What to Know About the Whole Rest

In this lesson, we’ll look at one important element of sheet music – the whole rest.

The whole rest (or semibreve as it’s known in Britain) is a period in which you shouldn’t play anything. That’s right, not a single note.

It’s the longest rest available, hence it’s “whole”, as opposed to a half rest, quarter rest, eighth rest or sixteenth rest.

When you see the whole rest in your sheet music, instead of playing a note, take a long pause of four beats.

When first learning to read music, this can feel like a very long pause. But, it’ll become natural over time.

The whole rest adds to the rhythm of the music you’re playing, giving it ambiance. Rests are important when playing music as it gives the song you’re playing a melody.

Don’t neglect your rests and the time value they’re worth. This is the most important piece of advice to follow when learning how to use the whole rest!

How Long Does a Whole Rest Last?

The rest should be held for an entire measure. So, if you’re playing a piece of music in 4/4 time, a whole rest should be four beats long.

The whole rest lasts for four beats of common time. You can very easily count it yourself.

What is a Time Signature?

The time signature will tell you how many beats are in a measure. It can be found on the left-hand side of your sheet music [1].

It is displayed as two numbers with one sitting on top of the other. Common time signatures are 4/4 or 3/4 or 3/8.

If you’re in 4/4 time, then each line notifies a new measure with each measure containing four crotchet (worth one note) beats.

There should only be four beats in a bar. When a whole rest is shown, there will be no other notes in the measure.

If you’re just learning to read music, check out some free sheet music to help you see workable examples.

How to Identify a Whole Rest

A whole note looks like a circle with a hole in the middle. It does not have a stem.

However, its equivalent in rest form looks a lot like a hat which is upside down. Or, many people refer to it as this!

The whole rest sits on the second to the top line. It is a thicker, black rectangle which can be hard to miss when you’re first learning to read music.

It also looks similar to a half rest which sits on the middle line, (but on top of the line, not hanging from the fourth line like the whole rest.)

Keep in mind that the line numbers start from the bottom, not the top.

Understanding the Whole Rest Made Easy

Are you learning to play a musical instrument [2]? There are many apps which can help you along your journey. You’ll save money and have fun with this method.

If you’re enjoying learning music but aren’t sure which musical instrument is right for you, check out our guides.

Stephanie Su

Started learning music when she was four years old, Stephanie is a music teacher and a music therapist who is highly proficient in Piano, Violin, Guitar, and Ukulele. She likes to learn, teach, and share her music playing experiences.

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