Types of Rests and Pauses in Music

Stops or Pause in Musical Notation

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Rests are used to indicate a stop in a piece of music. There are many types of rests. Some rests can last for many measures. Some rests are so short that you would hardly pause in the music. There are also pause marks in music, these are usually at the discretion of the performer or conductor.

Rest Values

A whole rest, which appears like a hat turned up, is also called a semibreve rest. It is the silent equivalent of the value of a whole note, a half rest (upside-down hat) is the silent equivalent to the value of a half note.

Whole rests are placed on the 4th line of the staff. Half rests are on the third line, and quarter rests are placed over the middle 3 lines. 

When an entire bar (or measure) does not have notes or is resting, then a whole rest is used, regardless of the actual time signature.

Main Types of Rests

The table shows you the common types of rests and its value. These values are based on music that is in 4/4 time signature (a common time signature used in music). Based on 4/4 time, then a whole rest would be the equivalent of 4 beats of silence. A half rest would be 2 beats of silence and so on.

Types of Rests
whole rest4
half rest2
quarter rest1
eighth rest1/2
sixteenth rest1/4
thirty-second rest1/8
sixty-fourth rest1/16

Multiple Bars of Rest

If you are part of concert band or orchestra, it is not uncommon for other instruments to have solos or breakouts from the rest of the band. Sometimes, the silence of one instrument group helps move the mood of the music along.

For example, parts that are extremely percussive can indicate tension, drama, or intrigue in a music.

In musical notation, the parts that sit out would have multiple bars of rest indicated in the sheet music. This is usually indicated as a "long bar rest." It appears as a long, thick horizontal line placed in the middle of the staff horizontally extending through the sheet music.

There are two lines perpendicular to the long bar indicating the starting line of the rest and the end point of the rest. Or, if there are numerous multiple measures, then there will be a notation of a number above the long, horizontal line as an indicator to the musician how many measures the rest would last. For example, a "12" above the horizontal line would be an indicator to the musician to sit out for 15 measures of the composition.

Pause Markings

In sheet music, there is a difference between in a rest and a pause. There are four pause markings that you should know: a general pause, a fermata, a caesura, and a breath mark.

Special Pause Symbols

General Pause (G.P.)

or Long Pause (L.P.)

Indicates pause or silence for all instruments or voices. The notation "G.P." or "L.P." is marked over a whole rest. The length of the pause is left to the discretion of the performer or conductor.
FermataUsually, a fermata indicates that a note should be sustained longer than its value. Sometimes, the fermata can appear above a whole rest. The pause is left to the discretion of the performer or conductor.

The caesura is used in a similar manner to the G.P. and L.P. with the difference of typically a shorter duration of silence. It is also known as the railroad tracks. It looks like two forward slashes parallel to each other on the top line of a music staff.

By itself, it indicates a short silence with a sudden stop and sudden resume. Combined with a fermata, the caesura indicates a much longer pause.

Breath MarkA breath mark appears as an apostrophe in musical notation. Basically, it is an indicator (especially for wind instruments and singers) to take a quick breath. It is hardly a pause. For bowed instruments, it means, pause, but hardly lift the bow off the strings.