Anytime I'm formatting a score with first and second repetitions I struggle on how should I write them in the score. I tend to do 4 bars for each staff (not counting pick up bars) unless the melody's phrasing is different. In those cases I tend to follow the melody which results in a clearer score.

My issue is when I have two different endings (1st and 2nd ending) for my melody and each different ending is 2 bars only. If I keep my 4 bars for each staff, I'll end up with two extra measures (the second ending) that are difficult to fit and make it look good.

Here I'll show you the 4 approaches I've been using so far and the inconveniences that I've found:

  1. Fit 1st and 2nd repetition in the same staff, making a 6 bar in one staff. In this case, it tends to get quite difficult to read, specially if the melody has a lot of notes. However, if the melody doesn't have that much notes, I still find it difficult to read and jump to the second ending.

  2. Add the two previous bars of each ending (which are the same) in order to keep 4 measures on each repetition. This one looks better for me than the first one but also has one big problem: musicians after playing first ending will tend to read again the first repetition amd then realise they should be playing second bar which will make them jump to the second ending, which is confusing for them. This problem could be solved the following way:

  3. I found that on some scores they tend to make a 3-bars system with the first measure of the first ending, and then fit the end of the first ending, and the full second ending within the same system. This way, musicians are aware that they have to jump to the second ending althoug sometimes is difficult to find that second ending since it is in the middle of the staff.

  4. Keep the second ending in a different system with only two bars, but move it so it fits under the first repetition bar making a blank space in front of the second ending. This one is the one I think looks more clear for me and it's easy to read. However, I think I've been so used to staves everywhere in my scores that having that blank space still looks weird to me.

What are your approaches on this? Thank you so much for your help!

2 Answers 2


If your music always has four-bar phrases you need to find a way to compensate for the two extra measures (and without adding ugly blank space). You have three possibilities:

  • have two systems with 5 measures each (either before or after the repeat).
  • have two systems with 3 measures each.
  • leave your music with the phrase ends in the middle of the system until the next repeat.

Which of these solutions works best will depend on how 'full' your measures are. Either way your music will be most easily readable if the repeat sign is either at the end of the system or in the middle.


The only option I'd definitely advise against is the one you prefer, the cutaway stave on its own system.*

Apart from that, it's a juggling act. It's good to fit both voltas on the same system. If this is too cramped, it's good to put the end repeat barline on a line break. And, if the music does run in 4-bar phrases, it's good to have 4 bars to a line. I'd prioritise in that order.

*But, though the question doesn't mention this, I see you've tagged #lead-sheets. In 'real book' style, where musicians may be as much interested in the chord sequence as the melody, 4-bar lines take higher priority. This is why in real books you DO sometimes see the cutaway method. (But you really DON'T have to follow the other real book convention of omitting clef and key signature after the first line.)

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