Is there an easier way to say "an entire bar devoid of notes" in English?

I'm referring to music notation, when a bar has no notes and a whole rest must be used as a result. I want to know if there's a technical word for the quote I provided, a word that would explain that situation without having to describe it.

  • 1
    If you need to describe it in non-musical terms, you could say a bar of silence. Dec 5, 2017 at 17:56
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    I hesitate to give an "answer" because I'm not sure the question is even on-topic here. You're asking for a "technical word" in "music notation", not an everyday English expression, right? So maybe music.stackexchange.com would be the best place. Dec 5, 2017 at 18:08
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    Yes, a technical word is what I was looking for. Still, it might not be considered off-topic so feel free to post it as an answer. Either way it wouldn't affect you and you did help giving me an answer.
    – The Beast
    Dec 5, 2017 at 18:12
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    @Jason P Sallinger - A silent bar is when no-one is playing. In an orchestral score, some instruments may have one or more bars' rest while others are playing. Dec 6, 2017 at 9:22
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    At least one of the music forums on ELU has a terminology tag, and this is a request for a s ubject-specific term. Feb 4 at 19:31

2 Answers 2


This is called a "whole rest", as you say; for most time signatures, a whole rest is used regardless of the actual length of the measure.

  • How very interesting.
    – Lambie
    Dec 5, 2017 at 21:08

There’s a subtle yet significant distinction between a whole rest (AKA a semibreve rest) and a whole measure rest (whole bar rest) — the latter is the term you are looking for.

Regardless of the time signature, a whole measure rest will completely fill a measure (bar). These usually* use the same symbol as a whole rest, but are always centred horizontally within the measure (rather than aligned with the start of their duration as are other rests and notes).

Here’s an example of whole measure rests in 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4. Respectively, these have the same values as a half note (minim), a dotted half note (dotted minim), and a whole note (semibreve).

Whole measure rests in 2/4, 3/4, 4/4. A solid horizontal rectangle hanging from the fourth line of the staff.

So, if you are in 4/4 you can get away with calling a whole measure rest a whole rest because it has the same value (even if this is technically incorrect because the of the spacing), but in most other time signatures this would be quiet wrong.

* When the time signature is 4/2 or larger, a whole measure rest is instead represented by the symbol for a double whole rest (breve rest) symbol.

Whole measure rest in 4/2. A solid vertical rectangle connecting the third and fourth lines of the staff.

This is because there is enough room in a measure of 4/2 for more than one whole rest.

  • I don't think I've ever seen a ²⁄₄ whole bar rest like that; and I'm not sure a ⅜ bar rest would be either. (Which doesn't mean this is wrong, but might be something else for your footnote. +1 anyway.)
    – Andrew Leach
    Feb 4 at 9:58
  • @Andrew_Leach Modern engraving rules use the whole rest (semibreve rest) symbol for all time signatures that are smaller than 4/2, but I’d be interested to see another approach. Feb 5 at 20:06

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