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What is Tacet In Music? – A Quick Guide To Tacet

Tacet in music

Tacet in music

There are a lot of musical terms and symbols in sheet music, and tacet is one of them.

You can see the word “tacet” written on the staff during a long period of resting. Also, you can see a symbol with a tacet on the staff line.

Whichever way, it is common practice to use tacet when a particular instrument is not playing. It is also used when a voice part is not singing for a period.

You may have seen this word “tacet” or its symbol on a piece of music before.

In fact, you might be wondering about what it means at that time.

Or maybe you just saw it now and want to know what it means.

You do not have to bother, because tacet is the bone of our discussion in this article.

Indeed, we are going to talk about what the word “tacet” or its symbol means in sheet music.

What Does “Tacet” Mean in Music?

Tacet in Music
Musicians observing tacet during a musical performance

The simple form of the question here is “What is tacet?” In a general sense, tacet means a long period of rest or silence in a musical piece.

The tacet is generally used in music scores to direct the performer to remain silent during a particular section or passage.

The tacet is usually used when the section or passage involved is of considerable length, like a whole movement.

Of course, this rest or silence is very long, and it can cover the whole movement or section within a piece.

During that time, one or more instruments will not make any sound at all. That period is known as the tacet moment.

A tacet moment is the period when you see one or more sections of the orchestra idle and at rest.

So, “tacet” is written on a piece to instruct the musicians to rest for a long period of time during a performance.

This long period of time denotes until otherwise specified. For example, when a musician remains silent for an entire movement or section of music before playing in the next section or movement.

The word tacet can be traced back to the Latin word “taciturn, or tacit,” which means “be silent.” Thus, the word tacet comes from Latin and means silent.

How Tacet is used in music

How tacet is used in music varies depending on the type or genre of music. Jazz and contemporary musicians, in particular, use tacet differently compared to classical musicians.

Jazz musicians, unlike classical musicians, usually use tacet to indicate very short breaks.

In jazz and other contemporary music, tacet is often used for one or two bars of silence.

Sometimes jazz musicians observe tacet by stopping the entire section for a few beats, like one or two bars.

Of course, observing tacet and rest is not properly justified in jazz music like it is in classical music.

During a break, it’s difficult to tell whether jazz and other modern musicians are observing a tacet or not.

This is not the case in classical and orchestral music. Tacet was typically used by classical and orchestral musicians for longer breaks.

The longer breaks can take up an entire movement or section of a piece in classical or orchestral music.

Tacet is common in orchestral music, and piccolo and flute players see it a lot.

The reason has been that piccolo does not actually play on every movement of the piece.

This is not the case with the wind orchestra; the tacet is not that common for piccolo. But the flutist gets more tacet.

Best Way to Use Tacet in Music Notation

Tacet is best used in music notation when the entire section, movement, or composition is at rest or in silence. This may be for a specific section, instrument, or voice.

It is not appropriate to use tacet for partial rest within a section, movement, or composition. To notate partial rests, composers should use normal rest notes.

We should all be aware that tacet is for silence, not extended periods of rest within a movement. It is to be used only for total rest that spans the entire movement or composition.

How Do You Interpret Tacet in Music?

Example of Tacet in music with Gustav Mahler symphony No 8 in Eb Major

Tacet is occasionally used in some of the musical pieces. So, what will you do when you encounter “tacet” in a piece of music?

This is very simple. What you should do at that time is to unfriend your musical instrument or voice. Yes, unfriend it for that period and stop making sounds with it.

The above statement is a joke. But that is what tacet means in music. So, when you encounter “Tacet” in a piece of music, it means you should be silent and stay focused.

It is telling you to stop playing or singing at that moment. Tacet is used to instruct musicians not to play a specific piece or movement that the tacet covers. 

Tacet, on the other hand, is used to warn you not to perform as previously stated.However, it also instructs you to read music and keep time with others.

This feature makes the musician’s rest break while observing tacet more engaging and enjoyable.


The video above features some lighthearted fun with the tacet in music.

“Tacet First Time”

This is usually used in repeated passages. The number is used to specify the time of the repetition that the tacet should be observed.

The first in “tacet first time” is telling the performer to observe the tacet during the first time.

That means the player should be silent during the first term and play during the second term.

Sometimes “1xTacet” is used for “tacet first time” over a repeated section to mean play the second repeat only.

Tacet al fine 

This is another instruction in music that has to do with the tacet. The “tacet al fine” is basically used to instruct the performer to stop playing or singing for the rest of the piece.

During this time, the performer is not required to count the beat for the rest (silence).

Reason For Using Tacet Part in Music

The tacet part is very essential to group performance. For example, the orchestra performance.

In orchestration, different sections of a musical instrument come together to perform artistically.

It is good practice to have every section or instrument recognized and accounted for in every piece.

If the player is not going to play a movement or section of music, the tacet part will carry them along.

Most likely, they do not have any note to play at all during a movement or section of music. This is a moment of rest and enjoyment for the players involved.

In a moment like this, adding tacet part for the player or singer will be useful to connect them with the music.

The tacet part will help the section or instrument at rest to read the music along with others. The tacet is used to ensure they are not disengaging from the music and becoming anxious.

Example Of Tacet in Music – Tacet Music

Example of Tacet in Music with John Cage 4-33- Tacet

Now, I assumed we already knew that tacet is used during a long period of rest in music.

The tacet is somehow common in orchestral scores.

The most notable use of tacet in music is in 4’33”, composed by John Cage in 1952.

The score of this music used tacet only as shown in the diagram above.

Basically, the piece instructed the performer to perform silently on stage for 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

Hence, the piece is all about silence notation in music.

All three movements in the piece are instructed to be played in tacet for all instruments.

This means that the piece should be performed without playing a single note.

Specifically, the piece is to be performed with total silence for all instruments.

The first movement of the piece is 30 seconds of total silence. The second movement is 2 minutes and 23 seconds of complete silence. 

The third and final movement, which lasted 1’40”, is also a silent performance. 

The video below shows the performance of John Cage’s 4’33”.

Conclusion

The tacet is a musical term used to denote periods of long silence in music.

Tacet is a sign frequently found in old scores. It means that the instrument to which it refers is to stop playing.

If it is placed on the vocal staff, it means the singers should stop singing.

The tacet is normally used for silence that covers the whole movement, section, or entire piece.


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