I have rests for this whole passage? Good, then I don't have to look at that, unimportant.
Well, perhaps unimportant to you, but certainly don't think too easily about rests. Rests, though unaccented, place emphasis. Rests organize. In resting lies also the meaning of that which is not, or that which is not yet. Rests thereby also create the space for other voices to exist and become meaningful. And lastly, however crazy, counting rests is also making music, perhaps without sound, but just as meaningful.
In this blog, I'll walk you through my philosophy on the concept of rests. Why? Because rests deserve more attention than they usually get, and it will make you a much more skilled musician, arranger or composer.
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Rests actually put emphasis
You don't have to use an accent to put emphasis on something in music. You can also emphasize a sound, a chord or a passage by pausing immediately afterwards, taking a rest. This very silence allows one to think about what just existed; the sound, the music. It creates a moment of reflection. The sound reverberates through your mind once again. Pausing for a moment is a well-known technique in communication science for making speeches gain charisma and effectiveness. See this YouTube Shorts by Vinh Giangh on why pausing helps you communicate more effectively. Politicians are also all too happy to use the pause to appear charismatic and reinforce their words. Composers also use the pause to emphasize the preceding passage. Remember the fantastic trumpet solo in "My Body is a Cage" from Santa Clara Vanguard 2018's show, "New Babylon"? There's the perfect rest after that to do justice to the trumpet solo. (rest at 2:10)
This very silence allows one to think about what just existed; the sound, the music. It creates a moment of reflection. The sound reverberates through your mind once again.
Pretty nice that this blog is divided into paragraphs, right? How paragraphs are separated from each other? Right, with blanks. Similarly, when it comes to music, rests give proper order. A piece of music that barely uses rests can feel drawn-out or endless, or perhaps even monotonous, despite the use of various sounds and timbres. Rests mark the end of a line or a passage and thus also herald a new section, a new chapter, a new theme. You can hear this very well, for example, in traditional fife and drum marches, such as the Swiss march Arabi. You can make a clear distinction between each line, thanks to the rests. This creates order and makes the music "readable" and understandable.
In rests themselves there’s also meaning
This is perhaps still the greatest strength of rests and the main reason why you should never just skip the rests without some attention. There is also meaning in rests themselves, and as a skilled musician it is your responsibility to find out what meaning this is and how you can magnify it, enhance this effect. Resting gives you time to think about what is not being played. It sometimes seems obvious, but always ask yourself: why am I not playing here? And especially: what am I not playing here? Just as in a conversation you deliberately circle a subject. Then the silences take on extra meaning. Why doesn't my conversation partner want to talk about this? What feeling do I get from the silence? What tone does the silence strike then? The same applies to music: what lies behind the sounds and chords? What tone does the silence strike?
Resting gives you time to think about what is not being played.
Rests create rhythm, space and meaning
In short, because rests organize music, emphasize sounds and chords and are meaningful, they also create space. Space for effect, for progression. And they create rhythm. Especially for drummers, where our sound consists of a single stroke and not a tone of a certain duration. The rest between the strokes on the drum determines our rhythm and thus also gives meaning to the notes. After all, you could also write a pattern of 4 quarter notes as 4 eighth notes interspersed with an eighth note rest. For marching drummers, that gives the same sound (but allows for a different interpretation). For cymbal players, by the way, this is already different. The common ground here is that rests create the rhythm and meaning of the notes and thus the space there is for the sound of the music to exist.
Performing rests is also making music
Hopefully this blog has already convinced you that rests are so much more than just a written representation of nothing. Consequently, performing rests is not child's play. Performing rests is at least an as important part of music making as producing sounds and notes and can certainly be of similar difficulty. High-level drumlines spend a lot of time interpreting their rests and how to re-attack at exactly the same time after their rests. They don't want a dirty attack. Besides, counting out rests together is also a form of brotherhood and gives a sense of community, just as making music together can do that. So rests certainly do not detract from the music, but rather are inseparable from its meaning and experience.
Rests create the rhythm and meaning of the notes and thus the space there is for the sound of the music to exist.
In conclusion, the next time you have another passage with a good number of rests, don't pass them by thoughtlessly. Think back again to this blog about how valuable rests are to your musicianship. Rests fundamentally shape the music. Give rests the dignity they deserve.