Music Theory – 0008

QuarterRestA Rest is a measured duration of silence just as a note is a measured duration of pitch. We don’t want the singer to pass out for lack of an opportunity to breathe, we don’t want the horn player’s head to explode. I’m making assumptions here. Music is meant in most cases to portray the sounds of life and emotion. In many cases an instrument being played is intending to mimic the human voice as artfully as possible.

When people speak, they say words. Or they cry, or laugh, or make some angry grunt. Between the words is a pause. Between the sentences is typically a longer pause. If this audible communication was not punctuated by pauses, even dramatic ones — the silence was deafening — then the constant drone would be difficult at best to understand.

A powerful tool of rhythm is the rest. A powerful tool of melody, in making single notes or short melodic phrases stand out, is the rest. Let’s see what rests look like. On the score you can see silence.


In the picture above in the top staff from left to right we have a whole note, a half note, a quarter note, an eighth note and a sixteenth note. Below each note is the symbol for a rest that is the exact same duration as the note above it. The whole rest hangs below the line, lets say because it is “heaviest”. The half rest is “lighter” so it floats above the line. The quarter rest looks unique enough. And beyond that with each division we add another “berry” to the vine, one for each flag on the note.

You can easily place a rest into your score with NotePad. First you enter the note with the mouse in the usual way and while that note is still highlighted, tap the letter “r” on your computer keyboard. “R” for rest. It doesn’t matter what the pitch of the note is that you are going to make into a rest, but the rhythmic value is very important.

A simple example of the effectiveness of the rest is in order. I want you to enter every example that follows into NotePad so you can listen to them. First we will enter and listen to an ascending C Major scale. You should create a new file with two measures. Use the blank staff as your instrument:


Listen to this several times by using the Playback Controls. Now enter the following including the rests. You will again only need the Blank Staff and this time three measures. To enter the half rests, enter a half note and while it is still highlighted pink tap the letter “r” on your computer keyboard:


These are the exact same notes broken up with a pause in between. The first example we hear a steady stream of notes that drives from Middle C to the C above it. In the second example we have two Phrases, the first drives from C to F, and the second drives from G to C. The effect is powerfully different.

For tomorrow I am going to follow up on my post from yesterday and attempt to precisely notate the Morse Code for “SOS”. Given I can manage that, maybe we can explore hiding a coded message within a melody. Sounds like fun.

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