I have music with repetitions with voltas and lyrics. Consider this minimal example:
repetition with voltas and lyrics “A B C D”, then “E F” in prima volta and “G H” in secunda volta

I want to extract the lyrics into plain text and preserve repetitions and voltas. How can I write that?

If there were repetitions but not voltas, I could write this:

𝄆 A B C D E F 𝄇

But that can't capture the “G H”.

I could expand the repetition, but that creates much redundancy, i. e. longer text:


Is there a good way to write voltas in text? I imagine something like this:

𝄆 A B C D ₁ E F 𝄇 ₂ G H

I prefer low clutter and obviousness because it would be mostly for common singing without rehersal, but I would appreciate any mention of what like that has been used because I am curious about solutions to this.

3 Answers 3


I'm afraid that what you want to achieve is not a common practice. Sometimes I see repeated parts of the text replaced by ellipsis (...), or some instructions like "the last chorus ends with...", but it's never very strict, and I don't believe any standard exists.

If the text is to be used by performers, especially without rehearsal, I would rather suggest writing out all the lyrics in order, avoiding using symbols which are non-standard or possibly unknown to the performers. The benefits of reducing the total amount of the text are likely outweighed by the risk of misunderstanding the instructions or getting confused.

On top of that, make sure to format the text so that it's easy to read, its structure is easy to see and the performers can easily catch on in case they get lost.


If there's a refrain which will be sung several times identically, and once differently, it may be helpful to list everything up to the start of the secon refrain in order, but with the refrain preceded by REFRAIN: and followe by a blank line, and with the text of every matching refrain replaced with REPEAT REFRAIN, preceded and followed by a blank line. Precede the final refrain with "FINAL REFRAIN:", and then print the whole thing.

If the refrain is long, and only the last line or two are different on the last repetition, it may be reasonable to print the refrain as something like:

This is the first line
and this is the next.
This is the third and
The fourth an the rest.
The fifth line goes here
and the sixth one--have faith
Goes before the seventh
and also the eigth.
Has fallen from heav'n and
Turned into a wraith.

Such an approach would only make sense if the amount of repeated text in the refrain was large relative to the amount that's different, but I think most singers would be able to follow a song sheet written as above, especially if "REPEAT REFRAIN" was replace with "SING FINAL REFRAIN".

Incidentally, when I was in New York in the 1970s, most of the song sheets I encountered would be mimeographed typewritten text, and it was common for them to include hand-written annotations to supplement the text: most commonly under-brackets to indicate places where a particular verse would squeeze two syllables in the time normally given to one, or brackets to the left of a pair of line with a 2x[ before them (single repeated lines would often be marked with typewritten (2x) after. I've not seen such notations elsehwere, so perhaps those were a regional thing. I suspect such things probably work better in settings where most people will know a song, and newcomers who are initially confused can be guided by those who would know the song without the song sheet.


I’m not quite sure what your intent is here. Does this need to be plain text? Or is using something like this acceptable?

Letters separated with barlines and volta text above

If for some reason you really want to use plain text you could of course try something like

𝄆 A B | C D | ⌈¹ E F ⌉ 𝄇 ⌈² G H 𝄂

or something. But I presume that most likely there is no standard of how to best encode complex notation by plain text. After all, that is what notation is for.

And most realistically if you just want to notate lyrics you might have something like

  -||-  G H

But then, the most sensible representation will depend on your actual music and your intentions.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.