A musical “rest” is just as important as a note. Rests allow for the digestion of music which has just happened. If a particularly complicated section of music has just transpired, the listener may become “full” and disconnect from listening. The listener may need to digest in order to reengage and listen again. Just as eating a delicious meal will eventually make one feel full and uncomfortable, so can rich music to one’s ear. Lucky for us, this respite can be quick. Even if a song is the most amazing thing you have ever heard, a breath, a rest, reflection, even just for a quarter note, can make the difference between a song that has flow and is pleasurable to listen to, and a song that feels run together.
Jazz musicians and classical composers alike, often use musical rests as deliberately as the musical notes themselves. The rests hold as much weight and importance as played notes, lending shape to a song. Rests can help create phrases, add color, display a perspective or attitude, and even provide comedy. A well placed rest will allow a listener to reset their ear so they can hear and follow the flow of the musician(s) once again. It is, like in the food analogy above, like chewing and swallowing, making room for even more delicious notes. Rests in music can even be fun!! They can possibly surprise a listener, or could add to the emotional impact of the song, as an ellipses in prose…
I have noticed that “playing the rests” is often difficult for the new musician though. They may still be caught up in playing notes simply because they can!! Finesse comes when one shows thoughtful restraint. It makes the played notes so much juicier.
Taking the concept of musical rests even deeper, a very dramatic flair can be achieved when the entire ensemble takes a rest at the same time. I have heard this called “stop time”. This can last for many counts, or be brief. Oooooh, it is good when it’s pulled off seamlessly, when every musician is counting accurately in their head so everyone comes back into the song strong together. It can be very groovy and is a fun tool to play with. A clear example of this is in Beyonce’s “Feelin’ Myself” (featuring Nikki Manaj). The moment I’m speaking of happens just after the 1:00 minute mark. Heads up, this is a great jam but don’t listen to this at work, it is explicit. The tight pocket and cadence that’s established by the beat, rap and vocal stylings of Queen Bey and Nikki Manaz really makes the stop time effective. Often a listener will report that they can almost hear the music continue through the full break of a stop time. What a very cool effect indeed!
Taking a related tact, here is something interesting that I have been pondering recently. I just shot a music video for Robert Christa of Deustchland for a song I sang for him called I Will Fly Away. It is currently in it’s post-production phase and will be posted very soon. There are plenty of instrumental moments within this music video ballad where time could be filled by plugging in a shot of the environment, or something other than the actor. This is a common choice, and like rests in a song, those spaces give the audience a moment to reset and then re-engage. Here is the twist. As the actor, it is also really smart to give your cinematographer the most options possible for when they are in the editing phase. Give a complete performance (or 5) from the beginning of the song through to the end. It is important to including creating video footage of the parts which are not sung. These vocal “rests” can last an entire verse length or longer. If the actor remains engaged and committed to the story and the music, then useful footage can be captured, and used. This saves the editors from having to find an abundance of filler footage. Instead, the talent can be highlighted because they are “playing the rests” actively.
For the most stress free post-production, I choose to be an active actor, giving footage in case it’s needed during an instrumental. For the latest video project, I Will Fly Away, I can hardly wait to share with you what we captured both in vocal action moments, and during “the rests”. Soooo good!!!
In a nutshell – once there’s a downbeat, don’t drop the ball. Even when you’re not ON – you’re still just as ON. The rests are juicy. Give them their due and reap the benefits of a song that sounds good, feels good, and allows you a breath here and there.
Peace & Blessings,