Friday, June 9th, 2023

Repeats – Endings – Music Theory – Part 15b


A Tonal System

Scales in Music – a Tonal system

Music Theory Section – Level 1

Repeats – Endings – Part 15b

Welcome to Repeats – Endings – Part 15b. A presentation on the markings and symbols used in music notation as placed above the staff to direct replaying of a portion of music presented earlier in a composition.

Prerequisite Articles

This is the second part of the mini-series on the concepts of repeating. We are starting this article off where part 15a left off. In fact the first chart is heavily referencing one in part 15a. It is for this reason that we would strongly recommend reviewing Repeats – Music Theory – Part 15a before proceeding with this article.

First and Second Endings

Now, let’s take the next step in developing a clear understanding of the various symbols and ideas which direct the performers of music on when to repeat certain sections or partial sections within a musical composition. The symbols we are reviewing are usually found at the end of sections of music or at the end of the overall composition. Although they do fall into the classification of repeats they also fall into the classification of endings.

Repeats and Endings – A Comparison

Let us take a minute and make some comparisons between repeats and endings by visually looking at how they are notated on a staff of music. The first chart shown in color was taken from part 15a to be used to show the sequence of the flow of the music. The second chart in black and white shows the new symbols we are about to review. We will demonstrate the flow of music for this chart shortly.

Flow Chart - Repeats

Repeated Measures in Music

Please, before moving on to the next chart, let’s start by comparing the two charts above. Take notice that in the lower of the two charts we have some new symbols and new ideas being presented which are additions to those you already know. The new symbols are placed above the staff as shown. Even though they act like the repeats previously discussed, they are in a different class of symbols as they are actually directing the flow of the music in a more profound way. The new symbols are called first and second endings. We have also eliminated the first measure in the second chart.

Description – First Ending – For the first ending symbol in the chart above, the ending bracket starts on the measure line just prior to the end repeat symbol. The bracket has a number 1 tucked inside and on the left end of the bracket and the number is laced just to the right of a short vertical line.

1st Ending SymbolThe beginning and the end of the bracket has a short vertical line placed over a standard measure line. The second vertical line is placed over the end repeat symbol. It is important to understand this part of the symbol because it directs  the performer on where in the score he or she will move to for the performance at the second ending.

Description – Second Ending – The second ending bracket begins in the very next adjacent measure.

Second Ending in MusicThe bracket ends over the final ending symbol.  Structurally it is the same as the first ending symbol but a number 2 is placed inside the bracket rather than the number 1. So far so good!

More Differences

However, by taking a closer look you will see that unlike in the first chart the second chart is different in so far as the placement of the bracket for the first ending begins on the measure line before the end repeat symbol.  Here it is again but close up and in color.

Bracket - On Measure LineThe bracket placement for the first ending marking changes what happens as far as the performance of the music. It is very important to make this distinction over the previously presented repeat symbols and their respective explanations as it is a significant difference.

Now in Living Color! – The next chart shows the movements that are made by the performer when playing the music placed within charts such as this one. We did however elect to use rests rather than notes to make it less cluttered and hopefully easier for you to understand.

Music Measure Flow ChartMost of the symbols in this chart have been explained except the new ones. We added an orange arrow and altered the color of the rest in the third measure also to orange. Again, this measure begins with a standard black measure line and it ends with a red end repeat symbol.

Viewed under the chart is the first repeat line (the red line) which begins  on any measure somewhere within the composition and it can begin at the very beginning as well although this is rarely seen. Further, the performer plays to the end repeat and proceeds to the start repeat symbol shown in purple.

Next, and here’s the new part, rather than playing to the end repeat the second time as before, this time the performer proceeds to the next adjacent measure directly under the vertical line of the second ending and its left vertical line.  The performer actually skips of the measure or measures under the first ending bracket and then continues to the second ending. The lowest blue line with an arrow shows this movement including the skip over action.

To finalize the written instructions, the performer resumes playing at the beginning of the measure directly under the vertical line of the second repeat bracket. This is the measure with the pink rest and the pink arrow is pointing to the location the performer continues playing at. The performer then plays to through to the final ending symbol.

I know the written explanation is a bit complicated the first time through, which was the purpose for the chart. So please take your time and read each line through and follow each set of instructions until you are comfortable with them. Your understanding will come shortly!

Important! – The measure or measures under the first ending bracket are not played the second time through as we did in the previous repeat set-up example using only start and end repeats.

