Teaching Rests

All musicians, not just pianists, must overcome the problem of ignoring rests. Here are some ideas.

Start Properly

As with teaching other elements of rhythm, you should start the way you wish to continue, whether it's a brand-new beginner or a transfer student. The student does not know what to expect from you yet, so -you- set the expectations.

If you allow rests to be ignored, the student will learn he can let his eye slide over rests because they are non-entities. Besides learning sloppy reading habits, the student does grave injustice to the music.

All right, then, how can you get students' attention on rests?

DO Something on Rests!

Explain that that rests are not voids in the music. Rests are *active silences* that serve a purpose (usually to be a contrast to the non-silences).

Reinforce this by having the student *do* something in the rest. Some like to say, "Rest" aloud. I like to have young students cluck their tongues.

Don't Ignore Sloppy Rests

Don't ignore rests played incorrectly or carelessly. Bring the error to your student's attention immediately. That silence must ensue *exactly* when the previous note has received its full value, not a sixteenth-note later or whenever the student feels like observing the rest.

Mark Rests

Mark the rests in a special way. I circle the rest (in orange) and draw an arrow to the note whose onset must coincide with the onset of the silence.

Tie the Onset of the Rest to Another Physical Action

I have had very good luck making the rest an integral part of note-learning by making the rest a physical movement, not just a recognition of cessation of pitch. I do this in the very first song where one hand's playing is suspended for a rest.

I ask the student to lift his hand a good ways off the keyboard at the start of the rest. The "resting" hand thus learns that it begins its silence precisely *there* and nowhere else and that the hand must be actively lifted in order to produce the rest. This good habit is especially helpful when the student gets to sonatinas/sonatas and so on. Not to mention Bach.

Have a Special Verbal Counting, Customized for the Piece

For example, the first movement of the first Clementi Sonatina (Op. 36), which is often a student's first exposure to the form and to intermediate literature in general ("now we're going to play music from literature books"), is peppered with LH rests, so I'm going to use this as an example.

For every group of four eighth-notes, instead of counting 1-2-3-4, count 1-2-up!-4. This verbal cue may be used in almost every measure of the piece. (Note: also point out the places where the RH must lift.)

This kind of counting, coupled with the orange mark and the habit of raising the finger/hand at the onset of the rest, almost always produces good habits and clean rests.

Remedies for Holding Notes for Full Value at the End of the Piece

While not really related to rests, I include this here because you can use one of the rest techniques to solve the problem.

Suppose the song is in three-quarter time and the last note is a dotted half. When writing in the counting, write 1-2-3 in the measure and then write UP in the space to the right of the double barline.

Count out loud at the end of the piece, too. Don't just let the student approximate the final duration (unless there's a fermata there, of course, in which case he has some latitude in duration as long as he gives the note its full value first).

copyright 1999, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me for reprint permission.

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