I am working on an exercise where I am given a few empty bars along with a time signature; and I am to fill it in with rests following the standard rules.

In 5/2 time, I am given 4 measures, each with a single note. They are, in order:

half note, whole note, dotted whole note, and quarter note.

Since I do not know any way to group the beats, I was left with no choice but to write the first measure as:

half note, half rest, half rest, half rest, half rest,

the second measure as:

whole note, half rest, half rest, half rest,

the third measure as:

dotted whole note, half rest, half rest,

and the fourth measure as:

quarter note, quarter rest, half rest, half rest, half rest, half rest.

But this looks odd to me; and I have never seen anything like it. Is this the correct way to fill the measures in with rests?

  • This sounds like a homework exercise! But anyway, when in doubt assume 3+2 groupings. Also bars 1 & 4 are short one beat each in your solution. Nov 29, 2017 at 1:42
  • @DeanRansevycz It's an exercise out of a book I'm working through, called Complete Elementary Music Rudiments by Mark Sarnecki -- 2nd Edition. I suppose it is a homework exercise, assigned to me by myself. Also, that was a typo in the first two measures (now fixed). But other than that is this the best I can do?
    – user45413
    Nov 29, 2017 at 1:54
  • @DeanRansevycz Also, forgive my bad wording, but by "I do not know any way to group the beats" I meant I do not know of any way to group the two half-rests together into one rest, like how I would group three eighth-rests into a dotted quarter rest in 6/8 time.
    – user45413
    Nov 29, 2017 at 1:55
  • 4
    @Sarkreth the risk of using a whole rest is that it's also used to indicate a rest for an entire measure. Of course the real answer is that nobody writes 5/2 anyway :-). Nov 29, 2017 at 12:43
  • 3
    This book, Complete Elementary Music Rudiments by Mark Sarnecki -- 2nd Edition, does seem to take exercises to extremes! Maybe you could find a better book that draws its examples from real music?
    – Laurence
    Nov 30, 2017 at 2:35

4 Answers 4


5/2 is an odd time signature. There are two normal ways to group the 5 beats, either as 2+3, or as 3+2.

How will you know which grouping to use? It depends where the accent near the middle of the measures falls — you could tell if there was some actual music, but it doesn't make much sense that one would be preferred in this abstract exercise.

Either way, to complete the measure with rests you should use the same method:

  1. First, complete the beat.

  2. Then, add beats to complete the group — like the midpoint of a measure in an even time signature.
    (I've used dashed barlines to show the groupings in the examples below)

  3. Lastly, complete the measure.

Here's how the measures should look:
(I've reordered the examples so that the notes gets bigger each measure)

  • Using a 2+3 grouping:

    Four measures of a single note followed by rests in a 2+3 grouping

    Note: The last measure doesn't show the grouping with a dashed barline because the dotted whole note is too large — you could write the dotted whole note as a whole note tied to a half note if you really need to show the grouping.

  • Using a 3+2 grouping:

    Four measures of a single note followed by rests in a 3+2 grouping

The whole note rests won't get mistaken for whole measure rests because in 5/2 a whole measure rest is written with a different symbol:
A whole measure rest in 5/2 - a tall rectangle hanging from a staff line

  • The name of the different symbol is "breve rest" or "double whole rest."
    – phoog
    Aug 23, 2023 at 8:39

If there's a consistent 2+3 or 3+2 grouping (i.e. if the piece could have been notated as pairs of either 2/2 + 3/2 bars or 3/2 + 2/2 ones) follow that grouping.

In real life (though maybe not in an examination) and in the special case of a single note at the beginning or end of the bar, I'd be inclined to fill it with the minimum number of rests regardless.


The convention in 5-time is to group the beats either in a 3-2 or 2-3 pattern, depending on where the musical emphasis goes. When filling out a measure, it is desirable to use the largest notations that express the division. However, in this case, it's a bit visually confusing for a measure to have both half and whole rests. Thus, for the exercises in question:

X: 1
K: none
M: 5/2
L: 1/2
[K: clef=perc stafflines=1] B z2 z2 || B2 z3 || B3 z2 || B/2 z/2 z2 z2 ||
  • 3
    Personally, I would prioritize clear subdivisions of the measure over avoiding half & whole rests in the same measure. So I would be disinclined to use your second measure in a measure that was grouped as 3+2, since the dotted whole rest crosses the subdivision between the "3" and the "2". Similarly, I would be disinclined to use any of the others in a measure that was grouped as 2+3. Aug 2, 2021 at 16:09

I have seen examples of dotted measures, but this is often hard to read, as it is not easy to see the dot combined with a measure. The most common is to fill out with rests separately. Since the whole rest is usually used to notate rest for the entire measure, no matter what the time signature is, you are right to fill out with half rests, as these are the largest rest value you have for using in part of a measure where it is not rest for the whole measure.

Since rest is just meaning "do not play", you do not need to combine them in any way, as you would need for notes. If you do the same for notes, you need to tie them together, because otherwise it would be separate notes played each with a new stroke. For rests, this is not necessary because two separate rests sound the same as one combined rest with same total duration (i.e., two separate quarter rests is exactly the same as one half rest). Because of this, there is no concept of tying rests together.

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