Two more charts for the first and second endings are shown below putting this all together. An mp3 is also provided to give an auditory example of the movement. Please follow the note while playing the mp3 clip.

Musical Replays - Repeats 1st and 2ndmp3 of 1st and 2nd Endings

Did you hear how the measure under the first ending bracket dropped out and the performance resumed under the second ending? This is the exact purpose of the use of this type of endings versus repeats.

1st, 2nd and 3rd Endings

For those with a lot of time please continue reading about the use of a 1st, 2nd and third ending set-up. Besides if you’ve gotten this far I owe it to you and congratulations on your drive to pursue knowledge!

Stretching the envelope one more step we can add more endings by simply increasing the numbers included under the first ending bracket. The chart below reflects a first, second and third ending sequence. You can have any number of repeats using this concept however two or three are more common than several. Here are the charts in black and white first then in color.

Repeating Endings - MusicAll we have changed from the previous chart was to add the number 2 in the first ending bracket, added the number three in the second bracket and abruptly cut-off the bracket for the third ending. Cutting off the bracket was intentional. If more music was written beyond these two measures there is no need to run the line to the final ending. There can be any number of additional measures after the third ending bracket. The end results are always the same, you arrive at the final ending, assuming this is the last ending of course.

Note: You have the freedom to add as many endings as you wish however two or three are the most common.

Flow Chart of Musical Repeats

This is a Test – When adding more than one ending bracket repeats, each repeat except the last one behaves the same as the first one. The last ending repeat is played by skipping over the measure or measures under the first ending bracket. Can you see in this chart where there is something different than stated? The answer is coming up soon.

Now wait a minute! – The chart above has a purposeful twist to it. If you will notice the second ending does not go all the way to the beginning of the chart. It repeats only back to the start repeat symbol (in purple) which is away from the beginning. How observant of you!

Remember the purpose of the start repeat? In this example it is to be used as written so we must follow its instruction. Tricky hey? If the start repeat was not there then we would repeat all the way back to the beginning. So let’s hear what this would sound like with the start repeat away from the very beginning of the music.

Repeats - All B2Endings – All B

The Icing on the Cake – It would be remiss of me and a bit disappointing I’m sure to you, if I left off an mp3 without demonstrating the third ending using a sound clip without the use of the start repeat symbol all the way from the beginning.  So, because you have hung in there with me for so long here is the mp3 example for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd endings along with its staff. I made another adjustment. The tempo has been changed to Prestissimo 200 to hear what this piece would sound like much faster than the previous sound clips demonstrate using Moderato 100. So, here’s to you!

Replays - Fast Endings1st-2nd-3rd- Endings Clip

A little bit of a change of pace as they say. Hope you enjoyed the modifications.


In music notation there are many tools to use which lay directly on the staff or over the staff to direct the performer to repeat all or part of the music. The two main tools used to do this are the repeat symbols and the endings symbols.

The repeat symbols are part of the staff whereas the endings are generally placed over the staff.

There are two types of repeats, the start repeat and the end repeat.

The symbols used as 1st and 2nd endings are comprised of numbers and brackets. The placement of the brackets plays a vital role in determining how they function and where the are to be acted upon within the score. Endings are more often found at the end of a section and/or at the end of the composition whereas the start and end repeats can be placed almost anywhere you choose.

This concludes Repeats – Ending – Part 15b of the mini-series on repeats in music.

Up Next

To continue in our mini-series about repeats we will be reviewing  additional repeat symbols and words but in a slightly different way. We will be reviewing the word symbols used to repeat sections of music within a composition. We will also introduce a new idea called the Coda and how it is used in music. These tools assist the composer to create repeatable pieces of music without having to write them out in full multiple times. They are similar to abbreviations used in common words. The article’s title is Repeats – Words – Music Theory – Part 15c.

Please proceed to Repeats – Words – Music Theory – Part 15c

Mini Series Links

To return to the Music Theory – Level 1 directory for the article listings within the series, please proceed to Music Theory Section – Level 1 – Series Introduction – Part 10.

To continue onto Music Theory – Level 2 directory for the article listings within the series, please proceed to Music Theory Section – Level 2 – Series Introduction – Part 20

To proceed to Acoustics of Music directory for the listings within the mini-series, please proceed to Acoustics of Music – Part 1 – Series Introduction.

Note: All charts and graph were made in Sibelius Music Software from Avid Technologies. The mp3’s were created using Wavelab from Steinberg.

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