I'm part of a small group and we have our own pieces, which I'm not allowed to share. But I'll describe the situation and hopefully get the point across. In nearly all the songs in my group's repertoire, different instruments have repeated bits at different points, which means that usually there can be no volta brackets or other repeat signs.

However, we often need to have single-staff scores at hand so that we can actually read the music while rehearsing, otherwise it's impossible due to the sheer size it gets. That said, I can either:

  1. write the entire piece without a single repeat, explicitly showing each phrase again and again; or

  2. use volta brackets and segni etc. in different places, relying heavily on the fact that each score you look at contains a single staff for a single instrument.

For example:

When you're writing the flute part all by itself in a dedicated sheet of paper, there's no reason you couldn't put volta brackets around measures 11 through 20 rather than writing them twice, even if the other instruments do not repeat said measures. Right? No need to waste many pages on music that has already been written, read and understood. So let's say I choose to go with that. Now after the flutist plays measures 11 through 20 the second time, they would actually land on measure 31 rather than 21, big picture-wise. Think communication with the other musicians, especially considering they all have different repeats themselves. Also somebody watching the rehearsal and counting the measures would have counted 30 of them so far.

If I don't change the numbers in this way: “Let's play again from measure 21. I mean, it's 21 for me, but it should be 31 for somebody who doesn't have any repeats on their score up to this point. It should be measure 18 for the violinist. No, wait, that is… 17, I think…?” vs. If I do: “Let's play again from measure 31, everybody.”

So in the end what I did is, I put a little 31 over the ending volta bracket (the one that closes measure 20), effectively changing the number of the following measure, which would otherwise be 21. I tweaked it and counted from 31 on, afterwards. By folding measures 21 through 30 into the repeat since they are 11 through 20 played again, I deliberately removed those numbers from the flute score.

A more visual example would be the following picture: Each rectangle represents an entirely different score, although all scores here belong to the same piece.

Note that the numbers are not actually printed every measure; this is just the rationale.

Is it something that should be avoided? If a pro saw this, would they feel inclined to undo everything and put the numbers as they were, leading to the need to remove the repeats altogether? I'm feeling a little insecure as I don't want my group to have poorly-organized sheet music for posterity.

  • If you don't want to leave "poorly-organized sheet music for posterity", the simplest plan would be to create a full score without any of these repeats. Any notation program will have a cut-and-paste option, so it's easy to do this. Any future problems understanding your parts can then be solved by referring to the full score. – user19146 Aug 2 '16 at 13:25

As I understand bar numbers, they are intended to locate the correct position in the score, not the point in time. Note, that they often do not exist at all, and you will find rehearsal marks (squared or circled characters or numbers). I never encountered the "repetition-reflecting" numbering you propose, which has a set of drawbacks on its own: in your example "B" the player will have a hard time to arrive at bar 6, espcially if more than one bar is repeated (single bar repetition would anyway be typically represented by a bar repetition looking similar as ".//.").

So a conductor will typically state something like "We start with bar five, second repetition".

So summarized, perhaps your numbering is not wrong, but so unusual, that I would tend to avoid the necessary explanation for justifying it.

  • Good point on the repeated bars - // - which may also have 'by the way, there's 7 of them' somewhere. – Tim Aug 2 '16 at 7:46
  • Thank you for replying. The problem with "bar 5, 2nd repetition" is that bar 5 would be in a different place in every staff score when using numbers traditionally. That is, if A has a repetition of which bar 5 is a part while B does not, then the number 5 will be in different timestamps for them. A could be playing the 8th bar of the song as a consequence of looking for bar #5 on the page. I need to humbly clarify that my group is far less invested in sheet music than I am. They won't even bother trying to read if everybody has different bar numbers at any given time due to misaligned repeats. – user3241796 Aug 2 '16 at 8:43
  • @user3241796: I guess, if you have differing numbers of repetitions depending on the voice you could consider to switch to use excercise marks instead (and possibly keep the bar numbers in standard way). – guidot Aug 2 '16 at 9:22
  • Thank you. I'll look into exercise marks. Judging by the context I have a hunch they work a little like a Segno—just without the Dal Segno command written in the score. – user3241796 Aug 2 '16 at 9:34
  • @guidot the usual English term for "exercise marks" is "rehearsal marks". – user19146 Aug 2 '16 at 13:15

I agree with guidot, but a side discussion started in the comments that I wanted to address in a top-level reply.

user3241796 says:

The problem with "bar 5, 2nd repetition" is that bar 5 would be in a different place in every staff score when using numbers traditionally. That is, if A has a repetition of which bar 5 is a part while B does not, then the number 5 will be in different timestamps for them.

