I am looking for explanations on how to interpret the repeat bar lines used during the 17th century and specifically for German music. The sign ':||:' seems to be employed at that time for repeating the music section between two identically signs. But should I also play twice the section before the first sign, since the beginning of the piece?

If someone has a reference on how these bar lines were interpreted, it would be great.

3 Answers 3


Suppose the music looks like this:

|| A :||: B :||

This should be played: A, A, B, B.

  • Thanks Alex for this quick answer. And if the music looks like to : A :||: B :||: C ||, is it A, A, B, B, C, C ? Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 16:28
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    @RémyClaverie This is poorly notated. At the beginning of C you suggest a repeated section, then at the end of C it isn't written as such. I suspect you mean || A :||: B :||: C :|| -- in which case it is played as AABBCC. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 17:00
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    thanks Andrew for your answer but I did not make a mistake. It is exactly A :||: B :||: C ||. See this sonata from Paul Hainlein. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 17:20
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    @RémyClaverie it's quite standard to omit the "repeat the following" sign at the beginning of a piece, which is what your question is explicitly about. In your comment, you note something that is not at all common (I don't recall having seen it before), which is having a section that begins with a "repeat the following" sign but ends without a "repeat the preceding" sign . Perhaps you should edit your question to ask about that instead of, or in addition to, what it now asks.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 19:28
  • @RémyClaverie for what it's worth, I've found a similar score, but it has a bit of textual instruction as well: youtube.com/watch?v=BwnpUlA_9i8
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 21:31

Repeat barlines come in pairs. You repeat from the backwards-facing dots to the preceding forward-facing ones. The only exception is for the first instance in a piece of music, when the forward-facing one may be omitted. Omitting one at the end of a piece is an error.

This syntax isn't exclusive to 17th century German music.

The rules are sometimes bent a little. Notoriously so in the orchestra parts of Strauss waltzes, which can be a labyrinth of non-standard nested DS and repeat bar notations. It saves a lot of paper, but it's VERY easy to get lost.


:|| - Go back till you see a ||:, if you don't see any go to start.

So if there's a barline where you need both:|| denoting you have to repeat previous section and ||: saying you have to come till here in the next repeat, then,

:|| + ||: = :||:

It's very confusing when in second or later sections, there is a :|| but no ||: which means you'll go to start and that's why "Go to Start" has a seperate notion, instead of using :||. Its D.C - Da Capo - Go from Start


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