rest is essential for the good performance of a work and a good relationship between musicians. Indeed, nothing is more difficult than to respect a silence in its entirety! Do not neglect this aspect.

Whole and half rests

Rests and rhythms figures have the same name. Just replace the "note" word by the "rest" word, and you will get the rest name. For example, the rest equivalent to the whole note is the whole rest. They have the same duration.

The whole rest ( ) has the same duration as the whole note.

The half rest ( ) has the same duration as the half note.

Note that the whole rest and half rest are represented by rectangles of identical size. The only way to distinguish between the two is to clearly identify their position on the staff. The whole rest is always hooked to a staff line from above, while the half rest is attached to the staff from below. Generally, the whole rest is suspended at the 4th line of the staff while the half rest is placed on the 3rd line.

FIGURE 1 - Whole rest and half rest on a staff
The whole rest, suspended on the 4th line The half rest, laying on the 3rd line

A mnemonic way of distinguishing whole rest and half rest is to imagine that the whole rest is suspended from the ceiling (the 4th line of the staff), so it is the greatest value while the half rest is placed on the ground (the 3rd line of the staff), it is therefore the smallest value of the two.

Special case of the whole rest

When an entire bar is empty, the whole rest is used to fill the bar with silence, regardless of the time signature. In this case (and in this case only), the whole rest will not necessarily be equivalent to a whole note.

Using the whole rest to fill a full measure
In the following example, the time signature is , that is to say, 3 beats per bar, the beat being the quarter note. The whole rest is the equivalent of a whole note, so 4 quarters. It exceeds by one beat the duration of a bar. However, it is possible to use it to fill a bar with silence, as in the following figure (in the 3rd and 6th bars).

FIGURE 2 - Use of a whole rest in a 3-beat bar

Note that when used to fill an entire measure, the whole rest is placed at the center of the measure.

Quarter, 8th, 16th rests

The quarter rest ( ) has the same duration as the quarter note.

The quarter rest was written in the past . The risk of confusion with the eighth rest being high, this ancient symbol is very rarely used. You may encounter it on old score editions or on manuscript copies, but very rarely on modern scores.

If we continue the successive divisions, we obtain the remaining rests :

the eighth rest ( );

the sixteenth rest ( );

the thirty-second rest ( );

the sixty-fourth rest ( );


Starting from the eighth rest, the number of flags corresponds to the number of flags of the equivalent note. This makes it possible to better find the equivalence between note figures and rest figures.


Table - Equivalences between note figures and rests
Rhythm namesRhythm figuresRest namesRest figuresDivisions of the whole note*
Whole noteWhole rest1
Half noteHalf rest2
Quarter noteQuarter rest4
8th note8th rest8
16th note16th rest16
32nd note32nd rest32
64th note64th rest64

* Number of notes/rests needed to get the duration of a whole note.

Last update on 2021/05/07

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