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A comprehensive guide to measures, repeat markers and navigation markers in music

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So far, you have learned most of the elements to read and perform a piece of music. But, reading a long piece may confuse beginners. In music, there are some special navigation markings to give performers the essential directions to read and perform a piece of music. But first, let’s learn more about measures (bars).

Measure (Bar)

It is essential to learn measures in detail to find our way in a long piece of music. Previously, I defined a measure as a section between vertical lines on a staff that we use to group beats. Those vertical lines are bar lines. So, bar lines divide music into measures. When we divide a musical paragraph into smaller, measurable groups of notes and rests, this gives us a reference to read and perform a piece of music.

Bar Lines
Measures and bar lines

Typically, there are several bars of the same length in a piece of music. Time signature determines the number of beats in a bar. There are various types of bar lines to provide direction, to repeat a section or to end a piece.

Single Bar Line

Single Bar Line
Single Bar Line

One of the most common bar lines is a single bar line. It is a single vertical line on a staff that indicates the end of each bar. Basically, it means that we should go on to the next measure.

Double Bar Line

Double Bar Line
Double Bar Line

A double bar line consists of two single, thin bar lines. It indicates the end of a section within a piece of music. It means that we should proceed to the next section.

Final Double Bar Line

Final Double Bar Line
Final Double Bar Line

A final double bar line consists of a thin line followed by a thick line. It indicates the end of a particular movement within a piece of music or of the very end of that piece.  It means that we reached the end and we should stop playing.

Repeat Sign

Repeat Sign
Repeat Sign

A repeat sign looks just like the final double bar line with one difference. It has two dots, one above the other. It means that we should repeat the section between repeat signs once. If the piece has one repeat sign alone, then it means that we should repeat from the beginning, and then continue. Here is an example.

Repeat Sign

In this example, there are two measures. As you may notice, between those two measures, there is a repeat sign which indicates that we should repeat the first measure once. So the correct order of the notes that we should play is like this: C, C, C. We repeat the first measure once then move on to the second measure.

If there is a corresponding repeat sign facing the other way, it means that we should repeat the section between two repeat signs. Here is an example.

More Repeat Sign Examples

Repeat Sign

In this example, there are two measures too. Between those measures, there is a repeat sign which indicates that we should repeat the first measure once. There are also repeat signs in the second measure. They indicate that we should also repeat the second measure once. So the correct order of the notes that we should play is like this: C, C, C, and C. We repeat once then move on to the second measure. Let’s see another example.

Repeat Sign

In this example, there are three measures. There are repeat signs in the second measure which indicate that we should repeat that measure once. So the correct order of the notes that we should play is like this: B, C, C, and C. We play the first measure and the second measure. Then we repeat the second measure once. After that, we play the third measure and end the piece.

If a single repeat sign appears at the end of a piece, it means that we should repeat from the beginning then stop. Here’s an example.

Repeat Sign

In this example, the repeat sign appears at the end of the piece. It means that we should repeat from the beginning then stop. The correct order of the notes that we should play is like this: B, D, D, G, B, D, D, and G.

Endings

When we want to end a section differently after repeating, we use brackets with numbers above the bars. They indicate which ending we should play for the first time and the second time. We refer to these brackets as First Ending and Second Ending. We mark the end of the measure with the first ending with a repeat sign. Here is an example.

Endings
First Ending and Second Ending

In this example, we should play the first measure and then the second measure. From the repeat sign, we should turn back to the beginning. Then we should play the first measure again. However, this time, we should skip the second measure, instead, play the third measure. So the correct order of the notes that we should play is like this: B, C, B, and the lower C.

Bar Lines On A Grand Staff

On a grand staff, we draw the bar lines from the top of upper staff to the bottom of the lower staff. This way, we can easily indicate how we divide measures on both staves. Here is an example showing the different types of bar lines on a grand staff.

Bar Lines On A Grand Staff
Bar Lines On A Grand Staff

Numbering Measures

When we have a long piece of music to perform, it is a common practice to number the measures periodically. So, the performers can easily communicate with each other and can play different measures of music. Here is an example.

Numbering Measures
Numbering Measures

In this example, we placed the bar numbers of the ninth and the seventeenth measures at the beginning of the staff. If we want to number the measures frequently, we can place more numbers at the beginning of each measure.

