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Obviously for 3 and 4/4 you use the respective semebreve or dotted minim, but what about 7/8, 9/8 and 15/16?

I heard the convention is to just use a semibreve, but that doesn't make sense to me over using tied notes.

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3 Answers 3

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It doesn't make sense to me either, but it seems it's a valid convention, according to Wikipedia... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whole_note

I suppose it's only valid for measures of 4/4 or less; it would definitely look bad on 5/4, 7/4, etc.

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The one-bar rests wikipedia page indicates that any time signature above 3/16, and excepting 4/2 uses the semibreve rest=whole measure. –  Dave Jul 17 '13 at 19:19
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This answer is correct. You can use a whole rest for any time signature at 4/4 or less, including time signatures less than 3/16. If you're worried about clarity, you always have the option of writing rests that are equal to the value or subdivision of that bar. Otherwise, you can notate a multimeasure-style rest for that bar and write a "1" over it. –  Nate Kimball Jul 17 '13 at 21:41
    
And more is just tied notes i assume? –  Alexander Troup Jul 17 '13 at 22:21
    
If nothing else is shown in a bar, then it's surely obvious that nothing is played, thus indicating a bar's rest.So, in 5/4, for example, the 4 beat rest sign would have no one beat note to fill the bar, there wouldn't be a 4/4 change of time before it, therefore it could only mean a whole (5 beat) bar of nothing. –  Tim Jul 18 '13 at 6:33
    
That Wikipedia entry only says a whole note can be used in certain free-form music styles. I know of no published jazz or "classical" score which uses a whole note to represent anything other than the equivalent of four quarter notes. –  Carl Witthoft Jul 18 '13 at 12:08

I would say the convention is as you say, but in modern music some composers write the "real" length of the bar in pauses. When so it has to do with sight seeing ("à vista") reading, to make it easier to count empty bars and have a visual representation for the swing/rhythm.

So, yes, the convention is so for most cases. Found this on wikipedia (with references to music theory books: The AB Guide to Music Theory & Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice):

When an entire bar is devoid of notes, a whole (semibreve) rest is used, regardless of the actual time signature. The only exceptions are for a 4/2 time signature (four half notes per bar), when a double whole rest is typically used for a bar's rest, and for time signatures shorter than 3/16, when a rest of the actual measure length would be used.
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Adding to my comment above, in 5/4 for instance, the piece may have a 3-2 feel, if so, a dotted minim and minim rest cover it nicely.

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