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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

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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!

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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!

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  • 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

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