Rest (music)

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

A rest is an interval of silence in a piece of music, marked by a symbol indicating the length of the pause. 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.

American English British English Multiplier Symbol
Long Long A long/longa rest
Double whole rest Breve rest A double-whole/breve rest
Whole rest Semibreve rest A whole/semibreve rest
Half rest Minim rest ½× A half/minim rest
Quarter rest Crotchet rest ¼× A quarter/croctchet rest
Eighth rest Quaver rest ⅛× 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

One-bar rests

Pause as weak interior cadence from Lassus's Qui vult venire post me, mm. 3-5  Play .

When an entire bar is devoid of notes, a whole (semibreve) rest is used, regardless of the actual time signature.[4] The only exceptions are for a 4/2 time signature (four half notes per bar), when a double whole 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.[5] For a 4/2 bar rest, it is also common to use the whole rest instead of the double whole rest, so that a whole-bar rest for all time signatures starting from 3/16 is notated using a whole note rest.[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.

Multiple measure rests

a 15 bar multirest
Fifteen bars' rest. A five bar multirest has the number 5 written above, etc.
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.

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:

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.

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).

See also


  1. 1 2 3 History of Music Notation by C. Gorden, p. 93, copyright 1937.
  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. 1 2 AB guide to music theory by E. Taylor, chapter 13/1, ISBN 978-1-85472-446-5
  5. 1 2 3 Gardner Read, Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice, second edition (Boston: Alyn and Bacon, 1969): 98. (Reprinted, New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1979).
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