A bar's duration is measured in beats and can be represented using a whole note. So, a bar duration in beats is just a whole note.

So isn't a 3/2 measure just spilling over? 3 half notes is equal to a bar and a half. What's the explanation?

  • 6
    I think you might be thinking of another music theory rule. A whole bar's rest can always be shown with a four-beat rest (whole-note, US; semibreve, UK), no matter what the time-signature. But, as Dom says below, a "whole-note" is only four-beats long when the time-signature equates to four crotchet (quarter) beats; i.e. 4/4, 2/2, 8/8 (and yes, I guess 16/16!!) Oct 7, 2014 at 18:54
  • See here: music.stackexchange.com/q/24140/9198 Oct 7, 2014 at 19:12

9 Answers 9


A bar's duration can be represented using the whole note

No, not always! This is the incorrect assumption you're making.

A bar's 'duration' depends on the time signature. So, in a standard 4/4 bar, the bar is 4 quarter notes long. (4 * 1/4...see where this is going?)

Alternatively, in a 3/2 bar, the bar is 3 half notes long, or 3 * 1/2!

So, whilst a full 4/4 bar would look like this:

44 bar

A full 3/2 bar would look more like this:

32 bar

Or alternatively, could be filled with a single, dotted whole note.

32 whole bar


A whole note takes up a full measure in 16/16, 8/8, 4/4, and 2/2 time only. A whole note has the value of 4 quarter notes or 2 half notes. Since how common 4/4 time is (it is even also referred to as common time) it makes sense that the notes name line up with the use in 4/4.

In 3/2 the whole measure is represented by a dotted whole note (i.e. a whole note plus a half note) as seen below.

enter image description here

There are notes bigger then a whole note for example there is a double whole note that has the value of 8 quarter notes. This note would be used to fill a full measure in 4/2 as shown below.

enter image description here

  • 2
    also known as the breve.
    – Neil Meyer
    Oct 9, 2014 at 15:54
  • 1
    Breves are (were) twice as long as our far more common semibreves. Don't get a lot of airing these days.That's how the name came about! Ironic considering that 'breve' means short...
    – Tim
    Aug 13, 2016 at 10:39
  • 4
    @Tim Well, a breve is a half of a longa, so it is short :)
    – yo'
    May 8, 2018 at 20:10

The questioner is mistaken. A whole NOTE cannot be used to fill a bar of any length.

But a whole bar can be filled by a REST that looks very like a whole note rest.

The whole bar rest and the whole note rest are two different things though. They use the same symbol, but positioned differently. A whole NOTE rest sits at its normal rhythmic position in the bar. (The whole note rest is actually quite rare. The only place you're likely to see one is when a hymnal uses 4/2 time.)

The whole BAR rest is centered in the bar. It can fill a bar of any size (with certain exceptions - bars of 3/16 or shorter use the actual length, as do bars of 4/2 or longer).

enter image description here

  • 1
    Great answer to this old question, which none of the previous answerers had answered. You’re the only one who realized that the OP’s question was about RESTS, and you nicely explained that what the OP is calling a “whole-note rest” and was confused about is a whole BAR rest, which is different (but sometimes uses the same symbol) than a whole NOTE rest. I think the OP confused other readers by putting the crux of the question only in the title, not in the body of the question.
    – Steve Kass
    Jul 26, 2020 at 1:31
  • Well, the questions a mess! But I tried to explore the topic.
    – Laurence
    Jul 27, 2020 at 22:12

The US terms whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth note, etc have some obvious advantages over the UK terms: semibreve, minim, crotchet, quaver, semiquaver, etc but they make most sense only in 4/4 time or maybe also 2/2. In 3/4 or 6/8, the whole note is too big for a single measure. In 5/4 and 6/4, it is not big enough.

The relative lengths of the notes are still indicated by their names but the "whole" becomes misleading beyond 4/4 and 2/2.

As Bob says above, there is a special rule that a whole measure rest may be indicated by a whole note rest but only applies to rests.


