Repeat Markers in Music or, Signs, Signs, Everywhere are Signs

Have you ever printed out a song as sheet music, maybe from a MIDI file, to find it takes 15 pages of paper... then when playing it back realized that it's the same music parts, repeated over and over... you could have saved paper by adding a few repeat signs.

That's what this lesson is about today- what the different kinds of repeat signs are, and how they work.

The Repeat Purpose and Pitfall

Some songs I've seen in the past are like really bad maps-- in fact, you may need a map just to read the music! Jumping around from the top of the song to the bottom, then back up, before dipping down to the CODA, can all make a challenging music-reading experience.

But signs are meant to clarify, so when used properly-- and sparingly, a large complicated piece of music can be simplified with a few well-placed repeats.

The Simple Repeat Sign

The most common repeat may be the double bar line with two dots, which looks like this:

An example of a simple repeat

(When writing out music in plain text, you can create this repeat sign with a square bracket and a colon: [: a b c d :])

The above examples would repeat the notes A, B, C, and D over twice. Sometimes there is an indication written in of how many times the repeat should be made, such as (3x) which would mean three times.

Multiple Endings/Variations

Note in the example below, the use of a repeat called a 'second ending.'

There wouldn't be much point in writing a repeat like I've used in these examples-- but hopefully their simpliciy makes it easier for you to understand.

In this instance, the first time through the notes you would play the part bracketed as "1." and then when repeating, would play the part bracketed as "2" instead if playing 1 again.

In a similar way, you may find lots of different endings indicated in a repeat (1,2,3,4), or even something like "1,3" in the first box and "2, 4," in the second box.

Simple Repeat, making use of endings

DC and DS

DC is Italian for "da capo" and it litterally translates as 'from the head.' When you see "D.C." or "DC" written in your music, it means to continue playing from that point by going to the very top of the song. It's like saying, "OK, let's do that all again!"

DC al Coda

 

Obviously it would be more useful in a long song, where after an intro and a verse, you'd go to the top and play the intro and the second verse!

DS is Italian for "dal segno," it means "from the sign." When you encounter this repeat, continue playing from the location of the DS instruction to the place where the "sign" is located. This sign looks a bit like a dollar sign, or an S with a angled slash through it. It also has two dots as seen below:

DS al Fine

In the above example, you'd play the first two measures, then end after the first measure.

CODA and Fine

In both examples above, there is an additional instruction after the 'DS' and 'DC.' The DC says al coda, and the DS says al fine. Both of these words instruct the musician where he/she should go after the repeat.

Sometimes they may stand alone, such as "DC" or "DS", and sometimes they'll have "DC al CODA," "DS al CODA," DC al Fine" and "DS al Fine."

In the case of the Coda, it would mean that when you arrive at the little coda sign (bar two in the CODA image above), you move to the CODA section at the bottom of the piece.

In the case of the Fine, it means you stop playing when you arrive at the 'Fine' text.

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