Piano Lessons - Basic Rest Values

Once you have mastered the basic note values in piano sheet music, you are half way to being able to play music written for the piano, and other instruments. As a musician, you should realize that the silence that is written into music is just as important as the notes surrounding it. In fact, it is the moments of silence that defines the important contrast between sound and the absence of sound. To indicate where in the music there should be brief periods of silence, composers use notation symbols called rests, where the musician is expected to rest, or not to play. Long periods of rest can be effective, when used in music for a certain purpose. For example, during a slow, lyrical melody written for the string section of an orchestra, the brass section may have many counts of rests. They count the rests carefully, knowing how many beats should pass before they are needed to play again, and enter at just the right moment, on just the right beat, as the composer intended, for a triumphant effect.basic rest

Just as commonly, rests can be very brief. They can last a single measure, a few beats, or even part of a beat. From the very beginning stages of learning to play an instrument, you must familiarize yourself with the basic rest values (the length of time during which you should not play) and learn how to keep an accurate count and come in again on time. A common mistake that many beginners make is to accidentally skip over an indicated rest, and to continue playing with the next note. As you practice and become comfortable learning to read the rests, you will realize that the rests are a very important part of the music, and learning to “play the rest” accurately is part of learning to read music notation accurately and musically.

The longest kinds of rests can last many measures. These rests, called multi-measure rests are written as a solid bar that takes up the length of an entire measure (sometimes this measure is longer than the regular measure would be) with a number written over the rest. The number indicates that the musician should not play, and let that number of measures pass before entering the music again to play the next note. Musicians have developed an effective way of counting these types of rests so that they are sure to come in at the right place. If each measure has four beats in it, and the multi-measure rest lets the musician know to rest for five measures, they would count “One two three four, two two three four, three two three four, four two three four, five two three four,” and then enter on the next beat. If each measure only had three beats in it, the counting would change to include only three beats, like “One two three, two two three, three two three,” and so on.

A rest that shows that only one measure should be silent is called a whole rest, because it takes up the whole measure. A whole rest is a short bar written just beneath the fourth line up from the bottom of the staff. A half rest is silence that receives half the time value of a whole rest, two counts. The half rest is a short bar written just above the third line of the music staff. These two rests can seem confusing at first, but with a little practice in identifying them, you will understand the difference in no time. The next shortest rest is a single beat of rest, which looks like a vertical squiggle line. This rest, called a quarter rest, is the counterpart of the quarter note, which also receives one beat of duration. A composer can indicate that half of a beat is to be kept silent using an eighth rest. An eighth rest is written as a slanted line with a small flag that ends in a circle on the top. You can add more of these types of flags to a rest to make the rest even shorter, but being able to count a  whole rest, half rest, quarter rest, and eighth rest will get you through most basic piano music with no problems.

When you practice music that includes rests, make sure that you tap your foot as you play, and most importantly, do not let yourself skip over the rests, or let sound carry over into the rest. End each note on time before you get to any rest, so that the rest is truly silent.

After you master the basic rest values you may want to try playing a song, or maybe even writing a song on piano. You can try playing in different time signatures to practice different rests with different counts.

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