I am preparing for a music school entry exam and I am given following problem:

In the following example, place the missing rest symbols in the brackets. It's possible, that you have to write down multiple rest symbols. Also, write the rest symbols according to the convention of the given time signature.

Four measures on a rhythmic staff in 2/4 with notes and (bracketed) gaps. M1: gap, crotchet, quaver. M2: semiquaver, gap, quaver. M3: semiquaver, gap, semiquaver. M4: gap, quaver.

It's easy to calculate the missing rest values:

Bar 1: 1/8-rest

Bar 2: 5/16-rest

Bar 3: 6/16-rest

Bar 4: 3/8-rest

However, I am wondering about the words convention of the given time signature. Is there a principle which also applies to other time signatures, for example 7/8 time signature or 3/4 time signature?

I would write the following:

M1: quaver rest, crotchet, quaver. M2: semiquaver, dotted quaver rest, quaver rest, quaver. M3: semiquaver, dotted quaver rest, dotted quaver rest, semiquaver. M4: crotchet rest, quaver rest, quaver.

To me, it seems, this would be the easiest to read. Including, that each rest combined with a note is equal to a 1/4 value. (Except for Bar 1.) Is this right, or is it bad practice to put a dotted 1/8 rest after the 1/16 note?

Is the following better?

M1: quaver rest, crotchet, quaver. M2: semiquaver, semiquaver rest, quaver rest, quaver rest, quaver. M3: semiquaver, semiquaver rest, quaver rest, dotted quaver rest, semiquaver. M4: crotchet rest, quaver rest, quaver.

Now, I feel like, this second approach seems to be a bit more readable? :-)

Lastly, getting rid of the last dotted rest:

M1: quaver rest, crotchet, quaver. M2: semiquaver, semiquaver rest, quaver rest, quaver rest, quaver. M3: semiquaver, semiquaver rest, quaver rest, quaver rest, semiquaver rest, semiquaver. M4: crotchet rest, quaver, quaver.

  • 1
    Does this answer your question? What is the rationale of note grouping?
    – Aaron
    Jun 7, 2022 at 19:35
  • Thank you for your fast reply. Yes, this makes sense to me. But there is still some information missing for me. Is there any free music notation software, which does this right in the first place? So I would experiment with it a bit. May MuseScore?
    – user408858
    Jun 7, 2022 at 19:43
  • But at the same time, it doesn't answer my question yet. Especially I have read, that it's common to write a 4/4 pause in 2/4 bar, when the whole bar will be paused. Also I am still wondering about Bar 3 in the example. Can I write two dotted 1/8 pauses, or would this be considered wrong? I neither write a dotted 1/8 after a 1/16 note, right?
    – user408858
    Jun 7, 2022 at 20:03
  • Since one of the stack exchange "rules" is to have one question per post, I recommend editing this question to focus on one of the issues you bring up, and then open a second question for the other. That will also resolve any issue of it being a duplicate of the post I linked to (though it might be a duplicate of another).
    – Aaron
    Jun 7, 2022 at 20:09
  • 2
    It's a bit cheeky of the exam question to talk about "according to the convention of the given time signature" when their own pre-supplied text violates that in bar 1!
    – AakashM
    Jun 8, 2022 at 8:56

1 Answer 1


The "convention of the time signature" is the definition of the time division unit, or "pulse", provided by the denominator of the time signature.

2/4 means the time division is the quarter note/crotchet. So rests (and sometimes even actual notes) should preferably be written with values based on that unit. And a rest symbol should not cross the boundaries of the time division.

So, for example for a dotted crotchet rest, you should write a quaver and a crotchet rests. The order depends on the rhythmic pattern, i.e. the crotchet should be aligned with an integer subdivision of the bar.

The rationale for this way of writing rests is that it is much easier to read, specially when reading at first sight.

So, this way:

crotchet, dotted-crotchet, quaver-rest, crotchet-rest

and not (slightly more difficult to interpret at first sight):

crotchet, dotted-crotchet, dotted-crotchet-rest

and even less (as a rest symbol "crosses" from one time division unit to the following):

crotchet, dotted-crotchet, crotchet-rest, quaver-rest

The same exact principles apply to any time signature, in relation to the respective time division unit. However you have to consider if it is a compound time signature or not. The "pulse" of a 6/8, 9/8 or 12/8, again, "by the convention of the time signature", is not a quaver but a dotted quaver (e.g. 2 pulse units of a dotted quaver in a 6/8 bar).

So, for example in a 9/8 time signature you could have:

dotted-crotched, dotted-crotchet-rest, quaver-rest, crotchet

But absolutely not!:

dotted-crotched, minim-rest, crotchet

Note that sometimes it's good to apply this kind of reasoning to notes too, for example if there are complex syncopations. So, this simple example would be normal and acceptable, as it is not a too complex pattern:

crotchet, quaver, crotchet, dotted-crotchet

But for a rather more complex rhythms and/or time signatures this type of writing would be preferable, as it makes evident how the rhythm pattern fits into the time division:

crotchet, quaver, quaver, tie, quaver, quaver, tie, crotchet

As a summary, for rests:

  • Dotted values - never use in simple times, use in compound times to fulfil a time division unit
  • Never "cross" time division units

Overall one should always try to write, not necessarily in the most concise or "elegant" way, but in the way the makes it easiest for a quick correct interpretation.

  • Thank you for your detailed answer! I've also edited my question and added two proposals for solution. Do you think any of these would be considered right? I'd be happy hear back from you! Thank you in advance!
    – user408858
    Jun 7, 2022 at 21:32
  • 2
    The second example is definitely better. I would still avoid the remaining dotted quaver pause in bar 3. Despite there being no crossing of the time signature natural unit, the same principles apply to subdivisions. Pauses for small units (quavers, semiquavers, etc.) should read as closely as possible as if they were notes grouped by stems. Check the answer identified by @aaron in a comment to your original question, you'll find clarifying examples of how to write groups of stemmed notes and pauses. Jun 7, 2022 at 22:04
  • 2
    Ok, thank you! I've added another version without the dotted rest. I hope this is fine now?
    – user408858
    Jun 7, 2022 at 22:36
  • The first example is also bad because the middle of the bar is not visible.
    – PiedPiper
    Jun 8, 2022 at 12:54

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