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:

  • Alter the dynamics- For example, if the dynamic marking is forte, try playing it piano the 2nd time, or add crescendos and diminuendos.
  • Alter the articulation- Some examples are changing the staccato notes into legato notes, or playing accents only the 2nd time.
  • Alter the ornamentation- Some examples are adding trills and/or mordents the 2nd time through the section.
  • 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

17 Replies to “Repeats – Barlines, Dots and Multiple Endings”

  1. Good morning Gaili, You sure do work hard. Another blog. This time I knew the answers, except the term “volta brackets” Never heard of that before. Thanks for having me learn something new every time. Aimee

  2. Gaili, are you still planning to discuss fake books and how to use them (or did I miss it?) Since there are no music police nor instructions besides the chords themselves do we make up a rhythm with the chords as we hear them in our head? Are there rules, albeit loose ones?

    Do you recommend a series/ author/ publisher that offer classical pieces for beginners? How about ragtime? My musical interests are woefully narrow and I want to expand and grow. There are days that I see how much time I wasted by not playing when I could have, that I would have been so much farther along but alas, in the here and now I’m thankful to be playing again.

    I would like to buy a portable keyboard to take along in my RV during travels, and especially when we are camp ground hosting this coming summer. Can you suggest one that doesn’t take up much space but will sound great?

    Wow, I’ve bombarded you with questions here!

    I am in awe of your commitment to this project and to how much you have given of yourself during each post. Your love of music shines through to all of us. You are an amazing gal!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!


      1. Hi Aimee! My dad used to get those when I was a kid in the 1970s! I still have a couple from then, and didn’t know they still make them! They were great!

        Also Nancy, I can’t help myself, I have to plug my own Song of the Seasons books here. I have put out two so far, Autumn and Winter, and will finish Spring soon. Autumn has an easy arrangement of Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag plus many classical and popular pieces that work well along side the Upper Hands Piano series. Winter has holiday songs and also seasonal classical and popular pieces. I try to find the most melodic and lyrical pieces in the public domain.

        As a gift for those who completed the 30-day pledge I will be sending one of these Songs of the Seasons books. If you prefer to wait for the Spring Book that
        will include Joplin’s The Silver Swan rag, which is easier than Maple Leaf Rag. Also many classical and popular pieces with a spring theme. You can look up Autumn and Winter on Amazon to see the contents and decide which book you would like me to send!

        1. I have been a good girl and played a half hour a day, or more. I have arthritis in my fingers and the doctor says, the more you play the better it is. My birthday is March 1st. and I’ll be 70 years old. My goodness I don’t feel that old, my body does though. Thanks for your research on books.

          1. Wow- that is a great birthday! What will you do to celebrate your birthday?
            Yes piano is supposed to halt the progress of arthritis. I hope it is working for you.

          2. It’s the same birthday as Choplin, so I’ll practice his Fantasie Impromptu some more. Then I’m going out with my girlfriends and actually drink alcohol, which I hardly ever do. They will have to carry me home.): My man friend usually brings me a chocolate heart. He’s sweet that way. Aimee

    1. Hi Nancy- thanks for these suggestions. As you can see I wrote about using fake books today. I’ll make a video tomorrow to demonstrate further. Making videos are difficult for me because I feel so shy in front of the camera! But I think it’s called for here!
      For beginning classical pieces in their original forms (i.e. not simplified) I like the EASY CLASSICS TO MODERNS and MORE EASY CLASSICS TO MODERNS books:
      They provide a nice selection of pieces that are a page or two pages long. For ragtime I’d recommend The Joy Of Ragtime. Their arrangements are pretty good:
      If you want something easier than that, take a look at A First Book of Ragtime
      Many people wish they had taken or stuck with lessons as a kid, but sometimes we’re just not ready emotionally to do the hard work it takes to play the piano. It just can’t be forced. But your current enthusiasm will certainly propel you forward!
      I can not recommend ANY keyboards if you’re looking for something that “will sound great!” None of them sound that great I’m sorry to say. But some sound better than others. You can get a 76-key portable electric piano that will enable you to practice well. Even 61 keys would be ok if you need it to be smaller. Look for one with TOUCH-SENSITIVE KEYS (that can play dynamics) which are WEIGHTED. WEIGHTED keys feel more like piano keys and will keep your fingers in shape. The three best brands are Casio, Yamaha and Roland. I haven’t played any keyboards lately but I’ll ask around and see if I can get recommendations from friends. Look for electronic pianos with fewer sounds. They will be lighter and the piano sounds will be better.
      Thank you for your kind words. You are right- I am totally committed and I have loved writing, hoping that my research and 50+ years of gathered musical knowledge can help others navigating the same journey. How is your pledge going?

