From an ABRSM test paper (G5)

excerpt showing a two beat rest followed by crotchet in 6 4 time as incorrect notation

The last rest is incorrect according to the answer. However to me it divides the dotted minim beat into 2+1 for compound time and appears correct.

What is wrong with it and how can it be corrected?

  • It doesn’t look wrong to me but since the second bar has two quarter note rests instead of a half rest maybe the exam expects the same for bar 3. Jul 29, 2023 at 1:38
  • 4
    It looks right to me, and Gould, so the next port of call (for me) would be ABRSM. Having contacted them several times over other issues, I find they're very helpful. After all, if they can't be seen to get it right, what credibility will be lost? Give them a call or an email. Then come back with their answer.
    – Tim
    Jul 29, 2023 at 7:06
  • 1
    The first measure bothers me more than the third one; I'd rather see the third eighth note of the first measure beamed separately from the first two.
    – Richard
    Aug 16, 2023 at 8:53

1 Answer 1



Both ABRSM study materials and Behind Bars by Elaine Gould indicate that the given notation is acceptable and should not be marked as incorrect.

Why the test example is correctly notated

First Steps in Music Theory by Eric Taylor (ABRSM, 2021) provides an "introduction to essential elements of music" and "is ideal for students preparing for [Grade 1–5 theory] examinations."

The 6/4 time signature is introduced on page 81, which also addresses rhythmic grouping:

The grouping of notes and rests in [6/4 time] is the same as in 6/8 ... except that in 6/4 the time values are doubled.

That brings us to pp. 55–58, which discuss "The Grouping of Rests in 6/8, 9/8, and 12/8." In showing whole-beat (dotted quarter/crotchet) rests for 6/8 time, the example of a quarter/crotchet rest followed by an eighth/quaver rest is explicitly given as correct (p. 55). Allowing the eighth/quaver rest could be a note, and since 6/4 only involves doubling the time values (above), this would suggest that a 6/4 measure could acceptably start with a half/minim rest followed by a quarter-note/crotchet.

The only other directly relevant statement regards "silences of less than a full beat, where the example quarter/crotchet rest followed by an eighth-note/quaver is given as correct. That, too, would argue in favor of the exercise example being correctly notated.

Finally, there are three examples of correct notations on page 57 that indirectly suggest the test example is okay.

  • In 9/8 time: dotted quarter/crotchet rest; dotted quarter/crotchet rest; quarter/crotchet rest; eighth-note/quaver. Doubled for 9/4, the final beat would be half-note/minim, quarter/crotchet.
  • In 12/8 time: as in 9/8, the final beat of the measure is given as quarter/crotchet rest followed by an eighth-note/quaver.
  • In 6/8 time: the second beat of the measure is quarter/crotchet rest followed by a sixteenth/semiquaver rest and a sixteenth-note/semiquaver.

The grouping rules for note values (pp. 51–53) are also consistent with all of the above.

Why the test example might be incorrectly notated

The only counterexample suggesting the sample exam might be correct (that the example is incorrectly notated) is on page 56. A measure of 3/4 is explicitly illustrated as two quarter/crotchet rests followed by a quarter-note/crotchet, and the example of a half/minim rest followed by a quarter-note/crotch is stated to be incorrect. If the first half of the 6/4 measure is being treated like a 3/4 measure, then this rule would apply, and the exam notation would be wrong.

There is a similar example in 9/8 time in which a dotted half/minim rest followed by a dotted quarter-note/crotchet is given as incorrect. In other words, in a grouping of three beats, a two-beat rest followed by a one-beat note is incorrect. However, in the test example, the sub-beats (quarters/crotchets) would have to be treated as whole beats.

The arbiter of correctness

In Elaine Gould's Behind Bars, it is explicit that, in 6/4 time, the first two parts of a beat may be joined into a single rest. Thus, two quarter/crotchet rests may be joined into a single half/minim rest. (See pp. 161 and 163.)

The only wiggle room is that in Gould's example, the rests are in the second half of the bar rather than the first half, as in the ABRSM example. However, there is nothing in either ABRSM or Gould to suggest that makes a difference.

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