Musical Rest – Silence in Music – Part 12
The Musical Rest – Silence in Music – Part 12
Music Theory Section – Level 1
The Musical Rest – Silence in Music – Part 12
The musical rest is simply a span of time in which there is silence. This article The Musical Rest – Silence in Music – Part 12 is the next article in the Music Theory Section – Level 1 of the overall article series Scales in Music – a Tonal System, will be presenting ideas about the musical rest, its symbols and its applications.
Rest values are determined by the shape of the symbol being used. Their duration is determined by the designated tempo of the music. Their use is also affected by the time signature designated in the music. In this article we will explore these ideas and we will be presenting the most common rest symbols as well as to demonstrate some examples as to their use and their affect.
It’s My Mothers Fault
I remember as a young boy my mother tried to teach me to be quiet when others were talking and to speak only when I had something important to say, wait for the appropriate time to speak or to contribute to the conversation. Well, that is sort of like the musical rest. When it’s time to be quiet the performer follows the composers instruction to do so and when it is time to speak, likewise. This is the nature of life and the nature of music. So thanks Mom for your special guidance. May God rest your soul!
The Musical Rest – Silence in Music and Its Uses
In music composition, the notes or pitches provide the tools we need to create a melody and to harmonize with that melody. Rests allow us the ability to add depth and additional emotions to music through the use of silence. The musical rests also their use helps to support other tools when creating tension, relieving tension, creating suspension and suspense and they give us time to catch our breath. In the case of the brass and wind instruments this is a literal use for using the rest.
Another use of the musical rest is to provide the instruction to silence a specific instrument for a period and/or to silence one or more instruments involved in the score to allow for a solo performance, for example. Just as notes instruct the performer on which pitch to play the rest tells the performer not to play during a specific period of time and for how long they are to remain silent.
The Symbols for Musical Rests
The musical rest or silence is just as important as the musical note and it is an essential and an integral part of music and music composition. There are several symbols used when notating music which instructs the performer on where and for how long to remain silent. In this article we are presenting the most commonly used examples of them. Again, these symbols are very important and just as important as the symbols used for identifying note durations so it is imperative that you understand each symbol and its proper use when creating and notating music.
Time Signature – The usages of the musical rests are tied directly to two other important components of the musical staff; the time signature and the tempo. For purposes of our explanations in this article and for simplifying the usages for the musical rest we have selected the 4/4 time signature and the moderato tempo in the charts included here.
As a reminder, the 4/4 time signature provides the explicit instruction that there are four beats in a measure and that each quarter note or quarter rest gets one beat.
The Whole Musical Rest – The whole rest in the 4/4 time signature instructs the performer to silence his or her instrument for the duration equal to four beats in a single measure of music. In this case, the instrument assigned to this staff is silenced for the duration of the measure or all four beats.
Its symbol is a short, thick and dark line which is placed directly under the second (D) line from the top line of the five line musical staff. Only one can be used in a measure with the 4/4 time signature.
The Half Musical Rest – The half rest in the 4/4 time signature instructs the performer to silence his or her instrument for the duration equal to two beats in a single measure of music. In this case, the assigned instrument is silenced again for the duration of the full four beats in this measure by using two half rests.
Its symbol is a thick, dark and short line which is placed directly over and on top of the third or middle line (B) of the five line musical staff. A maximum of only two half rests can be used in a single measure with the designated 4/4 time signature.
The Quarter Musical Rest – The quarter rest in the 4/4 time signature instructs the performer to silence his or her instrument for the duration equal to one beat in a single measure of music, however, in this case there are four quarter rests, one on each beat silencing the instrument for the duration of the entire four beats in the measure.
Its shape is a short “squiggly” dark line running vertically, which begins just below the fourth line (G) to just above the second line (D) of the five line staff.
A maximum of four quarter rests can be used in a single measure with a 4/4 time signature. The quarter rest can be placed directly on any one or more beats in a measure. There are four possible locations for a single quarter rest in any one measure of music. All four placements of the quarter rest are shown in the above chart.
The Eighth Musical Rest – The eighth rest in the 4/4 time signature instructs the performer to silence his or her instrument for the duration equal to one half of one beat in a single measure of music. In this case there are eight rests. For each full beat we place two eighth notes and there are four beats in this measure. The assigned instrument is silenced again for the duration of the entire measure by placing eight eighth rest within this single measure.
Its shape is a diagonal thin line with a “flag” going to the left from the top of the diagonal line. The eighth rest straddles the middle or B line of the five line staff.
A maximum of eight eighth rests can be used in a single measure with the 4/4 time signature. The eighth note rest can be placed directly on any beat within a measure and one additional eighth rest can be placed just after the beat but before the next beat as well. There are eight possible locations for an eighth rest in any single measure of music. All eight possible placements are shown in the chart above.
The Sixteenth Musical Rest – The sixteenth rest in the 4/4 time signature instructs the performer to silence his or her instrument for the duration equal to one quarter of one beat in a measure of music. In other words for each full beat of music there are four sixteenth notes. A maximum total of 16 sixteenth rests can be used in a single measure with the 4/4 time signature. All 16 possible placements for the sixteenth rest are shown in the chart above.
The two flags of the sixteenth rest straddle the middle line of the five line staff (B) and the stem stops just above the lowest staff line (E). There are also many possible combinations of notes and rests in any single measure.
More About the Musical Rest – In addition to the four presented above, it is possible to have a thirty-second rest, a sixty-fourth rest, a 128th rest as well. There are additional symbols for rests and they fulfill slightly different applications or uses which will be described in future posts on this subject matter. For our purposes here the above presentation reflects the basic principals which are applicable for rests and for the additional rests available to a composer when notating music.