      1. Gaili, thanks for your response and all the info you included. I immediately ordered the First Fake Book and Easy Fake Book for starters. I’ll follow up on the classics and ragtime, too. In the 60’s I loved and was learning to play Maple Leaf Rag, but lost the music along the way. I will get back to it.

        About my pledge, I have been faithful to play at least 10 minutes but usually much more. Once I sit down its hard to stop, except for this past week. It was crazy around here. My friends were here and we did fun stuff and running around every day. No, I didn’t get to practice in front of them but I did play at night when everyone went to bed. During the last day my local son in law got word that his 94 year old grandfather was dying so my daughter dropped off their 3 boys with us (ages 4 1/2, 2 1/2 and 1) and drove to L.A. to see him. They just got back and picked them up this evening but by then I was totally frazzled, much as I love them. So I drank a glass of wine, then a cup of Sleepy Time Tea and finally sat down for a luxurious session at the piano. It was wonderful and had such a calming effect, beyond the beverages:-) To me, it’s still sounds kind of wooden and doesn’t always flow, but i love the harmony and blending of notes, and that I’m actually doing this. I’ve made great strides this past month. I can play the scales in both directions with both hands with few mistakes. And I’ve made good progress with the inversions. I really appreciate how you taught them, especially in the front section with details on fingering and chord progressions. Very helpful. It totally makes sense.

        On another note, I was surprised to realize that classical music is based on chords as well. Of course, all music is…isn’t it?

        Now I will check out your next post. Good night!


        1. Oh my gosh Nancy- 3 little boys running around- exhausting! I’m so glad that you could take refuge at your piano for some calm time. If your rhythm is sounding a little wooden you’re just not quite comfortable with your rhythm yet. That’s ok, it will come with time. Keep practicing with hands separately and listen to your right hand playing the melody. Identify which notes don’t sound like they are flowing. It’s difficult to listen to our own playing, esp with hands together. Another skill to practice 🙂 After you identify the notes that don’t sound like they are flowing properly, try singing in them. Then singing and playing them. And listen to the piece on Youtube. Train your ear, and your ear can help you correct your rhythm.
          I’m glad that the inversions section in Book 2 are working for you!
          Yes, all music is based on chords, with the exception of some modern atonal music. That’s another reason why playing the piano is so great. We pianists get chords!

          1. There is a saying: ” Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending”. I read that somewhere. I think that is true for all musicians.
            When I was trying to play the L.H. Chords, the right hand didn’t sound good at all.
            So I am going to try some more. Boy, I’m have a long way to go. Thanks for the video’s, Aimee.p.s. I do know my inversions though.

          2. The curse of the piano… having to coordinate two hands!! It’s a crazy undertaking really. But worth the effort. Always remember that you can slow it down A LOT. Until you can play the chords with the melody. Take it one beat at a time. No tempo.

          3. Gaili, thank you for understanding, translating my frustrations and providing practical advice. This gives me hope to keep at it. The videos are great.

            As a child an insensitive piano teacher told my mother that my brother was better at it and had more potential at piano than me. ( The teacher was overbearing and I didn’t like the pieces he wanted me to play) I overheard mom retelling this to someone. I stopped playing after that, and his words still creep back when I don’t meet my own expectations. My brother picked up guitar and hasn’t touched a keyboard since childhood. That’s how a bad teacher can harm a child.

            So you are helping me undo the damage. Words can’t express my gratitude.


          4. I can’t believe there have been so many DREADful piano teachers in this world. I have heard such horror stories. All I can think is that maybe they wanted to be concert pianists and taught because they “had” to, and took out their frustrating on their poor students. It just burns me up. And then our parents just didn’t have the awareness to say to us, “Don’t listen to him! What does he know about your potential? You can do whatever your heart desires! You can PLAY whatever your heart desires!” What if we had heard that as kids? Oh well, all we can do is heal and learn and impart our lessons to the next generation. Thanks for your nice comments Nancy

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