In making the parts, you should have each part be structurally identical in almost all cases. That is, you shouldn't have one part have a repeat and another not.

I can imagine an exception: you might have a piece of music with long repeated sections, where only a subset of the ensemble does something different. Maybe there's a very long "verse" with the same accompaniment but with a different melody/solo on top of it. If the length were enough to take most of a page, then it might make practical sense (from a typesetting perspective) to write the accompanying instruments with a repeat, but write out both repetitions for the melody instruments. In this case, I would recommend writing both sets of measure numbers in the accompaniment, as suggested in the question.

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    I agree with the guidelines you proposed, but I'm afraid it has fallen to me to transcribe other people's pieces, pieces that either have never been written or have been written only as an orchestra sheet music, where misaligned repetitions evidently need to be unfolded. It all comes down to preserving works that do not preserve the traditional conventions of Western music. We call the solos 'ouchi' and the acompaniments 'jiuchi'. We're a taiko ensemble, actually. Jiuchi is usually a constant sequence of a super-short loop, like augmented eigth + sixteenth (meaning a single-beat loop in 4/4). – user3241796 Aug 2 '16 at 15:37
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    This didn't fit in a single comment. I meant to add that, due to the overwhelming length of several kinds of jiuchi, there is no way not to fold the repeats into volta brackets when writing a single part score for a single part musician to read. Just imagine most of a page repeating that example above — augmented eighth + sixteenth. don ko don ko don ko don ko don ko don ko don ko don ko.......... Just writing this here in plain text feels like too much repetition of such short a phrase. See why I need to break down the structure of different parts at different times? There's no escaping this. – user3241796 Aug 2 '16 at 15:41

It sounds as if, in this case, writing 'true' bar numbers would be best. Where a bar within a repeated section has two bar numbers, indicate them as e.g. 12(24).

You must not be using a computer scoring program. This sort of independent looping is tricky to achieve, without breaking the connection between Full Score and Parts, with all the potential for error that encourages!

  • I use Lilypond. I think I'll be able to tweak the bar number engraver with some research to include both numbers. Thank you for the suggestion. – user3241796 Aug 3 '16 at 0:13

At each 'new' part, maybe 16 or 24 bars in, where everyone's together again, or a different theme starts, use letters, which would be the same for everyone. Then, if you said 'let's take it from 4 bars after C',or '6 bars before J', all would start in the same place.

  • Thank you for replying. I like your idea of labeling measures with something other than numbers so as not to override them. Truth is though, I'm not sure that would work out well because the structures of our pieces are packed with repeats, which puts a lot of those 'start 4 bars after C' occurrences inside repeats. At any point we often need to start at the 17th repetition of A's short phrase, in the middle of B's solo. We use 'performance-oriented' labels so much and 'page-oriented' numbers so little that I think we'd be better off without the traditional measure numbering system altogether. – user3241796 Aug 2 '16 at 8:31
  • Most solos are not that long. I can't understand why you'd want to start in the middle of a solo. It hardly is in context if that's the case. – Tim Aug 2 '16 at 8:34
  • I'm just writing songs we've learned across the years. Songs from masters that visited us to host a workshop, songs some of us composed without sheet music, etc. This group isn't classically trained, so this kind of thing tends to happen a lot in compositions. A lot of melodies with no pinpointable key due to lack of a tonic, etc. You said most solos aren't that long, and you're right. But in my group one person is often stuck in a loop for ages before another person begins their solo. That's why I planned on shifting the focus of the bar labels from the written music to the performed music. – user3241796 Aug 2 '16 at 8:51
  • It sounds as bar numbering may not be very appropriate or useful in your type of music. Label sections instead. – Laurence Payne Mar 26 '17 at 12:09

As far as I remember, Guitar Techniques used nearly the same notation that you propose when they used to do songs. They had the bar number at start of each row, for example 47 51 55. And then, if the last row had a repeat, next row might start with bar 63 or 61.

I wasn't even aware some are numbering the bars as they appear on sheet not as they appear in song. "Fifth bar, second repetition" sounds quite wrong as that just depends on how the sheets are done not how the song goes. At least for a normal band it would seem quite ridiculous that the bass player would have sheets and sheets of the same notes just because the singer's part has some slight changes from verse to verse.

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