Theory Thursday

what did i just readHave you ever looked at a sheet of music and thought “huh?” or “what did I just read?”

We’ve all been there, whether it was a symbol on the page that was confusing or one little word you weren’t sure how to pronounce, much less what it means!  This series is designed to offer a blurb of music theory knowledge each Thursday.  You never know what you might learn!


This week’s post is to help clear up some confusion on REPEAT SIGNS


Ahhhh, the nemesis of every choir singer, each music student, and every director or teacher everywhere – the dreaded repeat sign!!!


Don’t worry!!! It’s not as hard as it looks.


Let’s clear up the confusion.  Reading music is like reading a map.  Each little dot and line tell you where to go.


First we’ll discuss the Simple Repeat Sign

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

Simple Repeat Signs


The sign that has the lines before the dots tells you to go back to it when you get to the sign that has the dots before the lines.  Make sense?


Now that you’ve got that down let’s talk about Multiple Endings/Variations

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

In this instance, the first time through you will play the part bracketed as “1.” and then when repeating, would play the part bracketed as “2” instead if repeating 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.

First and Second Endings

That’s not too bad, right?  Just remember this rule: If there is a bracket with a 1 inside it, that means you will only play or sing that part ONCE.  The second time through you will skip that part and find the bracket with the 2.


Last, but not least, it’s time to talk about DC and DS


DC is Italian for “da capo” and it literally translates as ‘from the head.’ When you see “D.C.” written in your music, it means to go to the very top of the song. It’s like saying, “OK, let’s do that all again!”

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, you go from 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:



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 tell you where to 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.  Coda means “end.”

In the case of the Fine, it means you stop playing when you arrive at the ‘Fine’ text.  Fine means “Finish.”


Don’t forget to mark your music to help you as you learn to read the “road map” of repeat signs!


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Happy Repeating,


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