Understanding Repeated Sections And Repeat Signs

Repeat signs and repeated sections can be highly confusing. This article will show you the different symbols used and contains numerous examples of repeats.

Composers often want to repeat sections of their songs. Rather than writing duplicate measures into sheet music they will instruct the performer to go back and play from a certain point.

In this article we’ll show you the methods composers use to indicate repeating sections in music. We have included numerous examples that should prove useful in helping you learn.

Begin and End Repeats Explained

Begin and end repeats instruct you to play a basic loop. Here’s what they look like:

begin and end repeat signs

When the musician plays through a section with these signs they will first ignore the begin repeat sign, playing past it. When they reach the end repeat sign they will go back to the begin repeat sign and continue playing. Once they reach the end repeat sign for the second time they will play past it.

 
example of begin and end repeat signs

If there isn’t a begin repeat sign you will play from the beginning of the song when you get to the end repeat sign.

More Complex Looping with First and Second Endings

First and second endings (sometimes called volta brackets) are repeat signs that instruct you to play different parts the first and second times through. You’ll recognize them by these symbols:

You’ll recognize them by these symbols:

 
first and second ending music symbols

Here’s how they work:

 
example of first and second endings on the treble clef

From the Beginning: D.C. al Fine

There are two parts to these particular repeat signs. D.C. stands for “da capo,” which means “from the head” (the beginning of the song). When you see this phrase you will play from the beginning of the song.

Al fine instructs you to play to the “Fine” marking on the sheet music (fine stands for “end”).

When you see D.C. al fine you will go back to the beginning and play until you reach the Fine marking.

 
example of D.C. al fine on the treble clef

Bonus tip: If you happen to have first and second endings as well as D.C. al fine in the same song, you should skip over any first endings after reaching the D.C. al fine marking.

What Does D.S. al Coda Mean?

D.S. stands for “dal segno” which means “from the sign.” This tells you to go back and play from this sign:

dal segno (D.S.) music symbol

The coda is another symbol that will be found later in the music. It looks like this:

coda music symbol

When playing you’ll ignore the dal segno sign the first time you play through. When you get to “D.S. al coda” you’ll go back to the dal segno sign and play until you get to another sign that says “to Coda,” at which point you will skip ahead to the coda.

 
example of D.S. al coda on the treble clef