Well, I'm a drummer. I've been drumming for the past three years. I can read sheet music and I have this question.

What's the point of having 'rests' in drums. I mean, why can't you leave the part where you want a rest, blank?

  • 1
    You would have to lengthen the note value of the preceding notes to fill in the empty space -- notation MUST be time-consistent.
    – NReilingh
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 21:34
  • The thing about rests is that they are not all the same. They have a particular duration, just as ordinary notes do. If you don't know exactly how long to pause, you won't know when to come back in. Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 16:59

2 Answers 2


It's easy to think that a short sound just needs a blob on the music, but it's easier to count through the bars if each one has the prescribed number of beats. Imagine a snare on 2 and 4. If the rests on 1 and 3 weren't marked, you may well think that the first snare hit was on 1. Who knows?

Whilst most drum sounds are short, cymbals can ring for a whole bar at least. If the composer wanted a short cymbal sound, a quaver (really short), crotchet,(longer) with appropriate rests to say 'stop it now' gives great information.

The rest signs are exactly what they say - no noise now, for this long.

  • 1
    with standard notation, you can only sort of tell when the note starts by looking at it's spacing. But when things get busy, the spacing can change wildly. This rubber banding of time makes rests necessary. Without the rubber banding, standard notation would take up a lot more space (as piano roll notation does). But if things are always busy anyway, like they usually are with drums, piano roll notation can be a lot better. (my opinion) Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 17:02
  • @StephenHazel- rather reminiscent of guitar tab. Really well written stuff will be somewhat accurate timing-wise.Other is almost impossible to read from a timing point of view.The spacing can be well out. Heard of electronic drums, but those with a rubber band ?
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 17:54

Imagine a rest as a placeholder signifying the presence of nothing, sort of like how 0 acts in mathematics. While not actually anything, it relays the information that there is literally nothing there. You could imagine how impossible it would be to decipher a number with no placeholders for nothing.

So instead of a rhythm looking like this, with 1 being a note and 0 being a rest, or empty space:

1 0 0 0 |0 1 0 0 |0 0 1 0 |0 0 0 1 |

This hemiola depends on understanding the space between sound. Without rests as placeholders for silence, you would get something that looks like this:

1       |  1     |    1   |      1 |

Whoops, that doesn't make sense anymore. It looks like you're trying to guess where the beat is.

In the end, it's all for greater precision and accuracy, especially when playing with others.

  • 2
    Wait-- drummers pay attention to the rest of the group? :-) Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 17:52

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