I remember reading somewhere (I don't know where) that a rest counts as a musical accent. Is this true?

If so, then for example, when can I rest in 4/4 for an instrumental piece?

  • Well, depending on what meaning we give the words, a rest is a definite thing, and by absence of sound there can be some emphasis (if the rest of the music is not toooo busy/noisy). Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 2:22
  • Welcome! This question is a bit confusing, and needs editing to be answerable. When you say "rest," do you mean this idea? and by "accent," do you mean this? For your second question: if you're reading notated music, rests are usually notated just like pitches. If you're creating your own, you can choose to include rests of any length at any time. Perhaps you're thinking about the idea of "metric accents," or "strong and weak beats"? Please use the "edit" button to tell us more. Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 3:14
  • FWIW, rests - including impromptu, unnotated, and ones that quite possibly shouldn't even be there - can create agogic accents on notes played immediately after them.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Mar 19, 2022 at 4:23
  • Can a rest create an agogic accent by having a long duration?
    – Luiyo
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 23:52

3 Answers 3


Second half of your question first. "...when can I rest on a 4/4 instrumental...?"

Anywhere you like. As witness any piece of notated music, where the solo part WILL contain rests.

Now we try to discover what "...a rest counts as a musical accent" means. Maybe just that you keep counting, whether there are notes or rests.

Or maybe it's a bit more philosophical. If there's a strong beat underlying the music, it can said to be be felt even when a note isn't actually played ON that beat. "The silence was deafening."

When singers tend to run into the rests, I sometimes say 'Sing the rests louder!'

  • 2
    "it can said to be felt" — crucial musical idea. Kids, pay attention to this one.
    – Aaron
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 23:11
  • Can a rest create an agogic accent by having a long duration?
    – Luiyo
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 10:20

An accent on a note makes that note played with more emphasis than the surrounding ones. So, from an actual situation, it would be impossible to make a rest sound more emphasised (louder) by writing it with an accent (>).

However, in the majority of music, we feel beat one as the usually more emphasised part of most bars - without that, it's pretty difficult to say what the time signature would be. So - if that particular part of a bar was missing sound - it was a rest - the listener would likely expect something there, thus making it a small period of time within that bar that was 'emphasised'. Rests are after all part of music, which will rarely be sound after sound after sound. Deafening silence?

That said, there is no deafinite place where rests (of any duration) are supposed to be; they fit where they go, due to the whim or choice of the composer. But, they will always be part of the music (or lack of it), adding to the final effect.

  • There's a great video on YouTube of Jojo Mayer as a keynote speaker at an architecture college, where he uses a great analogy for his audience: just like a building that is just a solid block of concrete is not very interesting (you need both the concrete walls, stairs, etc. and the "missing concrete" rooms, windows, doors, hallways), music also needs both the notes and the space between the notes. Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 17:00
  • Can a rest create an agogic accent by having a long duration?
    – Luiyo
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 10:20

Rests count as silent units of time and rhythm in music depending on their duration just like their note counterparts (i.e. half note/half note rest) but they are not accents. They also don’t have accents placed on them like notes can. After all, how can someone accent silence?

As far as where to rest on a 4/4 instrumental, the placement of rests are choices just like the placement of notes. There is no formula to say where they go, they can be placed anywhere one chooses. They are used in a way like commas, periods and paragraphs are used in language. The person who writes or improvises the music decides where they go.

  • Written punctuation maybe isn't the best analogy. In speech, a comma DOES imply a hiatus in the time-line, a paragraph implies an even more definite one. Musical equivalents would be a comma or a caesura. We could extend the analogy to a chapter end being like the break between two movements of a sonata. I can't think of a direct analogy for musical rests, but that's OK. If music could be described fully in words, we wouldn't need music!
    – Laurence
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 22:56
  • When rests occur inside a phrase (so not multi bar rest, or widely spaced rest for breath, etc.) - something like a rest per 1 or 2 bars inside a phrase - it reminds me of short sentences. On the other hand, lines like fortspinnung, seem like long sentences of phrases strung together with commas. Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 15:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.