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Victoria Williams

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8. Adding Rests & Beaming Notes in Groups

Grade Three Music Theory - Lesson 8: Adding Rests & Beaming Notes in Groups (UK Version)

Suitable for:  ABRSM Grade 3   Trinity Grade 3   GCSE   AP Music Theory Beginners 


 Here are the rests you need to know for the grade 3 music theory exam, in order of length, starting with the longest:

semibreve - minim - crotchet - quaver - semiquaver - demisemiquaver*

all the rests in order

Rests can also be dotted. 

The semibreve rest is also used as a whole bar rest, even when the value is worth less than four crotchets, for example in this 3/4 bar. It is placed in the centre of the bar.

semibreve or whole bar rest

 The "whole bar" rest can be used in any time signature except for 4/2, where two semibreve rests are needed for one bar's silence.


Choosing the Right Rests

Although rests show silence, you still need to use the right rests according to the time signature, because rests are written to make the main beats of the bar easy to see.

  • You will always need to start by working out the type and number of beats per bar, according to the time signature. Also work out what the next sub-division of the beat is.
    E.g. 2/4 = two crotchets per bar, and each beat divides into 2 quavers, 6/8 = two dotted crotchets per bar, and each beat divides into 3 quavers.

  • Then use rests worth one beat or two beats, but two-beat rests may only be used on the strong beat of the bar. (In duple and triple time, this means the first beat of the bar only, and in quadruple time it means the first and third beats of the bar). You may also use the whole bar rest (see above).
  • Don’t use dotted rests in simple time signatures (those with 2, 3 or 4 on top).
  • If the rest you need is worth less than one beat, use smaller rests to complete the beat or sub-beat, before you do anything else.
  • When completing a beat or a sub-beat, always put a longer note/rest before a shorter one, and not the other way round.



Rests worth one or two beats, or a whole bar:

Examples a-e are correct. Example f is wrong, because the two-beat rest has been put on the weak 2nd beat of the bar.

rests one two beats 4 4

Examples a-c are correct. Example d is acceptable but used more rarely these days. Example e is incorrect, because the shorter rest is before the longer one. Example f is wrong, because we should use a rest worth one complete beat (a dotted crotchet).

rests one two beats 6 8

Rests worth less than one beat

Examples a and b are correct. Example c is wrong, because the first crotchet beat must be completed (with a quaver) before anything else, and we don’t use dotted rests in simple time signatures. Example d is wrong, because the sub-beat (=quaver) should be completed before anything else. Example e is wrong, because we don’t use dotted rests in simple time signatures.

rests small rests 4 4

Examples a and b are correct. Example c is wrong, because the beat is balanced with a shorter part before a longer part (quaver note + crotchet rest). Example d is wrong, because a minim rest is never used in 6/8, as it is not worth one or two beats (it’s worth one-and-a-third beats!) Example e is wrong, because we need to complete the sub-beat first (to make a quaver). Example f is wrong, because we have a longer rest (crotchet) after the shorter, first quaver sub-beat. Example g is wrong for many reasons!

rests small rests 6 8


Don't forget that rests can also be included as part of triplets.

The first two beats have a minim rest - the minim rest is allowed because it falls on the strong beat. The third beat is a triplet figure, with only two quavers. We need another quaver here to complete the triplet. The rest is written inside the square triplet brackets.

rests and triplets

The first triplet figure is completed with a quaver rest. This makes up the first crotchet beat. The second triplet figure is completed with a crotchet rest.

rests two triplets


Adding Rests to a Melody

You may be asked to add the correct rest(s) at the places marked * to make each bar complete in a short melody.

First, look at the time signature, and make a note of the number and type of beats per bar.

Write in the rests, making sure that you complete main beats before anything else, and that you don't write long rests on weak beats.


Here’s an example:

add rests to this melody

  • Bar 1: complete the first crotchet beat with one quaver.
  • Bar 2: complete the first crotchet beat with a quaver rest, then write a crotchet rest to complete the second beat of the bar. Use a minim rest for beats 3 and 4 (ok because it falls on the strong 3rd beat).
  • Bar 3: whole bar rest.
  • Bar 4: finish the bar with a minim on the strong 3rd beat.
  • Bar 5: crotchet rest to mark the first beat, quaver rest to complete the triplet on the second beat.


Here’s the answer:



Grouping & Beaming Notes

A beam is the line that joins quavers, semiquavers or demisemiquavers together.

You might be asked to rewrite a passage with the notes correctly grouped, or beamed.

  • Beam notes together in complete beats
  • Start a new beamed group on each main beat.
  • Four quavers can (optionally) be beamed to equal a minim, as long as the group doesn't cross from a weak to a strong beat (e.g. beats 2-3 in 4/4 time).
  • You might need to change the direction of the stems on some notes in the group.
  • If you have several notes in a group where some go up and some go down, use the direction which would be correct for the note furthest from the middle line.
  • The angle of beams follows the pattern of the music – if the music is rising in pitch, they slope upwards. If the music is falling in pitch they slope downwards. If the music stays at the same pitch, they are horizontal.


Here is a badly beamed passage:

badly beamed passage

The time signature is 2/4, so we should have two crotchet beats per bar. The groups of quavers and semiquavers need to be beamed together to show this, and we also had to change the stem direction on a couple of notes:

correctly beamed passage


 Here is an example of how the time signature affects beaming. These notes will be beamed in a different way, depending on the time signature:


In 3/4 time, three beats per bar need to be shown. In 6/8 time, there are two beats per bar. Here is the correct beaming in each time signature: 


(You could also beam together the last two quaver notes in the 6/8 bar, keeping the rest in the middle, if you prefer).



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