Guitar tablature software like PowerTab has a "musical direction" feature that allows you to mark certain passages with symbols (coda, segno, double coda, double segno), and then use notations such as "to coda", "dal segno al coda" and so on to order the musician/playback to skip back to the marked section and continue from there, or possibly continue some other places.

These markers have been used in various tablatures to do things like jump back to a chorus and then jump forward to a verse. This seems like something that can be potentially problematic. For example, if you wish to repeat some part that happened multiple sheet music pages ago, you can certainly do that with a musical navigation sign, but would that be good for the score's usability? I don't think so. Seems to me it's better to just repeat the section inline rather than tell the musician to go hunt for the part multiple pages ago.

So my question is, are there established good practice guidelines for how to use these signs appropriately? Or can I use them however I like and no professional musician will frown upon it?

2 Answers 2


Your aim when notating music should be to make it as easy as possible to a performer to interpret and perform the piece.

There are very good reasons to use the various repeat devices:

  • They save space, which reduces page turns. I know it's easy to copy and paste, but you want to make life easier for the performer, not yourself. If you can use widely-understood conventions to make the music more concise, you should. Emphasis on widely-understood. Compact is not necessarily concise.
  • If you're handwriting music, they mean you have to write less. This is less of a problem these days, because we tend to typeset using notation programs.
  • They tell you something about the structure of the piece. For example, a D.S. al Coda is conventionally used to repeat a section, and then skip to a final ending tag. If you use it in that way, the performers already know what you mean, and all is well.
  • They can save rehearsal time; if I know a section is an exact repeat of another section, we might decide to only play it once.

As you've identified, it's possible to use repeat markers in all sorts of creatively horrible ways. This is a good way to ensure that nobody plays your music. Here's some guiding principles that I tend to use:

  • Don't skip back more than a single page turn. Ideally, don't require any page turns. I usually assume that a double-page spread can be displayed on a music stand, so you can skip between the two visible pages without issue.
  • If you do have a page turn, make sure that they can actually turn the page. In other words, they'll need some time where they are not playing. It's a nuisance when I have to turn the page in the middle of a big soli section with no breaks. Of course, this applies generally, not just to repeated sections.
  • I don't use more than one Coda, sign or other such repeat device per piece. If you're writing something with multiple movements, one per movement is ok. I have played pieces with multiple signs and D.S. al Whoknowswheres and other such devices. They invariably waste rehearsal time.
  • Try not to nest repeat bars. Be clear with first/second/etc time endings. Repeat bars inside a coda-style repeat are fine.
  • Make sure the sign is visible. I assume this is obvious, but I've played scores where you spend fifteen minutes trying to discover the sign printed in 2-point font under a bar number. This basically boils down to "proofread your score"
  • Take the music to a rehearsal. Assuming a competent band, you shouldn't have to explain the piece structure. If you do, you'll waste five minutes with the explanation, another five minutes because the french horn player wasn't listening, then the lead clarinet will decide to change their reed for the seventeenth time, the second alto sax will somehow manage to lose their music again, and the tuba player will disappear to the nearest pub. This is not conducive to finishing a rehearsal on time.

I am not sure how well defined best practices are but remember that anything you can do to make life easier for the performer will make the performance better.

If you have the musicians fumbling back and forth between pages AND playing their instruments it is just one more complex thing to do while performing.

Anything you can do to simplify things, do..so I would recommend just rewriting it. Another option, if you have access to a performer that will be playing the piece, get their input as it may vary depending on the skill level of the performers, complexity of the piece, and even the instrument.

  • 1
    Agreed, it seems like a thing from the past when parchment and ink were expensive, causing horrible unreadable stuff like blogimg.goo.ne.jp/user_image/22/7f/… for example. It's in some cases far easier to just copy/paste so the sements, especially for not too advanced musicians.
    – MeanGreen
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 15:01

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