Is it common to use a whole rest for a measure in any meter?
Question: I am a music teacher, and obviously have a degree in music. But I have to admit that I have a question about the use of a whole rest. A couple of years ago a fellow musician used a whole rest in a measure of 3/4. I had never seen a measure of rest in 3/4 notated with a whole rest and commented upon it. He said this was quite common and couldn't believe I had never seen it. I have looked it up in my musical terms dictionary and my notation dictionary and this practice is not mentioned. However, several sites online do mention it as a common practice. Since I was first introduced to this idea two years ago I have seen it ONCE in a commercially printed piece of music. This does not seem to me to be "common". I saw a discussion online that says putting a whole rest in a measure irregardless of meter signature is easier to read. I have to say that personally it makes it more difficult - I have to stop and think about what meter I am in!** So my question is: how common is this really?- Peggy

Answer: I have to say that despite my vast education this practice still surprised me, too, when I first became aware of it. It doesn't seem to make good sense. But in fact it is common now to use a whole rest to mean "one measure of rest" regardless of the meter.

But you are asking, How common is this really?

It's hard to come up with a metric for that, but let's rely on the testimony of Gardner Read, whose "Music Notation" is something of a Bible for music notation. He says of the whole rest,

" now commonly serves as the symbol for any completely silent measure, regardless of the meter or time signature." (2nd Edition, p. 98). He adds that given this current custom, the whole rest must not be used to represent a partial measure, except perhaps in a meter where the whole note is the denominator of the meter signature, like 2/1 or 3/1.

And I've seen it a lot in orchestra parts. I'd answer your question: "pretty common." But I wouldn't write it that way in a piece where there were frequent changes of meter. Clarity is the goal, after all.

Return to Q&A Index