Repeating Measures

We can indicate a measure repeat by a measure repeat sign. We place a measure repeat sign between the bar lines after the measure that we want to repeat. It means that we should repeat the previous measure again.Here is an example.

Bar Repeat
Bar (Measure) Repeat

In this example, we play the first measure first. Then we repeat it on the second measure. This way, we don’t have to write the notes of the first measure on the second measure again. We can also repeat multiple previous measures by using numbers on a measure repeat sign. Here is an example.

Bar Repeat
Two-Measure (Bar) Repeat

In this example, the measure repeat sign tells us to play the last two measures again.

Repeating Rests

In orchestral music, we can indicate the inactivity of individual instruments by using a multiple-measure rest or multi-rest sign in a single measure. After all, it is easier than writing lots of individual measures full of whole rests. We write a number above that rest sign. It indicates how many measures of rests there are. Here is an example.

Multirest
Multi-rest

In this example, the rest sign indicates that the instrument should rest for two measures.

These repeats and endings allow us to write repetitions easily. This way, we don’t have to write repeated sections again and arrange our notation in a more logical way.

Navigation Markings

Dal Segno

In music, we use Dal Segno or D.S. as a navigation marker. It means “from the sign” in Italian. We use it when we want to repeat a passage starting from the Segno sign. So we first place a Segno sign at the point where we want the repeat to start. Then we place a Dal Segno at the point where we want the repeat to end. So we play the passage between these two signs normally. From Dal Segno, we turn back to Segno. Then, we repeat that passage.

Segno

Segno

Segno is an S-like symbol that we use as a navigation marker for Dal Segno in music.

Coda

Coda

In music notation, the Coda is a symbol which resembles a set of crosshairs that we use as a navigation marker. We use it to indicate the measure that we should jump from the To Coda marker.

There are two variants of Dal Segno.

D.S. al Coda

When we see this navigation marker, we should go back to the sign and play the music again. When we reach Al coda or To coda, we should jump to the Coda symbol. Here is an example.

DS Al Coda

In this example, there is a Dal Segno al Coda marker above the fifth measure. We should play the first five measures until this marking. After the fifth measure, we should go back to the second measure. There is a Segno symbol above that measure. So we play the second and the third measures again. There is a To Coda marking above the third measure. After playing that measure, we should jump to the Coda symbol. There is a Coda symbol above the sixth measure. We should play the sixth and the seventh measures and end the piece The correct order of the notes is this:  C, E, G, A, G, E, G, E, C.

D.S. al Fine

When we see this navigation marker, we should go back to the sign and play the music again until we come to the bar marked Fine, then stop. Here is an example.

DS Al Fine
Segno and DS Al Fine

In this example, there is a Dal Segno al Fine marker above the last measure and a Segno symbol above the second measure. We should play all seven measures. After the seventh measure, we should go back to the second measure and play the rest again. The correct order of the notes is this: C, E, G, A, G, E, C, E, G, A, G, E, and C.

Da Capo

In music, we use Da capo or D.C. as a navigation marker. It means “from the beginning” in Italian. We use it when we want to repeat the previous part of music. In a short piece of music, this might be the same thing as a repeat sign. But in larger musical works, Da capo might occur after one or more sections, indicating a return to the beginning. There are two variants of Da Capo.

D.C. al Coda

When we see this navigation marker, we should repeat from the beginning and play the music again. When we reach Al coda or To coda, we should jump to the Coda symbol. Here is an example.

DC Al Coda

In this example, there is a Da Capo al Coda marker above the fifth measure. We should play the first five measures until this marking. After the fifth measure, we should go back to the beginning and play the first three measures again. There is a To Coda marking above the third marker. After playing that measure, we should jump to the Coda symbol. There is a Coda symbol above the sixth measure. We should play the sixth and the seventh measures and end the piece. The correct order of the notes is this: C, E, G, A, G, C, E, G, E, and C.

D.C. al Fine

When we see this navigation marker, we should repeat from the beginning and play the music again until we come to the bar marked Fine, then stop. Here is an example.

DC Al Fine

In this example, there is a Da Capo al Fine marker above the last measure. We should play all seven measures. After the seventh measure, we should go back to the beginning and play the piece once again. So the correct order of the notes is this: C, E, G, A, G, E, C, C, E, G, A, G, E, and C.

 

 

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