I know that in regular measures you can use the whole rest to indicate a complete measure of rest in any time signature, but does that also apply to a pickup bar?

Should you use the actual rest duration, or also just the common whole rest?

Which of the following examples is correct?

Two example engravings of a sample of piano music with an anacrusis.  The first example uses a centred whole measure rest in the anacrusis, and the second uses a quarter rest.

2 Answers 2


The lower version is right, definitely. You write the pickup measure with the actual note durations, not like "read all staves and try to figure out if this is a pickup bar or not".

Think about if those weren't a grand staff i.e. tied treble and bass staves, but a score with two separate instruments. Would it be OK to write a whole-bar rest for the second instrument? If the player read only her own staff, she would have no way to know it's a pickup measure!


Actual note duration for the rest. What should happen at the other end of the piece is a part bar containing the two 'missing' beats - often as rests - but increasingly forgotten, sadly. So if there is the remains of the bar at the end, it's best to use a two beat rest there, making a full bar rest at the beginning rather pointless.

Having said that, I don't think anyone would be confused by the first example, but some would be picky - me included!

  • Balancing a pickup with a shortened last bar makes sense in music where DC is a possibility. Songs, hymns, short dance movements. We see a lot of these in the early sages of learning piano, so maybe give the 'rule' too much importance. But don't even consider allowing a whole bar rest instead of the correct rests in a shortened bar. That's not being picky, it's just plain wrong!
    – Laurence
    Sep 13, 2023 at 20:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.