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Repeats – Barlines, Dots and Multiple Endings



Repeated sections in music cause confusion for many students. Especially when they involve 1st and 2nd endings (called volta brackets).

Using the sheet music on the left let’s review repeat symbols and endings. When you come to a double bar with dots to the left of the lines, it is sending you back to either:

  1. The double bar with dots to the right of the lines, or

  2. If there isn’t a double bar with dots to the right, repeat back to the beginning.

In this arrangement of Spring, you will play from the beginning to the first ending (in blue). The blue double bar with the dots to the left sends you back to the blue double bar with dots to the right. Continue playing until you reach the blue 1st ending again. This 2nd time through, don’t play the blue measure. Skip it and play the orange measure instead, which is the 2nd ending.

Now continue on to the third line. Play through to the green 1st ending. The green double bar with the dots to the left sends you back to the green double bar with dots to the right. Continue playing until you reach the green 1st ending again. This time, don’t play the green measure. Skip it and play the pink measure, which is the 2nd ending.

I know this seems needlessly confusing, but without repeat signs and endings you would have additional pages and would have to read more notes.


For the intermediate and advanced player, there are other considerations when encountering repeats.

When you repeat a section do you play it exactly the same the 2nd time, or do you want it to sound different? In my example above, I indicated that the repeated sections should be played f-p, which means to play the section forte the 1st time, then piano the 2nd time. But what do you do if there is nothing to indicate playing the passage differently the 2nd time?

There is a fun book called Piano Lessons: Music, Love, and True Adventures written by NPR’s Noah Adams. In the book, Noah goes to a piano camp where he receives intensive piano training (doesn’t that sound fun?). I was struck by the advice of one of his teachers who said, “If you don’t have something different to say in the repeat, why bother playing it?”

Do you agree with her?

The Norton Encyclopedia of Music defines a repeat as, “The Restatement of a passage of music….” Composers use repetition to help the ear latch onto a melodic theme or motif. Sometimes these themes are restated in a variation, but other times there is no discernible difference. In the days before music could be recorded, pieces were usually heard only once at a concert or dance, so repetition helped the listener to remember and connect to melodies.

In the book Music and The Mind: Essays in Honour of John Sloboda, German pianist Eugen d’Albert is described as frequently playing “repeated passages quite differently from how he played them the first time.”

There is no hard and fast rule about repeats, so you can decide whether you want to modify your repeated section. If you want it to sound the same that’s fine. If you would like to change it you have options:

  1. Alter the dynamics- For example, if the dynamic marking is forte, try playing it piano the 2nd time, or add crescendos and diminuendos.

  2. Alter the articulation- Some examples are changing the staccato notes into legato notes, or playing accents only the 2nd time.

  3. Alter the ornamentation- Some examples are adding trills and/or mordents the 2nd time through the section.

  4. Alter the expression- You can let your tempo shift slightly faster and slower to add expression.

There are so many things we could discuss about music, the piano and the brain. Are there any musical issues you would like me to discuss? I am always looking for ways to overcome obstacles and solve problems if I can! Just leave your question in the comment block.

With love and music, Gaili

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