Stop Getting Confused! Repeat, Da Capo and Dal Segno music signs explained

Picture the scene. You’re playing a piece, perhaps one you really enjoy. As your musical journey seemingly goes smoothly, it’s suddenly derailed by a squiggly mark you see and perhaps later, the letters D.C/D.S. planted right in your path. Add in a repeat sign or two here and there and suddenly the potential nightmare of remembering which bar to return to, which bar(s) to skip and which bar to continue from becomes a reality.

At some point you will learn a piece of music that gives instructions to play parts of it again (and from different sections). However, just as there’s more than one way to skin a cat, there are more ways than one to repeat a segment of music. Explained below are the most common signs and symbols:

1. Repeat Sign

The Repeat sign means to go back to a certain part of the music (sometimes called a ‘measure’) and play the passage in question again.  If the piece has only one repeat sign, then that means to return to the beginning of the music and repeat (either continuing on past the repeat or stopping, if the sign appears at the end of the music). Sometimes a bar with a repeat sign will be numbered above
(usually 1) and then followed by another numbered bar (2), e.g:

 

This means repeat from the beginning and then skip the first numbered bar and play from the
following (numbered) bar.

A repeat symbol is drawn with a double barline and two dots surrounding the
middle line of the staff. It is common to find two repeats symbols – one
marking the beginning of the section to repeat (where the double barline and
two dots face right – effectively, a ‘begin repeat’ symbol) and one marking the end (where the sign faces the opposite way). See below:

If no ‘begin repeat’ symbol is written, you must return to the start of the music and repeat from there.  Generally, repeats should be played once unless there are instructions to repeat more times. (i.e. “Repeat 2x” or “3x”)

2. Da Capo (or D.C.) al Fine

In the Italian language, capo means “head” and fine means “end”/”ending”. Therefore, Da Capo al Fine means repeat the music from the beginning (i.e. the “head”) and finish when Fine is shown.

3. Da Capo (or D.C.) al Coda

Coda is Italian for “tail”. Therefore D.C. al Coda literally means “from the head to the tail”. In music playing, this means repeat from the beginning, then upon reaching the first coda, skip to the bar with the second coda symbol (the end of the music), and play until the piece ends. Because of its meaning, the coda is a passage that brings a piece (or section) of music to an end.

4. Dal Segno (D.S.)

Dal Segno means “from the sign.” It means you must return to the bar earlier in the music that’s marked by the D.S. symbol. D.S. al coda means play from the D.S. symbol to the “To Coda” marking, then skip to the coda section at the end of the music.

D.S. al fine means repeat from the D.S. symbol, and end the piece at the bar marked fine.

Hopefully this should go someway to clearing up the age-old confusion of repeats. Always practice the sections with these signs many times over until you’re comfortable. Annotations can help if you’re still likely to lose your way in a piece.

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