What Do Whole Rests And Chameleons Have In Common?

Whole RestsWhole rests are similar to whole notes.  They both receive four counts.  The only difference is that a whole rest is four counts of silence while a whole note is four counts of sound.

But wait

It’s also interesting to note that a whole rest always appears dead center in the middle of any measure, regardless of the time signature.  One reason for this could be that it may make them easier to spot in the music.

There is also another reason and it has to do with the “true” definition of a whole rest.

Defining a Whole Rest

A whole rest is defined as resting for a whole measure.  That’s a pretty simple definition.  In fact, there is nothing in there that tells us how many counts to hold it.

This makes me believe that we still need to recognize a whole rest as a total of four counts on its own, but it can also take on the value of anything in the time signature, if one is present.

So, if you see a whole rest in 2/4 time, it is a total of two counts.  In 3/4 time it is three counts and a total of four counts in 4/4 time.  The top number of the time signature tells us how many counts the whole rest should be held.whole restsHmmm…that’s strange.  It acts kind of like a chameleon.  On its own, it is four counts.  But, if you put it in a piece of music, it will suddenly take on the character and shades of its surroundings.  Interesting, huh?

How To Remember Them

A whole rest hangs below the fourth line of a music staffwhole restsA clever way to remember what they look like is to picture it as a “whole-in-the-ground”.  For students, I usually draw a little flower growing up from the whole rest as a way to see this easier.

Another way to think of this is to visualize an upside down hat.  That works really well for people also.whole restsWhy bother creating a unique picture of a whole rest in my head?  The reason for doing this is because they do look similar to half rests.  In this way, a little creativity of the mind can help you identify the difference between the two rests.


Whole rests do have their own identity, but as you can see, they seem to act like little chameleons also.  They allow their duration of silence to change according to the time signature of the music. They’re interesting little critters aren’t they?

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