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Guide to Musical Rests: 8 Types of Rests in Sheet Music

August 4, 2023
musical rests

Hear that?

No.

Good.

That beautiful moment of silence is called a musical rest.

Silence in music, you ask?

No way.

Casual listeners often miss it and focus instead on the throbbing beats and stunning harmonies.

But you’re savvier than that. 

Once you understand the science and method behind well-placed rests, you’ll realize how fundamental they are to any piece of music.

Silence adds texture and contrast to the notes we hear, frames the melodies, and allows us to digest them and appreciate a song’s resonance.

Rhythm and rhythmic phrasing would not exist without musical rests.

Rest is the absence of sound for a defined period of time, kind of like a break from sonic stimulation if you will.  

Easy – lesson over!

No, sorry, we lied.

Despite the fact that, in theory, every rest denotes silence, there is more than one type in practice. 

In fact, there are eight types of musical rests that you will see in sheet music. 

The 8 Types of Rests

Do you know how note values on musical staffs (covered in our other lesson here) provide insight into the length of musical notes?

Well, consider rest values to represent the length of pauses or moments of silence.  

Semibreve Rest

Semibreve Rest

A semibreve rest is known as a whole note rest and requires silence for a total of four beats, the length of a whole note. 

In a 4/4 time signature, a semibreve rest indicates that the player must be silent for the entire bar.

Whenever you require an entire bar of silence, you will always use a semibreve rest, even if the time signature is 2/4 or 3/4.

On your typical five-line musical staff, a whole rest is located just below the fourth line.

It is represented by a small rectangle.

Minim Rest

Minim Rest

A minim rest is known as a half-note rest and requires silence for a total of two beats. 

It is represented by a small rectangle located atop the middle line of the staff.

Crotchet Rest

Crotchet Rest

A crotchet rest is known as a quarter note rest and requires silence for a total of one beat. 

It is an unusual symbol and looks like an elongated “Z” with a small flourish at the bottom.

Quaver Rest

Quaver Rest

A quaver rest is also known as an eighth-note rest, which requires silence for half a beat. 

It looks like a seven with a period appended to the head.


Semiquaver Rest

Semiquaver Rest

A semiquaver rest is also known as a sixteenth-note rest and calls for silence for a quarter beat, the length of a sixteenth note.

It looks like a quaver rest with an additional tail attached to the left side of the stem.

Thirty-Second Note Rest

Thirty-Second Note Rest

This rest follows the pattern of the eighth and sixteenth rests and covers the duration of a thirty-second note.

Rests do get smaller from here, for instance, the much-smaller sixty-fourth note rest, but we do not encounter these too often in notation.

Most composers take a practical tack when it comes to writing out notation and simply halve the length of both notes and rests.

Dotted Rests

Dotted Rests

You can also place a dot next to the rests to create dotted rests, similar to the dotted notes that we encountered in our article about musical notes. 

Any rest followed by a dot has a duration that is one and a half times the length of the same note without the dot.

A dotted quarter rest would last as long as one and a half quarter rests, for instance. 

You can create a full-measure rest for a bar of 6/4 by using a dotted whole rest.

The dot will always be written in the second space from the top of the stave. 

Rests With a Fermata

Rests With a Fermata

Fun word, right? You may not encounter it too often, but it pays to know about it.

When you see a rest with a fermata symbol over it, this means that the exact length of the rest is up to you, the musician.

Shorten it, play it true to form, or stretch it out for dramatic pizazz – the choice is yours. 

This symbol typically comes at the end of a measure, before a double barline.

Keep in mind that for all of the rests listed above, you cannot append them together the way you can with standard notes.

Instead, you must write out each individual rest.

Go Get Some Rest

Go get some rest – you deserve it.

If you’ve always been a fan of peace and quiet, you’re going to have a grand time getting acquainted with the different types of rests you’ll see in musical notation. 

Just like black needs white, and day needs night, your musical compositions need a dose of well-placed silence to really take off into the stratosphere.

Rest up!

You may also like: What Is Music Theory?

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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