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Rest symbols and why silence in music is so important

Why silence in music is important

Do you know how to identify rest symbols when reading music? When listening to music, you probably never notice all the moments of silence. Your ear is more focused on the things happening in the song, such as the lyrics, or a really catchy melody. But actually, silence is just as important as sound. Silence provides relief and builds suspense, and without it, music would lose a lot of its meaning. In this post, we’re going to look at how silence is used on the piano, as well as how it’s shown using music notation. So try your best not to “rest” just yet and stay focused 😉


Rest symbols: what are they and how do I read them?

Silence in music comes in the form of “rests”, which are little symbols that tell the player to be silent for a number of counts. Just like notes, rests can last for different durations.

Let’s take a look at some different piano rest symbols and see how they work:


Quarter note rest

A quarter note rest looks like this and lasts for the same duration as a quarter note: 1 count. The only difference is instead of pressing a key, you “rest” your fingers.

Piano rest symbols - Quarter Note


Half note rest

A half note rest lasts as long as a half note… yes that’s right, 2 counts. Have a look at the half note rest symbol shown below. This rest is written on the middle line.

Half Note Rest - Silence in Music


🎹 Let’s see how the half note rest works within an exercise! Watch the lesson on half notes below, and first see if you can count along to the rhythm (each measure has 4 counts, indicated by the metronome click). Once you are ready, try and play along with the exercise.


Do you want to practice the full exercise?


Whole note rest

Yes, you guessed it! A whole note rest lasts for the same amount of time as a whole note; 4 counts.  Notice that the whole note rest looks exactly the same as the half note rest, apart from it hangs from the middle line. Avoid getting confused by making up a rhyme or saying such as: “half sits and whole hangs”. 

Rest Symbols - Whole Note


🎹 Watch the lesson below and play along. Once you have done this, see if you can answer the bonus question below.


Play the full lesson here!


Why did each whole note rest (4 counts) take up a full measure?

Well done! Because the time signature is 4/4, meaning that each measure is made up of 4 counts.  


Different rest symbols in one exercise

If you’ve made it this far, then well done! We’re now going to put all of the different rest symbols we have learnt into one final exercise…. Are you ready?


🎹 Play along “Mix & Match II”! Don’t worry if you miss notes or rests the first time around, just restart the lesson and try again.


Hopefully after reading this post and playing through the exercises you have a newfound appreciation of how important silence is within music. But don’t stop there; make sure that from now on when playing a piece, you always take the time to listen to the silence as much as the notes themselves. 

And if you still don’t think that silence in music is significant, then make sure you check out “4’33” by the famous composer John Cage… We are sure it will change your mind! 

To go deeper, you can read this very interesting article from The New York Times: How the Silence Makes the Music. Enjoy!


Other articles about music notation:


Author of this blog post:
Elliot Hogg – Music tutor from Leeds who specializes in teaching piano, music theory, and music composition.

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