Is there a way to notate the repeat of a larger section that itself has repeats in it, or is it best to give up and just write it out again?


3 Answers 3


You can introduce symbols (most often the "dal segno" sign pictured below; rehearsal marks are also not uncommon) to indicate the start of a repeated section, and then use a "to [sign]" indication to denote the return point of a repeat sign. This is most clearly used in combination with volta braces, more commonly called first and second endings (and third, fourth, etc. if necessary).

Dal segno

The below example shows one of many ways complex repeats can be accomplished. The "roadmap" in this case is:

  1. Play mm. 1-7; Repeat to m. 5
  2. Play mm. 5-6, 8-11; Repeat to m. 2 (D.S. = "Dal segno" = "go to the sign" [lit. "from the sign"])
  3. Play mm. 2-6, 8-11 (because m. 7 indicates first time only, and this is the third time through this section); Repeat to m. 2 (because m. 12 indicates to play both the first and second times through); Repeat to m. 2
  4. Play mm. 2-6, 8-10, 12-end.

nested repeats example

Obviously, this can get confusing quickly, so it's up to you as the transcriber to decide whether nested repeats or a full rewrite is more clear.

  • Remark: it is somewhat debatable, to continue bar numbering across different alternatives (bar 8 would otherwise called 7b, 7.2 or similar), but it makes explanation here easier.
    – guidot
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 11:09
  • @guidot Interesting. I see the utility, but have never encountered it. Can you point me to an example? (Maybe a question of its own here?)
    – Aaron
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 14:29
  • Found one here, repetition before bar 17.
    – guidot
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 20:51

Sort of.

A song often has internal repeated sections and an overall 'next verse' repeat. This can be shown by a D.C. (or D.$) al fine (or al coda). Sometimes this is simplified to just a segno & symbol at the beginning and end of the 'big' repeat. Not quite textbook notation, but understandable.

The orchestral parts of e.g. a Strauss Waltz (think 'Blue Danube) can be an absolute maze of nested repeats and segno jumps. Far from 'correct' notation and hard to sight-read until you catch on, but you save a LOT of paper (and page-turns).

I'd be reasonably confident in writing something like this - particularly if it was hand-written and I could emphasize the outer repeats even more heavily, maybe even with a red pen!

enter image description here

Different rules apply for music that is to be sight-read and music that is for reference. For a recording session, write it out! For the transcription of a pop song, save paper. Likewise for a march that needs to fit on a 'band card' clipped to an instrument.

If this question is about how to do it in Sibelius, the answer is that nested repeats won't playback properly by default, but you can write them and apply a manual playback map. Just be careful if a live player is ever going to see the music. If Sibelius playback can't understand the repeat structure, it's a fair bet the player won't either.

  • I agree, colour would make a lot of sense for nested repeat marks. – BTW, there are Unicode points for 𝄉 and 𝄋 – not sure how good it is to use these (probably on some old machines they don't render properly, and even where supported they're stupidly small), but at any rate there's no need to use the $ sign as an approximation. Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 12:15
  • 1
    @leftaroundabout there is no provision whatsoever for color to indicate anything in any music typesetting ruleset. Please don't suggest that! Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 19:32
  • @CarlWitthoft no, I won't refrain from suggesting it. Colour would be useful for many details, and the technical hurdles are nowadays largely out of the way. Correct is, it would still be wise to keep it greyscale-compatible, but nested repeat marks are a case where this would be given – the black&white version is still unambiguous, though not as easy to parse (but the performer could just re-colour it themselves if needed). Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 19:43
  • +1 for an excellent answer, but why do you say that it’s “far from 'correct' notation”? There’s no notation police or Académie Française to decide what is or isn’t correct; correctness is established by consistent usage. As you say in this answer, at least in some genres these nested repeats are pretty consistently used, by well-respected publishers, in widely-played and historically significant music. I agree with your reservations about it (horrible for sight-reading, etc), but I can’t see any grounds for not considering it ‘correct’!
    – PLL
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 20:28
  • I count 'correct' notation as that which is clear and unambiguous, without needing further explanation.
    – Laurence
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 0:24

If the "inner" repeat is relatively short, consider using the "Repeat the previous N measures" symbols. Here's the info, from (of course) my favorite site, Dolmetsch.

enter image description here

  • 1
    What is •////• ? Repeat 4 measures? Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 19:43
  • 1
    @user1079505 yep, or if inside a measure, the previous 4 beats Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 21:15

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