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A rest is an interval of silence in a piece of music, marked by a sign indicating the length of the pause. Each rest symbol corresponds with a particular note value:
- long rest (or four-measure rest)
- double whole rest / breve rest
- whole rest / semibreve rest
- half rest / minim rest
- quarter rest / crotchet rest
- eighth rest / quaver rest
- sixteenth rest / semiquaver rest
- thirty-second rest / demisemiquaver rest
- sixty-fourth rest / hemidemisemiquaver rest
The combination of rests used to mark a pause follows the same rules as for notes. For more details see note value.
When an entire measure is devoid of notes, a semibreve (whole) rest is used, regardless of the actual time signature. The only exception is for a 4/2 time signature (four minims per bar), when a breve rest is typically used for a bar's rest. Some published music places the numeral "1" above the rest to confirm the extent of the rest.
In manuscript autographs and facsimiles, bars without notes are sometimes left completely empty, without even a semibreve rest. The composer can also completely leave out the staff lines (the practice of, for example, Krzysztof Penderecki).
Multiple measure rests
In instrumental parts, rests of more than one measure in the same meter and key may be indicated with a multiple measure rest, showing the number of measures of rest, as shown. Multiple measure rests of variable duration are usually drawn in one of two ways: either as long, thick horizontal lines placed on the middle line of the staff, with serifs at either end, or as thick diagonal lines placed between the second and fourth lines of the staff. They denote a silence several times the duration of a whole rest.
The number of whole rest lengths for which the multiple measure rest lasts is indicated by a number printed above the musical staff (usually at the same size as the numerals in a time signature). Where the silence is for less than eight whole rest lengths, some publishers use a combination of four measure rests, double whole rests and whole rests to graphically indicate the extent of the rest. This serves as a counting aid and derives from 19th-century notation conventions. If a meter or key change occurs during a multiple-measure 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 a double-barline, which demarcates musical phrases or sections (a tacet instrumental part to a song may contain a sequence of multiple eight-measure rests, for instance).
The four measure rest or longa rest is a symbol found in Western musical notation denoting a silence four times the duration of a whole rest. They are only used in long silent passages which are not divided into bars.
Four-measure rests are drawn as filled-in rectangles occupying the whole space between the second and fourth lines from the top of the musical staff.
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).
Double-dotted rests, while theoretically acceptable, rarely appear in printed music, due to notational conventions and a concern for clarity.