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When a repeat calls for a different ending, number brackets above the bars indicate which to played the first time (1), which to play the second time (2), etc. These are called "first-time bars" and "second-time bars," or "first and second endings."

Is there a case when you can only use one of them?

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A second ending implies that a first ending must exist, and a "first ending only" would just use a regular repeat sign. – NReilingh Jul 3 '11 at 19:38
up vote 10 down vote accepted

By definition, there isn't. You only need the first-time and second-time bars when you have two different endings.

When you don't have different endings, you don't need to use either first-time or second-time bars. When you do have at least two different endings, you must use both bars. There may be more, too -- some pieces have a common repeated part and more than 2 different endings.

So, it's a "both or nothing" kind of deal.

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You can, however, have the "first-time bar" be more than just the first time ("1–3."); the "second-time bar" will still be the last ("4."). – Ben Alpert Jul 3 '11 at 20:43
Or you can even do weird things like ("1, 3.") and ("2, 4."). – Caleb Hines Nov 7 '14 at 16:55

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