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Pause Markings

Pause marks provide visual cues for the performer to better interpret the intention of the composer. Pause marks are directives for specific actions that are interpreted by the performer or directed by the conductor in an ensemble. There are four categories of pause markings, the fermata, the general pause, the caesura and the breath mark, each with special uses and attributes. As with any aspect of musical notation, performance practice of these marks has changed somewhat through the years to reflect the practice of the time.

The fermata can be used in a number of ways. The common effect is that the fermata will extend the duration of either a note or silence at the discretion of the performer (or conductor with an ensemble). A fermata is typically a long extension. This mark interrupts the normal tempo of a composition.

1. Extending Note Duration
When a fermata is shown over a note (regardless of note duration), the performer is expected to extend the duration of that note (or hold the note longer) until the conductor signals the end of the note and the beginning of the next.
2. Extending Silence (by extending the duration of rests)
When a fermata is shown over a rest (regardless of duration), the performer is expected to extend the duration of that rest until the conductor signals the beginning of the next note or rest.
3. Inserting Silence
When a fermata is shown over a barline, the performer ceases to perform and waits until the conductor signals the beginning of the next note.

The generalpause or the long pause serve the same function, and are identical in function to the fermata when used over a rest or barline. The function of these pauses is to create a silence for a period of time at the discretion of the performer (or conductor with an ensemble). As indicated in the name, these are intended to be pauses of longer duration than any of the others. These marks are always shown over rests. They also interrupt the normal tempo of a composition.

The caesura is used in a similar manner to the G.P. and L.P. with the difference of typically a shorter duration of silence. Also known as the railroad tracks.

1. The caesura shown by itself indicates a short silence. It is often a sudden stop in the performance with an equally sudden resumption of sound. This mark interrupts the normal tempo of a composition.

2. The use of the fermata combined with a caesura indicates a much longer silence.

The breath mark is typically used as a pause or break in the phrasing of the composition. This means that the written note just before the breath mark is shortened slightly to allow for the short pause in the phrase. The breath mark is normally found in vocal and instrumental music, and literally directs the performer(s) to take a breath. This mark is usually not intended interrupt the normal tempo of a composition as in the other pause directives.