Beginner Music Theory tutorials
7. Rests
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*Obligatory "we are going to discuss about what silence actually sounds like" joke here*

  1. Topics of discussion
  2. Rests explained

1. Topics of discussion

In this tutorial we will be taking a look at rests and their lengths. And as you're about to witness, they work very similarly with notes in this regard.

2. Rests explained

In music, a rest is used to define a number of beats where the instrument does not play any note. That's basically it in a nutshell. Let's take a look at the most common rest lengths out there and how they are represented on a musical sheet:


Let's see what this sounds like:

Now, let's describe what we have here:

  • the first bar contains a whole rest, which lasts the whole bar (4 beats)
  • the second bar contains a half note and a half rest, each of which lasts 2 beats
  • the third bar contains three quarter notes and a quarter rests, each of which lasts 1 beat
  • the fourth bar contains seven six notes and two eighth rest, each of which lasts half a beat
  • the fifth bar contains 14 sixteenth notes and two sixteenth rests, each of which lasts a quarter of a beat
  • the sixth bar contains 29 thirtysecond notes and three thirtysecond rests, each of which lasts an eighth of a beat
  • the seventh bar contains a whole note triad, which translates to three notes played at the same time, who all last the whole bar

Length wise, the note length rules apply to rests in the same manner, as does the relationship between their lengths. A whole rest lasts an entire bar, a half rest lasts two beats in a bar and so on.

Now some of you may be wondering why some of the eighth notes and lower are represented in two ways. When writing sheet music, it's customary to group eighth notes or shorter into groups of two or more notes when there is no rest between them and they're not part of the same beat.

If a rest does exist, then the note or notes which are part of the group that contains a rest are represented a bit different. They have their note body along with their vertical line called a stem but the stem also has a certain number of flags on it. These flags start appearing from eighth notes or shorter and you add a flag each time a note gets shorter.

In other words, eighth notes have 1 flag, sixteenth notes have 2 flags and so on. Similarly, their corresponding rests have 1 hook (eighth rest), 2 hooks (sixteenth notes) and so on.

And that's that for another tutorial. Next time, we're going to get into the even better stuff and discuss time signatures. Stay tuned. And as always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask them below.

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