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Repeats and Endings

Repeats and endings in written notation sometimes confuse beginning music readers. In this lesson I’ll try to clear up navigating through these common musical markings explaining what they mean and showing you some animations.

What Are Repeats?

In notation you are often instructed to play a part of the music again – and, sometimes, many times over.

A repeat symbol is drawn with a double barline and two dots surrounding the middle line of the staff. Most often you’ll see two repeats symbols – one marking the beginning of the section to repeat and one marking the end. If no beginning repeat symbol is written, it means you go back to the very beginning of the music and repeat from there.

In standard practice, the reader should just repeat once unless there are instructions to repeat more times. (i.e. “Repeat 3x” or “3x”) You might notice in studybass exercises I don’t instruct how many repeats to do. Do as many repetitions as you can stand.

What Are First and Second Endings?

Sometimes a repeated section has two different endings. The first time through you play the first ending and the second time through you play the second ending. This happens a lot in music and there is a common way of notating it.

For each ending, a bracket is drawn above the ending’s bar (or bars) along with an ending number (i.e. 1, 2, etc). On the first pass through the music you’d play to the repeat sign of the first ending. Then you’d go back to the beginning of the repeat section, play to the bar before the first ending and skip to the second ending.

Why Use Repeats and Multiple Endings?

Why not just write the music bar-by-bar from beginning to end? Repeats make reading music easier and help save space on the page. Since most pieces of music contain a lot of repetition, using repeats allows the music writer to condense repetitive parts instead of writing pages and pages of the same part.

Using repeats also makes it easier for the music reader. Once the part has been read, the reader knows what to expect on subsequent passes. So, the reader doesn’t have to concentrate quite as much. (Or, the reader can focus on fixing his or her mistakes the next time through the section. Ha!)

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