Just for the fun of it, the 32nd rest is shown below. Notice how an additional flag is added when comparing the sixteenth rest which was shown in the above chart with the 32nd rest shown in the chart below.
The two lowest flags lie in the same location as for the sixteenth rest. The additional flag is added on top of them (E) and it lies in the space just below the top line of the five line staff (F). A maximum of 32, 32nd rests can be used in a single measure as shown below. All possible placements for a single 32nd rest are shown in the chart.
Comparing Note and Musical Rest Durations by Symbol – Notes and Rests follow the same duration rules although different symbols are used. The chart below shows the symbols for the various rests most commonly used in music notation and its equivalent note symbol having the same duration within a specific tempo and time signature.
In all cases there is a direct correlation between each set of notes and rests whereas the name of the note or rest tells you how many can be put into a single measure when the time signature is set at 4/4 time. Again, each rest shape and each note shape and its respective possible placements are shown in each of the charts above.
The placement of the rest and the notes are varied depending upon what you are creating musically. Notes and rests can be placed anywhere within the measure based upon the time signature. Below is a chart showing some of the possible quarter note and quarter rest combinations to give you just a glimpse of the countless combinations of possibilities this concepts offers. Clearly it shows that the rest and the note can be placed on any beat or combination of beats within the measure, again, based upon the time signature.
As you can see using the quarter note and rest there are a few combinations possible. If you were think about the sixteenth note or rest better still, the thirty-second note and rest all of the possibilities causes one to realize the combinations are many in number. From this idea, the choices a composer elects to use is greatly broadened just by this concept alone.
Variations to the Rule
Variations to Consider – Wouldn’t you know it, there just has to be something else that messes up the rule of thumb. For example; when using different time signatures such as 3/8 where there are only three beats in the measure and an eighth note gets one beat. You can see that you would not be able to use two half notes in a measure with this time signature because you do not have enough beats in the measure to “fit” two half notes or rests into a single measure under the direction of the 3/8 time signature.
Another example would be in the 6/8 time signature where an eighth note gets one beat and there are six beats in the measure. It would not be appropriate to use a whole rest in a measure where the 6/8 time signature is designated. What makes this inappropriate is that the maximum allowable number of eighth rests in the 6/8 time signature is 6. You would have to be able to place 8 eighth rests in the measure to equal a whole note or a whole rest. The time signature of the measure only calls for 6 beats each an eighth note in duration. Consequently, it is improper to place 8 eighth rests when there is only room for 6 in the 6/8 time signature.
There are other variations to consider but I believe these two will suffice in making the point of the tie in between rest and note values and the time signature designated in the music. It’s a bit of math and it doesn’t take to long to catch on or to know this concept. It certainly isn’t rocket science.
We will be presenting more information on time signatures in a future article in this series. It is called Time Signatures – Part 19 so its coming pretty soon.
Tempo and Its effect on the Musical Rest Duration
Actual Musical Rest Duration – Keep in mind that the actual clock time duration of the rest is directly tied to the tempo and the time signature of the composition or section of a composition. The tempo is the rate at which the music is to be played so if you compare a slow tempo such as Largo with a fast tempo such as Presto the actual clock time duration of the rest is different even though the same rest shape is being used. The following three examples clearly demonstrate this point.
Each has a different tempo marked in red. The quarter note and the = sign are followed by the number of beats per minute or bpm, for short. All three charts are exactly the same with only the tempo being different. Each has its own sound clip of a guitar playing the six notes and silent during the two rests. I would suggest to play each mp3 clip consecutively first then play each one against the others mixing it up so that you can clearly understand the impact tempo has on the actual clock time of a given rest where all else is the same. Two are challenging for beginners and one is very easy to hear the rest or note durations when comparing it to the others. Can you tell the differences?
Pretty cool isn’t it? Now just think of all of the possibilities and variations that you could use in your new creative efforts knowing this one concept.
If you have read my other articles the compounding effect of all of the possible variations may be becoming incomprehensible and almost unbelievable at this point. I can assure you that by the time we finish this series of articles you will realize just how true it is that throughout time there has been countless pieces of music created, even if you do not count songs structured the same way or when they have closely related melodies. Now, as far as we know today that includes over 6,000 years of recorded music (in one form or another). Makes you wonder what the next 6,000 years will bring, doesn’t it?
The Musical Rest – Silence in Music – Part 12 concludes here with a brief reminder that rests are the tools that a composer uses to silence one or more instruments. This can occur at any place throughout the composition as long as the proper rest is used. There is a direct correlation between the note shape names and the rest shape names and this is in the actual name of the related note or rest, i.e. quarter, eighth, sixteenth, etc.
Tempo plays a key role in determining the actual clock time of the duration of the rest. Another determining factor which offers both proper use of the rest and improper use of the rest is tied to the time signature of the music. This basic overview will be referred to in future articles as we have only begun to touch upon the variety of uses for them.
Next we will be presenting information on the dotted notes and dotted rests as used in music notation.
Dotted Notes and Dotted Rests – Music Theory – Level 1 – Part 13 will demonstrate another method of altering note and rest shapes and their meaning.
Please proceed to Dotted Notes and Dotted Rests – Part 13
Mini Series Links
To return to the Music Theory – Level 1 directory for the article listings within the series, please proceed to Music Theory Section – Level 1 – Series Introduction – Part 10.
To continue onto Music Theory – Level 2 directory for the article listings within the series, please proceed to Music Theory Section – Level 2 – Series Introduction – Part 20
To proceed to Acoustics of Music directory for the listings within the mini-series, please proceed to Acoustics of Music – Part 1 – Series Introduction.
All graphics and charts used in this article were created using Sibelius Music Software. The only exception is the photo header to the article. Sibelius is a product from Avid Technologies.
The Musical Rest – Silence in Music