3/2 is a "simple triple time signature"simple means every beat is made up of 2 beats or each of these beats can be broken into two beats and triple because of containing 3 half notes in a measure, meaning there are 3 half or minim notes in a measure. That means all the notes in each measure must add up to 3 half notes, not more than or less than that. Any combination of notes can be used as long as they add up to 3 half notes, such as; one half note, two quarter notes,two eighth notes and one quarter note rest or so on.

In time signatures with 4 as the bottom number, such as 4/4 , 3/4 etc. time, the half note is two beats long. However, when 2 is used as the bottom  number a minim is 1 beat long.As we know top number in a time signature says how many beats are to be contained in each bar that is 3 and bottom number the note denomination,which represents one beat that is the minim or half-note.So 3/2 can be interpreted  as three  minim beats per bar and must be counted as 1 2 3 but will never be counted as 1 (2) 3 (4) 5 (6) because each half note gets 1 beat here.

  • But note that in 6/4, 9/4 and 12/4 the dotted half is the beat.
    – Laurence
    May 8, 2020 at 21:25
  • 3/2 can be explained in a very simple way: 3/2 means there are 3 beats in a bar and each beat is a half note. Jul 11, 2020 at 9:46
  • Yes,mr.Laurence you are absolutely right.The rule for assigning beat unit is different for compound meters because in case of compound time signature the bottom number indicates the kind of note that equals to a single division of the beat... Jul 18, 2021 at 18:57

Let me guess. A 3/2 beat means ‘3 groups of 2 beats’ and cannot be changed to ‘6/4’ which will become ‘6 groups of a quarter note’. So 3/2 is very different from 6/4 or all kinds of beats and is very rare.

  • 1
    Bad guess, I'm afraid. 6/4 actually means '2 groups of a dotted half' just as 6/8 means '2 groups of a dotted quarter'.
    – Laurence
    May 8, 2020 at 21:23
  • 1
    3/2 simply means 3 beats where every beat is notated as a halfnote. Jul 14, 2020 at 15:45

In 3/2 time signature the length of a Whole note or Rest is 2 beats long because the bottom no.of the time signature is 2, which is equivalent to 1 beat so a Half note's length is equal to 1 beat here.Since 2 Half notes equal a Whole note,the length of a Whole note is 2 beats long that can't cover an entire measure in 3/2 time. A Whole rest usually applies for an  entire measure so when an entire  bar is kept completely silent, a Whole or Semibreve rest is used,regardless of the use of any time signature.That is exactly why a Whole rest is used to cover an entire measure in 3/2 time signature.But the Whole rest needs to be drawn centered within the measure.


The way i see it is in fractions. A whole note (semibreve) is 2/2. A half note (a minim) is 1/2. A quater note (crotchet) is 1/4. An eighth note (quaver) is 1/8. If you are trying to get 3/2, its just a matter of getting three halfs in a bar. so you could have three half notes or one whole not and one half note. Hope this answered your quetion


You are all wrong! ok.. so 3/2 time signature means that there are 3 GROUPS of 2 Count notes otherwise known as minims. Okay so this means:

  • Group 1: 2 count notes
  • Group 2: has 2 count notes
  • and Group 3: has 2 count notes

Never less than 2 counts never more. It is simple 3 Groups with each group with 2 count rests. Can be as many different notes but they HAVE to equal 2 counts.

Example: You can have in Group 1: a minim In group 2: 2 half rests and a crotchet In group 3: 2 crotchets

and continue on! This is the correct way. I am a grade 4 in Piano theory and a Grade 7 in Piano Prac.

  • 3
    Can't see how the other answers are wrong, whereas yours is right. Please bear in mind that some of the guys who post answers have many, many years of experience playing and teaching, with quite a few music degrees between them, and the propensity to research carefully before posting their best answers on this hallowed site.
    – Tim
    Aug 13, 2016 at 10:45
  • 3
    Not really, Hayley! Crotchets are not always "counts". In 3/2 minims are the "count". And although the basic grouping in 3/2 is "minim, minim, minim" (unlike 6/4, which "adds up" the same but has basic grouping "dotted minim, dotted minim") real music often messes about with this grouping. What's "piano theory"? Isn't there just one set of theory exams whatever instrument you play? And why are you 3 grades behind in theory anyway? :-)
    – Laurence
    Aug 13, 2016 at 19:03

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